Robert Farley explains why the U.S. can’t end endless wars if it pursues an aggressive China policy:
The problem is straightforward: Any effort to characterize China as an existential threat to the United States necessarily implies a level of conflict that will (as it did during the Cold War) provide justification for US intervention anywhere in the world. The solution for a less interventionist foreign policy is not to play up the threat of Beijing in the hopes the US will stop intervening elsewhere, but rather to carefully rethink what constitutes a threat to US core values, and what the United States must sacrifice to meet that threat.
The open-ended wars that the US has been fighting for the last two decades were the result of exaggerating a relatively small, manageable threat (i.e., terrorist attacks) into a major global menace that required massive resources and frequent military interventions in many different countries. One can only imagine how much worse things will be if the US replaces its militarized overreaction to terrorism with a militarized overreaction to the Chinese government. A hard-line China policy not only increases the likelihood of conflict between the US and China in East Asia, but it is also likely to encourage more interference in the affairs of other countries that have close relations with China.
If a U.S.-China rivalry follows the pattern of other great power rivalries, that would involve trying to subvert client governments through proxy wars and coups and sometimes intervening directly to overthrow those clients. Policymakers would predictably claim that peripheral countries are actually vitally important and must be “defended” or pulled into our orbit. Hawkish pundits would write articles about “who lost Malawi” and explain why it was absolutely “crucial” to American security that we prop up a dictator in Uzbekistan. The US would wage wars for “credibility” and refuse to end them for the same reason.