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Foreign Policy

Obama Faces New Strategic Opportunity

May 06 , 2013
  • Wang Yusheng

    Executive Director, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

For many years, Chinese scholars have been discussing China’s period of strategic opportunity and ways to make it sustainable. Which raises the question: Does the United States have strategic opportunities too? Not only are there strategic opportunities facing President Obama, he must ensure these opportunities are not squandered.

The United States has already lost two strategic opportunities. At the end of the Cold War, the United States had the opportunity to exploit the disintegration of the Soviet Union and take charge of global governance. Yet, obsessed with superiority and bent on world domination, the US made aggressive advances in both Europe and the Asia-Pacific. As a result, Russia, which intended to cooperate with or even take the “American path”, is now marching on the road toward becoming a strong power, while NATO had no option but to stop its eastward expansion.

The second lost opportunity occurred after 9/11 when the United States could have made use of extensive international sympathy to guide global cooperation against terrorism and bring the 21st century into a safer age. However, with blind faith in its military power, the US attempted to seek hegemony through anti-terror campaigns, launching two wars and instigating revolutions by practicing unilateralism and double standards.

At present, the United States is once again faced with a period of strategic opportunity. Whether Obama seizes this opportunity depends on whether or not American leaders can correctly assess the situation. By clearly seeing the changing times, the US must find a new and proper position for itself and follow an appropriate international strategy.

Unlike previous strategic opportunities, the current international environment is not one of imperialism and colonialism, or one of revolution and war, but is an age of peace and development. Economic globalization (including technology, information and investment) is fast developing independent of man’s will. Against such a background, no country could thrive alone, not even the United States. As Chinese and American leaders have put it, countries need to help each other like crossing a river in the same boat, pull together in times of trouble to tide over the difficult period and cooperate for win-win results. The BRICS countries have accepted this in varying degrees, and the G20 has also acknowledged this to a certain extent.

The extensive rise of developing countries is different from the rise and fall of empires in history: they have no intention to challenge developed countries, nor the demand to carve up the world and divide spheres of influence once again. What they ask for is a fairer and more reasonable international political and economic order.

Countries like China and Russia, viewed as “strategic rivals” or “potential enemies” by neo-conservative thinkers in the United States, do not deliberately make things difficult for the United States, but on the contrary, hope to cooperate with it to address major global issues and govern the world together. Chinese leaders have proposed that the United States build China-US relations into a new type of major power relationship of the 21st century. The new positioning of the two countries resolving to work together to build a cooperative partnership of mutual respect, mutual benefit and win-win results is not only a positive manifestation of evolvement from confrontation to hand-shake and then to cooperation and mutual benefit, but also an embodiment of goodwill and expectation expressed by China to the United States.

At the turn of 2011-2012, some mainstay American media published a series of articles talking about the end of the willful American age and maintained that gone were the days when America was unmatched in the. They urged America to re-examine the world and itself.

Not long after Obama began his second term, his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense claimed that America’s role in the world had turned into one of involvement with the international community. When receiving China’s new ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai, Obama stated that US-China relations had entered a new stage. Faced with new opportunities, the United States wishes to work together with China to build a new type of relationship between major powers.

Comparing these remarks with the high-sounding words uttered at the beginning of Obama’s first term, one may easily see the subtle changes. As a matter of fact, in face of the reality of changing times and irreversible change in the balance of international forces, insightful people in the United States have to consider what America should do next. Should it follow current times or continue to go against it? America is now at a crossroads. Now, we hope and expect American leaders to face reality with a level head and not squander this strategic opportunity.

Wang Yusheng is China’s former APEC senior official, and Executive Director at the Strategy Study Center of the China Foundation for International Studies.

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