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Knowledge Communities in US Foreign Policy Making: The American China Field and the End of Engagement with the PRC


The United States’ long-standing approach to the People’s Republic of China—“engagement”—is at an end, replaced by a tougher approach, labeled “strategic competition.” Foregrounding the role of knowledge communities in the making of US foreign policy, I show that engagement’s demise followed less a rational process responding to shifts in Chinese behavior and the balance of power, and more a paradigmatic turnover in key individuals’ views of China within the government and the China expert community. Adopting a sociological perspective attuned to the social and professional underpinnings of US foreign policy, I trace the paradigmatic turnover in US views of China to three processes: politicization, professional status competition, and personalization. Drawing on a range of sources, including over one hundred original interviews with members of the US China expert community, this article traces the entanglement of engagement at once political, professional, and deeply personal.

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