What to Make of Clinton's "Pacific Century?"

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in Foreign Policy earlier this month about Washington’s goals in Asia and its approach to U.S.-China relations, including its views on military transparency, economic reform, and human rights. Last week, The People’s Daily responded with an editorial questioning Clinton’s goal to return to an Asia that it believes the U.S. never really left:

The United States faces at least two challenges as it ”returns” to Asia.

First, it should learn to get along with China. Its “return” to Asia has drawn people’s attention back to a possible confrontation between itself and China. Many Western scholars believe that the reassertion of the leading U.S. role in Asia is directed against China because only China’s rise can pose a potential challenge to its hegemony. Furthermore, a few Asian countries hope to take advantage of the United States, especially its military power, to strike a so-called strategic balance with China. If the United States adopts this mentality in “returning” to Asia, it will face a zero-sum game with China, and will neither benefit from Asia’s development nor play a positive role in promoting th regional security.

Second, a leading role requires more than ambition. The United States’ status in Asia ultimately depends on its input. It should play a more constructive role in promoting the regional economic development and cooperation in multiple fields, instead of expanding its military presence to show off its irreplaceability because it has proven to be a dead end. Certain Asian scholars are worried that once the United States finds itself unable to maintain its leading role, it may extort more money from Asian countries in the name of protection and even stir up trouble by playing dirty tricks.

Asia’s development is an unstoppable trend, and Asian countries will get closer and closer to one another during the process of development. Asia is a big stage and has enough space for the “return” of the United States. In this regard, the superpower’s priority should be putting itself in the right place and working out an appropriate and practical strategy.

Another editorial in The People’s Daily responded further to Clinton on Friday, accusing the U.S. of pursuing dominance in the face of a global power shift and challenging Clinton on economic issues:

Clinton has admitted that in terms of the economic sector, the United States and China must closely cooperate with each other to ensure strong, dynamic and balanced development of the world in the future. She also said that the United States has effectively worked with China through the G20 to save the world from the verge of collapse and “we have to build on that cooperation.”

However, it was groundless for her to claim that U.S. firms want “fair opportunities” to export to China’s growing market and urge China to end “unfair discrimination” against U.S. companies or against their innovative technologies. It is simply the United States that is embracing protectionism and has discriminated and hindered Chinese firms from investing in the country under the cover of “national security.”

The United States has played up the RMB exchange rate and trade deficit issues on the one hand and has restricted high-tech exports to China in many ways on the other hand. Does China need only soybeans and corn from the United States? The economic win-win cooperation must be two-way and “sanctions” will not always remain unilateral.

The late U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan once said that the world would never accept a single leadership center. What people need is the democratization international relations as well as equality and win-win cooperation. It is hoped that Clinton and U.S. leaders further adapt to the transition of the times and are actually aware that the Pacific should be the ocean of the people living within and around the Pacific and will never become a “monopolized ocean” of the United States.