John C. Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, made the assertion during a panel discussion today at the Center for European Policy Analysis Forum in Washington.
"The National Defense Strategy very clearly lays out a blueprint for America's role in the world and how we see it," the undersecretary said. "It starts with recognition that in this highly complex, dynamic security environment, the great power competition has returned," he said.
The United States doesn't seek a confrontational approach, nor is it destined to be adversaries with China, Rood noted.
"We want to trade. We want to have interactions. But on the other hand, we want to protect our intellectual property," he said. "We want to protect the rules-based international order that we've both worked so hard to create since World War II. And we want respect for the sovereignty of others. We want respect for the role of individual in society."
Rood said it's important to recognize the scale of China's ambitions. China wants not only to become the world's largest and most influential economy, but also to be the world's largest and most influential nation in all spheres of life.
The undersecretary talked about China's ambitions to have a world-class military.
"[But] it's the way in which China is challenging this international rules-based order, challenging the individual freedoms that we support, challenging the free movement of ideas, and people, trade," Rood said. "And promoting an authoritarian model, one that doesn't respect the sovereignty of others, [is] what challenges our way of life."
If it were simply an economic competition, Rood said, America rather likes competition. "And so I wouldn't fear that at all," he added.
The U.S. innovation model would beat China's innovation model 10 times out of 10 times, Rood told the panel. "I really have tremendous confidence in it, he said, "and the best proof I can give you that China's leaders recognize that is that they are determined to steal from it."
The Chinese know they can't win a head-to-head competition, the undersecretary said; they know they can’t compete with that kind of entrepreneurship and innovation, so the state has to exercise that level of control.
"You're starting to see China develop overseas military bases, overseas intelligence collection locations, and this is one of the areas in which to challenge sovereignty," Rood said. In the last 10 years, the United States has witnessed a 750% growth in China's defense spending, he noted.
"We have to be serious about protecting this international rules-based order, protecting free trade, protecting the free movement of ideas and the role of individual society," Rood said.