Identity, capital, geopolitics : US presidential discourses of China from 1844 to 2016


PhD ThesisThis thesis analyses US presidential discourses of China from 1844 to 2016. Provoked by the contemporary trope of the ‘rise of China’ and Barack Obama’s ‘pivot’ to the Asia Pacific, I demonstrate how specific US discourses of China have emerged over time to condition how the US thinks about and acts towards China. Through an interdisciplinary analytical framework, motivated by a poststructural ethos, appreciative of the contributions of political economy and inspired by the methodological approach of Michel Foucault, I conduct an intertextual discourse analysis and genealogical critique of US Presidential discourses on China. By focusing on ‘official’ sources, predominantly the speeches and statements of US Presidents, I analyse US discourses of China from the 1844 Treaty of Wangxia up until the end of Barack Obama’s Presidency in 2016. Through this genealogical discourse analysis I argue that three logics, of identity, capital, and geopolitics, emerge over time and are predominant in shaping US foreign policy towards China. I do not take these as pre-existing assumptions but inductively conceptualise them through a hermeneutic engagement with the history of US Presidential discourses regarding China. These logics function to frame, organise and limit what is politically possible and subsequently perceived as necessary, in US foreign policy towards China. The logic of capital addresses the need for US capital to reproduce itself by expanding internationally. The logic of geopolitics functions primarily as the organising principles for the logic of capital and US foreign relations specifically in relation to China. The logic of identity functions as a conditioning limit on the logics of capital and geopolitics. From this, I conclude that US anxiety over the ‘rise of China’ is a manifestation of historic US conceptions of its identity, its geopolitical imagining of the Asia-Pacific, and the perceived imperatives of contemporary capitalism

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This paper was published in Newcastle University eTheses.

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