Potential U.S.-China Conflict: Anticipating the First Move in a Military Confrontation

Chinese and American military strategies often draw parallels with sporting metaphors, particularly envisioning a boxing match in the Western Pacific. In this metaphorical bout, both China and the United States act as cautious boxers, circumspectly circling each other, neither eager to deliver the first significant blow. The possibility of a confrontation may remain unrealized if mutual deterrence prevails or if the contenders see little strategic value in engaging in direct conflict.

Examining China’s approach first, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) adheres to the principle of “active defense,” a concept rooted in the teachings of Mao Zedong, the founding chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. This strategic philosophy, declared as the essence of the CCP’s military strategic thought, has endured since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Mao initially articulated this concept during the Chinese Civil War, emphasizing the advantages of a weaker force fighting cleverly through flexibility, patience, and tactical opportunism.

Active defense involves a strategic retreat, allowing the defender to conserve strength and time while the adversary expends resources impatiently. Mao’s analogy likens this approach to a boxer who initially gives ground, allowing the overzealous opponent to exhaust their energy. The active defender then seizes the offensive, capitalizing on the opponent’s weakened state. This concept, operationally and tactically oriented, has remained a consistent and actionable part of China’s military strategy.

In contrast, General Joseph Dunford Jr., former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a different perspective for the United States. Drawing on the same boxing metaphor, he emphasized the importance of maintaining a “boxer’s stance” as the foundational posture guiding all offensive and defensive movements in the U.S. military strategy. Dunford underscored the need for a balanced, protective stance that conserves energy while remaining agile and resilient to respond effectively to potential adversaries.

Dunford argued that, similar to training a fighter, the military must be prepared for unknown conditions and locations of future conflicts. The boxer’s stance, with its strength and readiness, symbolizes the military’s ability to confront and prevail against any potential adversary, aligning with the unpredictable nature of global security challenges.

In conclusion, both China and the United States employ boxing metaphors to convey their military strategies, with China’s “active defense” focusing on strategic patience and opportunism, while the U.S. emphasizes a balanced and resilient posture to respond flexibly to unforeseen challenges. The metaphorical boxing ring in the Western Pacific remains a complex arena where strategic choices and postures shape the dynamics of great power competition.