Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis (Master's)

Department or Program

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

First Advisor

Professor David Rezvani

Second Advisor

Professor Peter DeShazo

Third Advisor

Professor Evelyn Lechner


From the end of the Cold War until 2016, the US Foreign Policy (FP) Establishment remained committed to a grand strategy of global hegemony. Four consecutive Presidential Administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, pursued America’s commitment to global leadership. They, in fact, created the opportunity and conditions in which the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) has risen to become the United States’ most formidable strategic competitor, an aspiring, regional hegemon in the Pacific, and an “emerging potential superpower”[1].

China, throughout the same time, has risen to become the world’s 2nd largest economy and transformed its military – moving it closer to parity with US Forces in the Pacific.[2] In 2001, the PRC joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and gained access, on favorable terms, to Western markets and foreign investment.[3] Contrary to the objectives of the US FP strategy of Engagement, China remains an illiberal, authoritarian regime and pursues increasingly aggressive foreign policy abroad. Most observers concede that the “liberal bet that China would integrate as a ‘responsible stakeholder’ into a US-led liberal order has failed.”[4]

This paper argues that the leading cause for the marked disparity between the US plan for its relations with China and how those relations have and continue to unfold is the US failure to adequately consider the Chinese perspective. The US FP Establishment, between the end of the Cold War and 2016, continued to view China through too “Western Centric” a lens.

The paper will review examples of the statements and actions, made over this period by leaders within the PRC. It will also review examples of the US FP Establishment analyses, efforts to develop, and decisions to implement US-China policy as a response to China’s statements and actions. The paper presents evidence that supports the claim that the US FP Establishment’s efforts – i.e., to diagnose as well as to develop prescriptive policy in response to China’s actions on the world stage – were undertaken without adequately considering the Chinese perspective. Examples reviewed include China’s increasingly tense, Cross-strait relations with Taiwan, China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the South and East China Seas, and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) modernization efforts.

Failure was manifest in the continued belief that increased economic liberalization would necessarily lead to increased political liberalization, China’s embrace of liberal ideals, and assimilation into a US-led Liberal International Order. It has not.

The paper contrasts the Western perspective with the perspective that drove China and their FP actions throughout this period. Specifically, it highlights the difference between the Western and Chinese perspectives on strategy, conflict, struggle, and war.

To present and begin to accurately understand the Chinese perspective, the paper looks to translations of official, Chinese government sources. To strengthen this paper’s conclusions made from a review of Chinese sources, the paper also looks to Western scholars who likewise relied heavily upon Chinese sources in their arguments. This brief exploration and consideration of China’s perspective indicates that the “liberal bet” (mentioned above) was never a well-informed one. China, as is unambiguously supported by solid evidence, has had a grand strategic plan that does not include remaining subordinated to a hegemonic America.

The final question seeks to understand how the US FP Establishment has gotten this so wrong. To answer, it examines a number of factors and conditions that have stood as obstacles to attaining a better, more accurate understanding of China’s actions on the world stage as well as to developing and implementing US-China policy that might have better served US interests.

This research is presented not simply as a critique of liberal-internationalist policy. It is intended to instigate acknowledgement of these obstacles as well as curiosity and acceptance of a perspective not America’s own. As US-China relations continue to develop, the US FP Establishment must more comprehensively understand and incorporate the Chinese perspective as well as China’s grand strategic intentions and objectives. If they fail, or choose not to try, the possibility for peaceful cooperation or collaboration will likely be increasingly displaced by an intensification of competition and conflict.

[1] Brooks and Wolforth, 2016, 43.

[2] Chhabra, 2019, 3.

[3] Gertler, 2004, 21-22.

[4] Ikenberry, 2020, 135.