What Obama Has to Do in China

The bottom line on what Obama needs to do in the next few days and why

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President Obama's admission to Chinese students that he doesn't use Twitter has made headlines, but what are the real goals of Obama's visit to China? Will too many implicit rebukes of the government's censoring policies compromise them? Heading into the eight-day Asian trip, there has been much media talk of everything from climate change approaches to monetary policy to nuclear proliferation in North Korea. When all is said and done, though, many of the biggest issues hinge on America's relations with China. Here are the expert opinions on what Obama needs to do in the next several days:

  • End Chimerica  In the New York Times, economic history professors Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick argue that"Chimerica"--their name for the tightly bound economies of China and the United States, which together constitute a massive chunk of the global economy--may now be in its "death throes," and it is Obama's job to help put an end to the "monster." The financial crisis shook up the formerly happy "marriage" of Chinese saving and American spending; now "Americans will have to kick their addiction to cheap money and easy credit," argue the pair, while "the Chinese authorities understand that heavily indebted American consumers cannot be relied on to return as buyers of Chinese goods on the scale of the period up to 2007." Furthermore, the Chineses are "very nervous" about the dollar's domination of their reserve assets. This is good, argue Ferguson and Schularick: "an end to Chimerica" would mean "adjusting the exchange rates between the currencies," which would help the American economy "by making American exports more competitive in China, the world's fastest-growing economy." Reevaluating the Chinese currency, too, would help reduce international trade tension regarding China's heavily depreciated currency. The task for President Obama, then, the professors write, is to offer "a clear commitment to globalization and free trade, and an end to the nascent Chinese-American tariff war" in exchange for currency revaluation.
  • Redefine the Diplomatic Relationship  Jing-dong Yuan in Asia Times says the "fundamental issue" of the visit is "how Washington should define its relationship with Beijing." For example: is China's rise "a fundamental challenge to US interests"? Defining the U.S.-China relationship, he says, has been a thorny matter ever since the end of the Cold War. Yuan's advice is to define the relationship pragmatically, according to "specific issues"; to "anticipate ... where differences exist and where disputes could arise"; to "institutionalize the bilateral relationship at different levels of interactions," including summits and "military-to-military exchanges and crisis management mechanisms"; and to acknowledge that the U.S.-China relationship is not, in fact, "purely bilateral," but rather exists in a context of complex global politics involving, for starters, North Korea and Iran.
  • Convince Beijing That We're Still a Good Investment The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart doesn't mince words. "We can bargain all we want," he writes, "but at the end of the day, we know and they know that they are our bank." That means that, whether the goals are emissions agreements, trade treaties, or human rights, Obama's task is clear:
When Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg recently said that the catchphrase of U.S.-Chinese relations should be "strategic reassurance," hawks indignantly asked what we had to reassure them about. Steinberg was too polite to say, but the answer is pretty obvious: we need to reassure them that America is a still a good investment. When China stops believing that, it’s going to be a very sad day in Mudville.
  • Have at Least One Foreign Policy Success  "In the Middle East," write the editors of British Daily The Telegraph, "the hand [Obama] has extended to Iran remains unclasped, and hopes of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians have been dashed by continued settlement-building." Meanwhile, "in Afghanistan, the President finds himself on the horns of a horrible dilemma: whether to deploy more troops in support of a government that has long been corrupt, and is now politically illegitimate as well." The conclusion? "Barack Obama is in need of a foreign policy success." This is all the more important given that, between China's and the U.S.'s large economies and foreign policy interests, "theirs can fairly be termed the most important bilateral relationship in the world." Obama needs to square the "square" the "wishes" of t he cother Asian countries he is visiting, who "worry about China's rising power," with his "denial that he is seeking to contain China."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.