Inflating China’s Threat Risks Disaster for the United States

Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently claimed that Chinese leadership has “announced its ambition to create a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and to become the world’s leading power.”

Blinken is wrong: no Chinese leader has ever made such a clear statement. But Blinken’s mischaracterization is only the latest notable signal of a dangerous trend in Washington, where U.S. government officials are significantly inflating the threat that China poses to the United States. This threat inflation actually hurts America’s interests at home and in the region, and it increases the chances of a disastrous U.S.-China conflict.

In May, I published a study examining the widespread presence of threat inflation in assessments of the Chinese military and Beijing’s general strategic intentions. Blinken’s speech is practically a case study in threat inflation, and his insistence on Beijing’s globe-bestriding ambitions is a sterling example. Blinken was likely referring to a speech made by Chinese leader Xi Jinping that has often been wrongly translated. At the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017, Xi stated that China will become “a global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence.” Although many analysts translate the original Chinese phrase into English as “the” global leader, this is far from clear in the original Chinese, and the official Chinese translation of the term uses “a,” not “the.” It was hardly a clear announcement.

In Blinken’s defense, he’s not alone. Throughout history, individuals, governments, and leaders across disciplines have shown a strong tendency to exaggerate and distort threats, both in general and in relation to other countries.

Read the full article in The National Interest.