Drivers of Conflict and Convergence in China-U.S. Relations in a Global Context


Project Details


This effort will provide insight into likely drivers of future conflict and convergence in US-China relations over the next 10-15 years in a global context. START leads a multi-institutional research team, including researchers at the University of Maryland (START, ICONS Project), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the University of British Columbia (UBC), and George Mason University (GMU). This suite of projects will also coordinate with other teams assembled by the Strategic Multilayer Assessment office of the Department of Defense for the effort. CEIP will build a conceptual framework and conduct qualitative assessments of drivers of conflict and convergence. START will conduct quantitative assessments of Chinese relations, both within the Asia-Pacific and also within two other world regions, with the U.S. and other key states. CSIS will conduct analyses of key questions identified by the Pacific Command. The University of British Columbia will provide an individual-level analysis of the dynamics of decision-making by Chinese elites. The team at George Mason University will develop a Timed Influence Net (TIN) model, which will provide a point of comparison with the systems dynamic model. The ICONS Project will develop and deploy simulations in order to test decision-support tools developed by other SMA-funded teams.

Primary Findings:

Current research efforts are better designed to explain changes in the level of cooperation than they are at explaining changes in the level of conflict. This is likely because much of the conventional wisdom about conflict in PACOM AOR is inconsistent with the evidence of what states are actually doing: Arms races aren’t occurring; Chinese naval modernization is not increasing conflict between China and the major powers within PACOM; and energy resources are leading toward strategic neo-mercantilism (in the forms of mostly exclusive economic contracts) but not warfare or diplomatic breaches.

Key interim findings include:

1. Non-state conflict causes conflict between states and serves an actionable area that PACOM can effect (counter-terrorism, counter-smuggling, etc.) through more state-to-state and military-to-military cooperation. These non-state sources are conflict are undermentioned in the pathways of aggression.

2. Growing Japanese naval power likely limits other opportunities in the region for diplomacy and cooperative relationships with China.

3. Growing Chinese naval power is not having a limiting effect on diplomacy and, counter-intuitively, by making China more secure, may be encouraging both cooperation and strategic partnerships for U.S. regional priorities.

4. An American-led alliance architecture based on a status quo of a weak China limits cooperation. Both the alliance architecture and its strategic purpose may need to be updated.

5. Energy resources push and pull cooperation both ways. Energy imports push states toward cooperation on the seas to keep the sea lanes open. The same energy imperatives equally push states toward relative gains mindsets about contracts to access resources.                                                                                                                           


START researchers, using databases designed and cleaned for this project, extracted metadata for statistical analysis. The metadata was generally in the form of count data, including the two outcome variables assessed. As a result, negative binomial regression models were utilized to distil which factors separately determine the number of cooperative events and the number of conflictual events in any given dyad year between key countries of interest and China.


Project Period: