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Limited success for Obama's Russia, China approach

By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 28 2012 10:40 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this March, 26, 2012, file photo US President Barack Obama, left, during a bilateral meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, in Seoul, South Korea. Obama has succeeded in increasing cooperation with Moscow on nuclear arms reduction and shoring up U.S. partnerships in Asia to counter expanding Chinese power. But on other questions crucial to U.S. interests, those countries have proved stubbornly unyielding.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's "pivot" to China's neighborhood and the "reset" in relations with Russia have produced limited results for signature foreign policy initiatives designed to improved America's standing with its former Cold War rivals.

Obama has succeeded in increasing cooperation with Moscow on nuclear arms reduction and shoring up U.S. partnerships in Asia to counter expanding Chinese power. But on other questions crucial to U.S. interests, those countries have proved stubbornly unyielding.

From nuclear-armed North Korea to potentially nuclear-armed Iran, the Obama administration has won only lip-service pronouncements of agreement on the endgames, but little more. U.S. officials say Russia and China supported new penalties on Iran and fresh condemnations, but previous administrations had similar records.

China and Russia have blocked Obama's attempts to get the United Nations to take significant action against Syria's government and ignored U.S. warnings that they will end up on the wrong side of history.

The overtures have left Obama vulnerable to charges that he is being naive or too accommodating to both China and Russia.

Republican critics, including likely presidential nominee Mitt Romney, say the administration has gotten too little in return from Russia for concessions on missile defense and has not pressured China enough on currency and trade disputes that cost American jobs.

Attention turns to China this coming week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner attend strategic and economic talks in Beijing. Topics will include global economics, the violence in Sudan and maritime claims in Asia's seas.

But threatening to overshadow the discussions is the fate of a blind legal activist who, according to overseas activists, fled house arrest in his Chinese village and is under the protection of American officials. The escape by Chen Guangcheng, who has exposed forced abortions and sterilizations in villages as a result of China's one-child policy, underscores the fundamental differences between the two countries on human rights,

The U.S. and Chinese governments have not confirmed reports that he sought protection at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Since Obama took office, China's booming economy has driven global growth while the U.S. has struggled to emerge from its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Greater Chinese assertiveness has resulted in clashes with the U.S. over naval vessels in the Yellow Sea and American exporters trading with Taiwan; with Japan over fishing rights; and with Southeast Asian nations over claims to the resource-rich South China Sea.

Washington's chief complaint, however, has been Beijing's shielding of North Korea from harsher condemnation and punishment for its nuclear weapons program and provocations that nearly plunged the Korean peninsula into war two years ago.

Previous rounds of the U.S.-China dialogue have been hailed as productive and have included new educational and scientific exchanges. They haven't resolved points of contention over Taiwan, Tibet and human rights.

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, still rankle China, and the irritation could grow worse with the emergence of a White House letter that raises the possibility the U.S. could sell new jet fighter aircraft to the island nation. Also, U.S. demands for greater respect for human rights and Tibetan culture have fallen on deaf ears.

With the Iraq war over and combat operations in Afghanistan ending over the next couple of years, the recalibrated focus on Asia directs American military might and diplomatic energy to booming markets such as China, India and Indonesia. More than half of the world's population lives in Asia, which is seen as the future center of the world economy.

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