A. Greer Meisels

A. Greer Meisels


You recently penned a piece in The Diplomat discussing the likely rise of Xi Jinping as the new leader of China. Many articles have speculated on what he may or may not do. While you were very clear that much is unknown about his motives and policy goals, what things would you say Xi should not do? Is there anything in your view that would be a clear mistake for China’s future?

Instead of saying what I think Xi Jinping should and should not do, I will highlight a few areas that would be very problematic for Xi to ignore. First, although “reform” is sometimes considered a dirty word in China, it would really behoove Xi and the fifth generation leadership to pay more attention to the desires of the Chinese people. For example, a recently released Global Times survey suggests that “81.4 percent of respondents said they support political reform in China and 69.7 percent of the respondents said they felt that gradual reform is good for the country.” How this political reform may manifest itself is up to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); however, it cannot afford to ignore this sort of popular sentiment – losing the support of the people would eat away at the core of its authority.

In this same vein, Xi Jinping should also broaden and deepen China’s commitment to welfare policies including increased coverage of social assistance, social pension insurance, social health insurance, and job injury insurance. The unequal development that China has experienced and the widening gap between the rich and the poor will lead to greater social unrest and instability if not addressed soon.

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Finally, I believe that Xi should rethink some of China’s foreign policy decisions. For decades China has expressed a desire to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region so that it can continue to focus on its own economic development. However, provocations over the past several years with its neighbors in Southeast and Northeast Asia have led many to fear that China’s “rise” might not be entirely “peaceful.” Obviously it takes two (and in this case sometimes three and four) to tango, but I believe that China should think very carefully about how its actions reflect on the country as a whole and how they affect its security environment.

President Obama has won re-election. In his second term, what policy objectives and goals do you see him pushing forward in the Asia-Pacific? Do you see the pivot continuing in its present form? Secretary Hillary Clinton, one of the pivot’s top advocates, has also made it clear she is leaving the administration. Will this have any effect in your view on Asia-Pacific policy?

I believe that President Obama has, by and large, done an excellent job when it comes to his Asia-Pacific policy and will continue to build on these first-term success stories in his second-term. Putting the “pivot” or “rebalance” aside for a moment, Obama in conjunction with people like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, and a host of other dedicated and talented Asia-hands, have done a yeoman’s job of strengthening our ties with what is arguably the most dynamic region in the world. For example, under this administration KORUS was signed, the decision was made to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, the United States finally signed on to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) with the ASEAN members, Secretary Clinton’s first trip as Secretary of State was to Asia, instead of the usual Europe, reflecting the region’s growing importance, and she was also the first Secretary of State to visit Burma since John Foster Dulles in 1955. The list of accomplishments could, literally, go on and on.

Of course one of the main stories of this year has been the administration’s “rebalance to Asia.” This has been much discussed (and sometimes criticized) both at home and abroad with different camps claiming that it is either “too little too late,” or that it has been “flat-footed,” or that it is “more slogan than substance.” There may be some truth to some of these criticisms, but at the end of the day, I believe that a second-term Obama administration will continue to push the “rebalance” ahead. It is a whole-of-government strategy which means that the United States will not just enhance its military presence in the region, but also its economic and diplomatic activities as well. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter put it, the rebalance is “about a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where sovereign states can enjoy the benefit of security and continue to prosper.” No matter who spearheads Asia-Pacific policy during these next four years, I would be hard-pressed to imagine that they would not share a similar commitment to this goal.

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