Chinese Grand Strategy – A Net Assessment: Cooperation, Competition and/or Conflict
November 29, 2018
China's emergence as a global superpower involves a wide range of different trends in its economy and military forces, many of which are still in a state of uncertain transition. The Burke Chair at CSIS has prepared a book-length report that compares different indicators of these trends drawn from a range of official Chinese, U.S., Japanese, South Korea, Taiwanese, IMF, UN, and other sources, along with work by various think tanks and the media.
This report is entitled Chinese Grand Strategy – A Net Assessment: Cooperation, Competition and/or Conflict. It is available on the CSIS web side in two forms:
- A PowerPoint version available is at https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/181204_China_Grand_Strategy.pptx?Id2W4VmKzqM63BhJ78pYKlac1DWXZPtM. This is a long document and may present problems where the size of a document has an impact on its use or the user does not have PowerPoint. It is, however, far easier to use in making comparisons of the trends and geography in Chinese statements and doctrine, outside assessments, and economic, technical, and military progress.
- A PDF version available at https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/181204_China_Grand_Strategy.pdf?Zuvb_mV153SkwtwANfIF8ZBfxL767M.5. This is a much smaller document, but harder to use to comparing different trends and assessments.
As long as the report is, it can only highlight a limited range of views of key trends. Estimates of virtually every trend differ significantly between sources and experts, and sometimes radically so. The trends still show, however, how radically China's economy, technological base, and military forces are developing – along with the importance of its regional and global economic and military ties and outreach.
These key trends are also clear enough to show that China is now a true superpower power with the resources, technology base, and military structure to compare or compete with the U.S. – at least in Asia. While some of the data involved are uncertain, it is still clear that China already has a far more powerful economy than Russia and is spending far more on military forces. Its economic outreach already exceeds that of the United States in a number of aspects, and – if current trends continue – it 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.
These same trends show that China's economic progress and regional economic outreach may well be more of a central focus in its grand strategy than the modernization and expansion of its military forces. They make it clear that no analysis that focuses on only one side of China's development – either civil or military – can begin to fully explain the real-world changes taking place in its grand strategy, and global and regional capabilities.
They also show that the actual trends in China's Grand Strategy become far clearer from the key trends in its economy, technology base, regional ties, trading patterns, and military than its official statements and outside efforts to assess China's strategy without examining its progress to date.
The user should be aware, however, that – despite the length of the report – key trends can tell only part of the story in any given area touched upon in this report, and that many raise more issues than they resolve. This is particularly true when they attempt to estimate the future, and China's full emergence as a superpower is at least a decade away. Moreover, the estimates chosen often differ sharply from source-to-source, and usually do so in complex ways that require their use to refer to the original source to fully understand the definition, source, and quality of the data used, and put it in its proper its narrative context.
The report has the following Table of Contents which illustrates in brief the key trends it examines, and the sheer range of factors that must be considered in evaluating China's grand strategy.
Other Related Burke Chair Studies of China and Asia
- China and the New Strategic Nuclear Arms Race: The Forces Driving the Creation of New Chinese Nuclear Delivery Systems, Nuclear Weapons, and Strategy, November 15, 2018, https://www.csis.org/analysis/china-and-new-strategic-nuclear-arms-race.
- The Korean Civil-Military Balance, May 24, 2018, https://www.csis.org/analysis/korean-civil-military-balance.
- Chinese Strategy and Military Modernization in 2017, January 12, 2017, https://www.csis.org/analysis/web-book-chinese-strategy-and-military-modernization
- More Than A Nuclear Threat: North Korea’s Chemical, Biological, and Conventional Weapons, March 22, 2018, https://www.csis.org/analysis/more-nuclear-threat-north-koreas-chemical-biological-and-conventional-weapons-0
- Web Book: The Military Balance in the Koreas and Northeast Asia, January 31, 2017, https://www.csis.org/analysis/web-book-military-balance-koreas-and-northeast-asia
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State.