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Kam-Ming Wan, Shi-Jun Liu and Hsihui Chang

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Zhang-Yue Zhou, Wei-Ming Tian and Guang-Hua Wan

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Ming Wan

This chapter examines human rights in US–China relations since the mid-1990s, applying a theoretical framework of ‘events-transformed structures’, namely examining how some events transform the structures that affect state behavior. Defined as regularized patterns of social interaction, structure exists on different levels, dimensions or networks of power. Fundamentally, a structure-transforming event affects either or both physical and social environments, which necessitate visible adaptation in thinking and behavior. The singular event of Tiananmen in June 1989 transformed the structure of US–China relations, creating a new normal. Other key events in US–China relations helped mold the shape of US–China relationship, but the human rights subset has remained stable, which also constrains the overall bilateral relationship. This conclusion should be familiar for those who follow the human rights angle of US–China relations. But the chapter offers a stronger theoretical basis for that conclusion, which also enables us to connect this case potentially to other cases studied with a similar framework and to anticipate better future events.