This project addresses the following question: Why did the US pursue, from structural realism’s perspective, an underactive grand strategy towards China from 1991-2011, but a more optimal strategy from 2011-2018? Over the past thirty years, the US’s approach to dealing with China’s rise has not turned out as many scholars and foreign policy elites expected. This project will advance a theory that expounds the conditions under which decisionmakers’ perceptions and resource constraints interfere with states’ grand strategy, with the US’s China strategy as its case study. It will be argued that, in a very permissive strategic environment, when the threat from a rising power is distant and small, the space for decision-makers’ misperceptions and resource constraints to interfere expands, and decision-makers worry less about potential security losses from trade. However, in a less permissive strategic environment, the space for such interference contracts, and decision-makers worry more about security losses from trade. The US’s grand strategy towards China from 1991–2018 is then decoded as a blended product of systemic conditions and domestic characteristics that produced an underactive China strategy. Contrary to explanations offered by structural realism, (systemic and holistic) social constructivism, individual and decision-making FPA, domestic politics and sectoral interests approaches, and two-level game explanations, the explanation advanced in this book thus expounds the conditions under which intervening variables interfere more and when they interfere less with state behavior. In doing so, it seeks to contribute not only to the literatures on US-China relations but also to that of realism and IR theory more generally.

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