U.S. policy of conditioning China's most-favored-nation status on intellectual property protection, 1991-1993

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Virginia Tech

This study focuses on the U.S. policy of conditioning China's Most-FavoredNation (MFN) status on its intellectual property protection in the 1991-1993 period. It seeks to evaluate the importance of U.S. foreign policy interests, societal actors, institutions (the presidency or Congress), and the interaction between these institutions in the MFN decisionmaking process.

By applying three conceptual models -- the rational actor model, the interest group model, and the interbranch politics model -- to the three distinct phases in the development of the MFN-IPR policy, this study finds that it is most useful to combine the international explanation with one stressing domestic rules and institutions. Although U.S. strategic interests define the boundary of China policy and provide a justification of why the United States would continue to grant MFN status to China, MFN policy formulation has also been a function of U.S. domestic political process. With the diversification of China policy objectives and the pluralization of the policymaking process, U.S. strategic interests are frequently weighted and balanced by concerned governmental and societal institutions in the process, and are eventually reconciled with various political preferences to shape foreign policy outcomes. By breaking down the concept of a unitary state actor in the foreign policymaking process and unpacking the "black box" of domestic politics, the interest group model and the interbranch politics model allow us to see how domestic actors and institutions could serve to modify U.S. response to systemic conditions. They are useful supplements to the rational actor model in explaining the U.S. policy of conditional MFN.