July 30, 2019

Over the past several years, bold assertions about China’s long-range strategic goals have become common in the US public discourse. In 2015, Michael Pillsbury published his influential volume The Hundred-Year Marathon, which purported to disclose China’s “frightening plans” to overtake the United States as the world’s leading power by 2049 and rewrite the rules of global order to suit Beijing’s parochial interests.1 Such views are echoed in official US assessments. The 2018 National Defense Strategy asserted that: 
As China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.2 
Skeptics have challenged these judgements on various grounds. Several have critiqued Pillsbury’s evidence as flawed and inadequate.3 Others have argued more generally that China’s aspirations are less sweeping than they have sometimes between portrayed in scholarly and official circles. Writing in TheAsan Forum, former senior US intelligence official Paul Heer argues that instead of trying to supplant the international order, China is “increasingly pursuing its interest within Western-established institutions like the UN and the G-20 because China sees most of those institutions trending in its favor.”4



Joel Wuthnow, Research Fellow, Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, U.S. National Defense University