Obama and China: What Lies Ahead?

Following remarks about China’s currency evaluation from Tim Geithner, President Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary, observers have begun opining on the future of U.S.-China relations under a new U.S. administration. From AP:

In his inaugural address Tuesday, President Barack Obama spoke of how earlier generations of Americans had “faced down fascism and communism.” China’s state broadcaster quickly faded out the audio of its live broadcast, the camera cutting back to a flustered studio anchor.

Then, on Thursday, Obama’s choice to lead the Treasury Department, Timothy Geithner, wrote that Obama believes China is “manipulating” its currency, which American manufacturers say Beijing does to make its goods cheaper for U.S. consumers and American products more expensive in China.

Chinese officials closely follow U.S. political rhetoric and frequently decry what they consider foreign interference in China’s internal affairs. The United States often criticizes China about human rights and trade abuses, but Washington and Beijing find themselves increasingly intertwined in a host of crucial economic, military and diplomatic efforts.

An op-ed in the Boston Globe takes an optimistic tone in its advice for Obama:

Looking to the future, there are several important steps to handle relations between the two nations properly. First, it is important to envision bilateral relations in their largest dimensions because the way US-Chinese relations develop has a major impact on the world. If the world’s largest developed country and largest developing country can create a model of cooperation, it would be a blessing for the whole world. Second, the two countries should build on existing strategic dialogues on political, economic, cultural, and other issues and create a crisis management mechanism, which is currently lacking. Last but not least, they should deepen mutual understanding at the grassroots level, including the general public and media.

Advocacy groups are hoping the new U.S. leadership will return the focus to human rights concerns. From AFP:

At a congressional hearing, groups including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders said the climate was once again icy for Chinese rights activists after last year’s Beijing Olympics sparked hopes for a thaw.

The new administration under Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “have a particular interest in the human rights situation in China,” said James McGovern, co-chair of a House of Representatives commission on human rights.

“This situation is not going away,” the Democrat told the hearing, vowing: “We are going to raise this issue time and time and time again.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for her part, says she, too, wants to expand the dialogue to cover more than economic issues.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, “looks at what changes – or otherwise – Barack Obama will bring to US-China relations” while StratFor has published a report called “The Obama Administration and East Asia.”

On the Huffington Post, Rebecca MacKinnon has some words of advice for Obama: “If you really want to take U.S.-China relations to a new strategic level that rises above the day-to-day issues, you need to find new ways to engage the Chinese people themselves — not just their government.” Read her full commentary here.

January 27, 2009 1:57 PM
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