August 12, 2020

Sharper: The China Challenge

Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy.

The United States and China are competing across economic, diplomatic, military, technological, and ideological spheres. Beijing's growing illiberalism and assertiveness have placed it increasingly at odds with the United States, and the past several months have seen new flash-points in the relationship. As tensions continue to rise, it is imperative for U.S. policymakers and other leaders to understand the nature of the competition and the options available to advance and defend U.S. interests.

CNAS experts are examining and sharpening available tools for the United States to renew American competitiveness and sustain America's vital strategic advantages. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas about how Washington can rise to the China challenge.


Rising to the China Challenge

In January, CNAS released a major independent assessment, “Rising to the China Challenge,” as required by Congress in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The report prescribes a comprehensive approach to competition with China and offers nearly 100 specific, actionable policy recommendations across seven critical vectors of American competitiveness. “The United States and China,” the authors wrote, “are locked in strategic competition over the future of the Indo-Pacific—the most populous, dynamic, and consequential region in the world.”

Dangerous Synergies: Countering Chinese and Russian Digital Influence Operations

Today, Beijing and Moscow have resorted to tools of digital influence to obscure the origins of COVID-19, while China cynically recasts itself as a global leader in responding to the very pandemic that it failed to contain. In a report released this May, CNAS experts argued that there is growing evidence of strategic convergence in Beijing’s and Moscow’s digital influence campaigns. They call for the United States and its democratic allies and partners to adopt a holistic approach to countering digital influence campaigns by China and Russia.


Rising to the China Challenge

The United States and China are locked in strategic competition over the future of the Indo-Pacific—the most populous, dynamic, and consequential region in the world....

Indo-Pacific Security

Dangerous Synergies

There is growing evidence that Beijing and Moscow are learning from each other and enhancing their coordination, leading to a growing convergence in their digital influence ef...


Experts from across the Center have offered timely analysis on the China challenge.

  • In July, Richard Fontaine and Ely Ratner wrote in The Washington Post that "cookie-cutter Cold War policies — such as a counter-China military alliance, a geographic containment strategy or all-out economic warfare — are as ill-suited as they are unlikely to succeed. Nor is the answer to fan fears of a looming Cold War and urge Washington to ease up on competition with China."
  • "As Beijing executes a more aggressive global social media strategy," Kristine Lee and Karina Barbesino argued in a CNAS policy brief earlier this year, "the U.S. government should coordinate closely with both like-minded countries and social media companies to backstop the integrity, transparency, and competitiveness of their own platforms."
Indo-Pacific Security

The U.S.-China confrontation is not another Cold War. It’s something new.

With U.S.-China relations in free fall, the Trump administration’s chief arms control negotiator recently proclaimed that "we know how to win these races and we know how to sp...

Indo-Pacific Security

Challenging China’s Bid for App Dominance

Social media platforms are emerging as central to China’s efforts to shape the global information architecture....

  • Last year, Ely Ratner, Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Paul Scharre argued in Foreign Affairs, "It is clear that the United States needs a fundamentally different approach to economic competition with China—one that bolsters U.S. technological and financial power while countering Beijing’s malign activities directly."
  • China's Belt and Road has equipped governments worldwide to use innovations, such as facial recognition technology, to conduct surveillance and limit dissent. Experts Kara Frederick, Daniel Kliman, and Ely Ratner explain how China's high-tech illiberalism may shape the twenty-first century.
Energy, Economics & Security

Beyond the Trade War

In an essay for Foreign Affairs, Ely Ratner, Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Paul Scharre write that "the United States needs a fundamentally different approach to economic competiti...

Indo-Pacific Security

The Low Road: Charting China's Digital Expansion

As Beijing tightens control of the Internet within its own borders, what consequences lie ahead for people living under other authoritarian regimes and fragile democracies?...

  • In March, CNAS experts Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee joined Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Jim Townsend on Brussels Sprouts to explain China’s response to COVID-19.
  • At this year's CNAS National Security Conference, experts Susanna V. Blume, Chris Dougherty, Becca Wasser, ED McGrady, and other panelists led the audience through an interactive wargame session exploring a crisis in the East China Sea in the year 2030.
Indo-Pacific Security

China, Europe, and COVID-19 with CNAS’s Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee

Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee join Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Jim Townsend to explain China’s response to COVID-19 on the latest episode of Brussels Sprouts. Feng is a Research ...


A Deadly Game: East China Sea Crisis 2030

On July 22, 2020, audience members played along as the CNAS Defense team and leading experts conducted a virtual wargame in the year 2030, exploring command and information co...

  • Elsa B. Kania and Emma Moore wrote in Defense One last May, "Talent is and will remain at the core of America’s competitive advantage over China. The U.S. military must continue to reevaluate and explore options to reform current approaches to recruiting and retaining diverse talent to prioritize critical skill-sets and proficiencies."
  • This April, Kristine Lee warned in POLITICO Magazine that "Beijing’s leverage over the WHO cannot be understood independently of a much longer and broader campaign, one that aims to bend the arc of global governance toward a more illiberal orientation that privileges the interests of authoritarian actors."
Indo-Pacific Security

Great Power Rivalry Is Also a War For Talent

China’s military is working harder to find and keep good people. The U.S. must step up its own efforts....

Indo-Pacific Security

It's Not Just the WHO: How China Is Moving on the Whole U.N.

President Donald Trump has decided to halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, accusing it of kowtowing to China in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic by...

In the News

Featuring commentary and analysis by Kristine Lee, Ilan Goldenberg, Ashley Feng, and Joshua Fitt.

Indo-Pacific Security

Cold War 2.0: How Trump's Attacks on China Could Backfire

In September of 1946, Nikolai Novikov, the Soviet ambassador to the U.S., penned what would become known as the Novikov Telegram, which assessed the foreign policy of Presiden...

Indo-Pacific Security

China emerges as potential strain on US-Israel relationship

Increasingly close ties between China and Israel risk straining the special relationship Israel has with the U.S., especially as Washington ramps up its feud with Beijing over...

Indo-Pacific Security

The Great Decoupling

The U.S. ambassador on the spot in an Asian economic powerhouse put it bluntly in a cable to the secretary of state in Washington: Don’t cut them off. Give them some “economic...

Indo-Pacific Security

US, ASEAN Eye March Special Summit to Boost Ties

The United States and 10 nations from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are eyeing a special summit in March to boost ties at a time when analysts say China c...

Across the Center

This January, CNAS launched “America Competes 2020,” a Center-wide initiative to renew American competitiveness at home and abroad. Amid increasingly fractured and partisan policy debates, CNAS will produce specific, actionable policy recommendations for how the United States can compete more effectively across a range of vital national security arenas.


America Competes 2020

America Competes 2020 is a Center-wide initiative featuring cutting-edge CNAS research, publications, events, and multimedia aimed at strengthening the United States’ strategi...

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About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.


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