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September 23, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright September 23, 2009. Used by permission.


After Barack Obama’s inauguration, we ran a series at China Beat of various China experts’ reading recommendations for Obama on China (See installments I, II, III,IV, V, VI). At the time, we assumed a trip to China would be one of Obama’s top priorities–as is now clear with the recent announcement that Obama will visit China in November 2009. So we sent out a few emails to China watchers from a variety of backgrounds, asking if they had advice for Obama as he prepares for the summit in Beijing. We previously posted Robert Kapp’s suggestions for the president; below, advice from Kerry Brown, Senior Fellow at Chatham House and author of, most recently, Friends and Enemies: The Past, Present and Future of the Communist Party of China.

Mr President:

You are about to visit a country that will almost certainly supplant your own some time in the next 20 years as the world’s largest economy, but a place that is still running on a system of governance largely borrowed from the Soviet Union in the middle of the 20th century. It is a country that is central to the solution to the key global issues of your own presidency: international security, the environment, energy and food security, and sustainable global economic development. Whether you like it or not, China ’s non-involvement in the solution to any of these issues, purely because of its size, economic growth rate and political importance, will kill them.

You have one huge advantage. China has admitted since the visit of your predecessor President Nixon in 1972 that it cannot achieve what it has to, in order to remain stable and achieve prosperity for its citizens, without the US. It regards the EU largely with frustrated disdain. It distrusts, and is distrusted by its regional neighbours. Africa and Latin America are its economic playgrounds. The US, and the US alone, has the power and influence to continue to change China. The government of the PRC, and in particular the elite in the Communist Party of China, are all too aware of this. While they may have interpreted the recent economic crisis as highlighting all the weaknesses of the western economic system, they remain impressed, and indebted, to the US. They respect its political and military power. And there is no serious suggestion that they wish to move away from making relations with the US, and the US alone, their key foreign policy objective.