Washington has become increasingly concerned that Beijing's anti-access area-denial (A2-AD) capabilities will put at risk US military assets and forward forces operating in the Western Pacific region, enabling China to deter, delay and deny US intervention in future regional conflict and crisis. US defence analysts in their assessments have frequently, and often erroneously, conflated a Chinese operational capability with an underlying strategic intention that conceptualises the United States as its primary (if not sole) target. The central argument this article proffers is that US perceptions of A2-AD have been framed by specific analytical baselines that have overlooked the evolution of Chinese operational and doctrinal preferences, and over-reliant upon military material-based assessments to determine Beijing's strategic intentions, and formulate US military countervails. The article concludes that the strategic ambiguities and opacity associated with Chinese A2-AD capabilities and its ‘active defence’ concept reinforced Washington's reliance upon capacity-based assessments that in turn, exacerbated misperceptions confounded by cognitive bias of Chinese strategic intentions. The critical framing assumptions of this article draw heavily upon the ideas and rationale associated with the international relations ‘Security Dilemma’ concept.