In my view, the American scholars are not naive but have a very different philosophy rooted in different ideology. The two countries have very different politico-economic philosophy. The U.S. is a capitalist country treating capitalism as her first principle and socialism as her secondary principle; whereas China is a socialist country accepting socialism as her first principle and regarding capitalism as her secondary principle. This difference leads China to do everything for her people as first consideration then for the capital and the U.S. to do everything for her capital first then for the people. China's economic development is to lift her people out of poverty (the fact that 800 million are lifted out of poverty and Chinese tourists keep many small nations economically afloat supports this). She builds infrastructure to create opportunities for her people even though the investment may not make any capital return for decades. The U.S. will not make any investment unless there is a clear return on capital; any pure socialistic program often will meet resistance in the U.S. The difference of 'for people' and 'for capital' has made different interpretation on foreign policies and economic programs. For example, The U.S. interprets China's One Belt and One Road (OBOR or BRI) initiative as a massive invasion program for China to invade (economically) into other countries and deprive their resources. China launches BRI for creating job opportunities for her 1.4 billion people. China has excess labor, excess production capacity and excess products in her economy, so China is proposing BRI to create work opportunities for her people and to create new markets for her merchants and products. China hopes that BRI can create a win-win opportunity for all. The West never took that approach, for example, in Africa, but China did. China encouraged their farmers, railroad workers, engineers and merchants to go and build farms and infrastructure in Africa, so most Africans consider China as a friendly nation, enjoy better living and consume more Chinese products. In contrast to any Chinese dissenters plea, I think the U.S. is over concerned with CCP being a threat; rather we should worry about the weakening of our country may be due to our internal threat.
A Christian society or nation worships one God; various denominations of Christianity more or less have a common root in the U.S. China, with a long history existed before Christ, is basically an inclusive society when comes to religion, hence Christianity, Buddhism , Islamism, Taoism, etc all exist in China. Since China is rich with philosophy, some people will regard religion like philosophy or vice versa, for example, Taoism is often contrasted with Confucianism. Chinese had long recognized the power of religion, its ability to do good as well as its ability to do evil (Christianity tends to ignore her evil history only glorify her good work), hence, in China religious freedom is curtailed to some extent (no promotion or coercion) to protect the rights of non-religious population as well as to maintain stability in society with multiple religions, assuming promotion of religion especially at the expense of other religion or even at the rights of atheist can cause instability. In view of the problems with Islamic terrorists today, perhaps one would not interpret China's laws regarding religion mysterious or too repressive. Unfortunately, there may be interpretations there as well. The U.S. Congress just passed a law on Xinjiang's Human Rights, charging China building 'concentration camps' for Uighurs in Xinjiang. China claims that they are building job/skill training centers to help Uighurs to prevent the influence from external terrorists. I have not been to Xijiang but I have been to Mongolia and dined in many muslim restaurants in China. I saw no trace of discrimination any where. In Bolton's new book, he criticizes Trump not taking advantage of the various human rights issues (Hong Kong, Xijiang, Taiwan etc) to pressure China. I rather believe that Trump may have a fair independent view on Human Rights and Foreign interference from the legacy positions.
Media rights are sacred in the U.S. in contrast with China where there is tight control in newspaper publications, radio and TV broadcast. With the same logic as in the legal rights and religious rights, China believes that media can do good as well as do evil (In the U.S. the media is highly protected at the expense of victims of media) causing instability in society. It is understandable why China is ultra sensitive to society stability since she had suffered nearly a half century of instability, punished with unequal treaties and lost territories to foreign countries. (for example, Hong Kong, Macaw, Okinawa, Taiwan etc.) This concern of instability is deep in the minds of the Chinese communist party. The fact that Hong Kong students are agitated to demand direct nomination of the Hong Kong Chief Executive by the citizens* (*the nomination of the U.S. Presidency evolved over decades into a state by state primary election system endorsing candidates nominated by two major parties instead of a national direct nomination by citizens has its reasons) and the fact that terrorist activities are infiltrating into west China's Muslim populated states, naturally make the Chinese government nervous* (*the U.S. National Security Agency has sought power to monitor the U.S. Citizens' communication data like phone records and right to demand media and Internet companies to turn over their customer privacy information is actually based on the same logic). Therefore it is not difficult to understand why there are stronger media controls in China. Putting these political oriented security concerns aside, the media freedom enjoyed by hundreds of millions of Chinese netizens (China has close to one billion internet users by an old estimate) through the Internet is actually amazing as exhibited by the activities of weibo and blogs in China. The netizens enjoys tremendous freedom as well as benefits (Rich Apps such as paying everything by swiping a smart phone is making China the number one country of smart phone applications and most efficient financial transactions). The communication is literally 'free' (multimedia, easy to use and very low cost, not like the U.S. costing hundreds of dollars per month) , free flow of information, so long they are not targeted to cause instability of society.
From the analyses and discussion above, I can say the title questions are not difficult to answer. The facts I cited here can be found in many articles and books on China. The U.S. Media has a legacy or a bias against communist countries, thus always painting CCP an evil face. However, since the end of Cold War, communist regimes had taken up transformation including Russia. China is particularly unique in her transformation incorporating modern capitalism with her ancient philosophy in a socialistic manner. The Chinese media laws does prevent foreign journalists who have badmouthed China with no evidence to travel freely in or even enter China. This has created a huge gap between the good reports (the authors who did travel freely in China and appreciated what they saw) and the bad reports (authors who never visited China or could not gain access due to their biases) . This is evident in the videos on China available on Youtube or articles in various news media. My advice to Americans is that “believe what you see more than what you are told”, go visit China to see for yourself. There are millions of foreigners living in China who can be your witness. China is large, rich in culture with complex dialects and philosophies but not mysterious nor difficult to understand, especially on the question: Is China a threat to the U.S.? I bet you will find the answer very easily.
To Chinese Americans, I hope the above discussion can serve as a building block for you to build a platform to stand on so you may deliver your answers to the title questions to any doubting Thomas you meet in your environment! China is not so mysterious and China is not a threat!