The Hot Zone
China's newly announced air defense identification zone over the East China Sea aims to shore up national security
Current Issue
· Table of Contents
· Editor's Desk
· Previous Issues
· Subscribe to Mag
Subscribe Now >>
Expert's View
Market Watch
North American Report
Government Documents
Expat's Eye
Photo Gallery
Reader's Service
Learning with
'Beijing Review'
E-mail us
RSS Feeds
PDF Edition
Reader's Letters
Make Beijing Review your homepage
Hot Links

cheap eyeglasses
Market Avenue

Print Edition> World
UPDATED: November 15, 2010 NO. 46 NOVEMBER 18, 2010
Election Aftermath
Challenges continue to haunt China-U.S. relations, despite changes in the U.S. Congress

In the U.S. midterm elections on November 2, Republicans obtained a majority in the House of Representatives and the ruling Democrats barely retained their majority in the Senate. The result created a Congress with more restraints, as well as a weakened president, and means a bigger challenge for future U.S. diplomacy.

Midterm elections are held every four years in the United States, at the halfway point of the president's four-year term. During each midterm election, elections are held for all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and at least 33 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate.

Since the beginning of this year, hawkish politicians in the Obama administration have dominated the decision making on China policy. They view China as a major obstacle to the United States realizing Asian leadership. They also saw China as a potential challenger to current international systems led by the United States.

As President Barack Obama was weakened by the midterm elections, this hard-line stance will only be strengthened in the future.

At the core, the United States' Asian strategy and China policy aim to establish leadership in Asia. In order to realize this, the United States has tried to prevent China's rise.

China is defined as a competitor or challenger, but not as an enemy. So the United States has retained contact with China and will attempt to make the country take on greater responsibilities and cooperate with the United States on a series of issues.

Meanwhile, the United States will strengthen its alliances in Asia, including its bilateral military alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand. Recently, the United States strengthened its relations with South Korea by making use of the conflict between North Korea and South Korea caused by the sinking of South Korea's warship, Cheonan. It strengthened its alliance with Japan after Sino-Japanese relations worsened following Japan's detention of a Chinese fishing boat in waters off the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. It also cemented its ties with the Philippines by intervening in the South China Sea territorial disputes.

In addition, by utilizing their disputes with China, the United States will draw China's neighboring countries together to counter China's rising influence. For instance, the United States has improved its military relations with Viet Nam, as evidenced by the port call by the U.S. aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, in August. It has offered support to India's demand to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and has also sold a large number of advanced aircraft, warships and weapons to India.

Through this strategy, the United States has alienated countries—including Viet Nam, Malaysia, Indonesia and India—from China, and even created tension between them and China.

Obama's post-midterm-election visit to four Asian countries—from November 5 to 14—was portrayed as a visit to four "democratic" countries. But China was not included in this visit. This makes people wonder whether Obama is trying to form a "democratic alliance" in Asia.

Some thought that, after the midterm elections, hawkish U.S. politicians would switch to a rational attitude when dealing with China. Others said the midterm elections had no significant impact on China-U.S. relations. Both analyses ignored several important aspects.

First of all, the United States believes the rise of emerging powers is breaking the U.S.-led international political and economic order. And China is a shining star among these emerging economies. China safeguarded the interests of developing countries at UN climate change conferences and helped push through a reform of the international financial system. Its diplomacy, focused on peace, development and cooperation, challenged the vested interests and hegemony of Western powers.

What's more, in the joint cooperation and development efforts between China and other Asian nations, policymakers in the Obama administration have perceived an increasing threat to the U.S. status. In their view, China will inevitably become a dominant force in Asia. The U.S. status may be weakened, or even replaced, by China. They have criticized the Bush administration, which they say focused on wars, but neglected Asia, particularly the rapid rise of China's political and economic influence. As a result, the current administration feels it must now catch up by restoring U.S. leadership in Asia.

In terms of China-U.S. relations, the key issues affecting their stability and development have not been resolved. Instead, they have become more acute. These were difficult issues before the elections, and were used by politicians to attack each other during their campaigns.

After the elections, things may become even worse. President Obama, whose decision-making ability was significantly weakened, might compromise on domestic policy, but adopt a tough attitude on foreign policy. He may even implement trade protectionism and unilateralism in the name of safeguarding U.S. interests.

Shortly after the midterm elections, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced a quantitative easing monetary policy. The policy, which will lead to a depreciation of the dollar, has been criticized by various countries.

Due to the Obama administration's failure to revive the economy against the backdrop of a financial crisis and an economic recession, a majority of Americans held a pessimistic view of the U.S. economy. A poll showed 88 percent of voters thought the economic situation was bad.

In terms of diplomacy and security, the Democrats and Republicans seemed to have a tacit understanding during their election campaigns. They deliberately avoided topics in these fields. Even the war in Afghanistan, which cost $200 million per day, did not become a topic of debate.

But China became a hot-button topic. There were dozens of candidates from both parties pointing a finger at China and accusing each other of sending job opportunities to China. However, the major U.S. media did not go along with these arguments, and satirized the ridiculous phenomenon instead.

Moving forward, the Obama administration will focus on promoting economic recovery and U.S. exports, as well as increasing job opportunities. This domestic orientation will inevitably project onto foreign relations, especially in the two contentious issues of the renminbi's exchange rate and China-U.S. trade balance.

And that brings to mind the issue of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. This is the most sensitive problem in China-U.S. relations and, in order to promote exports, the Obama administration will naturally continue this. The only change may be a decrease in the quantity of weapons per shipment, but an increase in the number of shipments.

Also, top U.S. officials lobbied the Norwegian Nobel Committee to grant the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese prisoner. In speeches in India, Obama repeatedly emphasized the United States and India were "democracies" with common interests and values. These actions imply the war of words on human rights and religious freedom will continue between the United States and China.

The author is a research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies

Top Story
-Protecting Ocean Rights
-Partners in Defense
-Fighting HIV+'s Stigma
-HIV: Privacy VS. Protection
-Setting the Tone
Related Stories
-Playing the Blame Game
-Change to Believe In?
Most Popular
About BEIJINGREVIEW | About beijingreview.com | Rss Feeds | Contact us | Advertising | Subscribe & Service | Make Beijing Review your homepage
Copyright Beijing Review All right reserved