By: Barry Pavel, Matthew Kroenig, and Jeffrey Cimmino

What is the kernel of the issue?

There is an ongoing debate among foreign policy scholars and practitioners regarding the role ideology should play in strategic competition with China. Some argue that China poses a threat to the United States strictly because of its growing power; others contend that differing values—democracy in the US and authoritarianism in China—shape US-China rivalry and help explain why each views the other as a threat.

Why is the issue important?

The threats that China poses (including military threats to its neighbors, systematic violation of the global trading system, human-rights abuses at home, and promotion of autocratic politics overseas) stem from its domestic political system. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) exports its autocratic model abroad, imposing its repressive model on Tibet and, most recently, Hong Kong, while relentlessly pressuring Taiwan. As it is unlikely that a liberal democratic China would engage in these practices, it is clear that ideology shapes Chinese behavior that threatens US and allied interests and values.

What is the recommendation?

The Biden administration should emphasize the importance of ideology in US-China rivalry. It should highlight that the competition is about the values that will shape the future of the global order to rally democratic governments to stand up to China. Even as it focuses on irreconcilable differences over values, the Biden administration should still pursue cooperation with China in areas of common interest. It also should maintain pragmatic security partnerships with friendly autocracies, and work with them on shared interests to counter Beijing’s assertive behavior.

Related Experts: Barry Pavel, Matthew Kroenig, and Jeffrey Cimmino