After his arrival the White House in 2009, President Barack Obama suggested refocusing U.S. foreign policy on Asia, as opposed to Europe, even though the latter had been the main point of interest during the postwar decades. There were many reasons behind this change in direction toward Asia that had to do with both Europe and China.
For instance, in the competition between the world's superpowers — the U.S. and Soviet Union — Europe was at stake. Moreover, at the end of the postwar era, when the world was struggling to rebuild itself, Europe became the main economic force, alongside America. These two arguments were even more powerful since starting in 1989, the ideological divide disappeared, and Central and Eastern Europe slowly turned into open societies. In the meantime, China rose to be the second economic superpower and is showing unprecedented development.
Not long ago, Henry Kissinger — in his 2012 book “On China” — explained how, as in the 1970s, the U.S. reconnected with China and promoted the dialogue between the superpowers. Even more recently, Hillary Clinton — in her book “Hard Choices,” published by Simon & Schuster in New York in 2014 — gave a new interpretation of China’s evolution and of the relations that America intends to commit to. As she sees it, Asia, and particularly China, is the new “pivot” of American politics, without this diminishing the importance of other “obligations and opportunities” of American politics. This evaluation is worth exploring. Once again, it states the clear share that China has in the actual world, as well as the need for a new approach, one that goes beyond the simplicity of today’s shallow ideologies, especially in countries with limited abilities for evaluation from the decision makers.
The idea of American policy focusing on Asia was, of course, a conclusion drawn from the new analysis of America’s global presence, which recommended that it should consolidate its part in the Pacific region. This conclusion also took into consideration China’s rapid ascent as the second superpower. As Hillary Clinton stated, the rise of China is “one of the most consequential strategic developments of our time” (p. 42).* What’s more, she argues that the Asia-Pacific is “the only region in the world to record steady improvements in political rights and civil liberties” and that America considers this as a step toward other positive evolutions (60).*
This is the rationale behind America’s new pivot in the world, and Hillary Clinton states that one of the initial goals of the pivot plan was to increase America’s active implication in Asian businesses, so that America’s interest in a more democratically open and prosperous region grows, without weakening its efforts to build a positive relationship with China. Today, there are, of course, frictions between the two superpowers, due to the various disagreements and different perceptions of the situation in Asia and the world, in general. From a U.S. point of view, these frictions can’t be overcome with the help of the principle of nonintervention in internal affairs, which China favors. A new approach needs to be found. “We have no interest in containing China. But we do insist that China play by the rules that bind all nations” (100).* This implies intense communication with China, and not the isolation that the cliché-blinded agitators recommend.
We can’t help but notice that having the experience at the White House, as part of a couple who operated during the historic moment of the road to globalization, Hillary R. Clinton was able to precisely express the issue of changing the American foreign policy. From the beginning, America’s first lady worked to “reorient American foreign policy around what I call 'smart power'” (X)* — a concept elaborated during innovative research at Harvard, by a group closely related to Joseph Nye. The concept means “choosing the right combination of tools — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural — each situation” (33), and drawing the consequences from the fact that the U.S. is the world’s “indispensable nation” (XII).* “While there are few problems in today’s world that the United States can solve alone, there are even fewer that can be solved without the United States” (XII).*
It is well-known that after 9/11, the U.S. was forced to acknowledge foreign threats and to become vigilant. The George Bush Jr. administration was in the middle of this. Hillary R. Clinton argues for a change, in the sense that by staying vigilant, the U.S. has to do more to make the best of the biggest opportunities, especially in the Asia-Pacific. This change is based on new strategic options from the United States and on a new way to see China. Some of these strategic options refer to internal aspects, while others to external ones. Let us analyze this change whose advocate is the former American secretary of state.
It’s been known that broad U.S. policy alternates between measures that stress the power based on the extraordinary efficiency of institutions and measures that exploit the continuous preoccupation of the American culture with converting the values of democracy to ways of life. Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are the symbols of these two complementary directions, to which the Republicans and Democrats bring life, in variable contexts of history. Pragmatism — the typical American philosophy — Andrei Marga, “The Pragmatic Reconstruction of Philosophy, published by Cluj University Press in 2012 — actually justifies people’s tendency to embrace religious values, favorable to democracy, and act on them.
The intervention that was made in the historical and political history by the greatest philosophers of the world at the beginning of this millennium — Richard Rorty and Jürgen Habermas — was in fact dictated by the need to reiterate the moral essence of the American culture in international actions. The reaction in the U.S. nowadays — see, for example Mark. R. Levin's “Ameritopia. The Unmaking of America," published by Threshold in New York in 2012; and Robert Kagan's “The World America Made,” published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York in 2012 — is driven by the need to stress the prevalence ensured by American institutions across the world.
Hillary R. Clinton’s reflections are undoubtedly meant to reconfigure the United States’ foreign policy, following the stimulating analysis of historian Paul Kennedy — see his extraordinary work “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” of 1987 — of the rise and fall of powers throughout history. This brought up how America’s starring role was diminished as a consequence of the huge public debt, the economic impact of the recession, and of the costly expansion of interventions across the world. The author of “Hard Choices” believes that this kind of approach “undervalues many of America’s strong points, including our resilience and ability to reinvent ourselves. Our army is still by far the strongest and yes, good to be reminded, our economy is by far the largest, our diplomatic influence is unrivaled, our universities set the gold standard and our core values of freedom and opportunity are inspiration still to people everywhere. When we want to resolve a problem in the world, we have many friends and allies to turn to” (26).* The former secretary of state considers pessimism to be an obstacle and states that they need to refine their instruments and to put them to good use.
She shares Steve Jobs' motto — “think different.” When referring to international U.S. policy, Hillary Clinton bases her arguments on the “architecture” created by institutions, alliances and norms established after World War II, but she also emphasizes a “rule-based international order,”* capable of managing interactions between countries, of protecting fundamental rights, and of mobilizing common actions. However, it has to be more flexible and inclusive. Considering Asia “a focal point of the administration’s foreign policy” is part of this new world order (45).*
The American policy, represented in Asia by Hillary Clinton is based on “reaffirming the United States as a power in the Pacific, without generating a useless confrontation with China” (46).* The saying that was once shared with the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was, at the time, “when you are in a common boat, you need to cross the river peacefully together.” Continuing the policy represented by Henry Kissinger, the United States found itself in the same boat as China.
But this wasn't the end of the inevitable competition between the two approaches — American and Chinese, clearly different — in other countries. Hillary Clinton mentions that China’s ascent and its mix of authoritarianism and state capitalism was an appealing example for some leaders of the world, who rushed to stop considering the values of liberal democracy as a sole point of reference. As expected, Hillary Clinton says that “a major goal of our strategy in Asia was to promote political reform as well as economic growth. We wanted to make the 21st century a time in which people across Asia become not only more prosperous but also more free. And more freedom would, I was confident, spur great prosperity.” (60).* America’s relations with China are not simply named “friendship” or “rivalry,” but remain in “uncharted waters” and demand, first of all, flexibility. “The more both sides follow the example of those intrepid early diplomats to bridge the gaps in understanding and interests, the better chance we will have of making progress” (66).*
Everyone knows that the United States has signed treaties with Japan and South Korea in the Pacific region. Moreover, the principle of sea and ocean navigation is a typical American option. The real problem arose in regard to the South China Sea. China defined the area as a “core interest” to itself, and the United States considers the same area, in light of the aforementioned principle, as a “national interest” to itself (79).* China believes that “external interference” should be excluded, and the U.S. envisions the South China Sea region as taking into consideration every country’s interests. China reminds their partners that they are “a big country, bigger than any other in the region,” whereas the United States supports the idea of a “multilateral approach,” based on current international legislation.
Not necessarily antagonistic, but concurrent approaches may arise at any time in the relationship between the United States and China. Hillary Clinton suggests that a solution be found that takes into consideration both perspectives. She mentions how the United States learned that in the context of recent globalization, “it is time for mature introspection and for promoting fairer commercial agreements”, as well as for more comprehensive relations between countries.* From the American Democrats’ perspective, the relationship between America and China is in an area of collaborative exploration and new opportunities. I mentioned all this to show, once again, how wrong it is to abide by some shallow politicians and intellectuals, claiming that the best thing to do is to keep a distance or reduce these relations to diplomatic protocols. If the United States is preoccupied with innovating its relationship with China and cooperating at the largest scale possible, shouldn't it learn from this example?
Surely the answer is “yes,” and here, in Romania, decision-makers should also be able to understand simple things.
In the same way as, under normal conditions, isolating countries as a result of their ideology didn't lead to any result, neither will considering countries as “European” or “Asian.” Many “specifists” — two days ago, folklorists, yesterday ideologists, and today, people of culture — might wake up to see that for many reasons, China is more modern, more decentralized, and more creative than their own country. The global social war, however practiced, leads nowhere, but neither does the cultural conflict. All these visions, which were improvised from the very beginning, don’t provide solutions, but rather generate losses. The problem is not how to please China, as the belief has been lately in Romania, because no one asked for that, but how to cooperate without prejudice and restrictions, for the benefit of both sides.
Grown-ups don’t imitate one another when they agree to undertake something together. The problem is not following the trend — as Romania does — of just formally stating the willingness to cooperate with China. Even so, most countries do exactly that. The issue is how to capitalize on the chances for investment and cooperation with China via actions that lead to good results.
*Editor's note: Accurately translated, the quotes have not been verified.