CSS Research and Policy Seminar with Zoltan Feher

Zoltan Feher, a PhD candidate at The Fletcher School, presented his paper, “From Tiananmen to the World Trade Organization: Why Did the United States Help China’s Rise in the Early Post-Cold War Period?” at a September 29 session of the CSS Research and Policy Seminar series. In the paper, Feher asks the question: Why did the United States get China policy wrong in the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton presidencies, and what does International Relations theory say about it? The United States invested precious time and money aiding China’s rise, and yet it created a competitor instead of a friend.

Why would a global superpower help a potential adversary? Feher argues that misperception, personal biases, and, most importantly, elite expectations explain why the United States assisted China’s rise. He locates his answer within the neoclassical realist tradition, stressing the effect of widespread beliefs in the foreign policy executive. Decision-makers believed China would support and grow the U.S.-led liberal international order, a global system of norms and governance, by playing by the rules, “rising peacefully,” and being a “responsible stakeholder.” Foreign policy decision-makers assumed China’s integration into the world economy and economic liberalization would lead to political and social reform within China. But the results have been mixed. In his explanation of U.S. behavior in the 1990s, Feher sees a compromise between different International Relations traditions—one that values the international system as a foundational variable, but incorporates the mediating effect of beliefs.

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