How America and China Have Different Visions of International Order


This May, China’s Ministry of Defense published a white paper, “China’s Military Strategy,” only a few months after the United States’ most recent National Security Strategy (NSS) was released.  It is revealing to compare the two documents, both to see how each nation envisions the other in a strategic context, and because it adds to our understanding of both countries’ self-conceptions.

The United States’ NSS focuses on a panoply of functional threats to national security—proliferation, climate change, terrorism—before moving on to discuss strengthening America’s economy and promoting state-building and human development in troubled countries.  Only the final section of the document discusses the question of “order,” including the “rebalance” of American attention to Asia.

The Chinese Ministry of Defense paper, on the other hand, begins with the claim that although the international system is generally calm and on a peaceful trajectory, Chinese security is adversely affected by “new threats from hegemonism, power politics, and neo-interventionism.”  It goes on to describe the “rebalance” and the meddling of external countries in the South China Sea as having negative impacts on China’s security.

The meddlesome, neo-interventionist hegemon is, of course, the United States. That the U.S. is front and center as a security threat in the Chinese strategy while China is buried at the back of the U.S. document is in itself worth contemplating. A more obvious disparity is the language with which the two documents describe the phenomenon of deep U.S. engagement in the region. The NSS, for example, describes the U.S. in rather different language. In his preface to the document, President Obama argues that “strong and sustained American leadership is essential to a rules-based international order that promotes global security and prosperity as well as the dignity and human rights of all peoples.”  The document’s section on the “rebalance” discusses both the deepening and broadening of economic and security ties to Asian nations.


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