US foreign Policy towards China

US foreign policy towards China has changed over the last couple of decades from an international relations theory of realism and gravitated toward a theory of liberalism. That has changed within the last few years and the policy is trending back towards the realism theory when it comes to the US foreign policy towards China.

Realism is the thinking that states need to survive by “keeping power, increasing power, or demonstrate power” and “military force is an essential foundation to [create] stability” (Ackerman, 2010). This essay will exam the realism theory the US has towards China. The National Security Strategy dated May 2010 stated the US wanted to “deepen our cooperation with other 21st century center of influence” to include China (Obama, 2010, 11). This was going to occur with “mutual interest and mutual respect” (Ibid). This thought was not shared by China.

China has not condemned North Korea’s attack on South Korea and continues to tell the US to stop US naval exercises in the South China Seas (Auslin, 2011, nopg). China is building up its military forces with no threat (Ibid) which adds to the “long-standing mutual mistrust” between the US and China (Lawrence, 2011, 1). China had decided to not only focus on the US when it comes to their nuclear forces but also on the US capabilities, i.e. missile defense (Gompert, 2011, 53).

This action by China has made the US reconsider their foreign policy towards China in order for the US to influence China’s behavior (Stolberg, 2010, 159). The US now has to put the security of their state as top priority for survival (Ibid, 162), a key point for realist. President Obama reiterated the realism theory for the US

foreign policy when he addressed West Point in May of 2014. “President Obama set a new course… for American foreign policy with an associated strategy for the use of force…” (Sisk, 2014, nopg). President Obama stated the US will use force if our interests demand the use of force (Ibid). The US continues to have naval exercises in the South China Sea to show military force in the region in order to deter China from making any type of decisions that would create instability in the region (Ackerman, 2010).

“If the United States fails to maintain an imbalance of power in its favor… its ability to preserve the current institutional structure of world politics will gradually evaporate” (Walt, 2010, nopg). That is why it is important for the US to continue naval exercises in the region. For the last couple of decades the US foreign policy towards China has been anything other than a realism theory where China was being looked at as a “responsible stakeholder” in their region (Ibid).

The US and China are trying to improve their relationship by saying they will not let their differences effect an economic and security cooperation between the two nations (Klapper, 2014, nopg). However, the actions of the US state they are back to the realism theory when it comes to China.


Ackerman, John T., Barak J. Carlson, and Young I. Han. “International Relations Paradigms.” Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) Distance Learning Program. Maxwell AFB, AL: ACSC, 2010.

Auslin, Michael. “Realism on China Is more Realistic” American Enterprise Institute. 7 January 2011.

Gompert, David C., and Phillip C. Saunders. “Chinese Views on Strategic Power, Vulnerability, and Restraint. In The Paradox of Power: Sino-American Strategic Restraint in an Age of Vulnerability. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011, 39-70 (Chapter 3).

Klapper, Bradley. “US, China vow to improve cooperation” Yahoo news. 9 July 2014.;_ylt=AwrTWf0o1cBTaGkA6rTQtDMD

Lawrence, Susan V. and Thomas Lum. U.S.-China Relations: Policy Issues. Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2011.

Obama, Barack H. National Security Strategy. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010.

Sisk, Richard. “Obama Resets US Foreign Policy and Military’s Role” Military Times. 28 May 2014.

Stolberg, Alan G. “The International System in the 21st Century.” In U.S. Army College Guide to National Security Issues, Volume II: Theory of War and Strategy, 4th ed., edited by J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr., 153-166 (Chapter 11). Carlisle Barracks, PA: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, June 2010.

Walt, Stephen M. “A realistic approach to China” Foreign Policy. 9 August 2010.