Tough Talk on China

by Michael Mazza

When it comes to Asia policy, the administration has adopted some encouraging rhetoric as of late. The most recent example came yesterday in Secretary Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. She explained that a major goal of the president’s foreign policy over the past year “has been to deepen engagement” with China, India, Brazil, and other “emerging centers of influence.” Nothing new there. But in explaining the challenges America faces in working with these countries, she hinted that the United States is finally hitting on the proper China policy:

Now, working with these emerging powers is not always smooth or easy. Disagreements are inevitable. And on certain issues such as human rights with China or Russian occupation of Georgia, we simply do not see eye to eye, and the United States will not hesitate to speak out and stand our ground. When these nations do no accept the responsibility that accrues with expanding influence, we will do all that we can to encourage them to change course while we will press ahead with other partners. But we know it will be difficult, if not impossible, to forge the kind of future that we expect in the 21st century without enhanced comprehensive cooperation.

While I would question Secretary Clinton’s assertion that the administration has spoken out on Chinese human rights, the U.S. has recently stood its ground on other issues, most notably on Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. (For a discussion of recent U.S.-China disputes, see here). The rhetoric is itself encouraging; that there has been action to match it gives hope that China policy over the coming year will be more successful than it has been.

I recently argued that the administration was working its way towards a more effective policy for dealing with Beijing:

With an honest recognition that the United States and China share some interests but not others, the president should, sooner or later, settle on the proper course: to cooperate with China on issues where goals intersect, and to vigorously defend those U.S. interests that China threatens.

President Obama finally seems to be adopting this approach. Better late than never.

(flickr/Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)