In mid-1996 the US Congress voted to renew China’s Most Favoured Nation status, ensuring that trade between the two countries could continue along ‘normal’ lines for at least another twelve months. In response, President Bill Clinton stated:

[e]ngagement, not isolation, is the best way to advance America’s interests with China as elsewhere. This positive vote helps us continue to engage China on a broad range of issues, including human rights, nonproliferation, trade, regional security, and relations with Taiwan. It enables us to continue to strengthen cooperation while firmly addressing our differences.

(Clinton, 1996a) At the time, the United States was in the midst of its ‘unipolar moment’ in which it was imagined to hold unrivalled economic and military power. Yet with high economic growth rates, increasing military expenditures, and concerted political and diplomatic efforts to enhance its presence in the workings of global affairs, China was already attracting attention as a ‘rising power’ of the first order.