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NYT Op-Ed on US-China Relations; Obama's China Visit

Given China’s important (and sometimes stifling) role in the UN Security Council, its leadership role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and its critical trade and political relations with Iran, this rising East Asian power has a number of diplomatic levers it can pull to enhance its position. In some political circles, there is trepidation about China’s increasing impact and its influence on US national security interests. Many experts, including Fareed Zakaria, suggest that the United States can manage this challenge by crafting an international system with an even firmer rule of law. In other words, US strengthening of multilateral institutions, to name an example, would help to blunt the excesses of Chinese national interest.

In today’s NYT, Akita International University’s Professor Willy Lam issued an Op-Ed suggesting that America’s capacity for curbing China is fading. Surely, an important part of America’s role in international law & security is that of its influence. Might may not make right in international law, but having greater clout certainly helps. If that clout really is fading for America, its attempts to encourage China into curbing the nuclear programs of neighbors (North Korea) and trade partners (Iran) will be less likely to succeed. On these and human rights-related matters, President Obama has emphasized the the US will not take a containment approach toward China.

Has the US approach to China been too conciliatory? Or is President Obama’s approach another example of showing the international community that America is willing to operate patiently and in good faith on security issues? Resistance from the Chinese government is nothing new; expecting immediately measurable benefits from Obama’s Beijing visit, however, would arguably be much more novel.

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