World / Reporter's Journal

Experts call for US-China pivot away from zero-sum mentality

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-01-06 05:50

The United States' pivot-to-Asia-Pacific strategy has been perceived by many both in and outside China as an attempt to contain China or curtail its rapid rise in the region and globally.

Many in Asia and the US have doubts whether the pivot, sometimes called a "rebalancing" strategy, can be sustained, given the new political landscape in Washington.

The 114th Congress, which will be controlled by Republicans in both the Senate and House of Representatives, will begin its session Tuesday. The new Congress doesn't see eye to eye with Obama on many critical issues, such as immigration, Cuba, and fiscal and taxation policies.Experts call for US-China pivot away from zero-sum mentality

The US is busy fighting the growing Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, with more airstrikes conducted Sunday and Monday. Unlike other extremist groups, ISIS is composed of many youths born, raised and educated in Europe and North America.

The US is also at odds with Russia over Ukraine, with neither side showing signs of compromise.

Those issues, plus the nuclear situations regarding Iran and North Korea, on which the US announced fresh new sanctions last week, could mean a full plate for the Obama administration the next two years.

In a report released Monday, however, on how the Obama administration and the new Congress can sustain US engagement in Asia, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, believes that Asia policy remains largely bipartisan despite the fact that Obama and the new Congress are headed for confrontation on several issues.

At a Monday discussion of the report, Michael Green, senior vice-president for Asia and the Japan chairman at CSIS, praised the recent US-China confidence-building measures, especially on the militaries, during Obama's trip to China in November. But he also emphasized that the two countries have disagreements and said, "We need to manage them skillfully."

Christopher Johnson and Bonnie Glaser, two CSIS specialists on China, said that successful implementation of the rebalancing hinges on recognition in both Washington and Beijing that neither country can hope to organize the future order in east Asia without the other.

"Both leaderships say they subscribe to this axiom, but their respective behavior suggests otherwise," they wrote in the report.

They described the Obama administration's opposition to the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), proposed by China, as "clumsy". Many US experts on China, such as Jon Huntsman, former US ambassador to China, and Douglas Paal, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have criticized US opposition to the AIIB and Silk Road, also proposed by China to develop the regional infrastructure and economy.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has voiced support for AIIB despite that it is seen by some as a potential competitor to the US-dominated World Bank.

Many, such as Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, have criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a US scheme to exclude China. US officials so far have not responded to Chinese Vice-Minister of Finance Zhu Guangyao's comment in Washington in October that the TPP is incomplete without China's participation.

To combat the tendency of a zero-sum mentality, Johnson and Glaser suggested that the Obama administration put more energy into the traditional strengths of the relationship while not shying away from elements that are harder to manage as a consequence of China's growing power and influence.

The traditional strengths are largely the ever-intertwining economic ties, both in trade and investment.

Noting that there is little more that Congress can do legislatively to further enable Chinese investment, Johnson and Glaser said the administration and Congress should work together to reassure fearful Chinese investors by not threatening legislation that would put new restrictions on Chinese investment, and, more hopefully, send a clear message that the door will remain open to interested firms where no genuine national security concerns arise.

The report suggests that the administration and Congress elicit opinions and support of state governors in the process, given their firsthand experience with welcoming Chinese investment and the strong appetite in many of their states for more.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced two months ago that he will embark on a trade mission to China. That will follow trips in the past year by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who went to China just two weeks after he won re-election in early November, and Texas Governor Rick Perry, who visited China last September despite being embroiled in a lawsuit.

The CSIS report also calls for setting expectations for China by rewarding good behavior. It describes some of the Chinese behavior as challenging international norms and rules.

Chinese officials have repeatedly said that China does not seek to topple the international system, but rather to improve it to better reflect the new global reality, such as giving emerging economies a bigger say in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a reform that that has been approved by every country except the US.

To most Chinese, adopting international practice has been a catch phrase of the country's reform and opening-up drive in the last 30-plus years.

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