Meeting China’s Next Leader

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Meeting China’s Next Leader

Both the U.S. and China will go through leadership transitions in 2012. Whoever leads each country, a U.S.- China relationship based on mutual interests and mutual respect will remain as important to our security and economic interests as it has been since President Nixon’s epochal trip to Beijing 40 years ago this month. This week, Xi Jinping, slated to be China’s next president, visits the U.S. to build relationships with government and business as well as boost his standing at home. The trip represents another installment in the Obama administration’s successful Asia policy, which has put “U.S. relations with China on a better footing than in many years.” Rebalancing American attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific as the U.S. winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remains a core part of that policy. As Washington slows military budget growth, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, says current force structure is sufficient to provide for America’s role in securing East Asia.

China’s heir apparent focuses on building relationships in America and consolidating power in China; wide range of issues on the table. Xi Jinping’s visit is focused on building relationships between the presumed incumbent Chinese leader and America. As the Congressional Research Service explains, “The fact that Xi is the heir apparent to China’s current top leader, Hu Jintao, who is scheduled to retire in the coming year, makes this more than an ordinary vice presidential visit. Xi’s trip is designed to help him build relationships with American policymakers and legislators and introduce himself to the American business community and the American people on the eve of his becoming China’s top leader. As important to the Chinese side, the trip could also play an important role in helping boost Xi’s stature back home… If all goes as the Chinese leadership has planned, seven to nine months after Xi returns to China, he will be named to the top position in the Chinese Communist Party, General Secretary. He is expected to be named State President in March 2013. Barring the emergence of serious splits in the leadership, he is expected to hold both posts for two five-year terms. Xi is also on track to become the head of China’s military, perhaps as early as this year.” As ABC News explains, “The administration has a long list of topics to discuss with Xi, everything from trade, to the military, to human rights,” which will be discussed at meetings with President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Panetta in Washington before Xi heads to Iowa and Los Angeles during the rest of his American tour. [CRS, 2/6/12. ABC, 2/14/12]

The Xi visit represents another forward-looking part of a successful Asia policy. Forty years after President Nixon took the long view and re-opened U.S. ties with Beijing, in this month’s cover story in The Atlantic longtime China watcher James Fallows credits the Obama administration with “putting U.S. relations with China on a better footing than in many years, a task that has to be among the very most important for any president of the early 21st century.” Fallows writes: “Much like Nixon’s approach to China, I think [the administration’s Asia strategy] will eventually be studied for its skillful combination of hard and soft power, incentives and threats, urgency and patience, plus deliberate—and effective—misdirection… the strategy was Sun Tzu–like in its patient pursuit of an objective: reestablishing American hard and soft power while presenting a smiling ‘We welcome your rise!’ face to the Chinese. ‘It was as decisive a diplomatic victory as anyone is likely to see,’ Walter Russell Mead, of Bard College, often a critic of the administration, wrote about the announcement of the Australian base. ‘In the field of foreign policy, this was a coming of age of the Obama administration and it was conceived and executed about as flawlessly as these things ever can be.’” [James Fallows, 3/12]

America’s role as a Pacific power is not in question – strong enough for our interests, steady enough with slowing budget growth not to alarm. As AOL Defense’s Colin Clark reported last month, “The complexities of the United States diplomatic and military relationships with the People’s Republic of China were on full view today as the U.S. Navy’s leader said he does not need a bigger force to manage our presence in the western Pacific. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, told several hundred people that the Navy has roughly 50 ships in the western Pacific on any given day and that is enough. Greenert told the event, organized by the Center for New American Security, that there is no ‘big naval buildup in the Far East’ and the nation’s new heightened strategic focus on the Pacific won’t affect actual operations. At the same time, Greenert noted that ‘this area is vital to the United States. We know that.’” [Colin Clark, 1/10/12]

What We’re Reading

The Syria military intensified the bombardment of Homs in what activists are calling the heaviest shelling in days as the U.N. human rights chief raised fears of civil war.

Police and protesters clashed in Bahrain ahead of the one-year anniversary of uprisings.

A suicide bomber blew himself up in front of a Yemeni election committee office in the southern port city of Aden one week before an election to replace departing President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Representatives of militias from western Libya announced they had established a new federation to prevent internal strife and allow them to move towards further reform.

Three explosions shook Bangkok injuring four along with an Iranian national who is the purported perpetrator.

The UK released Abu Qatada, a Jordanian-born cleric described as an inspirational figure to some of the 9/11 hijackers.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency announced that Japan has paved the way to restart two inactive nuclear reactors for the first time since the nuclear crisis in Fukushima.

Turkmenistan’s President was re-elected with 97 percent of the vote in what some are calling a rigged election.

Moody’s downgraded six European countries as anxiety mounts over the region’s debt crisis and struggling economy.

Argentina’s transport workers union announced a boycott of working on British flagged ships due to tensions over the Falklands Islands.

Commentary of the Day

Der Spiegel chronicles Europe’s waning confidence over the Greek debt crisis.

Steve Chapman outlines why attacking Iran is a bad idea.

The Christian Science Monitor’s editorial board hopes President Obama and China’s Xi Jingping can establish a good working relationship.

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