With Russia playing President Obama like a fiddle, it’s natural that China would want to get in on the act. Thus, it’s no suprise that the Chinese regime invited Obama to Beijing. Nor is it any suprise that Obama accepted the invitation.
Gordon Chang, in the Weekly Standard, considers the trip in the context of our relationship with China. The context, as Chang sees it, is this:
[China] is the planet’s most populous state and sits in the center of the most dynamic region of the world. They are, at this moment, building sprawling cities with newfound wealth, making their gigantic military into a formidable fighting force, and buying resources from Africa to Australia. In short, China looks like the world’s next hegemon.
But Chinese officials are not so sure of themselves. The nine men sitting on the Politburo Standing Committee oversee a one-party state riddled with corruption, held back by a discredited ideology, and undermined by decades of modernization. The country’s export-dominated economic model is particularly ill-suited for the worldwide slump, and the Communist party’s rigid political system is unable to respond to rapidly changing circumstances.
The failure to adjust will prove to be a problem because the Chinese people, over an especially prosperous decade, have become increasingly defiant, staging about 100,000 protests a year, some of them large and many violent. The leadership, not surprisingly, has become worried about what the laobaixing–the ordinary folk–will do if the country’s economy enters a period of stagnation next year, as analysts increasingly fear.
Chinese leaders know that the stability of the modern Chinese state depends on prosperity and that prosperity largely rests on continued access to American technology and especially markets. Last year, all but $27.5 billion of China’s $295.5 billion trade surplus related to sales to the United States. Fortunately for the party, Washington has continued to accept large trade deficits with China, and this unbalanced relationship gives Obama extraordinary leverage in his dealings with Beijing–but only if he uses it.
So far, he has mostly chosen not to do so.
Chang concludes that, from China’s point of view, the “purpose of this week’s summit is to show the laobaixing that the leader of the world’s democracies feels he must come to Beijing to ask for help on the great issues of the day.” Sadly, this is probably one of Obama’s purposes too, committed as he is to show that America has turned over a new leaf and no longer intends to constrain China in any respect.
In fact, that’s not entirely a new leaf. Under President Bush, as Chang notes, the U.S. did not use its economic leverage on China. But at least, Bush applied geopolitical pressure by shoring up relations with Japan and reaching out to India. Obama, by contrast, is attempting to “reassure” China by refusing to follow Bush’s policy towards Japan and India. As a result, of course, both countries are looking to placate China.
But no one seems more interested in placating China than Barack Obama.