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China Policy Change?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 3, 2009 | Go to article overview

China Policy Change?


Byline: Dan Blumenthal, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Regarding China policy, President Obama may really offer change we can believe in. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's tough words about China's manipulation of its currency may be a harbinger of change in America's increasingly sclerotic approach to the People's Republic.

President Obama is not part of the generation that shaped our current China policy. He was graduating high school when Washington and Beijing finalized the terms of diplomatic normalization in 1979. Much of the deal had been worked out in secret, and set Washington on a 30-year path that would subordinate concerns about Taiwan, political reform in China, unfair trading practices and even China's military ambitions to diplomatic engagement at any cost. While the architects of China policy saw China through a Cold War prism, Mr. Obama is the first American president who came of age as the Cold War was receding. For many in Obama's generation, the massacre of Chinese protesters at Tiananmen Square is a more powerful symbol of Chinese leadership than President Nixon's breakthrough visit to Beijing.

It may have been reasonable for Cold Warriors to overlook Washington's many differences with Beijing when both countries were trying to contain the Soviet Union, but that rationale has obviously disappeared. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, the Sino-U.S. relationship has been a partnership in search of a purpose. Americans of Mr. Obama's generation wonder why Washington looks askance at China's poor human-rights record, intimidation of democratic Taiwan, irresponsible trade practices, and alarming military build-up.

Moreover, the president's experience in another Asian country, Indonesia, will undoubtedly help him understand that Asia is more than just China, and that Asians are quite capable of governing themselves under democratic rule. The young president will be less beholden to past legacies that define our China policy. He could start by questioning a policy that gives China a pass on its human-rights practices at home and irresponsible polices abroad. He can also puzzle over why China so often sets the policy agenda in a region made up of so many diverse and successful democratic countries.

A less Sino-centric Asia policy would be good for the United States, the rest of Asia and ultimately the Chinese people themselves. China is the only Asian power that is not a democracy.

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