The 2018 U.S. National Defense Strategy (NDS) defines the security environment facing the United States today as one characterizes cross-domain competition from adversaries and the decline of U.S.-led order. Specifically, the NDS identifies China as a revisionist strategic competitor to the United States. The NDS recognizes that China has been modernizing its military to achieve regional hegemony in the short-term and displace the United States as the preeminent power in the world in the long-term.
China’s fast ascending and expanding military capabilities have posed explicit and increasing challenges to U.S. operations. However, except in its near seas, China’s challenges to the broader U.S.-led order have been more nuanced. Reflecting on China’s approach’s cross-domain and all-of-nation nature, the NDS has pointed out that China’s strategy combines military buildup, influence operations, and economic engagements. More importantly, though, to legitimize and reduce the political and material costs of its push to alter the U.S.-led order, China has engaged in a campaign to establish its “discourse power” in the world. Through exerting the discourse power, China consistently provides a narrative about its global assertion of influence, and the narrative centers around the idea of “development.”
Dalton Lin is assistant professor at Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology. His most recent work is “The Political Economy of China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’,” in Lowell Dittmer (ed.), China’s Political Economy in the Xi Jinping Epoch: Domestic and Global Dimensions (World Scientific Publishing, in print).