Obama Reelection To Continue U.S.-China Tensions
November 14, 2012
Obama’s win may mean tighter Asian policy
By Edward I-hsin Chen
China has mixed feelings about Obama’s reelection. On the one hand, Sino-US relations will develop on the track set during Obama’s first term. On the other hand, China has been increasingly aware of the fact that the US pivot to Asia is not a bluff, but something it has to cautiously guard against.
China is also confused by the US attitude over the Diaoyu dispute, since the US has declared its neutrality but also stated that the islands fall under the US-Japan mutual defense treaty. Whether Washington will put political pressure on Tokyo to invalidate the purchase of the islands by the central government could be taken as an indicator of the US policy adjustments against China.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was just appointed in 2011, and is expected to continue in the position. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is trusted by Obama, and is very likely to stay in office or even be promoted. Therefore, the Obama administration will further promote its re-balancing strategy in Asia.
Judging by the scale and frequency of the US military exercises with its allies, the US strategy will mainly depend on making use of its allies, and the US itself will be a coordinator at most.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared she will leave her post after the election, and it’s also reported that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell will leave. The change of personnel in the State Department will be another factor that influences the US policy adjustment.
Clinton has greatly promoted the US pivot to Asia and often used issues of democracy and human rights as tools to challenge China. Whether her successor adopts the same methods or not will show the direction of the US policy against China in next four years.
Obama announced at the end of 2011 that the US would increase exports to Asian countries. Now since he has been successfully reelected, negotiations between the US and Asia-Pacific countries, including China, to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers and to further promote free trade are expected. It’s also likely that Obama will use the threat of listing China as an “exchange rate manipulator” to demand the reevaluation of the yuan.
High-level US officials will be sent to Beijing to improve relations. China should carefully deal with these visits. International relations are in essence about exchanges of interests, although the Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both China and the US. If the two countries don’t value cooperation, there will be a rise in mutual strategic suspicion due to conflicts of strategy, political system and value differences.
The author is professor of American Studies at the Taiwan-based Tamkang University.