Elizabeth C. Economy

C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies


Chinese domestic and foreign policy; U.S.-China relations; global environmental issues.


Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Economy has published widely on both Chinese domestic and foreign policy. Her most recent book, with Michael Levi, is By All Means Necessary: How China's Resource Quest is Changing the World. She is the author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future, which was named one of the top 50 sustainability books in 2008 by the University of Cambridge, won the 2005 International Convention on Asia Scholars Award for the best social sciences book published on Asia, and was listed as one of the top ten books of 2004 by the Globalist as well as one of the best business books of 2010 by Booz Allen Hamilton's strategy+business magazine. She also coedited China Joins the World: Progress and Prospects and The Internationalization of Environmental Protection. She has published articles in foreign policy and scholarly journals including Foreign Affairs, Harvard Business Review, and Foreign Policy, and op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, among others. Economy is a frequent guest on nationally broadcast television and radio programs, has testified before Congress on numerous occasions, and regularly consults for U.S. government agencies and companies. She writes about topics involving China on CFR's Asia program blog, Asia Unbound, which is syndicated by, and authors a monthly column on China's environment for the Diplomat.

Economy serves on the board of managers of Swarthmore College and the board of trustees of the Asia Foundation. She is also on the advisory council of Network 20/20 and the science advisory council of the Stockholm Environment Forum. She is a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF)'s Global Agenda Council on the United States and served as a member and then vice chair of WEF's Global Agenda Council on the Future of China from 2008 to 2014. Economy has also served on the board of the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development. She has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, and the University of Washington's Jackson School of International Studies.

Economy received her BA from Swarthmore College, her AM from Stanford University, and her PhD from the University of Michigan. In 2008, she received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Vermont Law School. She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.

China's Changing Fortunes

Chinese President Xi Jinping has articulated a simple but powerful vision: the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. It is a patriotic call to arms, drawing inspiration from the glories of China's imperial past and the ideals of its socialist present to promote political unity at home and influence abroad. After just two years in office, Xi has advanced himself as a transformative leader, adopting an agenda that proposes to reform, if not revolutionize, political and economic relations not only within China but also with the rest of the world. To do so, he has positioned himself as the head of numerous committees and leading groups on economic reform, the military, and foreign policy, made tackling anti-corruption his signature issue, and sought to eliminate alternative political voices. Meanwhile, he is attempting to reestablish China as a global power, constructing institutions, infrastructure, and initiatives to implement Beijing's more muscular foreign policy. For the United States and much of the rest of the world, Xi's China provokes two different reactions: excitement about what a stronger, less corrupt China could achieve, and significant concern over the challenges an authoritarian, militaristic China might pose to the U.S.-backed liberal order. My work will result in a book exploring these developments and their implications for the United States and the world.

Assessing the Pivot: U.S. Engagement in Asia

The Obama administration's rebalance, or "pivot," to Asia has placed the region at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. Washington is shoring up its alliances and committing greater military force to Asia, while at the same time is attempting to deepen economic engagement, most notably through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But amid these commitments, shifting regional dynamics are forcing the United States to reassess its strategy toward Asia. China, eager to establish its primacy in the region, is more assertive as its economic growth gives rise to greater political influence and military might. Democratic transitions in Myanmar and Indonesia have been mirrored by the return of authoritarian tendencies in Thailand and Malaysia. In Northeast Asia, North Korea remains its obstinate, mercurial self, while Japan and South Korea, two of Washington's most reliable allies, remain distrustful of each other. How can the United States deal with these myriad issues? What are U.S. national interests in Asia, and how should Washington advance them? I will address these questions and more during meetings of the U.S.-Asia Update Roundtable Series and on the Asia Studies' blog, Asia Unbound.

The New Geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan

The emergence of China and more recently, India, has reshaped relations and produced a broader area of economic integration in Asia. Even in southern Asia, where the strategic triangle of China, India, and Pakistan has resulted in flashpoints and suspicions, both India and China have kept their sights on increasing trade and economic growth as a security imperative for the long term. However, southern Asia's security, political, and economic foundations face stresses that could profoundly alter its evolution, usher in the return of geopolitics, and reshape political and economic relations globally. This two-year project, generously funded by the MacArthur Foundation, will explore potential flashpoints and promising areas for cooperation among China, India, and Pakistan—and identify areas where the United States can help. Over the next two years, I will explore these issues with my colleagues Alyssa Ayres and Dan Markey in a roundtable series and several publications. The project will culminate in a capstone symposium and a Council report in 2016.

The Project on the New Geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan is made possible by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Featured Publications

All Publications


Objectives and Future Direction for Rebalance Economic Policies

Author: Elizabeth C. Economy

In testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Elizabeth Economy discussed the economic components of the “rebalance to Asia” and its prospects going forward. She recommended that the U.S. Congress ratify TPP, continue to support the Ex-Im Bank, and increase support for NGO operations across the Asia-Pacific in fields such as legal education and anti-corruption that help promote good economic governance. She also called for greater coordination between commercial diplomacy and strategic economic plans and greater support for the proposed U.S. New Silk Road initiative.

See more in China; United States; Economics


By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest Is Changing The World

Authors: Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael A. Levi
All China Review

Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael Levi explore how Chinese demand drive global commodity prices, the broader implications of the Chinese slowdown for the global economy and regional security, and consequences of China’s resource quest for the world’s resource-producing states and industries.

See more in China; Financial Markets; Environmental Policy


Beijing’s Actions in the South China Sea Demand a U.S. Response

Authors: Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael A. Levi
Washington Post
The China National Overseas Oil Coorporation (CNOOC) began drilling in Vietnamese-claimed waters late last week, accompanied by more than seventy vessels, including armed Chinese warships. Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi write that the United States needs to face up to the full magnitude of the Chinese challenge to have any hope of successfully confronting it.

See more in China; Vietnam; Territorial Disputes; Oil


China's Maritime Disputes: Preventive Measures

Speakers: Simon Tay and Joshua Kurlantzick

Increasingly frequent clashes between China and its neighbors heighten the risk of escalating tensions and military conflict over territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. Policy experts discuss a range of preventive measures aimed at mitigating miscalculations by sea captains or political leaders that could trigger an armed conflict.

See more in Asia and Pacific; Conflict Prevention

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound