Mon, September 24, 2012
World > Americas > U.S. 2012 general election

Obama struggled to find the right tone with Beijing?

2012-09-24 06:53:09 GMT2012-09-24 14:53:09(Beijing Time)

By Mei Jingya, Sina English

The New York Times on Sept.20 published an opinion piece, “Obama’s Journey to Tougher Tack on a Rising China”, in which many current and former U.S. officials said the president struggled to find the right tone in dealing with Beijing.

The article said as Obama runs for re-election, his tougher line toward Beijing is showing itself on several fronts. He has filed two major cases in the past three months against China at the World Trade Organization in an effort to appeal to autoworkers in the Rust Belt (a description of an area in Midwestern and Northeastern United States that is struggling to adapt to adverse economic conditions).

On the same day as the latest WTO filing, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in Tokyo that Washington will help Japan deploy a new missile-defense system, which has aroused suspicion in Beijing.

Mitt Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama for not standing tough to China, making China policy a focal point in this presidential election. The White House’ China policy, encompassing both security and economic concerns, is testing Obama’s management of a “crucial and combustible relationship”.

According to the report, when meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Seoul in Nov. 2010, Obama bluntly asked China to do more to curb Pyongyang’s behavior, otherwise Washington will have to act. Obama’s warning “presaged what may end up as the most consequential foreign policy initiative of his presidency: the shift of American focus from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the Pacific Rim.”

After the Soeul meeting, the United States began to carry out its “Asia Pivot” strategy: It enhanced alliances with allies Japan and South Korea, opened the door to Myanmar, and sent Marines to Australia. While the new focus has rattled allies in Europe, the emergence of a counterweight to a rising China has been greeted with enthusiasm among its Asia allies who are so addicted to Washington’s protective wing.

However, the Asia shift is not what Obama had in mind when he entered office, said the article. In the first year after he was elected, he was often criticized for being too soft on China. Not a few current and former administration officials described in interviews the government to be a White House that struggled to find the right tone with Beijing.

Obama was determined not to antagonize China when he ran for president in 2008. Unlike Bill Clinton’s tough talks on Beijing in 1992, Obama said little about China, and his thin record on foreign policy left few clues for the Chinese to size him up.

To Obama, China is such a Sphinx that is beyond his fathom.

But finally, the White House decided to draw a line. Two months later, at a summit in Vietnamese capital Hanoi, Secy Clinton declared that the United States would take an interest in resolving disputes over the South China Sea. The move, as expected, angered China, while Vietnam and the Philippines felt that they had a potent backer.

Summing up Obama’s shift in his China policy, some former U.S. officials said it was not Obama who changed, but the Chinese. “The Chinese behaved differently in 2010, and what we did reflected their behavior,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, Obama’s chief adviser on China in 2010.

Perhaps, Obama failed to change any as he promised in his 2008 campaign in such a changing scenario.

Related news:

U.S. voting laws may affect outcome of election: study

Playing China card under media fire in U.S.

In an editorial published on September 18, The Washington Post said U.S. president Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney are competing for political support from working-class voters by China-bashing, warning them to avoid protectionism that might ultimately lead to a trade war between China and the United States that will hurt both countries' interest. Full story

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