US Must Be Consistent Toward China

Pestering China won’t get America anywhere. It must be consistent in its policy of “strategic reassurance”.

After the Obama Administration announced that it would pursue a policy of “strategic reassurance” toward China last year, recent months saw a string of awkward encounters that left Sino-American relations more strained again.

For Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is fully aware of the necessity to maintain strong and peaceful ties across the Pacific, Asia has emerged “as a diplomatic hornet’s nest,” with something of a naval race complicating relations with Japan; traditionally the most gullible of American partners in the region. Although the discord with Japan was happily exaggerated by some media, it is becoming more difficult for the Americans to maneuver in East Asia today.

Add to that the recent arms sale to Taiwan and President Barack Obama meeting with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and it becomes quite apparent why the Chinese aren’t too pleased right now.

The need for consistency is real therefore, notes the Financial Times. The United States may state their disagreements with China frankly and openly but should at the same time “strive for partnership with China in their many areas of common interest.”

The important thing is to keep both elements of the relationship to the fore, rather than fluctuating from one to the other according to circumstances — dismaying first the Chinese leaders and then the human rights activists and victims of China’s abuses.

America doesn’t have the leverage to actually make a stance for Tibetan autonomy. To “pretend that it did would simply be counterproductive,” according to the British newspaper.

At his blog, Thomas Barnett, author of Great Powers: America and the World after Bush (2009), agrees and he adds that this pestering “won’t get us any respect from the Chinese, much less flexibility.”

How this administration went so quickly from “strategic reassurance” to all this tough-guy posturing in about three months was truly stunning. It said, “I chase my tail as circumstances demand it.”

There is ample reason to be more accommodating. While economically, the interdependence of China and the United States remains paramount, in geopolitical terms, the former is turning more inward, whether it be through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or by establishing a free-trade zone with neighboring ASEAN. This is unfortunate, because the United States can use China’s help, be in containing North Korea or Iran, or in getting Pakistan to pick up the pace in fighting the Taliban within its borders.