Obama's Reckless, Ridiculous China Policy

President Obama's disinterest and inexperience in foreign and national security affairs are nowhere more evident than in his China policy. Consider his administration's record in just one year:

  • We have lurched from Secretary of State Clinton dismissing any possibility of progress on human rights, just before her visit to China last year, to the president planning to meet with the Dalai Lama this month.
  • We announce major new U.S. weapons shipments to Taiwan even as we eagerly look to China to fund major portions of President Obama's massive U.S. government budget deficits.
  • We avoid pressuring China for cyber attacks on American companies, its tolerance of intellectual property theft, and other rule-of-law violations, and instead lean on China to reduce its carbon emissions to combat global warming.
  • We allow China to evade taking serious responsibility for North Korea's nuclear weapons program, while we simultaneously seek China's support for additional Security Council sanctions against Iran's program

Pursuing competing or inconsistent priorities is hardly new or unusual for the United States, given our global commitments and obligations, which make it nearly impossible to pursue any single priority to the exclusion of others. Indeed, one real metric of foreign-policy success is juggling these varying interests. Obama's China policy is different--and potentially quite deleterious for the United States--because it unfolds in almost random fashion.

It is little wonder that Chinese leaders now question not only America's grip on its own economy, but its grip on international politics as well.

The secret of what's wrong with his foreign policy is what's wrong with his domestic policies. Obama's central focus is domestic, and neither his inclinations nor his experience afford him the judgment required for serious foreign-policy decisions. Accordingly, having proposed $8.5 trillion in deficits over the next decade, and lacking enough gall to propose the requisite taxes to fund such extraordinary spending, Obama has only the alternatives of printing money or issuing debt. Both are harmful, but the debt route is a less visible way to debase the currency. Implicitly, Obama expects China to purchase a major portion of this debt, adding to its existing enormous share of Treasury obligations. Unfortunately for the president, however, China appears unwilling to play. In particular, China worries about the potentially devastating effects these mountainous additions to the national debt will have on the U.S. economy, and thus our ability ultimately to repay all or even most of it.

Of course, this is precisely what Washington should be worried about, not Beijing. It is little wonder that Chinese leaders now question not only America's grip on its own economy, but its grip on international politics as well. This U.S. implosion is mirrored in Obama's fascination with the multilateral regulatory regimes favored by the Kyoto/Copenhagen global-warming negotiating process. Assuming both the seriousness of global warming, and its anthropogenic causation, however, does not dictate self-evident solutions. In fact, many Copenhagen advocates would favor the same government-imposed "solutions" even if the problem were global cooling, or if there were no earth-temperature issue at all. Ironically, China is the world's one large economy that could easily adopt the near-authoritarian, command-and-control economics favored by the Copenhagen crowd, and yet it refuses to do so. Beijing argues, not unreasonably, that drastic limitations on carbon emissions will thwart its plans for economic growth, which it simply has no intention of doing. China must also wonder why a purportedly free-market country like America is following this decidedly statist path.

Not only are Obama's domestic priorities driving him in the wrong direction with China, perhaps even worse, he seeks the wrong answers from China even on strictly national-security issues. U.S. policy on Iran's and North Korea's dangerous nuclear-weapons programs highlights this anomaly most clearly. In both the Bush and the Obama administrations, we have allowed China to escape responsibility for stopping Pyongyang's nuclear program, something it has the unique capacity to do, given the North's reliance on China for energy, food and other critical resources. Although China says it opposes a nuclear North Korea, it is unwilling to take tough measures because it fears even more the collapse of the Pyongyang regime and the possible reunification of the Korean Peninsula. While eliminating North Korea would end Northeast Asia's nuclear problem and lead to regional and international stability, China will not act for fear of enhancing the U.S. position in the region. Our response for eight years has been to allow China to pursue its interests aggressively, while forfeiting our own.

By contrast, on Iran, we face a regime determined to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons, and resolutely undeterred by three existing UN Security Council sanctions resolutions. Nonetheless, the Obama administration proclaims that a fourth set will somehow achieve what the first three have failed to do, despite China's repeated and very public statements that it does not support such an approach. Of course, even if another resolution is adopted, the real question is whether it will have the slightest impact on Iran's decision making. The near-certain answer is "no." Instead of practically begging China for support, therefore, America should be making its own hard decisions to do what is necessary to prevent what now looks almost inevitable absent an Israeli military strike: Iran with nuclear weapons.

Many people blame China for pursuing its national interests in such a bold and unembarrassed fashion. They are mistaken. China is just doing what comes naturally. The real question is why the United States is not doing the same.

John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at AEI.

Photo: iStockphoto/graham heywood

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  • John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At AEI, Ambassador Bolton's area of research is U.S. foreign and national security policy.

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