Introduction to the book
How to understand and explain the evolutions as well as predict the future directions of bilateral relations between the United States and China has become an imperative task for both policy-makers and academic scholars. Borrowing insights from three mainstream international relations (IR) theories, realism, liberalism and constructivism, this chapter suggests a three-stage, perceptual model of ‘threat–interest’ to explore the dynamics of Sino–US relations from 1949 to 2015. It argues that the nature of US–China relations, either cooperation or competition, is mainly shaped by the perceptions of leaders regarding security threats and economic interests between the two nations. How to manage their perceptions regarding each other and how to find a balance between cooperation and competition are the key issues for leaders in both the United States and China to manage their bilateral relations in the future. The next decade or two may be the best or worst times for US–China relations.