News / Asia

Obama Debate Language Hints at Nature of China Relationship

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney shake hands at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida October 22, 2012. U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney shake hands at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida October 22, 2012.
x
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney shake hands at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida October 22, 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney shake hands at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida October 22, 2012.
Since the United States' strategic military refocus on Asia was announced last year, the Obama administration has been careful to point out the so-called pivot to the Pacific is not aimed at containing China.

But the reassurances by U.S. officials have failed to convince many in the Asian nation.  While China's official reaction to the pivot has been restrained, the country's state-controlled media regularly publish editorials insisting Washington is not being truthful about its real intentions.

Harsh language

Some observers say President Barack Obama may have revealed his true feelings on the pivot at a presidential debate Monday with his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.  During an extended segment dedicated to "The Rise of China and Tomorrow's World," Obama took the unusual step of referring to China as an adversary.

"China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it is following the rules," said President Obama. Some observers viewed the comment as unusually harsh language coming from a president who has overseen a policy of diplomatic engagement with China since coming to office four years ago.

Related video by William Ide in Beijing

Beijing Residents Weigh-in As Obama, Romney Debate Chinai
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
William Ide
October 23, 2012 8:27 PM
China is getting plenty of attention on the campaign trail in the U.S. presidential race and even had a segment dedicated to it during Monday’s final debate. VOA’s William Ide reports on Chinese were following the debates and what people think of all the criticism and attention their country is receiving.
Security analyst Gregory Kulacki, a China Project manager at the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, tells VOA he thinks Obama's comments offered a subtle insight into the nature of the complicated U.S.-China security relationship.

"There is no way of knowing. But I do think it is interesting that he chose to use the word 'adversary' in combination with the word 'partner.'  'Adversary' is a term used in a military or security context," says Kulacki. "And he used the word 'potential partner,' which shows that he really doesn't think that China is a partner now."

Unclear policy

Kulacki says the comments may help clarify what has been a "very unclear policy."

"The administration has a mix of phrases it uses to talk about the pivot. It talks about freedom of navigation in East Asia, [about] maintaining the rule of law. But what I think the president revealed this evening is that he really does view China as an adversary, which makes the pivot more of a containment policy than I think the president has been willing to admit at this point," he says.

Bill Bishop, a China analyst who writes the influential Sinocism newsletter, warns against reading too much into the language used during a political debate. But he tells VOA that U.S. diplomats have in the past refrained from publicly using words like "adversary" when referencing China.

"[Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton has specifically not used that language. She's been asked if she views China as an adversary, and she's dodged the question, being the diplomat that she is. I certainly don't think it's something the president or the secretary of state has said publicly," says Bishop.

"I would guess that it's probably language that is used internally and that he's just in the middle of the debate," he adds. "I don't think he was necessarily using the debate to signal anything to Beijing. I think it was more a bit of an unguarded moment where he's actually saying what he really thinks as opposed to couching the normal discourse in more diplomatic [language]."

Politics

Others say Obama's choice of phrasing had political reasons. Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney, told VOA that Mitt Romney's more aggressive stance on China has forced the president to use more assertive language.

"To me, saying that China is an adversary is playing to the gallery in the U.S.," says Brown. "I presume it will be interpreted in China as that. It won't be seen as something meaningful in policy terms."

Beijing's foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei did not respond to the specific mention of the word "adversary" during a regular press briefing Tuesday.  But he says a healthy U.S.-China relationship is in the interest of both countries, and both U.S. political parties should regard China's development "with a responsible attitude."

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jane Monheit Christmas Speciali
X
December 22, 2014 8:15 PM
Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.

All About America

AppleAndroid