Is conflict between the United States and China inevitable? Is China’s aggressive rise a sign of its strength – or its weakness? Do democracies have an edge over autocracies in great-power rivalries? Or will China’s investment in technology and economic power enable it to outcompete the U.S.? This online course, led by noted national security experts and practitioners, will illuminate these and other debates about strategic competition between the U.S. and China.

Images: U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping make joint statements in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017 | Courtesy of National Committee on US China Relations

Dan Blumethal & HR McMaster on the China nightmare

Faculty

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.

Christian Brose

Christian Brose is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Head of Strategy at Anduril Industries, prior to which he served as staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was also responsible for leading the production, negotiation, and passage of four National Defense Authorization Acts, which set policy and authorized spending for all U.S. national defense activities.

Matthew Kroenig

Matthew Kroenig is a Professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. A 2019 study in Perspectives on Politics ranked him as one of the top 25 most-cited political scientists of his generation. He has served in several positions in the U.S. Department of Defense and the intelligence community in the Bush and Obama administrations.

H.R. McMaster

H. R. McMaster is the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.  Previously, he served as the 26th assistant to the president for National Security Affairs and as a commissioned officer in the United States Army for 34 years before retiring as a Lieutenant General. He is author of Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session

Readings:

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is driving U.S.-China competition? Is the rivalry between the U.S. primarily a battle of ideas or a battle of resources? Is China a challenge because of its ideology or its power?
  2. Does China seek regional hegemony in Asia? Global hegemony? What would Chinese hegemony look like?
  3. How does China’s historical experience inform its grand strategy? What continuities and discontinuities do you see with China’s strategy, past and present?
  4. How do China’s weakness and vulnerabilities also drive its grand strategy?

Readings:

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are some states able to achieve enduring international leadership and others are not? How much does regime type matter for sustained global leadership?
  2. Of the seven case studies of rivalries presented by Kroenig, which best illuminates U.S.-China rivalry? Why?
  3. Does Chinese nationalism enhance the security of China and the PRC regime, or does it undermine it?
  4. Is a free and democratic China possible? Should greater political freedom in China be a goal of U.S. policy?

Readings:

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the contribution of emerging technologies versus traditional technologies for achieving geostrategic goals?
  2. To what extent will the future battlefield be shaped decisively by new technology or by new ideas? (Argue for, and against, “techno-determinism.”)
  3. Compare Brose’s argument with Kroenig’s. Which system is superior for driving innovation – the American market-driven economic model or the Chinese state-led model?

Readings:

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did it take so long for the U.S. to “wake up” to the China problem? What were the successes and the failures of the “engaging and balancing” strategy of the last generation?
  2. The Trump Administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy redefined Washington’s approach to China as one of “long-term, strategic competition.” What is strategic competition? How does it differ from past policy? What would it mean to win?
  3. Does competition entail conflict? Does the rise of China necessitate a “Thucydides Trap” scenario with the U.S.—are we inevitably destined for war?

Closing Reflections:

  1. In their books, Blumenthal and Kroenig argue that China has serious weaknesses – economic atrophy, growing debt, environmental problems, a rapidly aging population, and a closed political system that stifles dissent. By contrast, Brose emphasizes China’s strengths as a rising economic, military, and technological power which will soon overtake the U.S. Which perspective do you find more persuasive?
  2. How do the different authors understand the nature of the Chinese regime? The role of ideology for China’s strategy? The relationship of China’s ruling class to its people?
  3. In the view of the authors, what is driving U.S.-China competition? Is the competition primarily a contest over territory, economic influence, ideology, etc.? What is the desired endgame for both China and the U.S., according to the authors?
  4. How optimistic – or pessimistic – are the different authors about America’s ability to compete with China?
  5. What strategic approach and policies do the different authors recommend to U.S. policymakers? Where do they differ, and where do they overlap?

Other Courses You Might Be Interested In

War Studies Program

Learn the theory, practice, organization, and control of war and military forces.

Machiavelli’s The Prince

Study the classic treatise that brought Machiavelli fame—and infamy.

Thucydides and Today’s Challenges

Read Thucydides as a series of case studies, setting up a discussion of contemporary strategic problems.

Vasily Grossman’s Life & Fate

Read the novel known as the Soviet War & Peace, and reflect on the nature of totalitarianism.

Nixon in China: Did We Get China Wrong?

Study Nixon’s strategic opening to Beijing in 1972 and how it shaped U.S.-China relations today.

U.S.-China Strategic Competition

Take an in-depth look at the new era of strategic competition between the United States and China.