US eyes China as global partner
Obama’s first visit to China will test that nation’s readiness to look outward – and past disagreements.
(Page 2 of 2)
Opportunities for greater cooperation would blossom if Beijing defined its long-term interests more broadly, argues Drew Thompson, director of the China program at the Nixon Center in Washington. "It is absolutely not in China's interests for Iran to have a nuclear weapon," for example, he says, "but Beijing is reluctant to join the Western consensus that something has to be done about it.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Their approach is strict respect for national sovereignty and noninterference in other countries' affairs," he says. "There is a new dynamic where Chinese interests increasingly intersect with America's, but Chinese policy has to catch up to that."
It may be some time before China sheds principles that have guided its foreign policy for three decades. One such principle, including that enunciated by Deng Xiaoping, who cautioned comrades: "Do not show our strength," nor seek international leadership.
Chinese analysts also complain that while China's economy has become the world's third largest, outsiders may overestimate the country's strength. China's economy is less than one-third the size of America's, they note, and per capita incomes are one-eighth the size of America's.
"Our cities look like Europe, but our countryside looks like Africa," says Professor Jin. "We are a very fragile big power, with more domestic challenges than any other. That will make China very inward-looking for the coming years.
"China just wants stable relations with the Obama administration, no more," he adds. "If the US expects too much and tries to outsource responsibility, there will be problems."
Such talk suggests strongly that "though the US is asking a lot, it is not clear [the Chinese] are ready to ... deliver," says Professor Shambaugh. Chinese leaders, he says, "are still having big debates about ... how far to go, how much to do with America, what they are capable of doing, and the cost benefit" of stepping out on the world stage.
So far, China has contributed troops to 18 UN peacekeeping operations and deployed three Navy ships on antipirate patrols in the Gulf of Aden. US officials say they hope to tempt Beijing into dipping another toe into the waters of global responsibility in Afghanistan.
The prospect of Islamic radicalism spreading into the Muslim republic of Xinjiang in western China, the drug trade, and regional instability all threaten Beijing's interests. China has run successful counternarcotics programs in Burma (Myanmar), and has the experience and resources to build roads, schools, and hospitals in Afghanistan.
"There is an opportunity for China to take a major humanitarian role in Afghanistan," says Dr. Thompson. "This is an area where they could take international responsibility." •