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Smart Power Strikes Again: PRC Edition

Another week, another China policy snafu for the Obama Administration.

12:25 PM, Mar 8, 2010 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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I have long believed that China would be better served all around if they stopped over-reacting to "provocations" on Taiwan and Tibet, and that the U.S. can make this issues less "provocative" by being up front about them and our general antipathy toward dictatorship in our dealings with China, rather than trying to pretend that we can be BFFs with the new authoritarian superpower on the block just because they are so big and powerful.   As I have previously noted, China and the US have completely different understandings of what constitutes each others' "core interests" and what it means to "agree" to "respect" them, and that as long as this persists, these kinds of eruptions are unavoidable. (Even the Chinese themselves seem to get this more than China's boosters in the US foreign policy community.) Unfortunately for the CCP, and those in the U.S. foreign policy community who hold tight to the dream of an ever deeper and lovelier relationship with Beijing's authoritarians, the gap cannot be bridged without the US making a decision to accept China as an authoritarian state.  The events of past year should be enough to make clear that Jim Steinberg's "strategic reassurance" approach of trying to make China more comfortable by "removing obstacles" to cooperation -- which seemed to be primarily American values and U.S. interests in Asia -- doesn't work.

 In fact, it ran smack dab into the teeth of a couple stubborn truths: 1) the fact that most Americans are uncomfortable with the idea that we are going to manage our own decline so that an authoritarian China can take our place as the indispensable nation; and 2) the fact that China is never going to be comfortable with the US military presence in and generally benign hegemonic role as security and economic guarantor of Asia (including US policy toward Taiwan), US support for human rights in China, US interest in the situation in Tibet, and a whole host of other issues that cannot just be abandoned because President Obama acknowledged in a joint statement that the Chinese regime doesn't like them.  

Unfortunately for President Obama, his China policy team's response to the failure of strategic reassurance seems to be doubling down on the appeasement aspects of it.  In order to fully appreciate this, one must read the China Daily piece together with the disturbing Washington Post report about the administration's attempts to exempt China from Iran sanctions legislation, the reports on downgrading of China as an intelligence collection priority, and various other signals this administration has been trying to send to Beijing to deflect attention away from the Dalai Lama meeting and the Taiwan arms package and show their sincerity in wanting a "positive, constructive and comprehensive relationship."  

This charm offensive/apology tour will not work with the Chinese -- the China Daily piece should be read as a clear signal to that effect -- and it is not going to fly with American people or our actual allies (see the comments from one of them in the Washington Post article).  If the Obama administration wants to stop having these problems with its China policy, they need to stop making promises they can't keep, stop apologizing for the character of American democracy, and stop acting like they need to inoculate US policy toward China against infection by American values.

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