China and Obama: What Lies Ahead? Lowell DITTMER
DOI link for China and Obama: What Lies Ahead? Lowell DITTMER
China and Obama: What Lies Ahead? Lowell DITTMER book
The election of Barack Hussein Obama was a surprise package, even for Americans amply exposed to him during a long and rigorous two-year campaign. Like Carter or Clinton, he comes from beyond the horizon, a first-term Illinois senator whose first national visibility came in a keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. This type of what the Chinese would call helicopterist elite recruitment embodies the American democratic ideal that anyone can do anything (of which Americans are quite proud), though it brings people to the top unseasoned and sometimes unprepared for coherent leadership. Thanks to his vague aspirational rhetoric in the course of his campaign (e.g. “audacity of hope,” “change you can believe in”) about all most Americans knew about Obama by the time of the election was that he was a compelling orator, a shrewd campaign organizer and strategist, and a highly disciplined candidate. Already he has made history in terms of American race relations, but what Beijing wants to know is what he will mean for SinoAmerican relations. East Asians have customarily been more sympathetic to Republican Party foreign policy agendas, but in the 2008 election available polls in those East Asian countries that permit polling generally discovered a preference for Obama over McCain, and Obama’s convincing electoral victory seems to have generated a spirit of cautious support, if not quite the level of fervent enthusiasm evinced in Europe or Africa. His subsequently unveiled foreign policy team1 has impressed commentators with its competence, credentials, and sober realism but it does not signal what policies the future has in store, especially inasmuch as Obama indicated, in introducing them, that he himself intended to set the tone. Rather than speculating on the basis of personnel dynamics about what is conceivable but
which we have no way of knowing, let us first sift through what can reliably be known about the political dynamics of the United States’ China policy and then see what we can reasonably infer from that. We begin by looking at the patterning of presidential rhetoric in the last several campaigns to see if there is anything inherently xenophobic or anti-Chinese in that cyclical dynamic. Next, we turn to Obama’s campaign rhetoric, or rather the small proportion that has been devoted to China, to ascertain his publicly declared intentions vis-à-vis China policy. Finally, on the premise that any change in US China policy would most logically be focused on those aspects of that policy that have proved most problematic in practice, we undertake an analysis of recent China policy (beginning with the George W. Bush Administration) to assess its strengths (which, one hopes, would be retained) and its most egregious failings (which one hopes might be corrected).