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.
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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
In the News
Featuring commentary and analysis by Kristine Lee, Ilan Goldenberg, Ashley Feng, and Joshua Fitt.
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.
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.
Sign up to receive the latest analysis from the CNAS expert community on the most important issues facing America's national security.
More from CNAS
PodcastAre the US and China entering a Cold War?
Demetri Sevastopulo, the FT’s US-China correspondent, talks to Michèle Flournoy about the expanded economic and political influence of China and how might Joe Biden break thro...
By Michèle Flournoy
America’s increasing focus on rivalry with China ensures that U.S. Africa policy will continue to be viewed, at least in part, through a China lens....
By David Shullman & Patrick Quirk
PodcastChinaTalk: Japan's China Challenge
Joshua Fitt cohosts the latest episode of ChinaTalk to discuss the relationship and challenges Japan faces with China. Listen to the full episode from ChinaTalk....
By Joshua Fitt & Jordan Schneider
CommentarySharper: The Beijing-Moscow Partnership
Cooperation between Russia and China has deepened across nearly every dimension of their relationship....
By Chris Estep, Carisa Nietsche & Gibbs McKinley