Rising to the China Challenge

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's Xi Jinping meet business leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. November 9, 2017. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

February 15, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's Xi Jinping meet business leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. November 9, 2017. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Testimony
Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

In testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services, Ely Ratner assessed the emerging strategic competition between the United States and China. He argued that it is vital for the United States to muster the strategy, attention, and resources to put the world back on a path to a more open and democratic future. To this end, he provided several recommendations for U.S. policy in the security, economic, and political dimensions of the geopolitical contest with China.

Takeaways:

  • The United States, on balance, is currently losing the strategic competition with China in ways that increase the likelihood not just of the erosion of the U.S.-led order, but also of the rise of an illiberal China-dominated Asia and beyond. However, the foundations of American power are strong. A more focused United States can still arrest China’s momentum and prevent the growth of an illiberal international order.

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  • Congress should support the main lines of effort in the Trump administration’s January 2018 National Defense Strategy, which asserts that great power competition, not terrorism, is the primary focus of U.S. national security. This should inform U.S. decisions to invest in future technologies relevant to potential contingencies in the Asia-Pacific, shift limited resources away from the Middle East and Afghanistan, avoid wars of choice against rogue regimes, increase resources to build the capacity of partner countries in Asia, and prevent the development of a Chinese sphere of influence in the South China Sea.

 

  • The economic component of the U.S.-China competition will be decisive. Rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a strategic imperative. Failure to set high-standard multilateral trade and investment rules will inflict serious damage to U.S. leadership in Asia. The United States should also protect U.S. technology and innovation by modernizing the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, while also curbing China’s ability to use economic coercion against U.S. allies and partners.

 

  • Politics, ideology, and information will be central features of the competition. Congress should increase resources for U.S. government strategic messaging and information operations related to China. Getting the U.S. government bureaucracy properly configured to compete with China, eliminating malicious forms of Chinese influence in the United States, and building a bipartisan consensus of the importance of addressing the China challenge will also be crucial.

 

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