Imagine 40 years from now how a global affairs
columnist for the Fox-Xinhua (or New Shanghai Times) content-providing
service will analyze the world's geo-strategic and geo-economic balance of power.
This might be the way he or she recalls the visit that China's former president
Hu Jintao made in April 2006 to Washington, the capital of what was then known
as the "United States." Now in 2046, the city is a major tourist attraction
for Chinese and Indian tourists, many of whom stay at the seven-star hotel previously
known as the "White House" (the Lincoln Suite is the most expensive).
He or she (cloned in 2011) might write the following:
"As I downloaded news reports that were published in the American media
on that week, what really astonished me was the extent to which President Hu's
first visit to the then U.S. capital since becoming China's paramount leader
had received so little attention in the American press. The headlines in the
New York Times and the Washington Post (both of which have since
been bought by our parent company) were devoted to U.S. efforts to prevent Iran
from gaining access to nuclear military capability – Iran conducted its first
nuclear test two years later and is now a leading nuclear military power – and
to the violence in what was known then as 'Iraq' (now divided between Turkey,
Iran, and the Syrian Federation) and was still occupied by the U.S. (which withdrew
from there two years later).
"And believe it or not, much of the media coverage on the eve of the visit
was focused on the refusal of the Americans to call Mr. Hu's trip to Washington
a 'state visit' (as the Chinese had requested).
"Indeed, in retrospect it does seem quite incredible that the nation that
was the global superpower of that period seemed to have ignored China's dramatic
rise in economic, political, military, and cultural power while devoting almost
its entire resources to trying to achieve regime changes and implant democracy
in the Middle East.
"During the first term of the presidency of George W. Bush (whose nephew
George P. Bush is now the president of the Florida-Cuba Federation), he and
his aides saw China as a 'strategic competitor' (the Pentagon) and as an important
trade partner (corporate America), and committed themselves to place the relationship
with Beijing at the top of Washington's global agenda.
"But the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001,
resulted in the bumping of China to the diplomatic back-burner.
"On the one hand, obsessed with the 'war on terrorism,' the Americans
shifted most of their attention to the Middle East while pressing the Chinese
to work with them to combat the 'terrorist threat' (which they did).
"On the other hand, when it came to the Chinese, U.S. officials and lawmakers
focused most of their energy on forcing them to allow their currency to rise
in value, so as to reduce what they considered to be an unfair advantage Chinese
exporters enjoyed against U.S. manufacturers, and help shrink the U.S. trade
deficit with China, which soared to U.S.$201 billion in 2005.
"At the same time, the members of a group of intellectuals who were known
then as 'neoconservatives' and who were a major influence on the Bush administration's
policies argued that the U.S. needed to gain hegemony in the Middle East and
use its control of the oil resources there as a leverage in its negotiations
with China, which they regarded as America's long-term global rival.
"What was missing from U.S. foreign policy at that time was any coherent
strategy aimed at integrating China as a rising global power into the international
system. Then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick came close to proposing
such a strategy when he called Washington to embrace the 'peaceful rise of China'
and asked that Beijing become a responsible stakeholder in global affairs.
"But the failure of president Bush to draw the outlines of such a strategy
and try to implement it meant that American policy toward Beijing ended up resembling
a mishmash of ad-hoc responses to Chinese moves, most of which reflected the
pressures of anti-China forces in Washington (the Taiwan lobby, human rights
organizations, protectionist groups).
"With China emerging as the second largest oil consumer after the U.S.,
Beijing increased its diplomatic engagement worldwide, including with anti-American
players such as Iran, Sudan, and Venezuela. The Chinese also started to advance
multilateral forums for cooperation in East Asia that excluded the U.S. And
the Chinese continued to modernize their military and to assert their claim
"Moreover, China's impressive economic growth only helped to strengthen
the hands of lawmakers and pundits in Washington who blamed the Chinese for
America's declining manufacturing base.
"It was not surprising, therefore, that when President Hu visited Washington
in April 2006, a politically weak President Bush found himself under pressure
from Capitol Hill to 'do something' about the mounting trade deficit with China.
"But there was not much that the White House could do to compel major
changes in China's trade practices, especially when the Chinese were using the
U.S. dollars they earned from their exports to invest hundreds of billions of
dollars in U.S. Treasury securities, thereby helping not only to finance the
American military project in the Middle East, but also to keep interest rates
low for American borrowers.
"Mr. Bush and his aides recognized that a trade war with the Chinese would
have devastating effects on U.S. economic and diplomatic interests. But during
the 2006 mid-term congressional elections, with trade policies – together with
Iraq and immigration – dominating the campaign, lawmakers demanded that Washington
'punish' China for its 'unfair trade policies.'
"Tensions between the two powers continued to rise. A more assertive China
used its diplomatic and military power to gradually erode the U.S. presence
in East Asia. In fact, with its military overstretched in the Middle East, Washington
had no choice but to reduce its commitments in East Asia, where a unified (and
nuclear) Korea, Japan, ASEAN, and India took steps to accommodate Chinese power.
"Interestingly enough, after retiring in 2030 from his position as president
of the East Asian Union (EAU), former President Hu, looking back on his trip
to Washington, told me: 'We were quite content to see the Americans being drawn
into the mess in the Middle East in the name of fighting terrorism. We assumed
that the war on terrorism would end one day, and that we – and not the Americans,
exhausted economically and militarily after years of fighting in the Middle
East – would emerge as the winners. We were right."
Copyright © 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.