Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (MPHIL)


Political Sciences

First Advisor

Prof. BRIDGES Brian


The rise of China’s economic power and the end of US-Soviet rivalry has highlighted the importance of overall Sino-US relations and has made Sino-US interrelations in terms of security become more sophisticated and complicated. Although there obviously exist a number of issues in the Sino-US strategic relationship, my research takes two case studies for particular analysis. One issue, missile defense (MD), started during the presidency of Bill Clinton, but because of George W. Bush’s tough approach to China has become a critical issue in current Sino-US relations.

The Taiwan issue is another crucial case study in my research. Because of limitations of time and length, I will concentrate my analysis on the run-up to the Taiwan straits mini-crisis in 1996 in which intensive interactions and changes in the foreign policies of both sides can be observed. By analyzing these two cases, more can be known about the complex nature of the contemporary Sino-US relationship.

The psychological-perceptual approach, which borrows theories and concepts from psychology, has been one of the enduring and influential approaches in studying international relations. However, it is a new perspective for discussing the missile defense issue and the Taiwan crisis in 1996.

The circular flow of how the stimulus from the United States affects the perception of China, then its attendant foreign policies towards the United States, which in turn affects the perception of the United States and its consequent foreign policy towards China on both the MD issue and the Taiwan crisis forms the main research framework in my thesis. Moreover, combining the attribution theory from psychology and the security dilemma theory from the traditional Realist paradigm gives us new perspectives in viewing the interactions between the United States and China.

The missile defense issue showed that the linkage with the Taiwan issue remains important in changes in perception of the Chinese decision-makers. During the Clinton presidency, the joint effort of China and Russia resulted in the changes in perception of US decision-makers on the missile defense issue and to a large extent, caused the delay in the development of the national missile defense. Then during President Bush presidency, the possible selling of Aegis-equipped naval ships to Taiwan softened the stance of Chinese decision-makers on the MD issue, but the granting of a visa to Taiwanese President Chen caused the Chinese leadership to return to a tough stance on the MD issue.

The Taiwan issue is nevertheless an important case in my research and particular focus is given to the background of the 1996 Taiwan straits crisis. The 1992 US arms sales to Taiwan started the process but the 1995 granting of a visa to Taiwanese President Lee was the prime stimulus that reinforced China’s hostile image of US decision-makers, which resulted in the changes in the foreign policies of the Chinese leadership. In turn, the Chinese military tests also shaped the perception of US decision-makers and hence US policies towards the Taiwan straits situation also changed. Decision-makers’ changes in perception and foreign policies led to the formation of the 1996 Taiwan straits crisis in consequence.

Judging from my findings, the basic theoretical framework is useful in analyzing the dynamics of both issues, but nevertheless there needs to be some modification to my framework. In particular, my analysis shows that the existence of a stimulus with a “credible threat” is necessary to produce a change in core belief and in perception. Moreover, the two theories of the security dilemma and attribution match rather well with the origin and development of the two issues in certain aspects and hence the combination of the three could produce a more comprehensive analysis.

Recommended Citation

Wong, H. Y. E. (2002). Sino-American strategic relations: A perceptual-psychological approach (Master's thesis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from