U.S. strategic adjustment and the second 'loss of China': change and continuity in the China strategies of the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations

  • Rupert Albert George Schulenburg

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (MPhil)


In this thesis, I explain why and how U.S. strategy towards China changed between the Obama and Trump administrations, and between the Trump and Biden administrations (2009 – February 2022). I use a neoclassical realist model as a theoretical framework to analyse why changes in U.S. strategy occurred at different levels of causality (the system, state, and individual). I use an ‘ends and means’ framework to analyse how strategy changed in terms of key ‘ends and means’, which also includes applying a schema to my analysis to consistently assess the significance of strategic adjustment; a change in ends is coded as a major change while a change in means is coded as a minor change. I use these frameworks to analyse two case studies: Taiwan and U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific, and sovereignty and maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Based on my analysis, I find that there were no major changes in U.S. strategy between the three administrations, only minor changes. I also show that while changes and continuities in U.S. strategy can largely be explained at the systemic level, layering in domestic and individual-level variables is required to provide a more complete explanation.
Date of Award13 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorChris Ogden (Supervisor) & Anthony F Lang Jr. (Supervisor)


  • United States
  • China
  • Barack Obama
  • Donald Trump
  • Joe Biden
  • Indo-Pacific
  • Neoclassical realism
  • Xi Jinping
  • Taiwan
  • International security
  • Security
  • Alliances

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