Preparing for the possibility of a military conflict with China has become of increasing concern for US strategic policy-makers and defence officials. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has emerged as a significant challenge for US military preponderance in the Western Pacific. In response, as part of the Obama administration’s ‘strategic rebalance’ to Asia, its military has shifted more assets into the region. However, the task confronting US strategic decision-makers and military planners of how to develop a credible military response to China’s evolving military challenge remains largely unresolved. The key question is how the US military could effectively fight and ‘win’ a military conflict with the PLA at acceptable political costs. Against this background, this chapter analyses the scholarly debate about the ‘best’ US military strategy with regard to China. It also explores the evolution of official US military strategy and doctrine. It finds that while the academic debate about US military options against the China challenge is far from conclusive, the Pentagon proceeds with a strategy that seeks to retain full spectrum dominance against the PLA, including through deep strikes against conventional targets on the Mainland. As a consequence, the United States is likely to retain its forward presence in the Asia-Pacific in order to push back against the possibility of a more assertive Chinese strategic posture in the Western Pacific.
Given China’s growing power and willingness to challenge the established security order in East Asia, allies and partners have become increasingly concerned about the political will and ability of the United States to sustain its leadership role in the region. At the heart of the problem is the absence of a clearly articulated grand strategy for dealing with China’s rise which effectively links political, economic, military and institutional dimensions of America’s engagement in the region. Under the previous administration of President Barack Obama, a “pivot” (or “strategic rebalance”) towards Asia aimed at providing such a strategy but arguably failed to prevent Chinese assertiveness and to reassure allies. The new government of Donald Trump further exacerbated this problem by abandoning key pillars of the “rebalance” without providing a coherent and viable alternative. As a result, the future of America’s strategic position in a changing Asia remains uncertain.