Over ten years after Xi Jinping ascended to China’s most powerful post, the country is in crisis. Economic stagnation, the fallout from “Zero COVID” policies, internal dissent, and hardening global opposition have all weakened China and made it more dangerous to the international order.

China has faced crises before—and emerged stronger. In 1969, China was in ruins, devastated by the excesses of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and on the brink of war with its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union. Yet Mao and his deputy Zhou Enlai would manage to co-opt an American gambit to open relations with China, emerging from deep isolation to become a rising global power, and fight a war with Vietnam to re-establish its hegemony in Southeast Asia.

Then, in 1989, after a decade of rapid economic growth, China confronted the twin shocks of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the mass protests culminating in the massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square. Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and his successor Jiang Zemin reversed Chinese fortunes once again, returning China to the path of reform and ascension into the World Trade Organization, while ensnaring the U.S. in an engagement rather than containment policy.

Led by Asia expert and former defense official Dan Blumenthal, this weeklong seminar will examine three major geostrategic hinge-points in China’s history and how Chinese leadership responds to crisis.

Dan Blumenthal on America’s Role in the Pacific


Daniel Blumenthal

Daniel Blumenthal is the Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and Sino-American relations. Mr. Blumenthal has both served in and advised the U.S. government on China issues for over a decade.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Supplemental Reading:


Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the economic and foreign policies Deng enacted to change China’s fortunes?
  2. This fundamental change in Chinese economic policy could have resulted in serious elite backlash from those aligned with Maoist ideology. How did Deng prevent such a crisis from arising?
  3. What factors led Deng to decide to invade Vietnam? Do you think any of these decision-making factors might influence a future Chinese invasion scenario?



Supplemental Readings:


Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Deng believe that China should “hide its capabilities and bide its time?” How do you evaluate this strategy of non-assertiveness?
  2. How did China view the United States in the 1980s and 1990s? How did this threat calculation effect their strategic decision-making?
  3. How effective were Chinese efforts at political and military building under Deng and Jiang? Did this strategy move China closer to achieving their grand strategic objectives?
  4. Was the CCP right that they were facing a “near death experience?”



Supplemental Readings:


Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe why Xi perceived China to be in crisis by his ascension in What steps did Xi take to “manage the crisis?”
  2. Do you believe Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and “Comprehensive National Security Strategy” has made the CCP (and his position within it) more or less secure?
  3. What was the impact of China’s internal centralization and peripheral assertiveness under Xi? Why did he choose these domestic and foreign strategies?

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