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

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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs