This study constitutes an inquiry into the role of perception in the formulation of post-Cold War US foreign policy towards the People's Republic of China. It examines the perceptions of Chinese capabilities and intentions held by the American intermediate élite engaged with the formulation of US China policy. It investigates the role those perceptions played in shaping US policy responses and strategic behaviour towards China between 1989 to 2000.
The thesis argues that an understanding of perceptions, and their range, source and evolution, is necessary to accurately comprehend the events, conditions and patterns of interaction that characterised Sino-US relations in the post-Cold War decade. It systematically examines US élite images of China, not only demonstrating the range of élite views, but also the changing influence these views had on the making of US China policy during the period 1989-2000. Such a study yields fruitful insights into the motivations behind US foreign policy behaviour towards China. In addition it provides an opportunity to probe the thinking of the influential élite and juxtapose their inputs with the various types of foreign policy outputs or behaviour they devise. This investigation is operationalised through a classical realist conceptual framework.
More broadly, this investigation makes three contributions to the international relations field. First, it makes a theoretical contribution, examining the relationship between perceptions and policy outcomes. Central to this is an understanding of how the US intermediate élite perceived itself and the other. Conceptually, the thesis contributes to the recent efforts by scholars to add a finer grain to the broad brush of realist theory. By doing so, it hopes to enhance the explanatory power of realist approaches to international relations.
Second, this study makes an empirical contribution to the field of international relations. It examines the range of, and variation in, of US intermediate élite perceptions of China. It concludes that there was no single homogeneous view of China. Rather, an extensive range of perceptions was evident throughout the period.
Using the concept of feedback, this study contributes to an understanding of the evolution of perceptions, and the process through which perceptual inputs are translated into policy outcomes. This thesis found that US intermediate élite perceptions of China generally hardened, or became more ambivalent about Chinese future intentions, during the period 1989- 2000. This is particularly evident with regard to issues of security. Importantly, this study found that perceptions were often amplified or magnified through the process of feedback, while being interpreted into policy.
Third, the thesis employs a methodology of process-tracing to add depth and richness to our understanding of US-China relations in the 1990s. Each of the three case studies - trade, Taiwan, and weapons proliferation - provide a rich, thick, description of the range of US intermediate élite perceptions of China, where they come from, how they have evolved, and how they have influenced, at least in part, the formulation of US China policy in the post-Cold War era. This methodology, in and of itself, is not new. Rather, the methodological contribution made by this thesis lies in its application of process-tracing to the particular set of relationships and policy issues of US China policy.