Experts Discuss Possibility of China-US Cold War

By Elijah McGuire-Berk

Elm Staff Writer

On April 8, the Alexander Hamilton Society held a panel discussion called “The Rise of China and Potential for a Cold War with the US.” The panelists were Dr. Thomas G. Mahnken, a professor of stragegy at the U.S. Naval War College, Washington College’s Business Lecturer James Flanagan, and Co-President of the Alexander Hamilton Society at Washington College Senior Kevin Lair.  Co-President Aydan Sultanova helped coordinate the event.  It was co-sponsored by the Washington College Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture.

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Senior Kevin Lair introduces the panelists for the April 8 discussion of a potential cold war between China and the US. Washington College Professor James Flanagan and US Naval War College professor Dr. Thomas Mahnken joined Lair in Hynson Lounge for the event.

Lair described the program as a discussion on “the rise of China, the current relations between the US and China, and how we can prevent a major conflict between the two nations.”

Both Dr. Mahnken and Flanagan have had experience in this field.  Flanagan worked in Beijing and Hong Kong in the 1980s and ‘90s as a representative for an American computer company, and Dr. Mahnken worked for the Department of Defense during the Cold War.

Dr. Mahnken described the concept of a cold war from his perspective as a naval strategist. “What I would have you envision is a line where one end point is cooperation and the other end point is conflict.  We really are talking about something in that grey middle part,” he said. “The Cold War was not itself a war.  In some ways it was a war over supply but neither was it peace.”

He said a cold war would not be as much of a direct conflict as much as it would be a, “long term competition.”  It would be very different than the US’s previous experience with cold war involving the Soviet Union. Dr. Mahnken said when he was a part of the Department of Defense, “The Soviet Union loomed above all other conflicts and all other adversaries for the US in the foreseeable future.  No matter how important China becomes, we’ll still have to worry about Islamic extremist groups, we’ll still have to worry about countries like Iran and countries like North Korea… There’ll never be this monopoly over national security planning with communists as there was with the Soviet Union.”

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Lair adresses panelists Mahnken and Flanagan.

Flanagan agreed that a cold war with China would be very different from previous cold wars and that they would likely use economics to shift the balance of power. “I think that China is not going to overtly challenge the US from a military standpoint, at least initially,” he said. “I think that what they are going to do is to rely on the economic power that they are bringing to the table to eventually cause the US to just kind of let the balance shift in their direction and that they’re going to take over as the lead economic power in the world.”

He talked about his experiences in China and the people he had worked with, recalling how political differences made business with China awkward at times. “If you set a price here, for the next year, all [Chinese businessmen] wanted to do was work on getting a better price the following year.”  He also discussed China’s influence in surrounding Asian countries.  He said, “Most of Asia, the business communities of Asia, are run by the expat Chinese who have moved in to places like Malaysia or Singapore or Indonesia, and they will take over the business operations in those countries and run them.”

In the end, they both agreed that overt military conflict between the US and China would be unlikely, but that US citizen could expect various indirect conflicts on a lower scale than the previous cold war.

Lair ended the panel by thanking everyone for showing up.  He said, “This panel has really brought some closure for me in terms of my thesis and I feel that I’m finally ready to graduate.”

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