Bull in the China Shop


 As Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, China's next leader, visits with President Obama this week, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) China expert Daniel (Dan) Blumenthal examines US-China relations and explains that: 

  • "The Obama administration cannot seem to decide whether it thinks America is weak or strong, whether it should accommodate China or confront the country, or whether it wants to deploy more U.S. forces to the Pacific or cut the very forces that would be deployed."
  • "Washington's China policy is a bit of a muddle as it rests on the twin pillars of containment and engagement. The objectives of engagement are twofold: 1) to encourage China to become a responsible great power, and 2) to press for liberal reform. The aim of containment is to hold the line on a status quo -- a liberalizing Asia -- that has provided decades of peace and prosperity." Adds Blumenthal, "Somebody needs to orchestrate the cacophony.
  • "While "top-level engagement matters," the purpose of Xi visit to the United States is "to consolidate his power over an ever more complex Chinese political system. Form will be more important than substance, and Chinese leaders will be satisfied if there are no major missteps during the visit."
  • "As the first leader without the blessing of China's revolutionary generation (it cannot bless from the grave), Xi will likely be as risk-averse as Hu and more beholden to consensus within the Politburo Standing Committee, more deferential to the People's Liberation Army, and less likely to undertake liberal reforms given current social conditions."
  • "Beijing has been understandably confused about America's China policy. The Obama administration cannot seem to decide whether it thinks America is weak or strong, whether it should accommodate China or confront the country, or whether it wants to deploy more U.S. forces to the Pacific or cut the very forces that would be deployed. That Xi might adopt ill-conceived foreign policies (as Hu did in 2009 and 2010) is not out of the question."
  • "To increase the likelihood that the Sino-American competition will not lead to conflict, the two countries need sustained dialogue over matters such as military activities by both countries close to China's shores, the risks of the perennial flashpoints (Taiwan, Korea, and now the South China Sea and Indian Ocean), and new domains of warfare -- including cyberspace. Though these are not topics that China particularly enjoys discussing."

Blumenthal concludes that, "once Beijing comes to believe that intimidating others will not achieve its goals, engagement with Washington will improve."

AEI Resident Fellow Daniel Blumenthal previously served in the Defense Department's policy shop as the Senior Country Director for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mongolia. He is a current Commissioner (previously Vice Chairman) of the congressionally mandated US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is reachable at [email protected] or through [email protected] (202.861.7160). For additional help or for other media inquiries, please e-mail [email protected] (202.862.4871).

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