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Huanqiu, China

Imperative for Obama to Adjust
His Policies Toward China


By Kuai Zheyuan

Translated By Elizabeth Cao

23 January 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer


China - Huanqiu - Original Article (Chinese)

With Obama’s second term just beginning, the Iron Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is about to step down and the recently nominated John Kerry will take over soon. With Hillary Clinton leaving and John Kerry coming into office, does that mean there will be policy changes toward China in Obama’s second term? The answer is yes; there are two reasons for this. First, there is a general trend of stability in Asia while the security in the United States is worsening, which poses a threat for the interests of the United States. In order to boost the U.S. economic recovery and create employment in the country, it is in the best interests of the United States to adjust its policies with China, as well as the Asia-Pacific region’s best interests. Second, it is important to create a stronger guidance policy toward China; with Hillary Clinton’s departure, this creates the perfect opportunity for Kerry to adjust the policy and conditions.

Looking at other presidents who served two terms, like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, in terms of Chinese policy, there seems to be a sort of pattern. In their first term, they take a strict and hard policy toward China and make China out to be an enemy, opponent and serious competitor. But in the second term, especially in the last two years of the term, they all seem to be more lenient and at ease with their relations with China and adjust their policies accordingly, treating China as a friend, partner and collaborator. Clinton and Bush both especially treated China more as an economic partner and friend and stood by the one-China policy backed by the mainland on the issue of Taiwan. When Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian wished to promote Taiwanese independence, the United States took on harsh policies toward Taiwan, which in turn strengthened and developed friendlier relations between China and the United States. Public opinion and scholars believe that the shift in policy in the presidencies of Reagan, Clinton and Bush, to borrow stock market terminology, comes down to a low open and a high close. It can be seen that Obama’s first term and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State led to a high open and low close for the United States’ China policy. This means his second term is bound to follow the trend of a high open and low close, leading to the development of better relations between China and the United States and leading to a win-win situation for both as they continue to develop. Obama choosing Kerry as Secretary of State signals to the international community that Obama wishes to improve Sino-American relations and Kerry is the right man for this job.

Sino-American Relations Will Continue to Develop in a Cooperative Manner

At the beginning of Obama’s first term, he chose to take on Clinton’s China policies but continue Bush’s friendly relations with China. But at this time, with the global financial crisis in 2008 and its hard impact, the United States needed to maintain a strong and stable economic growth in Asia, especially China, and strengthen cooperation and expand economics and trade in order to reverse the effects of the global financial crisis and the recession in the United States. Therefore, Obama urgently needed to expand exports and increase employment as well as strengthen and maintain the currently friendly relationship with China. These were the key objectives for Obama’s Asia strategy. It is known internationally that not long after taking office, Obama entered a friendly and happy honeymoon period with China.

However, that did not last long: Hillary Clinton handled Chinese policy with a Cold War mentality, making the relations between China and the United States more and more tense. Due to Obama’s lack of political experience, especially in diplomacy, he relied heavily on the very experienced former first lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton. Thus, Obama’s foreign policy is heavily marked and influenced by Hillary Clinton, whose thunder overshadowed Obama both domestically and internationally. Although Hillary’s foreign policy ideas and style were not what Obama wanted to see, Obama was helpless and could not do anything about it. But in terms of the Democratic Party’s needs and interests, the domestic political needs and the Obama reelection campaign’s needs, Obama had no choice but to follow Hillary’s lead. Hillary initially treated China with a friendly attitude but later changed and her Iron Lady qualities were revealed. The first change was the Asia strategy. Clinton began to blame and pressure China and took on a tough stance toward China. Hillary’s focus for U.S. foreign policy shifted the focus to Asia. Hillary made her presence known on many issues by constantly putting pressure on China, instigating Vietnam and the Philippines and provoking and stirring ASEAN’s relations with China. She favored Japan in the Diaoyu Islands dispute, and the United States-Japan Security Treaty, which had the first high-profile claim to the Diaoyu Islands, led to a deepening of the crisis.

Return to Focus on Economic Development Rather than Political Interests in Asia

It is satisfying to see that before the curtain call for Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, she is reflecting upon her four years of suppressing China through her policies and is leaving behind advice based on her wake-up call. Hillary has finally realized that America’s global leadership depends not only on military strength but also on economic strength. Thus, proposing policies with an emphasis on economic priorities will promote the economic interests of the United States. The purpose of the transfer of the global strategy of the United States to the Asia-Pacific region is not for political interests but for economic development. She has also finally seen that a rising power such as China and its rise on trade and America’s military expansion is a concern. Hillary’s parting message left behind deep and insightful thoughts and was rational and in line with the current global situation, in line with the interests of the United States, and in line with the interests of Kerry, Hillary’s Secretary of State’s successor and their diplomatic legacies.

With Hillary Clinton leaving office, Obama can take the initiative diplomatically and can use the presidency before him to guide him through China policy in his second term. It can also be expected that Obama’s China policy will make a sensible adjustment and return to friendlier relations with China, leading to a mutually beneficial situation for both countries.

Obama chose John Kerry as the next Secretary of State. Kerry not only presided over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he is also experienced in other ways for this position. When he previously ran for the presidency, he advocated for a replica of Clinton’s second term China policy. We can look forward to Kerry putting pressure on an adjustment of Obama’s China policy, which will better the stability of Sino-American relations, friendship and cooperation as well as contribute to the development of a new kind of Sino-American relationship.

Friction and Hardships Are Still Inevitable

It must be understood that Obama and Kerry are carrying the national interests of the United States. It can be expected that there will be new developments in the relations of China and the United States, but there will undoubtedly be twists and turns in the future. Not to mention, the United States is threatened by the rise of China and exhibits suspicion and fear. Combined with how the opposition party in Congress is always trying to intervene in the internal affairs of the government’s foreign policy, the Republicans will also do anything to influence the government’s policy toward China. Recently, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, and the China-related content is evident. Sino-American relations must eliminate mistrust, suspicion and antagonism to build trust and partnership, showing that there is still quite a long way to go.



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