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The Ambiguous “China Threat”

SINGAPORE – For more than a decade, China’s geopolitical ambitions, backed by the People’s Liberation Army’s ongoing modernization, have fueled a debate about whether regional security dilemmas and competition – particularly with the United States – will escalate. While most policy analysts agree that China’s expanding role in global economic and security affairs will shape the Asia-Pacific region’s strategic environment, no clear consensus has emerged on the form that this influence will take.

A closer look at the debate reveals why. Interpretations of the “China threat” reflect diverse perspectives and opposing viewpoints in Europe, the US, and Asian. As a result, the potential consequences of China’s rise remain ambiguous.

On the one hand, China’s economic-growth trajectory has strengthened regional cooperation through increased trade, better economic incentives, and closer commercial ties. On the other hand, China’s geopolitical and strategic assertiveness, coupled with its military modernization, is creating new security dilemmas and exacerbating existing problems.

In fact, China plays a role in every security issue – traditional or unconventional – facing the Asia-Pacific region. While it is difficult to determine China’s long-term strategic intentions, it is clear that the country’s efforts over the last decade to acquire advanced weapons systems, platforms, and technologies are gradually shifting regional security paradigms and challenging US strategic primacy.