13 March 2016

Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar and LBJ School Assistant Professor Joshua Eisenman, recently discussed the United States’ policy of engagement toward China in the Journal of Contemporary China. In the journal, Eisenman reviews five books which represent the spectrum of current US-China policy assessments, ranging from policies that advocate expanding engagement with China to policies that focus on countering the growth of Chinese power and influence.

All five books are written by former senior US policy makers on China and represent work that is on the forefront of studying of US-China relations. The focus of their work is on answering the question – “What policies should the U.S. pursue to reduce the possibility of conflict with China, and yet still be prepared for that eventuality?” While the conceptual framework of these varying policies is based on generalized, theory-based explanations, Eisenman argues that to properly form a more comprehensive US-China policy, more attention must be paid to the disposition and intentions of China’s leaders and the actions of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

The books reviewed apply international relations theory in their analysis, however, only two authors (Pillsbury and Friedberg) examine domestic factors as sources of Chinese aggression. This lack of inquiry into the domestic attitudes and goals of Chinese policymakers leads scholars to believe that China will follow the behavior of past belligerent rising powers in seeking power dominance. Eisenman points out that to properly identify how, why, when, and under what conditions China will use force requires less focus on general theories of state behavior and a higher level of examination of China’s leaders. To enhance the existing US policy framework concerning China, US policymakers must resist the urge to generalize and pay closer attention to the domestic political dynamics that accompany China’s foreign military interventions.

Books Reviewed:

The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power, by Thomas Christensen, New York, W.W. Norton, 2015.

The Hundred Year War: China’s secret strategy to replace America as the global superpower, by Michael Pillsbury, New York, Henry Holt & Co, 2015.

Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US China Relations in the Twenty-First Century, by James Steinberg and Michael O’Hanlon, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2014.

Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy, by Jeffery Bader, Washington, DC, Brookings Institution Press, 2012.

A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, by Aaron Friedberg, New York, W.W. Norton, 2011.

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