China’s Diplomacy in Transition
The new Chinese leadership aims to create a favorable international environment for the country's development
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Cover Stories Series 2014> Improving International Relations> Opinion
UPDATED: May 11, 2012 NO. 20 MAY 17, 2012
Building on Past Success
The Strategic and Economic Dialogue continues to strengthen Sino-U.S. relations
By Clifford A. Kiracofe

Positive U.S.-China relations are necessary for the constructive transformation of the present international system. The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) process can play an important role, but domestic politics, or international politics, must not be allowed to derail the development of constructive and peaceful relations between Beijing and Washington.

Given world trends, it is clearly in the national interest of the United States to foster a positive, constructive, and stable relationship with China. A multi-polar world is emerging and Washington needs to respond appropriately in order to safeguard American national interests and to promote a peaceful and prosperous world order.

Transition to a multi-polar world

A 500-year period of Western imperialism and colonialism has ended. It is now time, in this new century, for the development of a peaceful and prosperous Pacific community within a transformed international system. This will no doubt be a long process, but a worthy vision for it needs to be set in place in our day.

The bi-polar Cold War international system ended in 1991, and since that time the world has been in a difficult transition phase to a new multi-polar system. A successful transformation requires creative input from all concerned, particularly the major powers, so that all can feel comfortable with, and prosper within, a new modern and progressive international system.

The U.S.-China relationship is a critical factor in world politics today. Actions by powers outside the Pacific region, or inside it, which disrupt relations between Washington and Beijing must not be permitted. Washington must firmly rebuff and reject third-party actions which would derail this essential relationship.

Some may ask: Is Washington really ready to engage in a sincere effort with other major powers to effect such a transformation of the international system and to effect the development of a Pacific community? Will Washington sincerely engage Beijing on the basis of mutual benefit and mutual respect?

These are fair questions and they are questions Americans themselves should be asking about the intentions of the White House and Congress. The American people are no different from any others in their desire for peace and prosperity. The issue is the quality and competence of American leadership.

American leaders have not made it clear to the American people that a multi-polar world is emerging and that the United States must find its proper place and role in it. Instead, many leaders unrealistically cling to outdated Cold War perspectives and to foreign policy concepts based on hegemony.

As for the U.S.-China relationship, American leaders have failed to take a bipartisan stance and to support a pragmatic non-ideological policy of long-term constructive engagement and cooperation. At election time, Democrats blame China for job losses at home while Republicans blame China for security threats. China is blamed by both parties for allegedly unfair trading practices, currency manipulation, and a raft of other matters.

Cooler heads with clearer vision are needed in Washington where powerful special interests meddle in U.S.-China policy and impair our long-range national interests.

One obstacle to a sensible U.S. policy is the persistence of outdated global perspectives in influential political and policy circles. In the United States there are different perspectives about the emerging international system and different policy prescriptions with respect to Washington's role today and in the years to come. The dominant perspective still clings to an outdated Cold War perspective and even reaches back to the global crusade for democracy envisaged by President Woodrow Wilson (in office from 1913-21). Interventionism was part-and-parcel of Wilsonian policy, and there are those today who see this as a model.

Both political parties in the United States are, at present, influenced by factions who share such outdated perspectives and who advocate a policy of hegemony. Advocates for such a policy often cloak the underlying objective of strategic dominance, or primacy, in the phrase "leadership." Intervention is said to be for "humanitarian" purposes.

In recent months, there have been a media blitz and exaggerated rhetoric about a so-called "return to the Pacific," President Barack Obama as the "first Pacific president," and an "American Pacific century." But, as is well known, the United States has had a presence in the Asia Pacific since 1784 and the voyage of the U.S. trading ship Empress of China.

Our first "Pacific president," under the republic, was Thomas Jefferson (in office from 1801-09). He dispatched the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition to scout the new Louisiana Purchase territory and to find a way to the Pacific Ocean to lay the foundation for our future commerce in the Pacific region. President James K. Polk (in office from 1845-49) later firmly established our Pacific presence by the acquisition of California and the favorable settlement of the Oregon question.

In our time, President Richard M. Nixon (in office from 1969-74), who was born in California and who served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, boldly continued America's traditional presence in the Pacific with the historic opening to China. The important contributions of President Jimmy Carter (in office from 1977-81) to the normalization process, and his continued positive interest in America's relationship with China, must be applauded as well.

Unfortunately, today the positive attitude toward China of Presidents Nixon and Carter is challenged by those who advocate a policy of confrontation and of forward containment of China. Coercive diplomacy as well as political, psychological, and economic warfare are seen as appropriate tools for a policy of confrontation with China.

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