Open Forum

The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS) characterizes China as a “revisionist power” that is “attempting to erode American security and prosperity” and “shape a world antithetical to US values and interests.”1 The accompanying National Defense Strategy (NDS) adds that Beijing seeks “veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions” and is modernizing its military in pursuit of “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”2 It is true that China represents an unprecedented strategic challenge to the United States and its allies, especially within East Asia. But these documents reflect a stereotype of Beijing and little effort to understand what actually motivates Chinese behavior. Moreover, preoccupation with China as a traditional, Cold War-style ideological or security threat is hindering both an accurate recognition of the nature of the China challenge, and the development of a thoughtful strategic response to it that effectively serves US and allied interests. By misidentifying what China is fundamentally about, the NSS and NDS risk leading Washington down a path that is misguided, prohibitively expensive, and counterproductive.

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