China’s large-scale construction of artificial islands in the hotly disputed waters of the South China Sea has led many in Washington to call for a tougher stance against Beijing. While China no doubt bears much responsibility for pursuing murky and ambitious territorial claims with aggressive actions, contending with China’s rise also requires a lot more than just getting tough.
During the course of the Obama administration, Beijing has reacted negatively not just to the administration’s gestures of goodwill but also to its more confrontational actions and rhetoric. A look back at the missteps early in the Obama administration would offer a useful guide to prescribing future action. The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power, a new book by noted China scholar Thomas Christensen, provides precisely such a guide.
Presenting a wide-ranging look at Sino-American relations under multiple U.S. presidents, Christensen’s book makes clear the Obama administration started on the wrong foot when it employed rhetoric not backed up with facts for political convenience. Most notably, in July 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on a trip to Asia, “The United States is back,” and implied not so subtly that President Barack Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had squandered U.S. resources on wars in the Middle East and neglected important developments in Asia.
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