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Huanqiu, China

Obama to Intensify China
Containment, Version 2.0

By Fu Meng Zi

The politicians of both countries must face facts; the profit-making mechanisms of both countries are predicated on the condition of ample collaboration.

Translated By Chase Coulson

29 January 2013

Edited by Heather Martin

China - Huanqiu - Original Article (Chinese)

The New US Agenda, a Response to China’s Explosive Rise

Obama recently began his second term in office. Relatively speaking, between the two terms there should be continuity of diplomatic policy, yet there will still likely be some adjustments included in new policy regarding China. The U.S. has always pursued the position of “world leader,” and that's a goal that won't change anytime soon. Due to the continual expansion of China’s influence, it has been moved to a prominent position of consideration within the U.S. global strategy. How China’s rise should be dealt with, if it’s not to be not included among the U.S.’ most pressing diplomatic policies, is certain to be one of the main policies on the agenda.

Regardless of whether it is on the international, multilateral or regional level, or even the country level, the China factor will occupy much more space on the U.S. foreign policy agenda this term. In Obama’s “return to Asia” strategy, there has been a constant push to balance or negate China’s influence, which is clearly and unmistakably at the heart of its strategic concerns. The U.S.’ entry into the South China Sea islands dispute and other such affairs has intensified suspicions in Sino-American strategic interaction. The U.S. is fully aware of the possibility of creating tension and danger as a result of its global strategy. The “return to Asia” strategy will not change. There is, however, a crucial problem with regard to the “Asia re-balancing,” which is that military tactics will no longer be given sole prominence; economic, political and diplomatic tactics will also be brought into play to add additional impetus to the re-balance.

In Obama’s second term, there will be a major reshuffling of cabinet members, which includes the secretary of state, director of commerce and the CIA director, among others. As president, Obama always holds the reins in U.S. diplomatic policy decisions. With only personnel changes, there will be no substantial revisions made to the U.S.’ China policies, but the U.S. is facing a problem with its China “re-balancing” policies, specifically avoiding any excessive turbulence or retrogression in Sino-U.S. relations. To that end, at least it should play down the fact that it’s surrounding China on all sides throughout Southeast Asia. Due to the fact that the two countries have such a high degree of interdependence, bilateral relations should be handled with the utmost care. After beginning his visit and a series of interviews in China, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell expressed that China and the U.S. have established a positive and comprehensive collaborative relationship and so great pains should be taken to avoid creating conflict between the existing superpower and the emerging one.

Sino-American Relations Enter Uncharted Waters

The current differences between the U.S. and China have always been there, but because both sides have laid the foundation for cooperative strategy during different periods, these differences have not affected positive collaboration between our two nations. Some analysts believe both the U.S. and China are currently entering “uncharted waters.” There have been almost five decades of Sino-American relations thus far; for the first time our two nations lack a “great common goal” — i.e. resisting the threat of the Soviet hegemony and crackdowns on terrorism, etc. —that we once had. In other words, we now lack a common platform for cooperation. During the televised presidential debates, Obama's description of China as an “opponent and potential partner” fell short of accurately describing the current conditions of the complex and multifaceted development of Sino-U.S. relations. But it is not possible for the background of this “opponent and potential partner” theory to be taken strictly on the basis of one issue alone, moreover the theory conceals Obama's actual stance on China’s strategy. If, on account of these decisions, the U.S. develops an attitude of uncertainty toward Sino-U.S. constructive collaboration — despite the fact that the association between our two countries will deepen — at the same time the U.S.' ability to inhibit and hedge China will increase during this second term.

Of course it doesn’t mean that our two countries are on the verge of a head-on collision, for the two nations to enter into a state of war is absolutely not a possible, feasible or even imaginable prospect. The U.S. containment of China will most likely unfold in an indirect and roundabout manner, for instance, intervening in island disputes between China and neighboring states.

Due to the strategic demands involved in restricting China, it is difficult for the U.S. to stay neutral on the Diaoyu Islands issue. During the 2013 fiscal year, the U.S. Senate ratified the National Defense Act, which amended the stipulations applicable to the Diaoyu Islands in the fifth paragraph of the U.S.-Japan National Security Alliance Treaty amendment. On January 18 Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recognized the islands as being under Japan's jurisdiction. This and many other cases make it plainly evident that the U.S.’ restrictions of China will tighten up in the future. Of course in this issue “cautious intervention + re-balance containment + prevention of loss of control” will be the U.S. government's all-important strategic formula. Furthermore, the island dispute issue will be the fulcrum in bringing certain Asian countries into the fold. It goes without saying that keeping China in check is a major strategic goal.

Moreover, some new developments in the U.S.’ strategies with respect to China have presented themselves. Over the long term, U.S. policy goals will be to meld China into its international economic order; whether or not the current order continues remains to be seen. Recently, large Chinese companies like Huawei have been shut out of the U.S. market on account of safety concerns, which indicates that the U.S. has developed a counter-globalization attitude. U.S. consumer products are still the world's most influential, but the U.S. desire to develop into the “benign hegemon” is waning. At the outset of the U.S.’ Trans-Pacific Partnership, China will be excluded — this implies something other than business as usual. And although recently the U.S. has exhibited openness toward China joining, a very high hurdle has been set for Chinese state-owned enterprises, government procurements, labor standards, etc., and of course this means [the policies] are aimed directly at causing China to shrink back.

Sino-US Relations: Not a Matter of Who's Chasing Whom

In a globalized world it is normal for every country to rely on heightened friction and competition between one another, and our two countries are no exception. What we should be on guard against, however, is the politicization of trade. Pointlessly passing the buck makes it all the easier for bilateral issues to become part of a domestic political agenda, which may lead the decisions of the average citizen astray.

The politicians of both countries must face facts; the profit-making mechanisms of both countries are predicated on the condition of ample collaboration. There is a strong possibility of long-term friction, and at times this reality might intensify. We should adopt a straightforward attitude, keep our eyes fixed upon the long-term gains of both countries and, for the sake of cooperation and development, work out the differences in our bilateral relations. Version 2.0 of Obama's diplomatic strategy as it relates to China will be subordinated to the demands of realism and may at times stress the demand for “controllability.”

What's worth mentioning at this point is that today's Sino-U.S., or U.S.-Sino relations if you will, are not biased; it's not a matter of who's chasing whom. The problems on both sides are unbiased. In response to the great challenge of situations like global warming and in response to traditional safety challenges, it's even less so. China's ability to create a U.S. policy model is a far cry from that of yesteryear. Even Obama's own high-level Chinese affairs consultant Jeff Bader believes that the “variable” in the development of U.S.-Sino relations is skewed toward the China side. Obviously the adjustment in U.S. policy with respect to China is also related to China's policy toward the U.S. Moreover, Chinese policy toward the U.S. shows stronger “inheritability.” Sino-U.S. relations are actually still looking toward favorable developmental opportunities.

The author is vice president and researcher at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.



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