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March 29, 2021

The China Plan

A Transatlantic Blueprint for Strategic Competition

China presents the United States and its partners with the most serious set of challenges they have faced since the Cold War. The scope of those challenges is global. Their potential impact is deep. Left unaddressed, they will harm the fundamental vital interests of democratic nations everywhere. Collective action between the United States and its European partners, coordinated with like-minded nations in Asia, is needed to deflect these challenges, protect our vital interests, and seek a change in China’s policies. Several strategies have been offered to manage China. What is missing is a blueprint—a “China Plan”—to guide the United States and its partners in this endeavor. 

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Flagge Europa, Deutschland, USA, United States of America, Vereinigte Staaten, China, Volksrepublik.
Flagge Europa, Deutschland, USA, United States of America, Vereinigte Staaten, China, Volksrepublik.
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This article contains the summary and chapter of a report "The China plan: A transatlantic blueprint for strategic competition" published by the Atlantic Council on March 22, 2021. The present chapter was co-authored by Didi Kirsten Tatlow and Clementine G. Starling. 

Executive summary and Principal Recommendations

China presents the United States and its partners with the most serious set of challenges they have faced since the Cold War. The scope of those challenges is global. Their potential impact is deep. Left unaddressed, they will harm the fundamental vital interests of democratic nations everywhere. Collective action between the United States and its European partners, coordinated with like-minded nations in Asia, is needed to deflect these challenges, protect our vital interests, and seek a change in China’s policies. Several strategies have been offered to manage China. What is missing is a blueprint—a “China Plan”—to guide the United States and its partners in this endeavor. This study represents such a blueprint.

Conducted over the course of a year and drawing on the research and opinions of hundreds of experts, policy makers, and academics in the United States, Europe, and Asia, this study delves into three broad trends and analyzes five major areas in which Chinese actions threaten transatlantic interests: human rights, coercive diplomacy, predatory economic practices, technology competition, and security challenges.

In doing so, this study identifies areas of convergence, divergence, and asymmetry in transatlantic attitudes towards China, arguing forcibly that a transatlantic response is urgent and necessary to prevent China from remaking the rules-based order to its singular advantage. It concludes with ten recommended steps for minimizing divergences as a means to building a coordinated transatlantic blueprint for confronting, competing with, and, where possible, cooperating with China.

Chapter II - Areas of Greatest Potential Convergence (Executive Summary)

A critical element of this blueprint is identifying areas of convergence of transatlantic interests, areas where transatlantic interests may diverge, and areas where asymmetric interests exist. By understanding areas of maximum convergence, transatlantic initiatives can be more easily developed. By identifying areas of divergence, transatlantic disputes can be avoided, and initiatives can still be designed. By understanding areas of asymmetric interest, priorities can be better understood and managed.

The areas of greatest potential transatlantic convergence, analyzed in Chapter II deal primarily with values:Chinese human rights practices, the global competition over the means of governance, China’s coercive diplomatic practices, and China’s influence operations across the globe. These issues go to the heart of what transatlantic nations stand for. In these areas, there should be ample potential and opportunity for transatlantic partners to design common approaches to protect democratic institutions and human rights. Even so, China is able to intimidate many transatlantic nations, preventing them from acting on these values alone or even speaking out. Only with a more concerted and unified transatlantic approach can sanctions or shaming have any impact on Chinese behavior.

Download the full report here.

Bibliographic data

This article is part of a report published by the Atlantic Council on March 22, 2021. The present chapter was co-authored by Clementine G. Starling. 

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