The great Chinese surprise : The rupture with the United States is real and is happening

Xiangfeng YANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Ample evidence exists that China was caught off guard by the Trump administration's onslaught of punishing acts - the trade war being a prime, but far from the only, example. This article, in addition to contextualizing their earlier optimism about the relations with the United States under President Trump, examines why Chinese leaders and analysts were surprised by the turn of events. It argues that three main factors contributed to the lapse of judgment. First, Chinese officials and analysts grossly misunderstood Donald Trump the individual. By overemphasizing his pragmatism while downplaying his unpredictability, they ended up underprepared for the policies he unleashed. Second, some ingrained Chinese beliefs, manifested in the analogies of the pendulum swing and the 'bickering couple', as well as the narrative of the 'ballast', lulled officials and scholars into undue optimism about the stability of the broader relationship. Third, analytical and methodological problems as well as political considerations prevented them from fully grasping the strategic shift against China in the US.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-437
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • China
  • East Asia
  • US foreign policy


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