Recent years have seen the rapid descent of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (prc). Hopes for cooperation in places of common concern like climate change gave way to strains in almost all areas. In place of “engagement,” the administration of Donald J. Trump adopted a tougher approach of “strategic competition” that its successor so far has continued. This article explores the relationship between the demise of engagement and opinions coming from the American China expert community. Specifically, it questions the impact on engagement of five secular dynamics that these China authorities have experienced—generational turnover; the field’s vast expansion and diversification; increased disciplinary specialization; the enhanced prominence of the generalist in national security discussions in place of China specialists; and changes in the media leading to more skeptical journalistic voices on U.S.-prc relations. Without over-emphasizing either the influence of the expert community on U.S. decision-making, or underplaying the more repressive and authoritarian actions of the Chinese Communist Party, this article suggests that the China expert community has been more of a factor in the end of engagement than current accounts of academics and commentators acknowledge.
During 2021, the International Security Studies Forum (issf) posted a series of articles on H-Diplo, the Diplomatic and International History discussion network, in which leading scholars of U.S. foreign relations assess the legacy of President Donald J. Trump’s policies in world affairs. As the editors explain, these essays examine and evaluate “the effects of the Trump presidency, from a range of different perspectives, and in light of the events of the Trump years, . . . on the United States’ standing in the world.”1 Many articles address the impact of Trump’s policies on specific regions and
For a generation before the 2008 global financial crisis, Sino-U.S. relations were premised on a modus vivendi of détente. While neither of the two great powers ever was willing to sacrifice its own geopolitical interests, the larger framework guiding the relationship was one of pragmatic cooperation and issue management. That shared understanding has helped keep Asia generally stable since 1979, the last time the region experienced an interstate war. But by 2016, President Barack Obama’s final year in office, the Pentagon had begun prioritizing great power war as the next big paradigm. Washington’s think tank industry had churned out piles
The War in Vietnam ended in 1975. In 1978, the United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (srv) were on the verge of restoring full diplomatic relations when National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski scuttled the effort, fearing that this would complicate his attempts to establish full diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). The United States restored diplomatic relations with the srv only in 1995.
The war itself has produced an enormous literature, but only now are scholars giving serious attention to the history of the reconciliation process. Two recent books pave the
Kimberly D. McKee’s Disrupting Kinship: Transnational Politics of Korean Adoption in the United States is an interdisciplinary project that uniquely frames seemingly separate issues—such as U.S. domestic child welfare policy and American militarism in South Korea—into a distinct portrait of the transnational adoption industrial complex (taic). In conversation with previous critical adoption and intersectional feminist literatures, McKee advances the taic as analytic lens for investigation into the historically situated, macro- and micro-levels of adoption (such as family formation and citizenship). Significantly, McKee insists on centering and nuancing the voices of adoptees throughout her elaboration
Weipin Tsai is Senior Lecturer in Modern Chinese history at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research focuses on the history of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, the Chinese Post Office, and Chinese private letter hongs in the 19th Century. Harvard University Press will publish her forthcoming monograph titled The Making of China’s Post Office: Sovereignty, Modernization, and the Connection of a Nation.
Seungmi Laura Cho is a doctoral candidate in social welfare at the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cho also has her bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work from
The People’s Republic of China has confronted the United States with diplomatic challenges ever since Washington recognized Beijing in January 1979. Basic to this engagement was and continues to be economics, and particularly trade, which elicited American responses ranging from enmity, fear, and uncertainty to cooperation, amity, and hope. Scholarship has not focused enough attention on the ideals and values that undergirded commercial relations as the principal American approach to China. Beginning with President Richard M. Nixon’s opening to Beijing and ending with President Donald J. Trump’s trade war (with touchstones in the Nixon, George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton, Barack Obama, and Trump years), this article analyzes how a bilateral trading relationship that so transformed the world evolved from recognition to rivalry. The answer to the wax and wane lies in the near-century long practice of American free-trade internationalism that followed the principles of the “capitalist peace” paradigm, long embraced by the United States as a pillar of its foreign policy.
In late 2020 and early 2021—the weeks surrounding the election of President Joseph R. Biden Jr.—a flood of China experts offered an incalculable amount of unsolicited advice to the new administration. With the exception of Taiwan, the differences between doves and hawks were extremely slight, resting more on tone than substance. Policy directions they presented largely followed those of the Trump administration minus the U.S. version of wolf diplomacy rhetoric. Views ranged from the position that the United States should do all it could to squash the rise of the People’s Republic of China (prc), to the position that the United States should pursue competition and cooperation simultaneously—but “never forget competition!” This limited range of views shared four premises. First, the prc and the United States were competitors engaged in a potentially existential struggle for global dominance. Second, the Clinton-Bush-Obama approach of “managing” the prc with the goal of incorporating it into the existing postwar and neoliberal economic structures had failed. Third, the United States had done much to weaken itself, but it could regain its strengths. Fourth, while the Cold War model was inappropriate, the United States should engage in “strategic competition” to constrain China, or in other words wage a Chilly War.
Almost 44 years after his arrival in China in 1860 at the age of 22, William Nelson Lovatt (1838–1904), then tidesurveyor and harbour master at Hankou Customs Station, died from a heart attack during one of his routine afternoon walks round the racecourse. Lovatt, from Southampton, England, was a veteran of multiple careers in East Asia. Arriving as a soldier in the British army, he joined the Chinese Maritime Customs Service (cmcs) in 1863, but left for the Korean Customs Service in 1883 to be customs commissioner at Pusan. Having departed without the blessing of Robert Hart (1835–1911),