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Upstart: How China Became a Great Power (Oxford University Press, 2024)

This book tells the remarkable story of how China was able to achieve great power status in such a short period of time, without triggering an international response that would stem its rise. China built its economic, political, and military power from a weaker resource position – and in a world dominated by a U.S.-led order – by pursuing a careful mix of strategic emulation, exploitation, and entrepreneurship on the international stage. This book provides an empirically rigorous yet accessible explanation for the unique nature of China’s rise, while providing policy recommendations for how the U.S. can effectively compete in this new era of great power politics moving forward.

Forthcoming June 2024 from Oxford University Press.

Available for pre-order here

"Oriana Mastro suggests that China has grown strong by rationally employing a mix of emulation, exploitation, and entrepreneurial policies in the face of changing American reactions across time. Thus it has achieved great power status without provoking an all-out containment response from the US. Mastro presents a well-researched and sophisticated challenge to simplistic power transition and realist accounts of China’s rise that are currently in vogue in Washington."

Alastair Iain Johnston, Professor of Government, Harvard University


Winner of the 2020 International Security Section of the American Political Science Association Best Book by an Untenured Faculty Member

Honorable Mention, Diplomatic Studies Section, ISA

"Mastro forwards a new theory of when states agree to negotiate peace.  She demonstrates the power of that theory through painstaking research on several conflicts in Asia.  This impressive book thereby makes contributions to international relations theory, Asian studies, and diplomatic history."  

Thomas J. Christensen, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University


The Cost of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime (Cornell University Press, 2019)


After a war breaks out, what factors influence the warring parties' decisions about whether to talk to their enemy, and when may their position on wartime diplomacy change? How do we get from only fighting to also talking?


In The Costs of Conversation, I argue that states are primarily concerned with the strategic costs of conversation, and these costs need to be low before combatants are willing to engage in direct talks with their enemy. Specifically, leaders look to two factors when determining the probable strategic costs of demonstrating a willingness to talk: the likelihood the enemy will interpret openness to diplomacy as a sign of weakness, and how the enemy may change its strategy in response to such an interpretation. Only if a state thinks it has demonstrated adequate strength and resiliency to avoid the inference of weakness, and believes that its enemy has limited capacity to escalate or intensify the war, will it be open to talking with the enemy.


I discuss these findings in two podcasts at AEI and Young China Watchers and at an AEI event. Please also find a roundtable discussion on the book in Asia Policy, a book review from ASPI, a book review from Strategic Studies Quarterly, a book review from The China Quarterly, a book review in Political Science Quarterly, a book review from War on the Rocks, a book review by Pacific Affairs, a book review by Foreign Affairs, and a book review from the Journal of Chinese Political Science. Read the newest H-Diplo/ISSF roundtable on the book here.


The Military Challenge of the People’s Republic of China (Hoover Institution Press, November 2023)

In her chapter for Hoover Institution Press's "Defense Budgeting for a Safer World: The Experts Speak," Oriana Skylar Mastro lays out Chinese activities and capabilities with respect to a Taiwan contingency as well as US challenges in countering (and thus deterring) China. The increase in resources and effort has resulted in more frequent, sophisticated, and multifaceted PLA presence and activities in the region and beyond, undermining faith in the US’s willingness to live up to its defense commitments. She presents a series of recommendations to mitigate US defense challenges in deterring China from attempting a fait accompli.


Deepening US-Taiwan Cooperation Through Semiconductors (Hoover Institution Press,   July 2023)

In a contribution to Hoover Institution Press' Silicon Triangle: The United States, Taiwan, China, and Global Semiconductor Security, Kharis Templeman and Dr. Mastro discuss how Washington and Taipei can deepen cooperation on semiconductor issues. A shared demand for and interest in semiconductor technology provide many opportunities for improving ties. This, in turn, can help strengthen deterrence against Beijing's potential attempts to invade Taiwan. 

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The Next Flashpoint? China, the Republic of Korea, and the Yellow Sea (Asia Policy, January 2023)

In this Asia Policy article, Oriana Skylar Mastro examines China's interests and activities in the Yellow Sea. While scholars usually pay little attention to the Yellow Sea, Mastro shows that China has significant economic and strategic reasons to prioritize its presence there. She makes use of a novel dataset on Chinese military activities in those waters and an examination of Chinese propaganda in her analysis. Her paper lays out several ways that US and ROK policymakers should respond to China's growing presence in the Yellow Sea.


How South Korea Can Contribute to the Defense of Taiwan (The Washington Quarterly, October 2022)

This article, co-authored with Sungmin Cho, looks into how South Korea might support a US-led effort to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion. While fighting side-by-side with the United States is likely politically infeasible in the ROK, the country can still provide valuable help to such an effort. First, the South Korean military could shoulder more of the burden in deterring North Korean aggression, allowing more US troops to defend Taiwan. Additionally, South Korea could provide rear-area support in such a contingency. Finally, the ROK might forge closer economic ties with Taiwan in order to deter a Chinese invasion in the first place. 


China's Nuclear Enterprise: Trends, Developments, and Implications for the United States and Asia (CSIS Project AtomSeptember 2023)

Oriana Skylar Mastro contributes a chapter to CSIS' Project Atom 2023 report. Analyzing China's recent nuclear buildup, she comes to a number of conclusions. First, the buildup itself does not necessarily signal a change in Beijing's overall nuclear policy.  Rather, no-first-use and assured retaliation are likely to remain important components of Beijing's approach. It is also not drive nby a desire for parity with the U.S. Rather, the U.S. progress in missile defense technology has made Beijing worry about its second-strike capabillity, leading to the current buildup efforts. 

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Talking to the enemy: Explaining the emergence of peace talks in interstate war (Journal of Theoretical Politics, July 2023)

Along with co-author David A. Siegel of Duke University, Oriana Skylar Mastro explores why some states are more open to talking while fighting than other states. They find that states will only consider negotiations when their opponents cannot escalate at a reasonable cost and when there is a signal of high resilience that only the highly resilient care to use. They draw on research into the Vietnam War negotiations to bolster their argument. 


Reassurance and Deterrence in Asia (Security Studies, November 2022)

In this article, Oriana Skylar Mastro warns against using analytical frameworks developed from the US' experience in Europe to guide policy in the Indo-Pacific. When policymakers want to understand how they can reassure US allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, they too often draw from Cold War experiences. To better understand how the US can go about building strong and stable alliances, Dr. Mastro analyzes the role of tripwire forces, the country's overall military capabilities, and transient military operations in reassuring partners and deterring aggression against them. 


Deterrence in the Indo-Pacific (Asia Policy, October 2022)

In an Asian Policy roundtable, Oriana Skylar Mastro examines the role of the Quad and other minilateral groupings in deterring Chinese aggression. As China’s military might grows, the United States and its allies are increasingly concerned with deterrence. Their strategies seek to prevent Beijing from disrupting the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific by, for example, invading Taiwan or conducting gray-zone operations in the South China Sea. This essay lays out some of the unique characteristics of the China challenge before considering how minilaterals can best enhance deterrence in these circumstances.


Is China a Challenge to US National Security? (Harvard University Press, August 2022).

This chapter in The China Questions 2 considers the increasingly prevalent thought that China presents an outright threat to US national security. More specifically, I evaluate the degree to which China threatens US national security and how. The chapter also assesses how this threat level may change as time passes. In evaluation the Chinese threat, I consider both unconventional means such as cyber and counter space weapons and analyze conventional military capabilities. 


Understanding the Challenge of China's Rise: Fixing Conceptual Confusion about Intentions (Journal of Chinese Political Science, June 2022).

This peer-reviewed article presents a new framework for evaluating Chinese intentions. Setting forward five propositions, I help distinguish "intentions" from strategies and goals and advance how scholars can define and measure intentions. Through these five propositions, I present a new lens for scholars and politicians to assess Chinese intentions and explain why labeling China as a revisionist power may be a problematic way to assess the PRC's intentions. 


Chinese Grand Strategy (Oxford University Press, March 2022).

This chapter of​ ​Strategy in the Contemporary World covers how China's grand strategy has evolved over the span of 40 years, from Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping to modern day ​leaderes like Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and now Xi Jinping. As Xi's China has be especially active in building Chinese geopolitical power (and leveraging it to become a dominant power in Asia), this chapter covers new debates about current Chinese intentions towards international organizations as well and the potential impact of Chinese grand strategy goals. 


Nuclear Deterrence and the US–China Strategic Relationship (Australian National University, December 2021)

This chapter of Alliances, Nuclear Weapons and Escalation evaluates the role that nuclear deterrence plays in the US–China strategic relationship. It lays out the pathways to conflict and the implications for nuclear use, evaluates how allies influence nuclear dynamics, and explores how escalation to nuclear conflict may affect US allies in the region.


Military Competition With China: Harder Than the Cold War? (Department of Defense: SMA Perspectives Series, September 2021)

This SMA Perspectives paper is focused on the following question: “How should the US manage the US-China relations so that they stay below the level of conflict and destructive competition?” In this context, the paper distinguishes “constructive competition” from “destructive competition.”


The Taiwan Temptation: Why Beijing May Resort to Force (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2021)

Although a Chinese invasion of Taiwan may not be imminent, for the first time in three decades, it is time to take seriously the possibility that China could soon use force to end its almost century-long civil war.  Support for armed unification among the Chinese public and the military establishment is growing.


Strait of Emergency? Debating Beijing’s Threat to Taiwan (Foreign Affairs, September/October 2021)

This article is a collection of critical responses to the prior The Taiwan Temptation piece published, concluded with a final reply by myself. To summarize, China is not the same country it was 70 years ago. It would be wishful thinking to assume that China has not also changed its thinking on Taiwan.


Chinese Intentions in the
South China Sea 
(Wilson Center, April 2021)


What are China’s intentions in the South China Sea? In this article I present an analytical framework for understanding intentions based on: 1) distinguishing between intentions about the process and the outcome and 2) incorporating information from discourse, behavior, and capabilities. 


Teach What You Preach: A Comprehensive Guide to the Policy Memo as a Methods Teaching Tool  (Journal of Political Science Education, January 2021)


Students and instructors alike have lamented the nature of methods instruction in political science curricula. This article argues that the policy memo is particularly suited for introducing basic methodological concepts to upper-division undergraduate students.


The PLA’s Evolving Role in China’s South China Sea Strategy  (China Leadership Monitor, December 2020)


During the past eight months of the global COVID pandemic, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been active in promoting China’s claims in the South China Sea. I argue that the greatest change in the PLA’s role in the South China Sea has not been operational. The PLA has taken a more active role in China’s South China Sea strategy, but a more aggressive one.

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Asymmetric But Uneven: The China-India Conventional Military Balance (Routledge Handbook of China-India Relations, March 2020)


What are the key trends in the conventional military balance between China and India?  This chapter addresses how each country’s military forces are postured, and examines each side’s military priorities, military modernization to date, local military balance, and the implications of these factors.

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The Stealth Superpower: How China Hid Its Global Ambitions (Foreign Affairs, January-February 2019)

Although China does not want to usurp the United States’ position as the leader of a global order, its actual aim is nearly as consequential. In the Indo-Pacific , China wants total dominance; it wants to force the United States out and become the region’s unchallenged political, economic, and military hegemon.


All in the Family: North Korea and the Fate of Hereditary Autocratic Regimes (Survival, March 2020)


What is the weakest link in a hereditary autocracy, what are the patterns of collapse and what typically happens after the end of such a regime?  This article identifies four patterns concerning the collapse of such regimes, relevant to policy makers that hope to evaluate the stability of the North Korean regime


Will China intervene if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, and if so, does Beijing have the willingness and capabilities to deal safely with North Korea's nuclear program? How can the United States account for China’s military role in this mission and work together  to coordinate their shared interests? 


In the Shadow of the Thucydides Trap: International Relations Theory and the Prospects for Peace in U.S.-China Relations, (Journal of Chinese Political Science, November 2018)

What is the likelihood that China and the United States will fall into the Thucydides Trap, meaning that the two countries will fight a major war during a potential power transition? Can we predict the likelihood of major conflict between a rising and an established power?



What are the long-term implications of strategic competition with China, particularly in military aviation? How does our platform development compare? Employment concepts? Personnel and training?

It Takes Two to Tango: Autocratic underbalancing, regime legitimacy and China’s responses to India’s rise

(Journal of Strategic Studies, July 2018)


What factors do autocracies evaluate when responding to perceived threats and why might they fail to balance appropriately? Do autocratic leaders choose greater exposure to an external threat if, by doing so, it preserves regime legitimacy?

How China Ends Wars:

Implications for East Asian and U.S. Security

(The Washington Quarterly, March 2018)

How has China historically approached diplomacy, mediation and escalation in conflict? To what degree are these historical patterns of behavior likely to manifest themselves in future conflicts, especially given all the changes to China’s internal and external environment since China’s last war in 1979?

The Theory and Practice of War Termination:

Assessing Patterns in China's Historical Behavior

(International Studies Review, February 2018)


How has China historically performed when it attempts to engage in conflict resolution? Are historical patterns of war termination behavior likely to manifest themselves in future conflicts, even with all the changes to China’s internal and external environments since its last war in 1979?

Risk and Resiliency:

China's Emerging Air Base Strike Threat

(Project 2049, November 2017)


This paper, written with Project 2049’s Ian Easton, seeks to provide an overview of the evolving airpower challenge that the United States faces in the Western Pacific. We explore Chinese military writings on air base strike operations, and then evaluate the current trajectory of the PLA’s precision strike capabilities.

Why China Won't Rescue North Korea:

What to Expect If Things Fall Apart

(Foreign Affairs, January/February 2018)



The conventional wisdom on what China would do if conflict broke out on the Korean Peninsula is dangerously out of date. I argue China is likely to intervene militarily and extensively not in support of North Korea, but to protect its national interests.

Ideas, Perceptions, and Power:

An Examination of China's Military Strategy (Strategic Asia, 2017-18)


This chapter explains how a broad base of national power, the prevalence of perceived maritime threats, and national narratives about the “century of humiliation” and Chinese exceptionalism combine to make regional power projection the most attractive national military strategy to Chinese leaders. 

Dynamic Dilemmas:

China's Evolving Northeast Asia Security (Korea Economic Institute, 2016)

What are Chinese strategic intentions in Northeast Asia and how have they evolved in recent years?  I argue that Northeast Asia is the foundation of China’s strategy to facilitate its rise, keep Japan down, and eventually to keep the United States out. 



This brief evaluates US and Chinese military aviation through three factors that shed light on the degree and nature of strategic competition: resource allocations, targeted platform development, and airpower employment concepts

The Vulnerability of Rising Powers:

The Logic Behind China's Low Military Transparency (Asia Security, 2016)


Why does Beijing exacerbate the asymmetric information problem, even though this theoretically increases the likelihood of conflict? I offer an explanation, the vulnerability hypothesis, for why rising powers are likely to reject military transparency and the conditions under which this may change.

A Global People's Liberation Army:

Possibilities, Challenges, and Opportunities (Asia Policy, July 2016)

This is article assesses the factors shaping whether China will develop significant military expeditionary capabilities, the conditions under which Chinese leaders may decide to use the military outside East Asia, and implications for the U.S. This was also presented as written and oral testimony to the USCC

China's Antiaccess-Area Denial (A2/AD) Capabilities: Is the Rebalancing Enough? (CENSA, 2014)

This chapter assesses the changes to doctrine, strategic guidance, operational concepts, force posture, organization, training and logistics Beijing is likely to make if it moves to develop a global expeditionary PLA by 2025-2030.

What are the major components of China’s A2/AD approach and how does the U.S. rebalancing address these challenges? I argue that China’s active defense strategy can be as four pillars: kinetic, geographic, political and deterrent, and present three balancing acts the United States must master if it is to counter China.

What is the contemporary role and interpretation of the noninterference principle in Chinese foreign policy, and how has it evolved historically?  I argue that the principle is evolving to allow more flexibility, largely because of external pressures. 


The conviction that economic ties will engender peace is a lynchpin of US strategy, but Asian leaders view failure to protect territorial claims as worse than the losses associated with a limited war.

Signaling and Military Provocation in Chinese National Security Strategy: 

A Closer Look at the Impeccable Incident (Journal of Strategic Studies, April 2011)


On 8 March 2009, five Chinese vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in close proximity to the USNS Impeccable. This paper explains the incident in the context of Chinese coercive diplomacy. 

China Can't Stay Home

(The National Interest, November/December 2014)

While the Chinese leadership would prefer to stay focused on internal development and regional issues, facts on the ground like the need to protect commercial interests and Chinese citizens abroad will increasingly compel the CCP to develop some global operational power-projection capabilities.

Why Chinese Assertiveness is Here to Stay

(Washington Quarterly, January 2014)

The article discusses the roles of coercion and assertiveness in Chinese foreign policy. I argue that increased levels of assertiveness are likely to persist because Chinese officials see the strategy as beneficial and central to China's anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy.

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