Robert Suettinger, former Director of Asian Affairs on the National Security Council, began his presentation by noting that Beyond Tiananmen devotes considerable effort to analyzing the politics behind how decisions are made in Washington and Beijing regarding each country's policy towards the other. Suettinger begins his assessment in 1989 because the June 4, 1989 tragedy marked a critical turning point in Sino-U.S. relations.

Suettinger noted that observers often think that policymakers make decisions as a result of carefully reasoned and vetted processes that take into account potential strategic and long-term implications. In reality, however, his book describes numerous situations where decisions regarding the bilateral relationship, in both Washington and Beijing, have been made on the basis of very personal and short-term political reasons.

In analyzing the interactive and reactive nature of policymaking in the U.S.-China relationship, Suettinger also highlighted its inherent unpredictability.