The Changing U.S. China Watching Community and the Demise of Engagement with the People's Republic of China

David M. McCourt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent years have seen the rapid descent of relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China (prc). Hopes for cooperation in places of common concern like climate change gave way to strains in almost all areas. In place of "engagement,"the administration of Donald J. Trump adopted a tougher approach of "strategic competition"that its successor so far has continued. This article explores the relationship between the demise of engagement and opinions coming from the American China expert community. Specifically, it questions the impact on engagement of five secular dynamics that these China authorities have experienced - generational turnover; the field's vast expansion and diversification; increased disciplinary specialization; the enhanced prominence of the generalist in national security discussions in place of China specialists; and changes in the media leading to more skeptical journalistic voices on U.S.-prc relations. Without over-emphasizing either the influence of the expert community on U.S. decision-making, or underplaying the more repressive and authoritarian actions of the Chinese Communist Party, this article suggests that the China expert community has been more of a factor in the end of engagement than current accounts of academics and commentators acknowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-81
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of American-East Asian Relations
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • engagement
  • expertise
  • People's Republic of China
  • strategic competition
  • U.S. foreign policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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