Economic and security issues will share top billing during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington later in the month. Experts in both countries and across the partisan divide have stressed the need to move away from the on-again, off-again cycle that has recently defined U.S.-China military relations. Broader and deeper relationships between military and security officials can reduce misunderstandings and miscommunications - and clarify intentions and capabilities. They also offer an opportunity to heighten Chinese contributions to peace and stability in Asia and globally.
Just over a year ago, President Obama inherited an atrophied American diplomacy, hostile global public opinion, and an agenda that had disengaged from the international community. The last year has seen an American diplomatic resurgence. This renewed American appetite for sustained diplomatic action has produced modest but real results.
The rise of China is undoubtedly one of the most critical strategic developments of the 21st century. While it may not rival Afghanistan or Iran in terms of immediate media salience, the President’s first visit to China has clearly demonstrated both the importance of this rising power and how the Obama administration relates to it. With subdued atmopherics as backdrop, the Obama team has effectively worked for the past 10 months to advance our interests in a positive manner with China across several fronts, including through the first ever U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which was convened this past July in Washington. The Administration can point to several major accomplishments on energy and climate change, the global economy and trade, and nonproliferation and international security.
Senior American and Chinese leaders began two days of high level talks yesterday under the framework of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In recognition of China’s emergence on the international scene, the Obama administration has expanded the dialogue with China to encompass a whole range of international strategic and economic issues, such as the global economic recession, climate change, and nonproliferation. The Administration has also quietly made clear its larger strategy: that progress on contentious areas such as human rights and democracy promotion, can best be encouraged by engagement on areas where there is agreement – removing the excuses that the last eight years’ policies gave many around the world for ignoring or downgrading genuine US concerns for the freedom and well-being of others. But as the Obama administration is seeking to build a constructive relationship, many conservatives have described China as the next big enemy – using its rise to justify many unnecessary weapons programs, such as the F-22. Conservatives also seem to discount the strategic and economic costs of China adopting a confrontational approach toward the U.S. While the U.S. and China won’t always see eye to eye, the President explained that “that only makes dialogue more important.”
Nuclear proliferation presents a grave threat to American and global security. Unsecured stockpiles of weapons and materials are vulnerable to terrorists who can steal or buy a weapon on the black market and use it on a civilian population.
Today the National Intelligence Council (NIC) released a new report outlining the global strategic trends of the next twenty years. The report describes a number of disturbing trends, which could greatly increase the complexity of the international system. However, none of these outcomes are foregone conclusions.
The Beijing Olympics have put an intense spotlight on China’s remarkable economic and social progress as well as its continuing problems: social and ethnic unrest, pollution, human rights. China is not yet our friend, but it is not our enemy, either. We will have to deal with China as a major economic, political and military power and work together on issues of common concern.