Obama’s China Policy: Neither Strategic Nor Reassuring

Obama’s China Policy: Neither Strategic Nor Reassuring

President Barack Obama failed to wring any concessions from China in his maiden voyage to Beijing last week. But the disappointing visit is only a symptom of the Obama administration's dysfunctional and poorly conceived China policy, which, though well-intentioned, threatens to undermine U.S. objectives and wreck its global image.

Dubbed "strategic reassurance," the policy envisions a tacit bargain whereby the United States mollifies Chinese fears of containment, while Beijing assuages U.S. concerns about its global intentions and shoulders more international responsibilities. But so far, the policy has confounded more than clarified. Some China watchers wonder where Obama will strike the balance between soothing Chinese-defined headaches, like arms sales to Taiwan, and addressing American concerns, such as China's lack of transparency about its blistering military modernization and global ambitions. Indeed, administration officials themselves seem divided as to where the focus lies.

But more troubling is the very concept of "strategic reassurance" itself. At first glance, it appears quite innocuous, even pragmatic. It makes sense to encourage a rising China to be a status quo -- rather than a revisionist -- power, and Washington needs Beijing's help to tackle a host of big-ticket issues, from curbing greenhouse gas emissions to checking North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions.

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