Cristina L. Garafola

Cristina L. Garafola
Policy Researcher


M.A. in international relations and international economics, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced and International Studies; Certificate in Chinese and American studies, Hopkins-Nanjing Center; B.A. in international relations and Chinese, Hamilton College


Cristina Garafola (she/her) is a policy researcher at RAND. Her research focuses on the ramifications of China’s rise for its global status, particularly with respect to defense issues, China’s influence on regional actors, and implications for the United States. Garafola served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2017 to 2019, where she focused on National Defense Strategy and Indo-Pacific strategy implementation. She has also worked at the Department of the Treasury, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Department of State. She is the co-author of the book 70 Years of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (2021), published by the China Aerospace Studies Institute. Her work has been published by RAND, the China Maritime Studies Institute, and in Asian Security, the Journal of Strategic Studies, War on the Rocks, and the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief.

Garafola holds an M.A. in China studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a graduate certificate from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, and a B.A. in international relations and Chinese from Hamilton College. She has experience living and working in China and has also spent time in Myanmar (Burma) and Japan. She speaks Chinese.

Selected Publications

Kenneth W. Allen and Cristina L. Garafola, 70 Years of the PLA Air Force, China Aerospace Studies Institute, 2021

Cristina L. Garafola, "The PLAAF at War During the Cold War," Vortex: Studies on Air and Space Power, (5), 2023

Cristina L. Garafola, The PLA Airborne Corps in a Joint Island Landing Campaign, China Maritime Studies Institute, 2022

Michael S. Chase, Cristina L. Garafola, and Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, "Chinese Perceptions of and Responses to U.S. Conventional Military Power," Asian Security, 2017

Cristina L. Garafola, "The Evolution of the PLA Air Force’s Mission, Roles and Requirements," in Joe McReynolds, ed., China’s Evolving Military Strategy, Jamestown Foundation, 2016

Michael S. Chase and Cristina L. Garafola, "China’s Search for a 'Strategic Air Force'," Journal of Strategic Studies, 2015


  • China

    People's Liberation Army Reforms and Their Ramifications

    The newest round of reforms to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is expected to improve the military's efficiency, warfighting capability, and political loyalty, but entrenched interests within the PLA could lead to reluctance within the military to adjust to new realities.

    Sep 23, 2016

    Defense Dossier

  • China

    How Do Chinese Surface-to-Air Missile Forces Train?

    Surface-to-air missile (SAM) forces play a crucial role in Chinese military planning. Recent training activity indicates that PLAAF SAM units' operational readiness and capabilities may vary depending on their location and the time of year.

    Sep 6, 2016

    The National Interest

  • China

    China Signals Resolve with Bomber Flights Over the South China Sea

    Since the PCA tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines' case on July 12, invalidating many of China's claims in the South China Sea, Beijing has sought to demonstrate its military strength in the region. The PLAAF's H-6K has played a key role.

    Aug 2, 2016

    War on the Rocks

  • Military Transformation

    Will the PLA Reforms Succeed?

    Reforms within the Chinese People's Liberation Army are in the process of delivering sweeping changes to its day-to-day operations, despite concerns held by some military members. Whether or not the overall implementation is successful as envisioned, assessing the operational implications of the reforms will require more time.

    Apr 1, 2016

    China Analysis, ECFR

  • International Diplomacy

    Aung San Suu Kyi's Trip to China: Sino-Myanmar Relations as the Countdown to the November Elections Begins

    For Aung San Suu Kyi and the rest of the National League for Democracy (NLD) delegation, meeting with Chinese leadership provided a forum for bilateral engagement with one of Myanmar's most important neighbors in the region, relations that will expand given the NLD's likely success at the polls in November.

    Aug 10, 2015

    China-US Focus