During Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington today and tomorrow, the carefully choreographed meetings are expected to focus on "bilateral issues" in the U.S.-China relationship: namely, the two nations' currency dispute, military competition, and ongoing trade deals. But some of the most important repercussions of the U.S.-China relationship, and how Presidents Obama and Hu define it, are felt in neither Beijing nor Washington but in the far-away reaches of the world's most troubled states. China wants to become a world power and the U.S. wants to control and isolate that rise. How this tension plays out could affect -- decisively, in some cases -- nearly every other issue at the top of Obama's foreign policy agenda. This week, as the two leaders inevitably discuss the U.S. policy of "strategic containment" against China, Obama will have consider whether he prefers a weaker and less responsible China or a stronger China that just might be a bit more cooperative with the rest of the world.
Because China is so hungry to project influence and acquire resources wherever possible, and because the U.S. has been so successful at containing China's reach wherever possible, the rising power has felt compelled to do business the last places it can. Increasingly, that lands Chinese diplomats and industrial representatives in the world's nastiest rogue states. As world leaders and multinational groups deploy sanctions and diplomatic pressure to try and curb bad actors, China is almost always ready to exploit the situation. It's a familiar and deeply frustrating pattern: a rogue state acts out, the world imposes sanctions to force better behavior, and then China steps in to cut deals with the newly isolated country. It's a great deal for China, which gets bargain basement prices, and for the rogue state, which is free to continue whatever atrocious behavior earned it worldwide scorn.