Limited success for Obama's Russia, China approach

By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 28 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

U.S. policy calls for increased cooperation with Beijing, where possible, and checking Chinese power in cases where it threatens allies and neighbors.

To ease concerns posed by the threat of China-backed North Korea, the U.S. has strengthened military alliances with South Korea and Japan. By speaking out against Beijing's maritime claims, Washington improved ties with Southeast Asian nations fearful of an expansive and potentially belligerent Beijing.

U.S. relations with Vietnam and the Philippines in particular have benefited. Even reclusive Myanmar, long an international pariah protected by China's diplomatic sway, has initiated democratic and human rights reforms to improve its standing with the U.S. and the West. The U.S. has taken the lead on talks about a new regional trade pact that would exclude China.

"We dealt cooperatively, extensively and candidly with China's leaders, making clear our positive view of China's rise and its regional role," said Jeffrey Bader, Obama's top China adviser until June.

Speaking last month, he summed up the administration's China strategy this way: "To achieve limited but real success on global issues while pushing back when there was overreach."

The administration has had some success.

While China appeared to be on the offensive in 2010, it has eased somewhat its rhetoric and tried to repair relations with its neighbors. Having seen the U.S. make inroads in places such as Vietnam and Myanmar, the communist government has been more prudent even if its foreign policy objectives remain the same.

Yet there may be little Obama or any other U.S. president can do to eliminate the long-term strategic distrust between the countries. Washington fears that an anti-democratic regime bent on regional hegemony could one day replace it as the world's pre-eminent power, securing resources and favorable trade deals around the planet. Beijing sees its ascension threatened by U.S. economic and diplomatic alliances, particularly in Asia.

"At first glance, this heightened U.S. attention to the region has provoked consternation in Beijing," said Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. But, she said, "a stronger United States presence in the region, in many respects, is a prerequisite for more effective cooperation with Beijing rather than an obstacle."

Obama also has worked to mend ties with the Kremlin. Relations plummeted during President George W. Bush's administration after Russia's 2008 war with Georgia and disagreements over missile defense and Iran.

A series of deals has helped reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, allow Moscow to enter the World Trade Organization and secure the Kremlin's cooperation in Afghanistan.

But the relationship has again become strained by renewed disputes over Obama's revised missile defense plans, Iran and Syria — and Russia's own election fraud, coupled with incoming President Vladimir Putin's claim that internal unrest has been the result of American meddling.

"For a report card, I'd give the reset a solid 'B,'" said Andrew Kuchins, Russia director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It would have been a lot stronger a year ago. Now there are a lot of questions about the future."

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