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Facing The Dragon: Answering China’s Challenge

By Jason English

On February 10, 2024, the dragon entered our world. Powerful, self-assured, and visionary, the dragon grants prosperity and longevity to those who follow him. To those who oppose him, the dragon brings confrontation and aggression.

That’s what the Chinese Zodiac believes. So, too, does the leader of China, Xi Jinping. He wants all countries to know they are now facing the dragon, a dragon who will lead a rejuvenated China to international dominance.

The Chinese Zodiac cycle lasts twelve years. Twelve years ago, shortly after Xi Jinping was elected as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee, Xi Jinping announced the birth of this new dragon, a dragon he called the “Chinese Dream.”

The Chinese Dream

For Xi Jinping, the Chinese Dream holds the promise of rejuvenation for China. Central to Xi’s dream is China’s redemption from the "Century of Humiliation” (1839-1949). During that century, China allowed British gunboats to patrol the Yangtze River, ceded parts of its territory to other nations, and suffered devastating military defeats to Japan.

A central component of this dream is the belief in China’s return to what it believes is its rightful place as the Middle Kingdom, given to them by the Mandate of Heaven. This idea was born out of the Chinese people’s belief that China — geographically isolated yet influential because of its advanced culture and famous silk trade — was the center of the world.

Xi Jinping seeks to return China to its preeminent stature as the Middle Kingdom. This time, though, China will extend its influence across the globe, not through the silk trade but through technology, innovation, and military and economic expansion.

In short, Xi Jinping dreams of a world in which China has risen from humiliation and shame to become the dominant power that all other countries must respect.

How Will Xi Jinping Make His Dream Come True?

Xi Jinping’s strategy for realizing the Chinese Dream involves deliberate and determined actions across the whole of the PRC government and all instruments of national power. The U.S. framework used to describe instruments of national power is commonly referred to as D.I.M.E.

D.I.M.E. stands for Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic. China’s goals, objectives, policies, and actions are intricately and strategically aligned and executed in a concerted manner for the purpose of undermining, weakening, and if necessary, defeating the country it seeks to supplant as the world’s preeminent power: the United States.

And time, China believes, is on its side. After all, their civilization is 7,000 years old. Becoming the dominant power in Asia by 2050, and in the world shortly after, requires only patience.

Let’s examine these strategies in turn.


China’s strategic diplomatic goal is to end Cold War alliances.

By accomplishing this, China will coerce nations into dealing with Beijing bilaterally. Because of its growing economic and military power, China can apply pressure (which it likes to do) on smaller countries — provided those countries are isolated and not buoyed by alliances.

To help achieve the Chinese Dream through diplomacy, China wants countries to face the dragon alone.


China has an army of cyber experts. And they use this expertise to steal intellectual property, surveil their citizens at home and abroad, penetrate their enemies’ cybersecurity systems, enact tighter security laws, initiate disinformation campaigns, and influence opinion through social media.

The U.S. Naval Institute categorizes China’s efforts in using information to achieve its goals as “information warfare.” It details the three types of information warfare strategies the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) adopted in 2003:

  • Psychological Warfare — Undermine and demoralize enemy military personnel and civilian population.
  • Media Warfare — Employ social media to build support for China’s military and economic activities and influence opinion worldwide to support China’s interests.
  • Legal Warfare — Use international and domestic law to promote Chinese interests.


China is rapidly expanding its military. By 2049 it intends to have a world-class military. Today China has the largest navy in the world, with over 370 ships.[1] It also has the largest overall military among all nations.

China’s quantity and quality of military production makes it a peer competitor to the United States. And the aggressive use of its navy (ramming Vietnamese fishing boats and harassing the Filipino Coast Guard) in the South China Sea demonstrates that China will use military force to achieve its goals.


The United States has a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of 28 trillion dollars. China, at 18 trillion dollars, is projected to catch up to the United States in ten years.[2] Already rich in rare mineral resources, manufacturing capacity, transportation, infrastructure, and human capital, China is applying all facets of D.I.M.E. to gain control of the South China Sea.


The U.S. Naval Institute provides this insight:

“The area has significant untapped oil reserves and is a major global trade route; gaining exclusive control of the South China Sea would contribute a great deal to the PRC achieving regional and global hegemony. The ways it has attempted to do so are prime examples of psychological and legal warfare in action.” [3]

Facing the Dragon: Countering the Chinese Dream with the American One

Since taking control of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, Xi Jinping has consolidated power. In 2021, Xi began his third term as president of China. China is moving back toward a one-man, authoritarian dictatorship — a throwback to Mao Zedong.

This form of government enables simple decision-making. One man calls the shots.

On the other hand, that simplicity makes our analysis of China more complicated. It’s difficult to ascertain what’s in the head of one man.

We do know, however, that under the rule of Xi, a man who controls both the communist party and the military, China has launched a long-term campaign to undermine and surpass the United States. And it’s a coordinated campaign.

Across the four dimensions of D.I.M.E., China deploys synchronized operations that:

  • Weaken alliances and isolate countries through diplomacy, as in the case of Taiwan
  • Conduct information warfare in the cognitive domain, as in the recent case of the U.S. military analyst charged with selling classified documents to China
  • Deploy a rapidly expanding military to expand China’s influence through force, as demonstrated by aggressive confrontations with the Filipino Coast Guard
  • Engage in economic warfare against the United States, as evidenced by China’s consistent practice of hacking, ignoring copyright laws, and stealing proprietary technology

American democracy is the dream the United States has given the world. If we hope to keep that dream alive, we may want to remember Hong Kong. One account of China’s crackdown on democracy described it this way:

“As the days of 2021 dwindled, so did any remaining traces of democracy in Hong Kong.”

In our next post, we’ll discuss what the United States can do to face the dragon head on and keep democracy alive throughout the world.

Watch an on-demand webinar to hear a panel of experts discuss the challenges facing our intelligence communities when it comes to understanding China.

End notes

1. United States Department of Defense, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China”, October 2023,

2. International Monetary Fund, “GDP, current prices”, 2024,

3. Major Morgan Martin, U.S. Army, “China’s Three Information Warfares”, March 2021,

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