6
Jun

By Fareed Zakaria

Untitled

In February 1972, Richard Nixon went to China and restored Sino-U.S. relations that had been broken for 23 years. During that visit, Nixon held a series of critical meetings with China’s premier, Zhou Enlai, and they discussed the broad strategic framework that would guide bilateral relations. President Obama’s meetings with President Xi Jinping this weekend have the potential to be a similarly historic summit — but with an important caveat.

China has always played a weak hand brilliantly. When Mao Zedong and Zhou met with Nixon and Henry Kissinger, China was in the midst of economic, political and cultural chaos. Its per capita gross domestic product had fallen below that of Uganda and Sierra Leone. Yet Beijing negotiated as if from commanding heights. Today, it has tremendous assets — but it is not the world’s other superpower, and we should not treat it as such.

The United States has been accused of having a confused, contradictory foreign policy, as each administration reverses its predecessor. This is often a mischaracterization, never more so than with China policy. Since Nixon and Kissinger opened the door, U.S. foreign policy toward China has been remarkably consistent over 40 years and eight presidents. Washington has sought to integrate China into the world, economically and politically. This policy has been good for the United States, good for the world and extremely good for China.

But many of the forces that pushed the two countries together are waning. For the first two decades of relations, Washington had strategic reasons to align with Beijing and shift the balance of power against the Soviet Union. While China was in its early years of development, it desperately needed access to U.S. capital, technology and political assistance to expand its economy. Today, China is much stronger and is acting in ways — from cyberattacks to its policies in Africa — that are counter to U.S. interests and values. For its part, Washington must respond to the realities of Asia, where its historic allies are nervous about China’s rise. Read more…

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on June 5, 2013.

Comments

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