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Chinese analysts are understandably examining how an Obama presidency will affect Sino-American relations. It is early days as the President-elect held his first press conference only yesterday and has only made one senior appointment. In his first official appearance since his election win, he said a stimulus package to boost the economy was long overdue and would be his top priority.

Clearly, Obama would like to concentrate on domestic problems, but he will not be able to avoid external issues, and in any case so many domestic and external challenges interact.

Set out below are a selection of views Obama has expressed on the main issues affecting China. Some concluding remarks are then offered. Needless to say, the views expressed will, before translated into policy, be subject to many pressures, not least from a powerful Democrat-controlled congress.

Attitude

The President-elect has stressed the need to demonstrate unequivocally to Asians that the US presence in the region is enduring, that its economic, political and security interests demand it, and that the US will re-engage with, and listen to, its Asian friends after years of giving the region short shrift.

Taiwan

Obama supports the ‘one China’ policy and the Taiwan Relations Act. On that basis, the US should strengthen channels of communication with officials of the “Taiwan government”. “We should continue to provide the arms necessary for Taiwan to deter possible aggression.”

Japan

Obama believes that the US-Japan alliance must remain at the core of efforts to revitalise Japan’s role in ensuring stability and security in the region. For him, the alliance demands, and is deserving of, close political cooperation and coordination at every level, reflecting the key role Japan plays as anchor of US economic and security interests in the region and across the globe.

North Korea

Obama says that if Korea refuses to permit robust verification, “we should lead all members of the Six-Party Talks in suspending energy assistance, re-imposing sanctions that have recently been waived, and considering new restrictions.” The objective remains the complete and verifiable elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

South Korea

According to Obama, this relationship “has been adrift in recent years”, particular over North Korea. Bilateral trade and investment ties should be strengthened, but proper attention must be paid to key US industries and to the protection of labour and environmental standards. “Regrettably, the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement does not meet this standard”.

Regional economic cooperation

Asian countries must work together with the US to ensure balanced growth and openness of the global trading system, shifting away from their traditional dependence on export-led growth and weak currencies toward stronger consumption at home and greater absorption of imports. Obama maintains that all new agreements must have binding labour and environmental standards and intellectual property protection.

China-US

Obama believes that America and the world can benefit from trade with China but only if China agrees to play by the rules and act as a positive force for balanced world growth. “I want China’s economy to grow, its domestic demand to expand, and its vitality to contribute to regional and global prosperity…I will take a vigorous pragmatic approach to addressing these issues, utilising our domestic trade remedy laws as well as the WTO dispute settlement mechanism wherever appropriate…”

“I look to China to work with us to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons…to halt genocide in Darfur…Greater progress in protecting the human rights of its people and moving toward democracy and the rule of law will better enable China to achieve its full potential as a nation, domestically and internationally.”

Conclusion

China has concerns about having a Democrat in the Oval Office in trade and human rights policies. Powerful House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not a friend of China and Congress is likely to give China more to worry about than the new President, whose safest course is to adopt Bob Zoellick’s “responsible stakeholder” axiom.

Key views are repeated below:

The US presence in the region is enduring.

  • The US will re-engage with, and listen to, its Asian friends after years of giving the region short shrift.
  • The US supports the Taiwan ‘one China’ policy.
  • The US should continue to provide the arms necessary for Taiwan to deter possible aggression.
  • Japan plays a key role as anchor of US economic and security interests in the region and across the globe.
  • If North Korea refuses to permit robust verification, assistance should be suspended and sanctions reimposed.
  • The objective remains the complete and verifiable elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
  • Bilateral trade and investment ties with South Korea should be strengthened, but proper attention must be paid to key US industries and to the protection of labour and environmental standards.
  • The US-Korea Free Trade Agreement does not meet this standard”.
  • Regional economic cooperation must ensure that Asian countries work together with the US to shift away from their traditional dependence on export-led growth and weak currencies toward stronger consumption at home and greater absorption of imports.
  • All new agreements must have binding labour and environmental standards and intellectual property protection.
  • China must play by the rules and act as a positive force for balanced world growth.
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Comments

  1. Well… in other words, nothing changes, except maybe stronger protection for US-based companies, which means in those terms US employment, and addition of environmental criteria for trade agreements, all of which might be hailed as positive changes,.. but beyond that everything remains the same as before.

    USA will remain the “world cop” even if Obama will probably try to enforce this more through dialogue that through confrontation. A change in style maybe, but certainly not in substance.

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