This article was written by Alex Hollings and originally published on Sandboxx.

China’s growing fleet of aircraft carriers may promise to grant the nation more power projection capabilities than ever before, but first, they’ll need a competent carrier-based fighter. That’s where a Chinese national named Su Bin comes in–he is currently serving a prison sentence for stealing tens of thousands of files on America’s premier military aircraft, including the C-17 Globemaster III, F-22 Raptor, and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and providing them directly to the Chinese government.

China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) has undergone a vast overhaul in recent years, with Xi Jinping (General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, but often referred to as President) spearheading the initiative to remove internal corruption and wasteful spending. His intent is not just to turn China’s massive and sluggish military into a 21st-century powerhouse, but very literally to unseat the United States as the global leader in multiple arenas; from military power projection to diplomacy to (perhaps most importantly) international trade.

The Luyang III/Type 052D guided-missile destroyer Hefei entered service in late 2015 and is widely considered a peer to America’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers. (Chinese Ministry of Defence).

These seemingly disparate goals all actually dovetail into one another on the global stage, with China’s transition from a green water (coastal) to a blue water (global) navy providing it the security it needs to expand its diplomatic influence, both of which serve to further bolster China’s rapidly expanding economic interests outside of the nation’s borders. Truly, all three of these goals can be appropriately summed up under one banner: China’s focus on becoming the sole global superpower that dominates the 21st century.

It’s important to note that these efforts don’t necessarily make China a nefarious party, as many of their economic and diplomatic expansion initiatives mirror America’s own following the conclusion of World War II, where America’s untouched infrastructure and powerful economy provided the nation with the leverage it needed to secure a position atop the international heap right up through today. China’s military efforts, while nefarious seeming to us, are better categorized as “self-serving,” which–it’s important to remember–is just as dangerous as nefarious from an American vantage point.

America and China are playing by different rules

China has no qualms with seeing the United States as its primary competition and ideological opponent, and indeed, within America’s defense apparatus, that’s often how China is seen by Americans as well. Because of America’s very different approach to international relations and individual liberty, however, the United States finds itself in a difficult position. China’s government controls every facet of life within its borders, from censoring social media to dictating the content of American movies released in their markets.

As an example of how different internal culture is within these two nations in terms of global competition, Chinese intelligence managed to infiltrate a secure CIA database in 2010–providing them with a list of people inside China that had given information to American spies. Between 2010 and 2012, the Chinese government identified these individuals, placed them under surveillance to make a list of others that may be helping… and systematically executed them all, effectively neutering America’s intelligence gathering apparatus within the nation.

In stark contrast to that approach, Chinese national and Canadian resident Su Bin, who went by Stephen Su when visiting the States, was convicted of providing information on some of America’s most classified military programs to the Chinese government and was sentenced to just 46 months, or less than four years, for his crimes.