OBAMA – Xi SUMMIT: ASSUAGE RESPECTIVE FEARS, EXPAND COOPERATION
By Bonnie Glaser
10 Nov 14. President Obama’s November 11-12 summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping comes at an opportune time. With the Republican sweep of Congress, Obama will now have more leeway on foreign policy than on domestic issues and can devote more effort to the rebalance to Asia, even as he deals with growing terrorist threats emanating from the Middle East, an Ebola pandemic in Africa, and Russia’s expansion into Ukraine. The U.S. economic recovery is strong, with GDP growth rate expanding at or above 3.5 percent for four of the last five quarters, 49 consecutive months of job gains, the unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent, and a narrowing of the U.S. budget deficit to 2.5 percent to 3 percent annually.
The Asia-Pacific remains vitally important to U.S. national interests. The region includes many of the key engines of the global economy and provides a growing market for U.S. exports. Preserving a balance of power and freedom of navigation within a dynamic regional security environment, upholding a rules based system, ensuring peaceful resolution of disputes, strengthening inclusive regional architecture, and creating higher standards for expanded trans-Pacific trade are rightly at the top of the Obama administration’s regional agenda.
Getting the U.S.-China relationship right is also essential. As Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech last week, “the U.S.-China relationship is the most consequential in the world today and it will do much to determine the shape of the 21st century.” Yet, U.S.-China relations have been increasingly strained in recent years as numerous problems have cropped up, but few have been resolved.
The ever-expanding list of American concerns includes China’s sudden announcement of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone last year, its construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, the use of cyber by China to steal trade secrets from American companies, internet censorship and China’s crackdown on dissent, and dangerous intercepts by Chinese fighter jets of U.S. surveillance and reconnaissance (SAR) aircraft operating in international airspace off China’s coast. Beijing’s complaints include U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, emboldening nations that have territorial disputes with China to challenge Chinese sovereignty, close-in U.S. SAR flights, U.S.-Japan missile defense cooperation, and alleged U.S. interference in Hong Kong that Chinese leaders worry is aimed at destabilizing China.
Narrowing differences on these seemingly intractable issues will be made easier if the two presidents begin their conversation by focusing on the strategic imperatives of the bilateral relationship. Both leaders recognize the risks of military conflict that are inherent when an established power sees its position as challenged by a rising power. Averting a military confrontation is at the core of their consensus to build a “new model” of relations between the two nations. Xi Jinping’s insistence on including mutual respect for each other’s core interests and major concerns as part of this new model has undermined this consensus since U.S. interests in maintaining its alliances in Asia are in conflict with Chinese interests in asserting its sovereignty claims over disputed islands in the East and South China Seas. The two leaders should reaffirm the original, narrower basis of their consensus and pledge to carefully manage conflicts of interest.
Next, the two presidents should explain their vital national interests and respective grand strategies. In doing so, they should directly address the other side’s concerns. President Obama must seek to dispel Chinese fears that the United States is determined to contain China’s rise and undermine the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. He should state clearly that supporting greater democracy in Hong Kong does not equate to promoting a color revolution t