Thursday Mar 09, 2023

How Washington Overestimates Chinese Weakness

American politics and foreign policy have become consumed with the challenge from China, and the face of that challenge is Xi Jinping. But many depictions of Xi are stark black and white, portraying Xi as either an all-powerful mastermind carrying out a long-term plot for Chinese domination—or as a leader guilty of self-defeating overreach that has sent China into decline.

For Christopher Johnson, who worked for two decades as a China analyst at the CIA, the truth is in the messy middle. Today, Johnson is president and CEO of China Strategies Group and a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis. He argues that a better U.S.-China policy requires a more nuanced understanding of Xi and his power.

We discuss what the spy balloon incident revealed about the U.S.-Chinese relationship, how Xi has fared since suddenly lifting China’s strict COVID-19 lockdown measures in the fall, and why Washington seems gripped by “Taiwan invasion hysteria.”

You can find transcripts and more episodes of The Foreign Affairs Interview at


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