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H-6K bombers fly in formation during a military parade at Zhurihe military training base. Photo: Cui Nan/CHINA NEWS SERVICE/VCG via Getty Images

A Chinese H-6K bomber landed on Woody Island in the Parcels last week — the first time a Chinese military aircraft has touched down on one of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, and a strong assertion of sovereignty by Beijing.

Why it matters: China is not only restoring its place as the dominant power in Asia, but also extending its presence and influence far beyond. Along the way, it has become the most significant global competitor the U.S. has ever faced.

The significance of China’s challenge is due to its mix of legitimate economic and diplomatic activities (those conducted within the rules of the current international system) and illegitimate ones (those outside the rules). The former include investing massive amounts in educational and cultural programs to enhance its soft power and building its own set of free-trade agreements, institutions and programs that, while legitimate, are designed to exclude the U.S. and increase China’s influence at American expense. China’s illegitimate activities include intellectual property theft for commercial gain, economic coercion to gain technology for its own companies or bend other countries to its will, intervenroom in foreign politics to secure more China-friendly policies, seizure of contested territories, and a disregard for rulings by international institutions not to its liking.

Militarily, China is on a path to become a peer the likes of which the U.S. has not seen since the Soviet Union. Beijing has invested wisely in systems designed to counter those of the U.S. The Chinese know that any contest in Asia between China and an adversary will be first a matter of naval and air combat, and they have prepared accordingly by developing sophisticated counter-space, counter-air and counter-maritime capabilities. Combined with profound organizational reforms, China’s weapons modernization will leave its forces much more capable of projecting military power beyond Chinese shores.

The bottom line: In the U.S., there is no consensus -- indeed, hardly much debate -- about an overarching strategy to deal with China. Without one, the U.S is doomed to continue ceding ground and possibly worse -- facing China in a military contest.

Michael Morell is global chairman of geopolitical risk at Beacon Global Strategies, a former deputy director of the CIA, and a CBS commentator and host of the podcast "Intelligence Matters."

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.