Stable Relations between China and US: Criterion of a Successful ‘Pivot’ Strategy

On Feb. 6, the Obama administration issued its second National Security Strategy. That same day, as U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice introduced the report at the Brookings Institution, she announced that the U.S. had already invited Chairman Xi Jinping for a state visit, and that invitations were also extended to leaders of Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. Also on that day, China’s Ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said that China and the U.S. were currently discussing the timing of Xi’s visit to the United States.

Compared with the administration’s first National Security Strategy issued five years ago, the greatest difference between this year’s plan and the previous one is a tone of greater confidence. The 2010 report opened with a discussion of the domestic foundation of U.S. national security and emphasized the economic foundation for rebuilding national strength. Historically, this sort of compositional structure is extremely rare for the superpower’s national security strategies, and it strongly reflected the anxiety and sense of urgency of the administration at the time.

Currently, the U.S. economy has entered a period of moderate growth, and there have been recent breakthroughs in technology and energy. The current National Security Strategy opens thus: “Today, the United States is stronger and better positioned to seize the opportunities of a still new century and safeguard our interests against the risks of an insecure world.” In fact, this same confidence was evident in Obama’s State of the Union address 20 days ago.

A more confident America is not necessarily a bad thing for China. Many Chinese academics have felt that the U.S. has become overly sensitive since the economic crisis: Americans, usually predisposed to exhibiting a self-deprecating sense of humor, suddenly could no longer make such jokes. This sort of anxiety either directly or indirectly has a real negative effect on China-U.S. relations.

Both the content of the National Security Strategy and the invitees for upcoming state visits show that Asia remains a region of focus in American foreign policy. The Obama administration hopes to establish its “pivot” toward Asia as part of its legacy. The successful agreement and execution of the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement could serve as a capstone for the successful execution of this pivot.

On Nov. 12, 2014, Obama announced at a joint press conference with Chairman Xi Jinping that developing a strong and powerful relationship with China is the core of the U.S.’s strategic pivot toward Asia. China carries significant weight in this strategy: if China-U.S. relations run into any catastrophic problems, Obama’s strategy of pivoting toward Asia cannot be said to have succeeded. The Obama administration understands this logic, and its invitation to Chairman Xi Jinping for a state visit is a measure to ensure the stability of China-U.S. relations.

There is an idea that the China-U.S. relationship will drift if the countries’ leaders do not invest in it. Because there are many disagreements and contradictions between the countries, their relationship has an inherent tendency toward negative movement; thus, the importance of leaders controlling and guiding the relationship from a high strategic level cannot be overstated. Without the impetus of their leaders, it would be difficult to imagine the two countries’ military relationship now entering “the best period since the end of the Cold War,”* or the recent issuance of a joint statement on climate change in Beijing last November.

The United States is a Pacific nation. China certainly does not inherently oppose a United States “return” to Asia; the U.S. just needs to, as Obama said, place a stable relationship with China at the core of the pivot and not sacrifice this bilateral relationship as a strategic cost. Both recent meetings of the heads of state — at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in 2013, and in 2014 in Zhongnanhai (central government headquarters in Beijing) — have served to strongly promote the formation of this new great power relationship. We hope that this year’s meeting between Xi and Obama continues this energy. The Obama administration still has 23 months in power, and an Asian pivot strategy that places a China relationship of cooperation for mutual benefit at its core would not only become a part of Obama’s governing legacy, but could also lay a solid foundation for the two countries’ long-term relations.

The author is the head of the United States section of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

*The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply