Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

China Has Two Paths to Global Domination

By Hal Brands, Jake Sullivan

22 May 2021 · 15 min read

Xi Jinping’s China is displaying a superpower’s ambition. Only a few years ago, many American observers still hoped that China would reconcile itself to a supporting role in the liberal international order or would pose—at most—a challenge to U.S. influence in the Western Pacific. The conventional wisdom was that China would seek an expanded regional role—and a reduced U.S. role—but would defer to the distant future any global ambitions. Now, however, the signs that China is gearing up to contest America’s global leadership are unmistakable, and they are ubiquitous.

There is the naval shipbuilding program, which put more vessels to sea between 2014 and 2018 than the total number of ships in the German, Indian, Spanish, and British navies combined. There is Beijing’s bid to dominate high-tech industries that will determine the future distribution of economic and military power. There is the campaign to control the crucial waterways off China’s coast, as well as reported plans to create a chain of bases and logistical facilities farther afield. There are the systematic efforts to refine methods of converting economic influence into economic coercion throughout the Asia-Pacific and beyond.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content