Has the U.S. Empowered China in the Past 40 Years?

As the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China has reached the lowest point since it was established more than 40 years ago, both sides are investigating what has gone wrong. Many in the U.S. have argued that the main reason for the overall withdrawal from the U.S. policy of engagement is that China has taken advantage of the American support for China’s modernization, and an empowered Beijing is challenging U.S. supremacy in Asia and the world. At the same time, many in China like to opine that the U.S. has always had an ulterior motive in engaging China, and that it will do everything possible to try and contain the rise of China-or even cause its disintegration.

What has been the U.S. policy toward China since normalization? What kind of China do American leaders envision? Why have many in the U.S. policymaking community been so upset with China, and why are they advocating for disengagement?

On Dec. 12, David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the U.S. State Department, gave a speech entitled “U.S.-China Bilateral Relations: The Lessons of History.”

Some Chinese liberals contend that in order for the bilateral relationship between Washington DC and Beijing to come back on track in the coming years, one thing has to happen first: There must be an honest assessment—mainly from the Chinese side—on what role the U.S. played in the rise of China in the past 40 years. It will be interesting to see how and if China will respond to Mr. Stilwell’s presentation of the significant American support for China.

In 2013, China did produce a documentary entitled Silent Contest and it presents its own story of how the U.S. allegedly tries to undermine the development of China since it established diplomatic relations with the country.

Read the entire speech by David Stillwell at U.S.-China Bilateral Relations: The Lessons of History.


  • The U.S.-China Perception Monitor (中美印象) is an online publication that explores perception and misperception in U.S.-China relations through insightful commentaries, interviews with experts, and profiles on key figures in the bilateral relationship.