The U.S. And China: Rivals That May Need Each Other (Updated)

NPR looks at the changing dynamics of the U.S.-China relationship ahead of President Hu’s visit to Washington:

On the other side of the Pacific, a rising China is becoming more assertive in world affairs in ways that the U.S. may find uncomfortable, Rachman says.

“It’s not that they want a direct confrontation with the U.S.,” he says. “On the contrary, they’re very keen to avoid that.” Rachman says China is taking a more subtle approach, growing its power and military capabilities at a time when the U.S. is increasingly under financial strain, and has the ultimate goal of shifting the “balance of forces” between the world powers.

Yet Barnett, chief analyst at Wikistrat and contributing editor for Esquire magazine, cautions that Americans’ concern over China’s rise is “really out of control.”

“It’s very similar to the way the British looked at us, say, around the turn of the century,” Barnett says. “They imagined we could have bought and sold them. The Chinese couldn’t do the same with us. Their economy is still a fraction of ours.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Obama may be preparing to hold candid discussions with China about human rights, despite the risk of angering Beijing:

Senior administration officials say he is exploring ways to better reach Chinese citizens directly, perhaps by using technology unavailable to many of his predecessors.

He has also been seeking advice from Chinese dissidents and human rights advocates ahead of President Hu Jintao’s state visit next week. On Thursday, Obama met for more than an hour at the White House with five advocates for human rights in China, the first time he has done so in that venue.

While economic and security issues are likely to be the focus of Hu’s visit, how Obama manages the topic of human rights will help define his summit with Hu and provide clues to how the president intends to speak with China in the years ahead about political prisoners, an inconsistent rule of law and a repressed civil society.

Update: Another article in the Washington Post looks at Hu’s dual roles as head of the Party and Head of State and how that impacts U.S.- China relations:

The morphing of roles flows from the protocol of his mission. Hu travels to the United States to represent China as a nation, not just its ruling party. But the shift obscures the true nature, and also curious limitations, of Hu’s authority – his stewardship of a sprawling party apparatus that stands above all formal institutions of government but is no longer a rigid monolith obedient to a single leader. It also helps explain why Washington often has so much trouble figuring out who is making decisions in Beijing and why.

At a time when China looms increasingly large in U.S. economic and security concerns, the distribution of power in Beijing, as well as in Washington, will decide whether the pledges of cooperation that will be made next week by President Obama and the Chinese leader take solid form, or quickly dissolve, as many did after Obama’s trip to Beijing in November 2009.

January 15, 2011 5:26 PM
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