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THE LONGER TELEGRAM: Toward a new American China strategy


An anonymous author, self-described as a former senior government official with deep China expertise and experience, published an extraordinary Atlantic Council Strategy Paper this week.

Its aim is nothing less than to shape Biden administration strategy toward Beijing—with Chinese President Xi Jinping as its prime focus.

What makes the paper worth reading, all 26,000 words of it, are the author’s insights into China’s internal workings and party fissures, the author’s solutions to the current lack of any coherent US national strategy toward Beijing, and the paper’s controversial call that the Biden administration draw “red lines” that, “should deterrence fail, will prompt direct US intervention.”

“The United States’ list of red lines should be short, focused, and enforceable,” the author writes, thus undermining “China’s tactic for many years… to blur the red lines that might otherwise lead to open confrontation with the United States too early for Beijing’s liking.”

Key points

  • The single most important challenge facing the United States and the democratic world in the twenty-first century is the rise of an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive China under Xi Jinping. China has long had an integrated, operational strategy for dealing with the United States. The United States has so far had no such strategy with regard to China. This is a dereliction of national responsibility.
  • US strategy and policy toward China must be laser-focused on the fault lines among Xi and his inner circle–aimed at changing their objectives and behavior and thus their strategic course. Communist Party elites are much more divided about Xi’s leadership and vast ambitions than is widely appreciated.
  • The foremost goal of US strategy should be to cause China’s ruling elites to conclude that it is in China’s best interests to continue operating within the US-led liberal international order rather than building a rival order, and that it is in the Chinese Communist Party’s best interests to not attempt to expand China’s borders or export its political model beyond China’s shores.


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