Obama and China

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Thanks to China Digital Times for the photo; the Chinese reads: Forward!   



With the election of Barrack Obama as president (nonpartisan moment: Hurray!), many diplomats, academics, journalists and other asorted ne’er-do-wells are attempting to figure out how U.S. policy will change under the next president and who will do the changing. China policy is no exception. This is fairly inside baseball-ish, but the names that come up most often from people who should know as being Obama’s most influential China advisers are: Jeffrey Bader of the Brookings Institute, Ken Lieberthal, currently also at Brookings for a year but based at the University of Michigan, David Lampton of the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and one of the China field’s Olympian eminences (and the only non-American), Rod Macfarquahar of Harvard. I have no idea what if any formal titles any of these extremely accomplished gentlemen could end up with. All have different interests and backgrounds (though both Bader and Lieberthal held senior jobs in the Clinton administration). But they could probably be fairly termed as all being closer to panda huggers than bashers, or put another way, engagers rather than morality prechers, which presumably ought to please Beijing.  For example, in a debate in Foreign Policy magazine with Jim Mann, author of a recent book criticizing U.S. policy to China as being accomodating to a repressive regime for economic benefit, Lampton wrote this:

Those calling for “democracy first” must consider whether U.S. capabilities match the scale of this ambition, whether other world powers would follow Washington’s lead, and whether the possible resulting chaos in China would ultimately be worse for U.S. interests and the human rights of the Chinese people than the current evolving situation. Mann’s book is most harmful, though, not because it calls into question the motives of a broad diversity of China scholars, government officials, and business people for whom the written record is an entirely adequate defense, but because he poses the wrong question. Rather than asking, “How can we change China?,” I would ask, “How is China changing, and does change in China, particularly its mounting intellectual and economic strength, require change in the United States?”

Of course, whatever China specialists advise, the realities of the trade relationship will guide much of Obama’s decision making on key issues like the value of the renminbi, which Obama has already publicy said should be allowed to appreciate. And who is going to be advising him on trade is a whole separate kettle of fish–and the subject for another post.