Is China a Challenge to U.S. National Security?

A chapter in The China Questions 2: Critical Insights into US-China Relations, edited by Maria Adele Carrai, Jennifer Rudolph, and Michael Szonyi.

August 18, 2022

Cover of the book 'The China Questions 2'The belief that China presents a challenge, if not an outright threat, to U.S. national security is increasingly prevalent in elite and public discourse. The main points of contention lie in the degree to which China threatens U.S. national security, how exactly China may challenge U.S. national security, and uncertainty about how the answers to these questions may change over time (which is fundamentally a debate about the drivers of Chinese strategy).

In this chapter, included in the volume The China Questions 2: Critical Insights into US-China Relations​ Harvard University Press, 2022), Oriana Sklayar Mastro focuses on the direct and indirect ways the People's Republic of China poses a threat to U.S. national security today.

Two caveats are in order. First, this focused discussion on challenges and threats may distort the degree to which China threatens the United States. On aggregate, the discussion presents a malign influence from the Perspective of U.S. national security. But it could be much worse. China has resolved many of its territorial disputes peacefully. Beijing has relied mainly on economic and political tools to blunt U.S. influence beyond its immediate region. China is an active member of the vast majority of international institutions. Even though faced with a conventionally superior U.S. military, China has yet to change its minimal no-first-use nuclear doctrine.

Second, while Mastro presents information on trends and trajectories, her focus is on today's challenges. These are likely to expand in scope and increase in intensity over the next five to ten years.