As the world frets over a potential US–China conflict, how do China and the United States assess each other’s power capabilities? What are the conceptual frameworks, methodological tools, key actors and institutions involved in assessing the Sino–US power balance? Drawing on open source material, this chapter seeks to identify differences and similarities in how both parties attempt to gauge the existing power balance. It suggests, amongst other conclusions, that Cold War concepts of net assessment and AirLand Battle continue to exert an influence on the way the United States considers China’s military power capabilities. The Chinese side stresses the notion of ‘comprehensive power’, which also highlights the importance of ‘soft power’ far more than the US side does.
This chapter argues that what appear to be an insurmountable and growing set of constraints may in fact, in some cases, be an opportunity for Washington to extend its influence and further consolidate security relationships in the region. The US defence posture in Asia is characterized by a set of so-called “hub and spoke” relationships and networks with formal treaty allies (Japan, Republic of Korea, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines). In addition, there are also long-standing quasi-allies (notably Singapore), or occasional partner states such as Malaysia and India that either host ad hoc US military deployments or participate in exercises together. This chapter evaluates the constraints and opportunities for the US defence posture through these three sets of US partners – formal treaty allies, quasi-allies and more ad hoc partners.