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Foreign Policy

The US Pacific Dream Should Include China

Apr 18 , 2013
  • Su Xiaohui

    Deputy Director of Int'l & Strategic Studies, CIIS

US Secretary of State John Kerry has wrapped up his Asian tour. In his speech at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, he proposed the creation of a US dream for the Pacific region, defined as a 21st century Pacific partnership with shared principles and values that would bring the partners closer. 

Prior to his visit to Japan, Kerry had “productive” meetings with Chinese leaders and officials. Both sides talked about a new model of relationship. Importantly, the US has sought China’s support in dealing with the current tension on the Korean Peninsula

However, even though the US is attaching importance to China and expects China to play a more constructive role in solving regional problems, the US is not involving China as part of the US Pacific dream. 

The US Needs China’s Contribution to Realize Its Pacific Dream 

The dream of the Pacific region includes the goals of national security, economic development, and a strengthening partnership. The DPRK issue has become one of the most serious headaches for the US in the Pacific region, as it has had a negative impact on South Korea and Japan’s security and also undermined regional stability. 

In February 2012, the US managed to issue a joint statement with the DPRK, which was viewed as a sign of break though in the region’s deadlock. However, North Korea quickly abandoned this achievement by launching a satellite in April. The country subsequently conducted another rocket launch, and carried out a third nuclear test. 

The tension has continued to ratchet up. The DPRK unilaterally nullified the 1953 armistice that suspended the Korean War, and cut off communication channels with South Korea, including the key military hotline. The country threatened to launch missiles or even a pre-emptive nuclear attack. 

The outbreak of conflicts or wars is obviously not in the interests of the US and its alliances. To tame the country, the US has gradually increased sanctions and pressure. At the same time, the US has also tried to induce the country to give up the nuclear option by promising aids and benefits. However, the outcome has not been positive. 

The US gradually came to realize that support from related parties may be important for dealing with the tension. Among the related countries, China provides aid and support to the DPRK, which is believed to be of key importance to the existence of the regime. 

The situation on the Korean Peninsula became the priority focus of John Kerry’s Asian tour, and a key issue in discussions with China. John Kerry succeeded in making China reaffirm with the US that both countries are for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, as well as further cooperation with the US in dealing with the DPRK issue. 

China Deserves Respect and Identity 

The US defined China as a critical partner in its efforts to build the Pacific community. John Kerry’s visit to China was described as “fruitful”. The US has had more high-level engagement and dialogue with China than ever before. The agreements reached by the two sides concerning the DPRK issue were described as “constructive and productive.” China is certainly a stakeholder in the developments on the Korean Peninsula. China needs a peaceful environment with neighboring countries. 

The US categorizes China as an important player in the region to support its interests in regional security and nonproliferation. However, when cooperating with the US on the DPRK issue, China’s interests and concerns were not appropriately addressed. 

As for the Diaoyu Islands, China has been calling for the US to maintain authentic neutrality in these disputes. However, US players, including Secretary of State John Kerry have obviously shown favor to Japan’s positions. In John Kerry’s speech in Japan, he reiterated the principles that govern longstanding US policy on the Diaoyu Islands. He made it clear that the US does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, but does recognize that they are under the administration of Japan. The US opposes any unilateral or coercive action that would somehow aim at changing the status quo. Some media have interpreted John Kerry’s statement as “siding with Japan”. 

China did not issue an intense response to John Kerry’s statement in Japan, in order to avoid a further escalation of the tension. However, the US should acknowledge that its performance would inevitably undermine the mutual respect and mutual trust between the two sides, which is the basis for finally building a new type of relationship. 

What is more, values should not count in the US-China relationship. 

The US defined its Pacific dream as a 21st century Pacific partnership with shared principles and values that would bring the partners closer, and said that the dream is to translate the strongest values into unprecedented security, economic, and social cooperation. There is a potential risk that the values in US foreign policy would be overstated, and accordingly could influence the development of China-US relationship. 

China has articulated a vision of a stronger relationship with the US and a better China-US partnership. To achieve this goal, China has called for the US to abandon a Cold War mentality and hold back on ideological stereotypes. China understands that, without this pre-condition, the proposal of a new type of relationship would be only one-dimensional. 

Su Xiaohui is the Deputy Director at Department of International and Strategic Studies, China Institute of International Studies.

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