With U.S.-China relations becoming more competitive and the U.S. policy consensus on China crumbling, having a strong analytic cadre who understand the PLA seems a necessity. Moreover, such people also should be capable of rising into generalists positions where knowledge of Chinese security affairs can inform broader policy decisions. That Ambassador Charles “Chas” Freeman, Jr. and General Eikenberry are two of a very small number of China people to do so speaks to a broader deficiency. Only by systematically moving the field forward—a task requiring government support beyond the incredibly modest funding for area studies—will Washington have the intellectual capital it needs to maneuver the treacherous path of U.S.-China relations.
Peter Mattis is a Fellow in the China Program at The Jamestown Foundation and the author of the recently-published Analyzing the Chinese Military: A Review Essay and Resource Guide on the People’s Liberation Army.