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Study: Possible China-US war will linger in East Asia

US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, left, and China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Gen. Li Zuocheng, right, salute during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016. AP/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool

MANILA, Philippines — A possible war between China and the United States (US) would start and remain in East Asia where nearly all Chinese forces are located, according to a new study published by an international research organization.

In its study entitled "War with China: Thinking through the Unthinkable," California-based Rand Corp. said that both China and the US wants war but both of their militaries have plans to fight one.

A war between the two countries would be regional and conventional, according to the study.

"It would be waged mainly by ships on and beneath the sea, by aircraft and missiles of many sorts, and in space (against satellites) and cyberspace (against computer systems)," the report read.

However, it is unlikely that nuclear weapons would be used as the two nations regard its losses as serious.

The report also assumes that China is unlikely to attack the US homeland, except through cyberspace, given its capability to do so with conventional weapons.

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Each party's ability to track and attack opposing forces may turn the Western Pacific into a "war zone" and may have grave economic consequences.

As US military advantage declines, China is improving its military capabilities, particularly for anti-access and area denial. This means that the US cannot gain operational control and destroy China's defenses if a war occurred.

"Sensors, weapon guidance, digital networking, and other information technologies used to target opposing forces have advanced to the point where both US and Chinese military forces seriously threaten each other," Rand Corp. said.

Chinese losses would greatly exceed US losses at present but the gap could be much smaller by 2025. China, however, would still be not confident of gaining military advantage.

This suggests the possibility of a prolonged, destructive and inconclusive war where economic costs, internal political effects and international reactions could be more important.

"War between the two countries could begin with devastating strikes; be hard to control; last months, if not years; have no winner; and inflict huge losses on both sides’ military forces," the report read.

Non-military effects would fall hardest on China but could also greatly harm the US economy, according to the study.

US leaders are urged to have means to confer and contain conflict before it gets "out of hand."

"The United States should ensure that the Chinese are specifically aware of the potential for catastrophic results even if a war is not lost militarily," Rand Corp. said.

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