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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More