The U.S.-China Competition in Historical and Theoretical Perspective
How do great power competitions differ across time and space, and what lessons do prior great power contests hold for the nascent U.S.-Chinese competition? Amid emerging consensus that the United States must “compete” with China in international affairs, this project investigates the course and conduct of different kinds of great power competitions. It takes as its starting point the idea that not all great power competitions are the same—varying in their ideological, economic, and military dimensions—with distinct implications for the strategies states use to wage them. Understanding the contemporary U.S.-China contest therefore first requires identifying and investigating the dynamics of specific kinds of great power competitions.
From there, the project draws on an array of American and Chinese sources to analyze contemporary international politics and the contours of U.S. and Chinese foreign policy to assess where in the spectrum of competitions U.S.-Chinese relations fall. Having done so, the project discusses options for shaping American strategy vis-à-vis China by drawing lessons for what prior experience suggests may succeed in competing with the People’s Republic, as well as potential pitfalls along the way. The ultimate focus is simultaneously on clarifying the nature of U.S.-Chinese competition today, and anchoring contemporary policy debates in theory and historical experience.
Joshua Shifrinson is an Assistant Professor of International Relations with the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, an affiliate of the MIT Security Studies Program, and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. A graduate of Brandeis University (BA) and MIT (PhD), his work focuses on great power politics, U.S. foreign policy, diplomatic history, and international security. Shifrinson's research has been published in International Security, the Journal of Strategic Studies, Journal of East Asian Studies, The Washington Quarterly, and other venues. His first book - Rising Titans, Falling Giants: How Great Powers Exploit Power Shifts - was published in 2018 by Cornell University Press; building on debates surrounding China's rise, his new project investigates when and why great powers try to forestall the emergence of new challengers.