05 August 2022

How Will China’s National Power Evolve Vis-à-vis the United States?

Andrew S. Erickson, “How Will China’s National Power Evolve Vis-à-vis the United States?” in Maria Adele Carrai, Jennifer Rudolph, and Michael Szonyi, eds., The China Questions 2: Critical Insights into U.S.-China Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2022), 161–170.

The United States and China increasingly differ in their national systems, interests, and objectives. Never before have they been powerful simultaneously. China’s leaders scrutinize trends in relative comprehensive national power and attempt to finely calibrate policies accordingly. China’s economy is already at least the world’s second largest and funds the world’s second-largest defense budget. While the United States leads in overall military quality, sophistication, and coordination, China’s armed forces enjoy increasing advantages. Much is at stake in their great power competition, including regional and global security, governance of all domains beyond national boundaries, and international rules, institutions, and order. All this makes how China’s national power will evolve with respect to America’s among this era’s greatest questions.


Precise national power calculations are problematic. It is more productive to compare national goals and the required capabilities with forces affecting efforts to meet them.


Comprehensive national power can be defined as a nation’s ability to exert or resist influence in all major dimensions of the international system. For the US government, this is often divided into diplomatic, information, military, and economic categories. Measuring national power, however, has proven elusive. Empirically rich attempts to systematically quantify these various components can be extremely complex yet often miss critically important intangibles, such as “soft power” influence and the potential for innovation and transformation. As a result, analysts, whether in the United States or the People’s Republic of China (PRC), have produced widely divergent estimates for the ranking of nations’ relative power. A more realistic approach to assessing comprehensive national power involves considering a range of potential future scenarios and surveying and weighing key dynamics that will likely inform the great powers’ trajectories across them. … … …


Honorable Mention for the Association for Asian Studies 2023 Franklin R. Buchanan Prize.

About the Editors

Maria Adele Carrai specializes in the history of international law in East Asia and is the author of Sovereignty in China: A Genealogy of a Concept since 1840. She is Assistant Professor of Global China Studies at New York University Shanghai.

Jennifer Rudolph is author of Negotiated Power in Late Imperial China: The Zongli Yamen and the Politics of Reform and coeditor of The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power. She is Professor of Asian History and International/Global Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Michael Szonyi is author of The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China and Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line and coeditor of The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power. He is Frank Wen-hsiung Wu Professor of Chinese History and Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.


Following the success of The China Questions, a new volume of insights from top China specialists explains key issues shaping today’s US-China relationship.

For decades Americans have described China as a rising power. That description no longer fits: China has already risen. What does this mean for the US-China relationship? For the global economy and international security? Seeking to clarify central issues, provide historical perspective, and demystify stereotypes, Maria Adele Carrai, Jennifer Rudolph, and Michael Szonyi and an exceptional group of China experts offer essential insights into the many dimensions of the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

Ranging across questions of security, economics, military development, climate change, public health, science and technology, education, and the worrying flashpoints of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang, these concise essays provide an authoritative look at key sites of friction and potential collaboration, with an eye on where the US-China relationship may go in the future. Readers hear from leading thinkers such as James Millward on Xinjiang, Elizabeth Economy on diplomacy, Shelley Rigger on Taiwan, and Winnie Yip and William Hsiao on public health.

The voices included in The China Questions 2 recognize that the US-China relationship has changed, and that the policy of engagement needs to change too. …


“A timely book. For general readers and students alike, these concise essays on critical aspects of the US-China relationship work very well. An impressive roster of authors collectively provides a broad overview of the many aspects of the relationship, going well beyond diplomacy and politics. The essays also work beautifully by themselves.” ― Odd Arne Westad, author of Empire and Righteous Nation: 600 Years of China-Korea Relations

“Focusing on the turbulent bilateral relationship between China and the United States, The China Questions 2 offers a wide range of accessible essays on topics from international relations to culture, in a tone that is lively and argumentative but always balanced. Overall, the book has a powerful message: the United States needs informed and clear-eyed engagement with China.” ― Rana Mitter, author of China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism

“Required reading. The authors are a who’s who of American scholars on US–China relations, and the topics include virtually everything that would be of concern to students, academics, and practitioners. At a time when there are too few books on the relationship generally, this fills a wide gap. The editors have my admiration.” ― Stephen A. Orlins, President of the National Committee on United States–China Relations


Introduction [Maria Adele Carrai, Jennifer Rudolph, and Michael Szonyi]

I. Contextualizing China–US Relations

1. US–China Relations: How Did We Get Here, Where Can We Go? [John Pomfret]

2. Is Engagement Still the Best US Policy for China? [Elizabeth Economy]

3. Why Is China America’s Favorite Threat? [Chengxin Pan]

4. How Does China See America? [Xiaoyu Pu]

5. How Is US Policy toward China Made? [Ryan Hass]

6. Who Gets into the Chinese Communist Party, and Who Rises up the Ranks? [Victor Shih]

II. Global Order

7. Will the World Make Room for China in the New Global Order? [Susan A. Thornton]

8. Is China Trying to Undermine the Liberal International Order? [Alastair Iain Johnston]

9. Is China Changing the International Humanitarian Intervention Regime? [Courtney J. Fung]

10. Has China’s Economic Success Proven That Autocracy Is Superior to Democracy? [Yuen Yuen Ang]

III. China in the World

11. What Are the Implications for the United States as China Reshapes Its Overseas Image? [Naima Green-Riley]

12. How Can the United States Live with China’s Belt and Road Initiative? [Min Ye]

13. What Does China’s Increased Influence in Latin America Mean for the United States? [Oliver Stuenkel]

14. Does the Rise of China Threaten the Transatlantic Partnership? [Philippe Le Corre]

15. Is China Competing with the United States in Africa? [Maria Repnikova]

16. Should Western Nations Worry about the China–Russia Relationship? [Lyle Goldstein]

IV. Security

17. How Will China’s National Power Evolve vis-à-vis the United States? [Andrew S. Erickson]

18. How Does China Think about National Security? [Sheena Chestnut Greitens]

19. Is China a Challenge to US National Security? [Oriana Skylar Mastro]

20. How Will Emerging Technologies and Capabilities Impact Future US–China Military Competition? [Elsa B. Kania]

V. Flashpoints

21. Where Do Divergent US and Chinese Approaches to Dealing with North Korea Lead? [John Park]

22. How Does Taiwan Affect US–PRC Relations? [Shelley Rigger]

23. Why Should Americans Care about Hong Kong? [Denise Y. Ho and Jeffrey Wasserstrom]

24. What Should Americans Know about Human Rights Violations in Xinjiang, and What Are US National Interests There? [James A. Millward]

25. Why Did China Build and Militarize Islands in the South China Sea, and Should the United States Care? [Bonnie S. Glaser]

VI. Economics

26. Who Wins and Who Loses in the US–China Trade War? [Yukon Huang]

27. How Does Party-State Capitalism in China Interact with Global Capitalism? [Margaret M. Pearson, Meg Rithmire, and Kellee S. Tsai]

28. Will the Renminbi Rival the Dollar? [Eswar Prasad]

29. How Can the United States Protect Its Intellectual Property from China’s Espionage? [Margaret K. Lewis]

30. Is China Catching Up with the West? Or, Why Should We Care about China’s Middle Class? [Terry Sicular]

VII. Public Health, Science, Technology

31. Is US–China Climate Action Possible in an Era of Mistrust? [Alex Wang]

32. What Can the United States Learn from China about Infrastructure? [Selina Ho]

33. What Is at Stake in the US–China Technological Relationship? [Graham Webster]

34. Has China Positioned Itself as a Leader in Big Tech Regulations? [Winston Ma]

35. What Does It Mean That China Is the First Country to Land on the Dark Side of the Moon? [Carla P. Freeman]

36. Is US–China Global Health Collaboration Win–Win? [Winnie Yip and William Hsiao]

VIII. Society

37. What’s Me Too in China All About? [Leta Hong Fincher]

38. Why Should the United States Support Civil Society in China and How? [Diana Fu]

39. Do Confucius Institutes Belong on American Campuses? [Mary Gallagher]

40. Should American Universities Engage with China? [Mark Elliott and Dan Murphy]

IX. Culture

41. Why Is Chinese Popular Culture Not So Popular Outside of China? [Stanley Rosen]

42. What Can Western Audiences Learn about China from Its Twenty-First-Century Writers? [Xudong Zhang]

43. How Does the Rising Chinese Market Reshape Global Art? [Noah Kupferman]

44. Does Religion Matter in Bilateral Relations? [Ian Johnson]

45. Does Race Matter in US–China Relations? [Keisha Brown]

46. How Does the Past Serve the Present in Today’s China? [Wang Gungwu]