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The inauguration of President Joseph Biden in January 2021 presented an opportunity for the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to reassess the trajectory of their relationship. Just as political analysts and “China watchers” in the United States have watched the Biden Administration’s approach to the PRC with interest, so too have “US watchers” in the PRC. These US watchers include professors at key PRC universities, retired government and military officials, and researchers at government-affiliated think tanks. This paper captures the themes articulated by these subject matter experts (SMEs) from the PRC (henceforth referred to as PRC SMEs) in 67 articles published from January 2021 through July 2021 on US-PRC relations, particularly in the areas of foreign affairs and national security. The views of the SMEs in this paper should not be construed as official PRC policy, nor is the sample of articles comprehensive. However, the views in this paper are indicative of the realm of permissible public discussion about US-PRC relations by PRC SMEs, some of whom have access to decision-makers in China through their institutional affiliations. Key themes identified in these articles are below. The appendix contains a list of events in US-PRC relations during the period of analysis.

Key themes

  • Although PRC SMEs initially viewed the Biden Administration as a window of opportunity for US-PRC relations, as time passed, PRC SMEs viewed the Biden Administration’s approach to China as not fundamentally different than that of the Donald Trump Administration.
    PRC SMEs view the current administration as increasingly employing multilateral institutions and closer relationships to US allies and partners as a way to contain the PRC.
  • Despite challenges and mistrust in the US-PRC relationship, PRC SMEs emphasize that the US should focus on cooperation and common interests in a variety of policy areas.
  • Some PRC SMEs dismiss the Biden Administration’s “3C” (compete, cooperate, confront) policy towards China1 as a “logically flawed” and “inappropriate” framework for US-PRC relations.
  • PRC SMEs discourage what they see as an issues-based approach by the US for US-PRC relations, and instead advocate for establishing general principles and frameworks for engagement.
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  • Pages:
  • Document Number: DIM-2021-U-030666-Final
  • Publication Date: 9/15/2021