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Sky-High Expectations for China? Not So Fast.

Earlier this year Zbigniew Brzezinski ran an op-ed in the China Daily around the time he was in Beijing celebrating the 30th anniversary of the normalization of relations with China. In the piece, Brzezinski called for the creation of a G-2 between the United States in China. The implication of Brzezinski's piece was basically: forget about the G-7 or the G-20. If you want to get something done in the world, that road runs from Washington through Beijing.

Brzezinski proceeded to outline an ambitious agenda for the new U.S.-China world axis. It would be responsible for solving the Iranian nuclear problem; sorting out the various messes in Afghanistan and Pakistan; bringing peace to the Israelis and the Palestinians - and then, once they were done with all that, solving climate change.

About six weeks later Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, and Justin Lin, the first World Bank chief economist to be from a developing country, wrote another opinion piece seconding the idea of a Group of Two. And they added another task to the list: solving the global financial mess.

Not since the administration of Jimmy Carter has a president entered office with a more pro-China outlook. Reagan came into office vowing to improve relations with China's nemesis, Taiwan. George Bush Sr. pursued a generally pro-China policy but was constrained by Beijing's bad behavior, including the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 and persistent reports that China was selling missile technology to Iran and elsewhere. Clinton ran on a platform that accused Bush I of "coddling the butchers of Beijing." George W. Bush termed China a "strategic competitor."

But other than an out-of-character outburst by Timothy Geithner during his confirmation hearing in which he accused China of currency manipulation, Obama's team hasn't said one word to irritate Beijing. Even Hillary Clinton announced during her first trip to China as secretary of state that human rights were effectively off the table. Most administrations take about 18 months to slough off their anti-China bias and get down to the business of dealing with China. Obama's anti-China moment lasted less than the duration of a confirmation hearing.

So Washington is seized with this idea of the G-2. Last week at the G-20, we saw it in action. We saw it with the United States and China, two of the only countries in the world with significant stimulus packages, standing shoulder to shoulder as they tried to push Europe toward the realization that it needs stimulus packages, too. We saw it in the halls of the Excel Center as Obama shuttled between China's president Hu Jintao and French President Nicholas Sarkozy to work out a last-minute deal on tax havens.

The question I have is whether the administration's hopes for China are really too high, and whether we are again falling into the trap of expecting more from China than it can deliver. That pattern in U.S.-China ties is an old one and it's never been very beneficial to the development of a sustainable relationship with Beijing. Indeed, just as demonizing China is a silly policy, so is an assumption that America's and China's interests magically coincide and that the two of us are going to go forth and slay the various dragons troubling the world. It's a recipe for disappointment.

The first disappointment is already upon us. Over the weekend Kim Jong-il, the North Korean dictator with the bouffant hairdo, undertook a ballistic missile test. Obama, in the Czech Republic, called for him to be taken to account. Kim's test was a clear violation of UN Security Council resolution 1718. Obama's administration wanted Security Council action. Our friends the Chinese? Not so fast. China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi stated: China "upholds using talks to solve the problem, and does not condone any action which may exacerbate or complicate the situation further." Translation: no tough Security Council moves.

The reason for the gap here is not just one of tactics. It's also because on the Korean peninsula, U.S. and Chinese interests are not the same. The United States wants a nuclear-free peninsula. But China first and foremost wants to maintain the North Korean regime. That bottom-line (and quite fundamental) difference colors how the two countries approach the issue. Assuming we agree on North Korea only muddles the issue and creates unwarranted expectations about how China will or will not act.

The next area for letdown will be Pakistan and Afghanistan. China has been helpful in that region. It has given money to Afghanistan and is even considering investing in a mine there. But will it help the United States one of its most nettlesome problems in the region - how to find a good route to re-supply American forces? Now that we're getting kicked out of Kyrgyzstan, will China step up and provide the United States access to Afghanistan via China's western border? I doubt it.

And then there's the financial crisis. I'd wager China will disappoint us here as well. There's an assumption that China is capable of using its substantial financial muscle to (with the United States) help right the world's economy. But for a country that has traditionally tended to define its interests narrowly, that could be a stretch. So again, our expectations for great things from China, I believe, are not going to be met.

Dennis Wilder, the former senior director for Asia at the National Security Council, writing in the Post a few weeks ago raised his concerns about the concept of the G-2. His main reason was that it would be a slap in the face to our allies. I'd like to add another reason. It's basically a romantic notion - and like a lot of romantic notions involving China, it's going to end in disappointment.

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Comments (19)

deejoshy Author Profile Page:

Well, it seems like there is some fear mongering here, on both sides. Why do both sides waste so much money creating these gigantic armies? The answer is accepting and loving one another. If you can't love then you are caught in the past, kind of like a dinosaur. Loving is for the intelligent and hating is for the monkey. Do you want to be intelligent or do you want to be a monkey?

generalyuefei Author Profile Page:

The bottom line is that China wants peace, Chinese want peace.

If John Pomfret and other US political journalist promoting war for American btwn N.K., that is US right, if N.K. want to provoke a war with US they also have their freedom.

No one can stop both nations want to war against each other.

Yes, China do have pack with NK, but China also do have their own rights to claim surrender when the war started for Chinese, American and Korean people.

There is no shame to surrender to save three nations' people, and this way a war ends in a quick period.

And China can keep their promise and save all the good money and effort to rebuild for Korean people.

The contract must be followed under righteous condition. There is no way to protect someone who invites a war for his friends.

Peter34 Author Profile Page:

Expert columnist pretends to be naive.Good treat to those China-haters. I am free-Tibet shill,hohoho. If someone disagree with you,name him CCP agent and you win.High five!Yeah.

reader8288 Author Profile Page:

It's useless to argue whether America and China have formed the "G-2", for the name is never as important as the essence. Realistically speaking, the two nations, like before, will have to cooperate, but neither side can expect differences to be narrowed overnight. However, you are going to another extreme if you disregard the common interest shared by both.
I find in recent months Mr. Promfret has changed a little, with less blames casted on China, but his basic way of thinking is still unchanged. That is, when discussing a cooperation, he still lack the sense of striking a balance between rights and obligations.
He asserts that China hasn't done enough in pressurizing North Korea. But despite the fact that North Korea historically has close ties with China, it is an independent country, not a province of China. Too much pressure, as George W. Bush exerted during the past 8 years, will only be conter-productive.
Likewise, if US needs more help from China in its fight against extremist in Afghanistan, it is natural for China to demand the US to support its fight against extremists in Xingjiang. For examples, the Uigur terrorist now detained in Guantanamo need to be extradited to China for trial. It's also necessary for the US to show China sincerely that by deploying many troops near China's western border, it is not aimed at encircling China.

Donald2 Author Profile Page:


"US is going to come to regret the day Nixon-Kissinger embraced China’s Communist dragon to counter Russia’s Soviet bear."

When Nixon visited China, US was losing Vietnam and was worrying about a full nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. Nixon's policy resolved that problem. China is now a market economy which naturally bring up people's energy. In my view, one day China will be a democracy whether the fake Communist Party likes it or not, and that will make China even a bigger player in the world.

Here are the choices:

1. China stays being a dirt poor communist country, with people have nothing to lose and supports communist rebels all over the world. Remember Vietnam where millions were killed? Or,

2. China transformed to a market economy, be a productive country, inproved its living standard, competes in market place and be part of the solution. That's what is happening now. Or,

3. Turn the clock back and make China a real enemy of US. That will be very unfortunate for Chinese, Americans and the world.

I am sure China has lot to improve. Maybe China's growth disappointed you. But it's just difficult to have everything exactly your way, unless you are God.

Jeff08 Author Profile Page:


You need to include "I hope you understand" every second or third sentence.

thmak Author Profile Page:

To Simplesimon: Nixon wanted to keep China away from Russia by recognising and giving China MFN status just like American prividing military and financial support to Bin Laden to fight the Russians. That serves American interest. I hope you understand. The influx of low price consumer goods from China raise the living standards of the majority of Americans. I hope you understand. Giving the strict arms embargo imposed on China by USA, there is no way that "China successfully used to buy all the military hardware and technology in the world.". Does China has a US nuclear submarine? So you must be absurd. Your fraudalent claim that China spies on US technologies is not substantiated by any significant number of court rulings. Through your own obsessive China-phobia, you call China a superpower that China never admits. Please blow off your distorted China perspective.

thmak Author Profile Page:

To Ilovelibby: You are utterly wrong. The court's decision is "Therefore, as the district court correctly concluded,
consideration of Appellants’ claims is barred by the political
question doctrine. Accordingly, we affirm.
So ordered". I hope you understand.

ilovelibby Author Profile Page:

see the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit decision today issuing a writ of mandamus requiring the Executive Branch to admit the San Francisco Peace Treaty cedes Taiwan to the US making her American Formosa: http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/common/opinions/200904/08-5078-1174554.pdf

United States Court of Appeals
> Argued February 5, 2009 Decided April 7, 2009
> No. 08-5078
> v.
> Appeal from the United States District Court
> for the District of Columbia
> (No. 1:06-cv-01825)
> Charles H. Camp argued the cause and filed the briefs for
> appellants.
> Melissa N. Patterson, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice,
> argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were
> Gregory G. Katsas, Assistant Attorney General, Jeffrey A.
> Taylor, U.S. Attorney, and Mark B. Stern, Attorney. R. Craig
> Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney, entered an appearance.
> Before: HENDERSON, BROWN, and GRIFFITH, Circuit
> Judges.
> 2
> Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge BROWN.
> BROWN, Circuit Judge: America and China’s tumultuous
> relationship over the past sixty years has trapped the inhabitants
> of Taiwan in political purgatory.

simplesimon33 Author Profile Page:

Hillary Clinton gave China an opening to flex its muscles when she implored China to keep investing in US treasuries during her first visit after becoming Secretary of State. Afterall China was a pariah country in the world just like today’s North Korea until Nixon’s 1972 visit. All the West European and East Asian countries stayed away from China following the US lead until 1972 and embraced China after Nixon’s visit. While US would not give MFN status to Soviet Union (remember Jackson-Vanik amendment?) unless Russia shed Communism, it had no problem giving it to China’s Communist dictators. Trade with China expanded by leaps and bounds during 12 years of Republican rule beginning in 1981. After campaigning against butchers of Beijing in 1992 elections, even Clinton became enthusiastic supporter of trade with China once he took lessons in foreign policy from Nixon in early 1993 during a special Whitehouse-arranged meeting.

Access to vast US consumer market allowed China to amass huge foreign currency reserves that China successfully used to buy all the military hardware and technology in the world. Foothold in US also gave China an opportunity to spy away the technologies that China can not buy in open market. US also promoted China to a super power status by accepting it as a UNSC member. Now China’s aim is to replace US as world’s only super power. US is going to come to regret the day Nixon-Kissinger embraced China’s Communist dragon to counter Russia’s Soviet bear.

Donald2 Author Profile Page:

One more potential crisis which may hurt Sino-American relation and deserves attention: How US handle its national debt. If US defaults on national debt, or devalue US dollars 90% - another way of default, that can wipe out all of big portion of Chinese, Japanese and Korean savings. I don't know how Japanese, Koreans and Chinese will think.

Citizenofthepost-Americanworld Author Profile Page:

Imagine how you would feel, belonging to a country that enjoyed semi-colonial status only 60 years ago, and seeing your country now being offered to share world hegemony by no less than the current hegemon! Would you care in the least that some still doubt how significant the rise of your country is? Would you yourself doubt that a new world order is born and that its swift development has become irresistible?

There is a very simple way to avoid being “disappointed” by China: don’t arrogantly entertain any “hopes” and “expectations” FOR China, and you will not be arrogantly “disappointed”. It is not for you but for Chinese people to have hopes and expectations for themselves and for China. Just forget your “Chimerica”!

World hegemony is not the Chinese way, least of all under a double-headed eagle. Go see the Great Wall of China: China is not an eagle, rather a most elegant dragon. The Chinese way is silent leadership through genuine international presence and influence, and by treating others as equals. In the international community, China has a long history of perceiving itself as one among many. To put it mildly, the US does not, and this latest G-2 proposal is a case in point. That is one of the major impediments to genuine international American leadership.

US problems are essentially what they are, US problems. No matter what you say they are not, automatically and invariably, world problems. No saviour, no messiah will come to the rescue of the US not even China; and one may safely assume that China and the Chinese people resent being used. We all do, and our respective countries. Should it wish to truly lead internationally, the US has to abandon that new dream of a Chimerican hegemony, and needs to come to terms: 1. with the demand by the rest of the world for a new financial, economic and political world order for all, 2. with the necessity to take full responsibility (financial, military and political) for its own mistakes.

Brzezinski: “Americans who deal with foreign affairs especially appreciate … China's "peaceful rise" in global influence while seeking a "harmonious world". These are concepts which Americans can also share. »

Donald2 Author Profile Page:

There is a mutual defense treaty between North Korea and China still in effect. China may not like North Korea any more and North Korea may not listen to China all the time, but China cannot get rid of the treaty just like that. I think the Chinese support to North Korea is kind of like US support to Taiwan: I will keep you alive but don't make trouble for me. Neither China nor US wants war. China does not want North to be unified with the South. Keep North Korea as a buffer between US troops in South Korea and China if good for their health.

US is ignoring China's opposition and selling advanced weapons to Taiwan. China has to swallow it. In the mean time, US is also providing lip service to help restricting Taiwan Independence movement.

China and US are economic symbiont. But, the political relationship between US and China is improving, slowly. Actually, that slow progress is better than unrealistic drastic change. After all, being a symbiont is better than being mutually exclusive enemies.

outofplaceinthebeltway Author Profile Page:

I take it back--we've got at least one live one. Thanks for stepping up to the plate, Thmak!

outofplaceinthebeltway Author Profile Page:


Thanks, dude. Have you noticed that this blog is unexpectedly quite today? Perhaps the usual suspects just did a quick scan of the wires to see if SOMEBODY is hitting all their talking points (maybe my last post fooled 'em!). Usually one can expect to have seen by this time at least (i)three messages from Xinhua agents iterating the party line; (ii)one or two US types responding to the usual GITMO/Iraq/Afghanistan/financial crisis/racism critiques proffered by the Chinese Communist Party hacks with incendiary criticisms--Tibet/religious freedom generally/environment/North Korea/Tianenmen--of China; and (iii) one or two Chinese expat students who relate their faith that economic development will lift everyone up from poverty and change the autocratic approach of the Party bosses back home.

And how come the US can't have "patriotic hackers" to infiltrate foreign government databases without threat of domestic legal sanction like China has? How come all of our hackers have to be acne-scarred Dungeons and Dragons fans? WHY CAN'T OUR NERDS DO SOMETHING USEFUL WITH THEMSELVES???!!!! And the answer that the US educational system is broken and produces more psych majors (not even a good liberal art!!!) than engineers is too obvious an answer to be acceptable.

Have to go now, patriotic hackers are looking at me through the camera on my laptop....


thmak Author Profile Page:

G-2 relation means solving problems in a consultive way for the benefit of the whole and not according to one's requirement for the benefit of one. I hope you understand. The world problems Pomfret points out are entirely caused by USA and not by China and USA is asking China to help solve the problems for the benefit of USA only. That is obviously not acceptable. The Korean problem should be solved by the Koreans themselves without outside inteference. Like a boxing match, the spectators must not be allowed to jump into the ring to help either side to win the match. The Russians and Chinese keep their hands of Korean peninsula while USA is actively engaged in. Why should the Russian and Chinese help the Americans/S Koreans and not the N Koreans? In Pakistan and Afgan, it is a problem caused by the American. Americans militarily/financially supported the Jihads against the Russians. The people who caused 9/11 are Saudi citizens and they are all accounted for. The extremely unpopular American Iraqi invasion and the lobed-sided American support of Isreal in the Isreal-Palestan conflict created more Jihads who are against the Americans. Why should the Chinese help the Americans to defeat the Jihads, especially when the Americans are not helping the Chinese to defeat the Uighers terrorists by not sending the captured Uigher terrorists back to China? Selfish interest receives no respect, just like the recent popular uproar against the bonus to bailout financial CEOs. I hope you understand.

alex65 Author Profile Page:


I love you sarcasm. Keep it up!

As an ethnic chinese I do not find many western people with a better understanding of the country of china than Mr. Pomfret does.

The relationships between countries are generallty based on "national" interests. The interests of China and US are not going to be aligned all the time. As a result you (an American or a Chinese) will surely feel disappointed down the road.

I do (want to) believe that the US government generally represents the interest of the american people. I hope (and doubt) the government of China represents the interest of the chinese people.

outofplaceinthebeltway Author Profile Page:

Ohmigosh, I'm second!

OK, let me put on my Sino-spectacular-propaganda mask: Here goes....
"Mr. Pomfret, why do you hate the Chinese people so much? China is a force for good in the world. China has almost single-handedly propped up the entire world since the advent of the depression that the US caused. China has been instrumental in bringing Kim to the table in multi-state negotations with North Korea, and has recently sent naval vessels to support international anti-piracy efforts near the horn of Africa. The United States had slavery 150 years ago and there is still racism to this day. The US killed millions in its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Millions probably died in GITMO and as a result of warrantless wiretapping, too. As you can see, China is a force for good in the world--the US...not so much. It hurts me to see that you are so full of hate in your heart towards the Chinese people, John Pomfret. INSERT CHINESE APHORISM HERE"

Whew! Mask off. I love reading this blog because the only thing more ignorant (and funnier) than ultra-nationalist, xenophobic American is an ultra-nationalist, xenophobic Chinese blogger. So, is there like a Mandarin Toby Keith? 'Cuz that would be awesome to see his C-pop translated....

fungever Author Profile Page:

It's a world of conjunctions. You in me, and I in you. But on the other hand, even the best friends have different understandings about people and things around us. Why expect your friend(s) to have the same opinion as yours? Friends are the ones who help you with sth that you can't do well individually. Friends don't belong to you wholly.

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