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Only China can change US hardball policymaking

15:16, October 15, 2010

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By John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min

President Obama announced he was launching a new era of partnership when he was in the process of recruiting the team of veteran China policymakers and advisors. Nonetheless, the positive approach he instinctively favored disappeared. Conventional and then hostile policies and actions began defining his administration's relationship with China.

His policymakers are implementing an increasingly hostile approach referred to as hardball in the US press. It could be deliberately seeking to cause China to not continue Deng Xiaoping's successful policies of opening up economically to U.S. companies and of peaceful coexistence with America and or other nations. It could be simply disastrous U.S. policymaking responding poorly to the U.S. economic and national security crises. In any case, the hardball approach makes collaborative and therefore successful U.S. and Chinese policies hard to imagine or implement.

A U.S. president launching a new era of partnership with China is unconventional. It goes against the US policymakers' views and widespread U.S. feelings that China is a threat to Americans. But leading the changing of the direction of U.S. policies toward China is a presidential prerogative whether it begins covertly at the height of the United States' unsuccessful Vietnam War or covertly and then when private agreement is reached, it is changed once more overtly during the current U.S. economic, employment and other crises.

A U.S. president cannot effectively begin to successfully establish a new era of partnership or solve economic and national security problems until he finds advisors and experts with policies able to achieve his goals. To do so, President Nixon reached out to Professor Kissinger at Harvard because Kissinger shared his worldview and goals and others did not. President Obama is currently overseeing the changing of many advisors who were key players in the first two years of his administration. He is looking for but not yet finding breakthroughs or new policies providing solutions to U.S. economic and national security problems.

Neither America nor China can fully meet the economic and national security needs of their nation without the sincere, coordinated and constant help of the other. It is not possible in this century for one of the two largest economies in the world to fail, and the other to succeed. Because his administration is not finding the effective policies toward China needed to solve the U.S. crises, President Obama is open-minded and decisive. If China presents him with and supports solutions, he will grasp why they are solutions and lead in explaining them to U.S. policymakers and in implementing them. But until he finds solutions and has China's support in implementing them, he cannot take on the fear of China and hardball thinking policymakers in the US. Let's be clear about this, he needs Chinese policymakers to reach out to him with solutions because neither he nor his advisors have them today. Second, he can only act when a set of solutions has been privately negotiated and agreed, Kissinger style, and he is absolutely sure China will support the solutions when he announces his support for them.

Today China is being manipulated by hostile U.S. policymaking. There is one way that constructive rather than confrontational policies are likely to emerge spontaneously from America in 2010, 2011, 2012 and thereafter. Chinese policymakers have to be unusually proactive in helping President Obama personally and directly to find successfully implement the economic and national security solutions Americans desperately need. That is what he was elected to do and will do if supported by China reaching out to him successfully.

Chinese policymakers will not have as open-minded and decisive an American leader to deal with if President Obama cannot solve America's crises. Because of the Lincoln-like person President Obama is, when he finally finds policies that can be successful for the American people and are supported by China, he will implement them. Political opposition in the United States will not deter him once he identifies what Americans need him to do and China does its part in a new deal, a new era among yearning developing nations and frightened and confused developed nations.

Thomas Friedman warned a high level meeting in China recently not to look to the United States to come up with solutions given its current political and other crises. Other American experts on China and Nobel-prize-winning economists shared that grim view. The formula guaranteeing conflict that U.S. policymakers are implementing is reiterating conventional U.S. economic and military containment policies and regime change goals for China. They are doing so with increasing levels of bilateral hostility toward China and creating multilateral pressure. They are doing so at a time when the American people are very angry about the crises they face. Playing hardball with China, which has been progressing for 30 years by having peaceful economic and military relations with the United States and all nations, is beginning to tear down America and China's economic and national security.

The danger is that the efforts of factions, such as America's military hawks and those economically hostile to China, will be supported by the many in the United States who are very angry because of the United States' economic and other crises. This explosive combination in the United States is heading the United States and China toward an economic and military showdown that is unnecessary and catastrophic. A hardball approach cannot solve the American people's problems and will only make Sino-U.S relations worse, and it will only deepen the political and economic crises in America and other nations. This approach is can be easily fueled by the anger of Americans at their nation's failures and their fear of China's success.

The hardball knee-jerk reaction is creating additional crises in which U.S. and Chinese policymakers will end up having only appalling options. The hardball approach is a doubling up of already profound losses and risks caused by America's poor economy, unemployment, private and government debt and national security crises. The world is changing faster, and dangers are increasing faster than America's policymakers can adapt successfully to or solve. They are forced to fall back on an "act tough" approach to problems that can only be solved by the collaboration of the two largest economies and other influential nations today.

Today American policymakers are not solving America's economic and national security problems and are increasing U.S. economic, foreign policy and military hostility towards China. They are doing so at the same time President Obama is committed to increasing exports to China because that is crucial for America's economic recovery and employment growth.

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The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min are the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010. They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for America-China Partnership in 2005. E-mail: [email protected]