How should China handle America’s “return to Asia?” [People’s Daily]

December 5, 2010

The U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises were held in the Yellow Sea region on Nov. 28. The United States sent the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, a 9,600-ton cruiser, and a 9,750-ton destroyer to participate in the military exercises.

The United States has appeared on the Asian stage once again. Its “return to Asia” strategy has become increasingly clear, and China-U.S. relations have also attracted much attention worldwide since Obama took control of the White House.

People’s Daily reporters interviewed Huang Ping, president of the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, regarding China-U.S. relations.

~ US China policy changes from warm to cold ~

The U.S. policy on China has changed from warm to cold during the two years of the Obama administration. Obama immediately paid a visit to China when he first took control of the White House and showed more passion than former president George W. Bush.

However, the current changes are obvious, and the United States has begun to implement various sanctions, restrictions and inhibitions on China. In regard to the RMB exchange rate, although the United States has not labeled China as a “currency manipulator,” it has shown an increasingly intense and loud voice regarding this issue in general.

The United States also directly or indirectly involved itself in China’s relations with neighboring countries. It took a public stance or indirectly exerted influence regarding issues such as the Diaoyu Islands event and the conflicts in the South China Sea, Huang said.

Huang analyzed the reasons for the changes in the Obama administration’s China policy, and said that the U.S. presidents have always adopted pragmatic domestic and foreign policies, and Obama is no exception.

Technically speaking, he appears even more pragmatic and traditional than his predecessor George W. Bush, as shown by far more diplomatic talks than military actions and far more multilateral than unilateral actions.

However, Obama does not completely reject idealism, and sometimes acts more like a bookish intellectual than an experienced politician. He has talked a lot but done little probably because it is much easier said than done. Whatever their governing styles are, the U.S. presidents always adhered to the rule that diplomacy and all other activities should serve U.S. national interests.

The United States replaced the United Kingdom as a global superpower after the end of World War II, and now needs to make efforts to maintain its hegemony across the world, in addition to safeguarding its sovereignty and ensuring its development like other countries.

The United States has not signed the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea because it considers exclusive economic zones to be international waters, which, by its hegemonic logic, should be included in the U.S. sphere of influence. The U.S. sphere of influence covers not only outer space and international waters but also all fields in which it takes a lead in, such as the Internet, and doing so is its long-term national strategy. Any fast-developing country will be instinctively seen by the United States as a direct or indirect challenge to its hegemonic status.

Of course, the changes in the Obama administration’s policy on China have various causes.

Objectively, the current domestic economic situation in the United States is terrible with a continued high unemployment rate. Made-in-China goods are seen here and there [sic], which tends to make China the victim and scapegoat.

Furthermore, it is indeed [a] fact that China is experiencing a rapid development and the trend will continue in the future. In fact, China’s development pace over the first 30 years since its market-oriented reform has not slowed, but China did not draw so much attention like it does now because then, its development was low and small in terms of economic scale.

However, thanks to its reform, a 2 to 3 percentage point decrease in China’s economic growth rate will make many other countries aware of its existence and greatly affect those countries, said Huang.

Another cause is Obama’s inexperience in handling international affairs. Although Obama was very popular during the presidency campaign, he lacks practical executive experience. He has never been mayor, state governor or worked in government departments, and he served only one term as senator, so he is inexperienced in evaluating the world situation and handling relations with other powers.

Furthermore, Obama’s team members, including Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates and Timothy Geithner, all have personal strengths, but how to coordinate their work is a big issue for Obama. In addition to the congress, the opposition party, media and interest groups, China is more prone to be the victim of the friction among various types of political forces in the United States.

~ Maintaining and enhancing its leading status in Asia ~

The particular attention paid by the Obama administration to Asia is increasingly evident. Of course, the United States has never left Asia, and the so-called “returning to Asia” strategy means that the United States seeks to establish, maintain and reinforce its leading status in Asia again, Huang commented.

The importance of Asia to the United States has been unquestionable since the end of World War II. Huang said that there is no doubt that China’s high-speed growth is one of the most important causes behind the United States'”returning to Asia” strategy.

The United States is aware that Asia is the most important economic development region in the early period of the 21st century and is home to China and India, the world’s two largest emerging economies, said Huang. Asia’s economic rise started between the 1960s and the 1980s, with Japan and the “four small dragons” taking the lead and the “five small tigers” following their steps.

The Chinese mainland started its reform and economic rise in 1978 and has shown its growing importance in the Asian economy after the Asian economic crisis in 1997. Following the international financial crisis in 2008, China displayed its considerable influence in the world economy. Although China has never sought a leading status or hegemony, it is an objective fact that China’s high-speed development has evolved from a national phenomenon to a regional phenomenon and from a regional phenomenon to an international phenomenon.

The United States can ignore neither China nor Asia. It is foreseeable that Asia will become more important in international relations, so it is normal for the frequent outbreaks of conflicts, disputes and trouble.

Faced with negative results in the mid-term elections, dealing with internal and foreign affairs became a difficult problem for Obama. The United States, which claims to be a world leader, certainly hopes that there will be less trouble. The conflicts between other countries are within the scope prescribed by the United States.

However, the United States cannot allow other countries to stir up conflict with itself. In regards to foreign affairs, the United States certainly needs to consolidate and strengthen its economic, political and military relations with traditional allies such as Europe, Japan, South Korea and Australia, and it will also be helpful for the United States to maintain a good relationship with China.

However, the United States has always regarded China as an uncertain factor. Certain people in the United States are very nervous about the large-scale and rapidly-developing China, which has great potential. It is estimated that there will be more trouble between China and the United States in the next few years, and problems and conflicts will even appear in some new areas and fields. This is also a test and examination for the United States’ “return to Asia’ strategy,” Huang said.

~ China’s consistent foreign policy ~

Huang stressed that no matter how the United States changes its policies towards China and Asia, the most important thing for China is to adhere to its established policies.

During the NPC and CPPCC meetings this year, a foreign reporter asked Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi whether China would adjust its policies accordingly as the U.S. foreign policy had changed. Yang, well known for his prudence, responded without hesitation that China’s foreign policy has always been consistent. Long-term adherence has proved that China means what it says. Since the introduction of the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,’ China has unswervingly adhered to an independent and peaceful foreign policy without succumbing to the strong or bullying the weak. China will never seek hegemony.

Instead, it is committed to following the path of peaceful development and international cooperation for mutual benefit as well as adhering to the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.’ China’s independent and peaceful foreign policy is exactly the opposite of the power politics and hegemony. However, China’s foreign policy will of course advance with the times, namely that China will adjust the policy at the proper time according to its own will, Huang said.

By People’s Daily Online

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