Responsibly Competing With China

Summary of Study

Bottom line: China's growing strength does not mean military conflict with the U.S. is necessary. Economic interdependence, geographic distance, and nuclear deterrence reduce the risk of conflict. The U.S. can best defend its East Asian interests through bolstering allies in the region, yet granting China "elbow room" in the region costs the U.S. nothing and reduces the chance of conflict.

China's formidable economic growth makes some American policymakers concerned about it becoming a strategic threat. Between 2000 and 2018, the Chinese economy grew by 1,033%, from $1.2 trillion to $13.6 trillion. These fears need not portend a military clash between the two powers for the following reasons:

  • China's military spending as a percentage of GDP has declined this century, and much of the military's focus is domestic security, defensive capabilities, and nearby countries.
  • China's economy is losing steam, with the coronavirus pandemic providing additional incentive for its trading partners to move supply chains elsewhere.
  • China is surrounded by numerous major powers that would check its aggressive ambitions.
  • China does not have much of a Navy capability.
  • China has a relatively small nuclear arsenal.
  • The U.S. would have plenty of time to react if China undertook a more aggressive foreign policy.
  • Reincorporating Taiwan is China's top foreign policy objective.

A growing China will naturally seek to exert influence in its region. The U.S. can grant it "elbow room" at no cost and the significant reward of increased security. The best way to ensure allied security is by helping East Asian nations bolster their own security, with U.S. forces used only as a last resort. U.S. foreign policy should avoid driving China and Russia together.

Economic competition, not armed conflict, is inevitable. The U.S. risks exhausting itself if it needlessly confronts China everywhere. The two nations should find a way to coexist peacefully.

Read the full explainer HERE.

Feature Charticle

GDP of the U.S. and China from 1990–2018

Defense Priorities

Findings:

  • Between 2000 and 2018, the Chinese economy grew by 1,033%, from $1.2 trillion to $13.6 trillion.
  • China's growing strength does not mean military conflict with the U.S. is necessary. 
  • Economic interdependence, geographic distance, and nuclear deterrence reduce the risk of conflict. 
  • The U.S. can best defend its East Asian interests through bolstering allies in the region, yet granting China "elbow room" in the region costs the U.S. nothing and reduces the chance of conflict. 

Read the full explainer HERE