NPR logo Foreign Policy: Mr. President, Stop Courting China


Foreign Policy: Mr. President, Stop Courting China

President Obama with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, November 18, 2009. David Gray/Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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David Gray/Pool/Getty Images

President Obama with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, November 18, 2009.

David Gray/Pool/Getty Images

An end of the year meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki exemplifies all that is wrong with Obama's Asia policy. In a matter of weeks, China blew up the Copenhagen climate change talks and humiliated President Obama, executed a mentally ill Brit on drug possession charges, and sentenced Liu Xiabo, the human rights activist and political reformer to 11 years in prison.

And what does the Administration do? Call in the Japanese ambassador to, as the Washington Post put it, tell him in "blunt, if diplomatic, terms that the United States remains adamant about moving a Marine base from one part of Okinawa to another."

Are we really willing to wreck one of our most successful alliances over a real estate dispute? Meanwhile, as Washington hyperventilates about Japan's coming entente with China, Prime Minister Hatayoma just concluded a successful visit to India. A deeper Tokyo-Delhi security cooperation pact is not exactly a kowtow to China.

The "kick Japan kiss China approach" is indicative of a larger Obama problem: the inability to distinguish friends from rivals. The administration has frozen sales to Taiwan. Reports out of India indicate that the Obama administration "has signaled its intent to abandon elements in its ties with New Delhi that could rile China, including a joint military drill in Arunachal and any further Indo-U.S. naval maneuvers involving Japan or more parties like Australia."

Despite stiffing Obama on issues from human rights (he was supposed to be more effective than his predecessors with his quiet diplomacy — that was the justification for dissing the Dalai Lama), Iran, and climate change, China not only gets a pass, but sits back and grins as Washington undercuts its friends.

As the New Year approaches, it is high time for a review of Asia policy. I suggest beginning with a simple set of questions: why has not a single weapons system been sold to Taiwan, why are we escalating a real estate dispute with Japan to ruinous levels, why is our free trade agreement with South Korea still frozen, and why are we rolling back our cooperation with India? If we are sacrificing pro-ally initiatives for the sake of better relations with China it is not working.