The U.S. is still the most liberal country in media freedom; she has more publications than any other country in the world especially in the domain of national security and foreign policies, although many not be as independent as they claimed. Information overload has become a serious burden to citizens; however having more is still better than having less provided people are willing to digest the different views to avoid being brain washed. Foreign Affairs, a prestigious magazine, recently published a special issue, entitled Obama's World - Judging His Foreign Policy Record. In this September/October 2015 issue, it contains an essay, Obama and Asia - Confronting the China Challenge, authored by Thomas J. Christensen, a Princeton professor and the author of The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power (Norton, 2015). Prof. Christensen had served as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, a valuable experience for him to write a review on Obama's China Policy record. As American citizens are going to elect a new President in 2016, it is timely for us to discuss the important U.S. China policy topic with reference to Christensen's review article.
Let's first summarizes Prof. Christensen's main points with check marks in mind, right, wrong or debatable, then we will offer additional analyses and comments if appropriate.
Christensen rightly pointed out that China poses challenges to the U.S.; and China is powerful enough to be influential in the stability of East Asia and important enough to be relevant in solving global problems. Christensen acknowledged that President Bush ended his term heading the China policy to a right direction and President Obama made some progress with a mixed record. Obama was effective in placing US presence in Asia and managed tension but made mistake in rhetoric and in diplomacy with flip-flop languages from 'pivot' to 'rebalance', from agreeing to respect each other's 'core interest' (China's stability and territorial integrity and U.S. Anti-terror and world security concern) to selling arms to Taiwan and meeting Dalai Lama and from reassuring security to criticizing China's Internet and blaming each other on hacking. In Christensen's view, the tensions are up in the East and South China Sea but not manufactured by the U.S. even though she held military exercises in those regions. On global governance, Obama's record is also mixed: On the nuclear issue with North Korea and Iran, China is getting warmer to South Korea which may indicate China's inability to control North Korea. China's increasing investment in North Korea certainly weakens the US sanction (Note: perhaps the U.S. needs to understand China's strategy better in the Korean Peninsula). In conclusion, Christensen remarked that anytime the U.S. engaged in a regime change, China stopped supporting the U.S. in international affairs (e.g. nuclear, Qaddafi, Kim, ...) which should be noted. A bright spot in U.S.-China relation is on climate change with quantitative expectation as a result of mutual internal pressure (Note: Common interests between the U.S. and China, particularly on issues the people of two nations care about do exist. Leaders and politicians should stay away from rhetoric but listen to what people say!)
After reading the Foreign Affair's issue and Christensen's review on China Policy, I could not help raising some fundamental questions. First, is it correct for the U.S. to assume that the China challenge is a national security issue as we did on Russia? Is China really the destabilizing element in Asia or as the U.S. making her to be? For decades, there were no serious confrontations in the East and South China seas. It was in 2010 Japan first arrested a Chinese fishing boat that evolved into a series of drama including Japan's comic move of purchasing those non-inhabitable rocks historically belonged to China. The U.S. is fully aware of this yet cowardly or shrewdly declares taking no position on this sovereignty issue, essentially encouraging Japan to take more provocative actions, and further condoning Japan by applying the article 5 of the US-Japan Defense treaty to those rocks. On this issue, leaders should listen to the people than follow the legacy think tank touting a fictitious enemy to drum up arms race and military alliances leading to tension rather than solving world problems. If one asks why is China making a big effort to conduct a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the ending of WW II? The answer is simple, China is feeling insecure - the only nation was invaded and victimized by so many countries, from the West and the East, for so many years causing the world's biggest economy to become the poorest population on earth for decades. Now China is rising, what do the Chinese people see, they now have a dream but they see their country being targeted as the enemy by the U.S., worse by Japan even threatened by North Korea. Chinese people are no more belligerent and warmongering than the American people, why should they be targeted as the enemy? More than sarcastic is China being targeted as enemy by Abe Shinzo, a bloodline descendent of a Japanese war criminal.
Another fundamental question is that why is China accused of being reluctant to pay economic and political cost to deal with world problems and to contribute to the global prosperity? This is puzzling to the Chinese and American people alike. The Chinese believe more in the United Nations than the U.S. does. China's grand strategy of constructing a 'One Belt and One Route' connecting Asia to Europe has every element for stimulating economic development of half the world. China's foreign policy has been leaning far more towards economic development than military alliances. Why should the U.S. urge Japan to assume a larger role in global affairs in the direction of escalating her military strength? To add more pressure on an insecure China or to depend on Japanese troops to defend the U.S., a ludicrous logic in view of the historic facts how US-Japan fought during WW II and how Japanese textbooks describes Pearl Harbor, Nanking Massacre and the atomic bomb.
Finally, one questions why is the U.S. as the greatest power in the world not willing or unable to manage the U.S.-China security issue bilaterally without involving other nations? The U.S. has always been assertive in conducting her foreign affairs. China has become more assertive in a reactionary manner to provocation. In fact, China openly regards the U.S. as the greatest nation and wishes to have a friendly relation to avoid to be targeted as the enemy. Is it that difficult for the U.S. leader to deal with the Chinese leader in a frank and direct manner? It can't be the language, since the Japanese language and culture are probably more mystic than Chinese to Americans. This Fall, when Chinese leader, Xi Jingping, who had studied in the U.S. with fond memory and gratitude towards his American host family, visits President Obama, we hope they will open a new page of China policy to guide the U.S.-China relation onto a positive course.
As 2016 is approaching, the U.S. presidential campaign is warming up. The China Policy should rank high on the candidates' minds. It is so important for the candidates to leaf through the legacy pages of China policy and cultivate a new constructive dialogue rather than blindly iterating China bashing. The future of the U.S., China and the world depends critically on the outcome of the 2016 election as I have discussed in this column previously.