America in Asia: Shoring up U.S. Credibility Despite China’s Mistrust

Corey Gustafson /

A new Brookings report on the inner workings and strategic thinking of the Chinese government explains that China’s leaders see “a long-term zero-sum game” between Beijing and Washington, and that the United States, not China, is on “the wrong side of history.”

The authors of the report suggest that China increasingly views the U.S. as a deteriorating power because of its out-of-control spending and domestic political difficulties. Beijing is skeptical of any action Washington takes, believing its true motivation is keeping China down to maintain its own Asian hegemony. The authors assert that China believes this is creating a culture of “strategic distrust.”

This may help explain why, according to Heritage’s Dean Cheng, China has boosted its defense budget by 11.3 percent this year alone and is increasingly asserting its influence in the region, such as claiming sovereignty in the South and East China Seas.

In a scenario where the Chinese government believes its survival will come about only because of American decline or defeat, it becomes even more critical to project U.S. power and strength in the Asia–Pacific region. As Heritage’s Kim Holmes recently argued, it is America’s military power that gives the U.S. credibility in Asia. Increasing U.S. military presence in the region is needed to ensure that free trade and American interests prevail. America must deal with China from a position of strength, demonstrating that as a Pacific nation it is perfectly capable of maintaining a leadership role.

Corey Gustafson is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: