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From “Strategic Partners” to “Strategic Competitors”: George W. Bush and the Politics of U.S. China Policy

  • Richard Baum (a1)

Abstract

Ever since Richard Nixon's 1972 “opening” to China, U.S. presidential election campaigns have been the occasion for the opposition party to strongly challenge the incumbent president's policy of engagement toward China. Once in power, however, successful challengers (Carter, Reagan, Clinton) have softened their criticism and accepted the strategic necessity of cooperation with China. In the first stage of this cycle, the 2000 election appeared to be no exception, as presidential challenger George W. Bush sharply criticized Bill Clinton's notion of a “strategic partnership” with the PRC and proposed instead that the U.S. and China were “strategic competitors.” This paper examines the first six months of the Bush presidency to see if the historic pattern of post-election reversion to the status-quo ante is repeating itself in the Bush Administration. Looking, inter alia, at the individual preferences of key administration policymakers, the administration's enhanced arms sale package to Taiwan, the president's pledge to do “whatever it took” to defend Taiwan, and the mid-summer visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell to Beijing, the paper documents the existence of a sharp division between “soft” realists and “hard” realists within the Bush Administration; and it concludes that while there has been a perceptible shift toward a more adversarial outlook, it is too soon to tell whether this shift will be partly offset by the normal first-term “regression to the mean.”

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From “Strategic Partners” to “Strategic Competitors”: George W. Bush and the Politics of U.S. China Policy

  • Richard Baum (a1)

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