Summary of Competition Without Catastrophe

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The US-China relationship has evolved from “engagement” to what the US government’s 2018 National Security Strategy now refers to as “strategic competition.” The form and goals of such a competition remain unclear, however. Is it analogous to the Cold War relationship between America and the former Soviet Union? Veteran US foreign policy officials Kurt M. Campbell and Jake Sullivan lay out their vision for a sensible US-China strategy. They offer a clear and practical analysis of what the United States can – and can’t – expect to achieve in its interactions with the emerging superpower.

About the Authors

Kurt M. Campbell is Chair and CEO of the Asia Group. He served as US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2009 to 2013. Jake Sullivan is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and was Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State in 2011–13.



The Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union is a poor analogy for describing the economic competition between the United States and China today.

Like the former Soviet Union, China is a formidable opponent for the United States in terms of both its size and power ambitions. It is a mistake to see the Cold War conflict as a perfect parallel to today’s US-China rivalry, however. China’s economy stands head and shoulders above anything the Soviet Union ever achieved.

The Chinese government presides over a diversified and sophisticated economy whose GDP has already surpassed that of the United States. And unlike the Soviet economy, the Chinese economy is highly integrated into the global economy and intertwined with that of the United States and its allies – giving China leverage Washington cannot simply ignore.


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