Trip to Forget?


US President Barack Obama is in South Korea today as part of his nine-day swing through Asia. But most of the commentary is understandably still focused on his visit to China earlier this week. And the emerging consensus seems to be it wasn’t a particularly good trip for him.

Setting aside some of the inevitable nonsense that will be talked about the visit by some ‘conservative’ US pundits (who managed to demonstrate both cultural ignorance and breathtaking arrogance by harping on about Obama supposedly lowering of America’s status by bowing when meeting the Japanese emperor in Tokyo), even more sensible commentators are questioning whether he was too acquiescent in China.

Daniel Blumenthal, writing in Foreign Policy, called the trip ‘harmful’ and was scathing over the position Obama took on Taiwan. He says:

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‘Now consider the situation across the Strait today. China has built a military capable of destroying the island if America does not assist Taiwan. Though obligated by law, the Obama administration has not sold a single weapon system to Taiwan. There is in fact no U.S.-Taiwan agenda under the Obama administration. It is even more dangerous, then, to stress the parts of the Sino-American normalization documents that most appeal to China.

‘Of course China wants us to reiterate that our respect for “territorial integrity” and “sovereignty” is at the core of the three communiqués. Beijing wants us to accept its argument that Taiwan is part of China and that we should respect their sovereignty over the island. Obama has thus far done so through deed. With the joint statement he comes closer to officially accepting the Chinese claim of sovereignty.’

The prevailing mood is also well caught in this analysis in the Straits Times, which points out that Obama didn’t even get a pledge by Beijing to allow its currency to rise against the dollar, something it hinted might be on the table ahead of the visit.

‘But with all said and done on Obama’s trip, the tightly controlled value of the Yuan–which Western commentators say gives Chinese exports an unfair advantage –was the key thing that China stood its ground on.


‘That might be the clearest sign that a more confident China may increasingly say “no” to the US, said observers.’

China’s rise may or may not be over-hyped, and it certainly has serious internal tensions and challenges to overcome, not least the gaping wealth disparities between the coastal regions and the west of the country. But either way, there has been a clear shift in tone on the US side compared with earlier administrations at such an early stage. And meanwhile, China grows ever more confident.

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