China and the United States: Cooperation, Competition, and/or Conflict

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Overview of China and the U.S.: Cooperation, Competition and/or Conflict

This report is an experimental net assessment that addresses China's emergence as a global superpower, and its competition with the United States. The report is entitled China and the U.S.: Cooperation, Competition and/or Conflict.

The report has been extensively updated and expanded since its original publication. Besides incorporating various new reports on Chinese economic and military developments, the report also includes key quotes from the recently released Chinese White Paper commemorating the CCP’s 70 th anniversary. These quotes are now the best example of China’s indirect criticism of recent U.S. policy towards China, and strategy and actions towards other states, as well as its economic progress and plans to take lead on global development.

The entire report, and the report is available on the CSIS web site in several forms:

• Key sections are available on the CSIS web site in PDF form by clicking on each section title. The size of some of these PowerPoints may present problems for some IT systems, but quick comparisons of different Chinese and U.S. policy statements and assessments, and of the graphics and data that summarize the trends and issues involved are only possible if PowerPoint is used. The PDF versions are smaller but make it far more difficult to quickly compare a broad range of different trends.

• A PDF version of the full report is available on the CSIS web site ( as well, which can be accessed here ( This document allows the user to skim through comparisons of all the net assessment’s different sections, but the assessment’s length and the PDF format make it difficult to explore given issues in detail.

Organization and Contents of the Report

The net assessment is divided into eight major sections:

PART ONE: CHINA’S NATIONAL STRATEGY provides summaries of China’s evolving strategy using direct quotes from its key white papers, particularly its 2019 Defense White Paper. It then provides similar excerpts from the new U.S. national security and national defense strategy that the United States issued in 2017 and 2018, and from assessments of Chinese strategy by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Defense, DIA, and INDOPACOM.

It should be noted that the Chinese 2019 White Paper came after the changes in U.S. national strategy and the U.S. assessments of China’s military developments and that much of its contents clearly respond to the shifts in America’s declared strategy and assessments. Accordingly, these quotes provide a clear picture of the very different Chinese and U.S. views of Chinese and U.S. competition and of which power is increasing the level of tension and prospects for potential conflict. They set the stage for the detailed assessments of economic and military trends and issues that follow. (

PART TWO: China’s Emerging Economic Power provides official assessments of the important of economic developments and competition in Chinese strategy and U.S. assessments of the trends in Chinese forces, and the provides a wide range of graphics, maps, and data that show rate of Chinese growth. It assesses trends in trade and technology as well as total economies, and the potential causes of limits to China’s growth and emergence as an economic superpower. (

PART THREE: SHAPING ECONOMIC COMPETITION TO SERVE STRATEGIC INTERESTS notes reporting by the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense that stresses the leading impact of China’s economic growth on its competition with the U.S. It examines the importance of China road and belt initiatives, and its growing share of the global economy and trade. (

PART FOUR: THE SUPERPOWER BALANCE AND CHINESE GRAND STRATEGY addresses Chinese official views of the shift in the global military balance in its 2019 Defense White Paper and the contrasting official views of OSD and DIA, and then provides a range of different quantitative assessments of the global military balance between China, the U.S. and Russia that shows the extent to which each nation can compete as a “superpower.” It compares the very different Chinese, OSD, DIA, IISS, and SIPRI estimates of defense spending by China, the U.S., Russia, and other powers, It provides summaries of Chinese and OSD views of China’s expanding technology base, and analyzes the importance of arms transfer to both improving China’s military technology and its level of influence over other states. (

PART FIVE: KEY AREAS OF U.S. MILITARY FOCUS describes the developments on U.S. strategy and forces in Asia that are shaping the U.S. side of its military competition with China, and lays the foundation for comparisons with the analyses of China’s strategic positions and forces that follow. It shows the size and deployments of U.S. forces. and the he U.S. Chinese, and other key power military balance in Asia. It also shows DIA and OSD maps and assessments of total Chinese military deployments by military service, the Chinese claims that are the focus of U.S. concern, and the expansion of Chinese naval, air, and missile power in the Western Pacific that is a key source of U.S. concern. (

PART SIX: PART SIX: CHINA, THE U.S., AND OTHER ASIAN POWERS — COMPETING CLAIMS IN ASIA AND THE PACIFIC focuses on the competing Chinese and other country claims in the Western Pacific and the Chinese build-up of forces in the South China Sea that is a key U.S. strategic concern. It analyzes the economic, trade, energy, and strategic influence impact of these issues as well as their military importance. (

PART SEVEN: CHINESE STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENTS AFFECTING OTHER ASIAN POWERS covers China’s official position on its strategic relations with every major power on its borders, the official U.S. view of China’s strategic relations with each state, and the sources of Chinese tension or cooperation. It should be noted that China does not address Mongolia or North Korea in its White Papers, and minimizes its discussion of Japan and South Korea. It has steadily identified Taiwan as key strategic concern, however, and potential source of conflict. Supporting policy summaries, maps, and charts highlight key areas of potential U.S. and other nation competition with China. (

PART EIGHT: CHINESE FORCE DEVELOPMENT AND MODERNIZATION examines the key force trend is each major aspect of Chinese force development. Once again, quotes are provided from both Chinese White Papers and U.S. strategy documents and official assessments of China’s forces. The subsections that follow cover China’s nuclear forces and other weapons of mass destruction, its rocket and missile forces, its shift to advanced forms of military technology and warfare, each of its military services, and the change role of its paramilitary forces and counterterrorism capabilities. (


Aside from a brief one-page introductions to each major section and some subsections, the report does not make independent comments about the Chinese and U.S. official statements that it presents, or the analytic material that follows. It lets each country speak for itself, and the provides a range of graphics, charts, and tables to address key trends and issues without making judgments or interpretations of their content. Its purpose is to provide a range of official views, and of expert data on the course of Chinese progress and competition with the U.S. and other states with only a minimum of comments and value judgement by the authors.

The key policy statements do speak for themselves, bit they are political, unclassified, and designed to make each nation’s case – rather than be objective. The surveys in each section and subsection that then draw on graphic material and analysis taken from official sources, as well as from research by a variety of thinks and media sources. survey of official and graphic views of the China’s evolving ability to achieve parity with – and compete with – the U.S. and other powers in civil and military terms. Accordingly, virtually all of the graphics, tables, and summary assessments displayed in the various sections of this report are drawn from the sources cited on each page.

These sources include primary sources like Chinese White Papers, the assessments of Chinese military power by Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in the United States; and other official Chinese, U.S., Japanese, South Korea, Taiwanese, IMF, UN, and World Bank documents. These sources have the advantage of exceptional access to the material they cover, but they too can be highly political in character and the Chinese and U.S views of any given Chinese activity are generally very different.

This is why other graphics, maps, and charts are provided that draw on work developed by a wide range of think tanks and research centers — including the IISS, SIPRI, and the CSIS. They provide are more neutral picture of the forces driving U.S. and Chinese competition and the forces shaping the economic and military developments in the region. And, major differences they reveal in some aspects of the work by outside sources help illustrate the key uncertainties that often affect a given issue.

The Broad Trends Count, Not Specific Numbers

The material provided in each section of this net assessment show that no one source of data or set of figures is authoritative. At the same time, many of the sources that do differ in detail also broadly agree in revealing how quickly China's economy, technological base, and military forces are developing — as well as the growing importance of its regional and global economic and military ties and outreach.

Seen from this perspective, such trends clearly that show that China already is a true economic superpower with growing resources and a steadily improving technology base. Its military structure is evolving to the point where China can compare or compete with the U.S. — at least in Asia.

They show that China already has a far more powerful economy than Russia and is spending far more on military forces. It is also clear that China’s economic outreach already exceeds that of the United States in some of its aspects. If these current trends continue — China has the future capacity to equal or surpass the U.S. economy and U.S. military forces at some point during the next two decades.

The comparison of the civil and military trends in China’s progress also reinforce a key point made in the 2019 edition of the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s report on Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China. “China's economic progress, and regional economic outreach, will often be more of the central focus of its grand strategy than the modernization and expansion of its military forces.” Such a comparison also makes it clear that no analysis that focuses on only one side of China's development — either civil or military — can begin to explain the real-world changes taking place in its grand strategy, and global and regional capabilities.

Finally, the user should be reminded that summary trends and graphics can only tell part of the story in any given area. Moreover, many graphics, maps, and charts cover subjects that are so complex that the user must refer to the original source to fully understand the definitions, sources, and quality of the data used, the reasoning behind the choices made in presenting the data, and consult other analyses to how to put such data in a full narrative context.

There issues are particularly important when a given graphic or statement attempts to estimate the future. China's full emergence as a superpower is still at least a decade away, and is often hard or impossible to reliably predict. In addition, many trends of the more established powers like the U.S. and Russia are also highly volatile and can only provide uncertain insights as to the future.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy