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A photograph of a Chinese warship at sea.

Key European and Asian allies and partners of America have embraced the language of “great power competition”—but still have divergent definitions, not only with Washington but with each other.

The Evolution of China's Great Power Competition

Nikolas K. Gvosdev

December 2019, Zahl 009

Great-power competition” was the central organizing principle of the just-concluded December 2019 sessions of the Loisach Group, the track 1.5 German-American security dialogue co-hosted by The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies and the Munich Security Conference. Yet while there was unanimous agreement that both China and Russia are revisionist powers seeking to alter, redefine, or even abolish the rules that have governed the international system since the end of the Cold War, as part of their efforts to reduce the overall influence of the Euro-Atlantic world in global affairs—“great power competition” does not automatically lend itself to shared solutions.

Part of the problem is that all three words of the bumper sticker are open to major differences in interpretation. First and foremost, what constitutes competition? Which sports metaphor best describes what sort of “competition” we are discussing? Is this a sudden-death, single-game match where winning and losing are zero-sum in nature, like a game of football (in either its international or American variants)? Is it more akin to a tournament like the Tour de France where winning individual races matters less than overall performance? Is it like the golf circuit where winning conveys more prestige and prize money but where other finalists can still walk away with substantial prize purses? To put in more bluntly, there is a major difference between great power competition where the goal is to eliminate rivals versus one where all the great powers are still standing at the end of the day and the focus is on their standing in the international system...

Excerpt from The Lindley-French Analysis: Speaking Truth Unto Power, December 13, 2019.

This article reflects the views of the author and are not necessarily the official policy of the United States, Germany, or any other governments.