Experts: Chinese Scholars Understand US Deterrence But Some Gaps Remain

Experts: Chinese Scholars Understand US Deterrence But Some Gaps Remain
Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Jackson (LCS 6) transits the Pacific Ocean, August 3, 2021. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey S. Culbertson

Chinese scholars' understanding of U.S. deterrence mainly aligns with Washington’s strategy, with few misunderstandings, experts told the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Monday.

CSIS, a Washington-based think tank, held an event on “Deterring a cross-strait conflict: Beijing’s assessment of evolving U.S. strategy,” drawing on insights from newly translated Chinese documents under Interpret China Project.

Experts who spoke on Monday’s webinar agreed that China's view of U.S. deterrence and its efforts to enhance capabilities are mostly accurate.

"It's interesting and notable that we have a lot of the same reference points. It's reassuring that we're all singing off the same hymn sheet when it comes to understanding what we mean by deterrence, by compellence, coercion," said Sean Monaghan, a visiting fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at CSIS who thought the documents were “fascinating” and “mind-blowing.”

According to Bonnie S. Glaser, Managing Director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Chinese scholars understand that the U.S. is emphasizing the need to enhance deterrence and is concerned about the decline in conventional capabilities.

“They write about the U.S. emphasis on developing a strategy of denial rather than a strategy of punishment. So, I think they have a fairly good handle on what the U.S. is trying to do militarily,” she added.

Glaser and other experts agree that based on translated material, Chinese scholars are well aware of U.S. deterrence, but some misconceptions are still worrisome.

Michael J. Mazarr, a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation stated that the understanding of U.S. deterrence signaling is limited by a mindset that undermines its effectiveness.

“From a deterrence standpoint, in particular, it concerns me in the sense that sometimes you see deterrence failures precisely because the potential aggressor is in that sort of myopic mindset and comes to think of it normatively instead of making calculations about the strategic reality,” he said, noting that one of such miscalculations that the U.S. wants to avoid is Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Although these documents do not reflect the official stance of Beijing, they offer a valuable understanding of how Chinese scholars and the public perceive external developments, the nation’s apprehensions, goals, and self-evaluation.

Experts on the CSIS webinar said Washington officials can use these articles to identify misinterpretations in China and take measures to prevent any potential escalation.

“If the United States thinks that there is a real misunderstanding of something that the U.S. is doing reading these articles, that gives us the opportunity, not only the government but also experts, to go back to the Chinese and say, this particular point is a misunderstanding of U.S policy and I think it’s useful for us to do,” Glaser concluded.