Three Tips for President Obama on China...and Asia
Image Credit: Official White House Photo (Flickr)

Three Tips for President Obama on China...and Asia


President Obama,

You and your foreign policy team have steered the United States on a constructive course in Asia over the past few years. There is thus no need for a policy overhaul. However, the dynamics of the region—from exploding trade and investment to rapidly rising security tensions and emerging flashpoints—leave no room for complacency.

With a new leadership in China and your new foreign policy team coming together in Washington, it is a good time to take a step back and assess what more you can do to advance U.S. interests in the bilateral U.S.-China relationship, as well as in the Asia-Pacific region more broadly. Here are three suggestions:

1. Breathe life into the pivot (or rebalance) in Asia

The pivot was a singularly deft move. It gave economic and strategic purpose to a previously aimless U.S. policy in Asia, while simultaneously addressing the very real concerns of many U.S. allies and partners over China’s aggressive rhetoric and actions in the Asia-Pacific region. The pivot also helps secure the U.S.-China relationship in a larger regional context, which is helpful given the wide range of shared trade and security interests.

Now it is time to put our money and muscle where our mouth is. The economic opportunities, as well as the security risks in the region, are only growing. The United States needs to devote real energy to negotiating the high-end regional free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and it needs to start restocking the region with our military personnel and hardware. Otherwise you run the real risk that the pivot will prove without real substance and the naysayers—those who keep questioning the long-term commitment of the United States to the Asia Pacific—will win the day.

2. Welcome the Chinese proposal for a “new type of relations between major countries,” then ask what it means and what the Chinese are planning to do to realize it

Chinese foreign policy scholars and officials have adopted a new mantra: it is time for a “new relationship” between the United States and China. Yet probe a little bit, and it is almost impossible to find someone who can define what this new relationship might entail.

To the extent that there is some collective understanding within China of the broad contours of this new “major country” relationship, it seems to rely overwhelmingly on the United States changing the way it does business. According to Chinese foreign policy analyst Jia Xiudong, the ability to achieve this new relationship depends on how the United States views China’s strategic intention; how the United States moves forward on rebalancing; and how the two countries “develop their potential” for win-win cooperation. Senior foreign affairs official Wang Yusheng similarly says this about the “new type of relations”: “The ball is in the U.S. court. So long as the U.S. can make efforts in the same direction as China does, there is hope.”

The Chinese have been relatively reluctant in the past to help construct bilateral or international agreements and architecture, so it is important to encourage such efforts. But before a new type of relations between the two countries can come to fruition, Chinese thinkers and officials will have to do more than say it is up to the United States.

3. Get the U.S.-China economic relationship right

The good news is that the U.S.-China economic relationship is one of the world’s most robust. We are each other’s second-largest trading partners, and China represents the fastest-growing market for U.S. exports. Chinese firms also invested more than $6.5 billion in the United States in 2012, over 10 percent more than the previous high in 2010.

At the same time, challenges in the trade and investment relationship are proliferating, including intellectual property rights theft, fraudulent reporting of assets by Chinese companies, and concerns over burgeoning investment in the United States by Chinese state-owned enterprises with weak corporate governance.

The United States would benefit from a trade and investment architecture that offered greater protection to U.S. economic interests. Both a bilateral investment treaty and, over the longer term, a free trade agreement fit the bill. President Obama, your team should make moving forward with these negotiations one of the top priorities of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Mr. President, the United States can continue to help drive an economically dynamic and strategically secure Asia by keeping the region front and center in U.S. policy priorities. Given all the other demands on your foreign policy team, this will not be easy. However, there is much to gain and more to lose if you don’t continue to assert U.S. leadership in the region.

Elizabeth C. Economy is C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is an expert on Chinese domestic and foreign policy and U.S.-China relations and author of the award-winning book, 'The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future.'  She blogs at Asia Unbound, where this piece originally appeared.

Kim's Uncle
January 31, 2013 at 11:47

China and US relationship of equals.  The US is a respected democracy that has been a leader for over a half a century.  China is rule by a primitive, crude dictatorship that has little regard for its own people.  Most countries of the world trust the US as a responsible stake holder while China's immediate neighbors have come to the realization of how greedy the boys in Beijing are.  Is it not correct that the Chinese Foreign Minister warned the ASEAN countries: "in this world there are large countries and there are small coutnries, that's the fact of life"…  Is that a veiled thread for all small countries to behave?  LOL  It's funny how Chi-coms have not managed to evolve in over 2 centuries!!  :))  Why China is always 2 centuries behind?  Imperialism was in the 19th century but today's China still is trapped in 19th Century mindset!  

January 26, 2013 at 07:43

why did you even reply to my post? Everything you said means nothing. Seriously you may as well have just said ABCDEFG….etc
Just a jumble of random musings.

James the Australian
January 25, 2013 at 18:29

US and China bilateral relations are indeed, the most important in the world today. Get it right, the whole world will continue to prosper. Get it wrong, there will be dire consequences and unimaginable sufferings. I will just mention one….baby boomers will see their life saving completely wipe off in the financial disaster that will follows.
Still, it is a difficult relation, fraught with many pit holes, as one, a debtor, is a Power, that was at its zenith and now on the slippery financial slope and the other,its creditor and banker, still rising and yet to attains its zenith. Both nations will have to make compromises, in order to accomodate each other.
Over consumption and wars are the Planet two biggest challenges. Over consumption has led to climate change and this has sicken our Planet, resulting in topsy turvy weather, extremely cold winters and extremely hot summers.Wars has plundered our coffers and left little for our childrens, the retirees and the sicks.This is the failure of diplomacy and those diplomats, who instead of advancing diplomacy, talked wars and start wars.
Our planet is indeed, a space ship, with limited resources. If we do not care for it, one day, due to our stupidity and careless actions, it will become inhospitable and what then? Do we have another planet to move too?
Love our Planet Earth. Make Friends and Peace, nopt wars and cut our consumption.

Shills, Trolls & Sockpuppets
January 25, 2013 at 18:05

Ho Humm .. if not harummpphh … more BS from Washington trolls.
Actually, there is an article in Russia Today's commentary about the confession of a former shill (troll, sockpuppet) hired by Washington's secretive covert agency. Check it out and do a searcg. You are bound to find the aticle most interesting about the "wumaos" recruited by Washington.
At least this chap had a conscience, unlike all the trolls here.

Trolls, Sockpuppets & Shills
January 25, 2013 at 17:57

Ho Humm .. if not harummpphh! 
Actually there is a comment in Russia Today containing the confessions of a former shill (Troll or sockpuppet) hired by Washington secret and covert agency.  Makes very good reading why and how we are subject to all the BS we read every day from those who can't get a decent job elsewhere.  Check it out by doing a search.  I am sure you will find it.

January 25, 2013 at 15:33

They honestly think they deserve to rule the world and everybody wants to be part of their heavenly kingdom. If they keep up this attitude we will do to them what we did to Germany. Except probably worse. 

January 25, 2013 at 13:03

Please see quick article referencing a Chinese bloggers efforts to collate the amount of times senior diplomats and officials have used the "hurt feelings" excuse.
Trully PATHETIC. Can you honestly imagine the US saying but please china think of the AMerican people's hurt feelings due to your currency manipulation.
PRC must be filled with narrow minded children….

January 25, 2013 at 13:00

Spot on my friend. I've never seen on the international stage a country that seems as precise and unbending as China. All their diplomatic statements infer responsibility on the other party to make adjustments in order to have a "normalcy" of relationship with China. 
Secondly its embaressingly amusing the frequency with which their own senior diplomats and ministers refer the rest of the world to the "hurt feelings" of the Chinese people in order to justify their position?
I honestly cannot think of any country thats taken the "hurt feelings" pathway pefore its genuinely pathetic and displays and infantile understanding of international diplomacy.
Even the USSR could conduct proper diplomacy even though their leaders where publicly unbalanced from time to time….

January 25, 2013 at 12:50

It is an interesting and accurate article. If anybody is interested to follow further how the CCP, in the manner of all previous "regimes" in China wants to shape their totally false view of history and "China" I recommend Ross Terrill's excellent book : The New Chinese Empire.

Oro Invictus
January 25, 2013 at 04:27

The major problem with the second point is that, as Dr. Ford cites in the piece I've linked to below (it is a fantastic piece, I highly recommend it), that ambiguity is one of the few ways the PRC CAN perform diplomacy. It's stance is, effectively, "we're right and everyone else is wrong" such that, when discussing specifics, they demand that the other side accept their version of events before proceeding. The utter inability of the PRC for flexibility in such things is one of the biggest reasons I doubt the PRC will ever be a true superpower, it will never have the diplomatic standing required for the task even if everything else goes well. As such, it is only by keeping things ambigious and not speaking on specifics that the PRC has established any diplomatic ties at all.
Now, to be fair, most states harbour similar beliefs regarding the veracity of their worldviews as the PRC, but such unwillingness to accept such a basic principle of international diplomacy as tolerance of pluralistic views is particularily staggering. Even Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan showed more willingness to tolerate and work with others of differing beliefs than the PRC (which is particularily troubling when you consider how low a bar those two set).

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