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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid