In This Review

The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power
The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power
By Thomas J. Christensen
W. W. Norton & Company, 2015, 400 pp

The debate over how the United States should respond to the rise of China is usually based on the premise that a power transition is taking place. But Christensen characterizes this idea as at least premature and probably flat wrong. He draws from his academic research and policy experience as a deputy assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush to present an exceptionally clear and subtle analysis of the evolving U.S.-Chinese relationship. Although China is “nowhere near a peer competitor,” its “reactive assertiveness” presents a real risk of conflict, which has to be countered by a strong U.S. presence in Asia. This presence, however, must be balanced by assurances, expressed more in actions than in words, that the United States does not threaten Chinese security. Christensen gives examples from recent administrations of some moves that succeeded in walking this fine line and others that failed. He argues that an even more difficult challenge is to get China to bear its share of the costs in managing global problems such as climate change and nuclear proliferation. Beijing is likely to cooperate on such issues not in response to moral preaching but when it sees direct benefits from doing so. Washington should not panic about the rise of China, but it needs a steady and nuanced strategy to shape Chinese behavior.