Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

It's time Obama made peace with China

By George Koo (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-07 07:53

US President Barack Obama will be in Beijing to attend the APEC meeting, where he will get the opportunity to make history and finally make good on the Nobel Peace Prize given to him rather prematurely at the beginning of his first term in office.

Given the litany of woes, Obama should be asking why he would want to maintain the tension and pretense of "strategic ambiguity" with China. Despite both sides claiming a warming of bilateral relations, it has been more of one step forward and one step back, sometimes even two steps back.

The latest such example was for the Pentagon to give a senior People's Liberation Army officer the red carpet treatment while the Justice Department was publicly indicting five PLA soldiers alleging illegal cyber attack.

The current US annual defense budget plus the cost of veteran services is about $900 billion. Annual debt service of the mounting national debt is more than $400 billion. While facing the daunting task of taming the federal budget deficit, can Obama justify adding to the country's financial burden with the "pivot to Asia" designed to confront if not to contain China?

Obama should understand that petty politicians take pot shots at China for perceived gains at the polls. Of all people, as president, he should see that it is in America's national interest to have a friend and not an adversary across the Pacific and he can do something proactive about it. He should stop pandering to those that do not see the big picture.

All it takes is political courage and a start from scratch with a new approach to China. The new US approach should include the following:

Stop expecting China to do what the Americans want it to do, and respecting that China has a different point of view and a different way of getting things done.

Stop articulating differences publicly but by all means discussing them frankly in private. Regularly occurring bilateral meetings are already in place between leaders and officials. Use them constructively.

Recognize that China wishes to establish its sphere of influence around its borders and, as an act of good faith, stop surveillance flights near China, as well as letting it work out its bilateral relations with Japan and other Asian countries without being the elephant in the room.

Stop writing rules of conduct unilaterally, such as proclaiming that cyber activity by the National Security Agency is legitimate but any from China is not and, instead, create a situation for both sides to sit down together, share best practices and agree on lines on the sand that neither side would cross. And then invite other countries to join in the discussion.

Agree that terrorists are terrorists. So long as the US sees terrorists in China as possible freedom fighters, there is a big problem. Agreement on the other hand would allow the two major powers to work together in stemming the jihadist madness.

Remember that the Cold War is over, and that China is not a stand-in for the Soviet Union.

The six basic planks for developing a new bilateral relationship with China represent an affirmation that China is an economic partner, sometimes a competitor but not an adversary. Critics might consider the proposed approach na?ve. But the naivet��, if it succeeds, will save the US from grief. In contrast, when Americans charged into Iraq expecting a liberating hero's welcome, that naivete cost the US dearly, with the last count exceeding $1 trillion and close to 40,000 casualties.

The world will thank Obama for the legacy of at least making one part of the world safer than he found it. And he can then rightfully be a Nobel laureate.

The author is a former director of New America Media.

(China Daily 11/07/2014 page10)

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