China expert Dan Blumenthal unmasks China’s dangerous paradox: the combustible mix of a Chinese Communist Party with growing global ambitions frustrated by domestic weaknesses, protests, instability, and COVID-19.

Contrary to an emerging bipartisan and global consensus, China is not the global superpower Xi Jinping’s government would have the world believe. Indeed, a still powerful China is in “decay” and beset by internal and regional challenges that will frustrate the nation’s grand ambitions. This dynamic – an infirm colossus in decline but with global designs — paradoxically makes China a vastly more dangerous threat to American national security than previously thought.

In his thought-provoking and counterintuitive new book, The China Nightmare: The Grand Ambitions of a Decaying State (AEI Press, November 17, 2020), Dan Blumenthal, Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), explains that it is not China’s strengths that the next President will have to cope with, but rather the country’s weaknesses. For the past several months the world has seen the weaknesses and failures of China’s government on full display when a local epidemic turned into a pandemic because of mismanagement and coverups.

Blumenthal makes the case that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Xi Jinping’s overambitious vision for China’s future, increased emphasis on crackdowns and human rights abuses in China and Hong Kong, and rejection of any meaningful market reforms like those once championed by previous Chinese leaders, will ultimately lead to a cascade of consequences both for the CCP and for those that have the misfortune of being in its orbit, creating a nightmare scenario of intensifying great power tensions and a long-term Sino-American rivalry beset by uncertainty over China’s future.

In The China Nightmare, readers will learn that :

  • As COVID-19 has demonstrated, China’s system of governance causes massive problems for the world. Thanks largely to the CCP’s political maladies, the pandemic is the single-greatest global peacetime catastrophe since World War II.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO), which China has heavily influenced, parroted Beijing’s falsehoods about the devastating nature of COVID-19 and the way it spreads. It has excluded Taiwan from any meaningful participation in its activities, even though Taipei successfully managed the pandemic.
  • Beijing’s goals are to build new China-centric strategic partnership networks to propagate a Chinese model of economic and political governance. Its goal is to create a new world order based on what it calls a “community of common destiny” that reshapes global institutions to be more compatible with the CCP’s own authoritarian governance.
  • Managing the unrest in Hong Kong has been a complicated and energy-intensive task for the regime. But China’s Hong Kong response, including its targeted degradation of Hong Kong’s autonomy, reveals a key weakness: It will devote enormous resources to avoid losing even a modicum of control over what it identifies as part of its suzerainty.
  • By dramatically reversing Deng Xiapoing’s market reforms, Xi Jinping and before him, Hu Jintao, dismantled the engine of China’s growth and stifled innovative sectors.
  • Even so, China is making great strides in catching-up to the US in capabilities for high-tech warfare and expanding its geopolitical reach.
  • In addition, because of the one child policy, an unprecedented demographic crisis looms in China. Large portions of Chinese society are exiting the workforce and trying to live on pensions that further drain the Communist government’s treasury. Meanwhile, Chairman Xi continues to spend lavishly on programs designed to control an ever-broadening list of internal threats, such as “spiritual pollution.” China’s failed attempts at population control has also resulted in an enormous surplus of males.

“Thanks to the Chinese Communist Party, the nation’s domestic disorders and ills, caused by internal economic and social weaknesses and decaying political institutions, have now been exported to the world,” Blumenthal writes. “The main purpose of this book is to accurately diagnose the exact nature of the challenge that China poses to the US and its allies. My aim is to help readers understand the fundamental nature of China, the most serious geopolitical rival facing the US today. There are now many books about China, but few synthesize the country’s strategy in all its dimensions and cover all its complexities and contradictions to paint an accurate picture of the global trouble China will cause as it projects its strengths but also cannot contain its weaknesses.”

Praise for the China nightmare

“A perfectly timed diagnosis of the threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses to the free world. Daniel Blumenthal explains what Chinese leaders want and how they intend to get it. The China Nightmare makes clear that if the Party were to achieve its ambitions, the world would be less free and less safe. The author also provides a compelling prescription for how the United States and likeminded partners must compete effectively to prevent the disease of authoritarianism from spreading.” – H.R. McMaster, author of Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.

“Dan Blumenthal’s The China Nightmare exposes the striking contradictions that bedevil China’s rise as a competitor to the United States: a desire to satisfy external ambitions while compensating for grave domestic weaknesses. Addressing this challenge will require deft and sophisticated responses and U.S. policymakers will not find a better guide to managing this rising but infirm colossus than Blumenthal’s book.” – Ashley Tellis, Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“Dan Blumenthal’s The China Nightmare unmasks the sharp paradox at the heart of China’s strategy to unseat the US as the global leader: Beijing is chasing grand global designs even as the Chinese Communist Party is beset by vexing internal challenges. If Washington fails to respond with strength and dexterity China will grow ever more dangerous. Blumenthal’s penetrating diagnosis of the challenges China poses and his compelling case for a new competitive strategy that exposes China’s weaknesses, will shape Sino-American relations over the long-term.” – Rep. Liz Cheney

Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on East Asian security issues and Sino-American relations. Mr. Blumenthal both served in and advised the US government on China issues for over a decade.

From 2002 to 2004, he served as senior director for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mongolia at the Department of Defense. Additionally, he served as a commissioner on the congressionally-mandated US-China Economic and Security Review Commission from 2006-2012, and held the position of vice chairman in 2007.

He has also served on the Academic Advisory Board of the congressional US-China Working Group.