Obama’s speech dis­ap­points

For­eign pol­icy doc­trine crit­i­cized by Repub­li­cans and Democrats alike

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Af­ter more than five years in of­fice, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama laid out a for­eign pol­icy doc­trine at a com­mence­ment cer­e­mony at West Point in a bid to ap­pease crit­ics from both the Repub­li­can Party and among his fel­low Democrats.

Obama tried to strike a mid­dle ground, ar­gu­ing that he nei­ther be­lieves in “iso­la­tion­ism” nor “uni­lat­er­al­ism.”

But he did not seem please many.

A Wash­ing­ton Post ed­i­to­rial on Thurs­day de­scribed Obama’s speech as ty­ing Amer­ica’s hands and re­ject­ing decades of US for­eign pol­icy.

A Wall Street Jour­nal ed­i­to­rial wrote that lis­ten­ing to Obama try­ing to as­sem­ble a co­her­ent for­eign pol­icy agenda from the record of the past five years was like watch­ing Tom Hanks try­ing to sur­vive in “Cast Away”. “What­ever’s left from the wreck­age will have to do,” the ed­i­to­rial said.

Many no­ticed that Obama

to didn’t men­tion the word “pivot” or “re­bal­ance” to the Asi­aPa­cific once in his speech. Yet Obama did briefly touch on Asia a few times, most in pointed re­marks on China.

“Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sion to­wards for­mer Soviet states unnerves cap­i­tals in Europe while China’s eco­nomic rise and mil­i­tary reach wor­ries its neigh­bors,” Obama said.

He con­tin­ued, “Re­gional ag­gres­sion that goes unchecked, whether in south­ern Ukraine or the South China Sea or any­where else in the world, will ul­ti­mately im­pact our al­lies, and could draw in our mil­i­tary. We can’t ig­nore what hap­pens be­yond our bound­aries.”

“In the Asia Pa­cific, we’re sup­port­ing South­east Asian na­tions as they ne­go­ti­ate a code of con­duct with China on mar­itime dis­putes in the South China Sea, and we’re work­ing to re­solve these dis­putes through in­ter­na­tional law,” he said, lament­ing that the US Se­nate has not rat­i­fied the United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea.

Obama’s speech came on the same day when NBCTV aired its in­ter­view with Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den, who re­vealed he was ac­tu­ally a trained US spy. Obama, nev­er­the­less, didn’t feel the US has lost its moral high ground.

“We have a se­ri­ous prob­lem with cy­ber at­tacks, which is why we’re work­ing to shape and en­force rules of the road to se­cure our net­works and our cit­i­zens,” he said.

Obama did not name China on the is­sue, a week af­ter the US Jus­tice Depart­ment in­dicted five Chi­nese People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army of­fi­cers for cy­ber theft of trade se­crets from US com­pa­nies. China re­sponded by can­cel­ing bi­lat­eral work­ing group meet­ings on cy­ber se­cu­rity and pledged to re­serve the right for more ac­tions.

On Thurs­day, China’s For­eign Min­istry spokesman Qin Gang said it is the US who should re­flect on what it has done.

“In­stead of mak­ing all kinds of ex­cuses and twist­ing the facts to get away with it, one should own up to his mis­takes if he does some­thing wrong,” Qin told the daily brief­ing in Bei­jing on Thurs­day.

“A ma­jor power should never throw its weight around. It should leave some room for oth­ers, take into ac­count other’s con­cerns and show re­spect. If it chooses one set of stan­dards for it­self, and an­other for oth­ers, in other words, be­ing le­nient to it­self while be­ing harsh to oth­ers, how can it ex­pect oth­ers to fol­low its lead­er­ship?” he said.

While Obama’s re­marks sound harsh to some Chi­nese, Shen Dingli, a pro­fes­sor and as­so­ciate dean of the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies at Fu­dan Univer­sity, dis­agreed.

“The US po­si­tion on China was much harsher on the is­sue of the EP3 air col­li­sion in 2001, and on the PRC’s mis­sile ex­er­cise against Tai­wan in 1996,” Shen said, re­fer­ring to the ten­sion across the Tai­wan Straits in the mid-1990s and the col­li­sion of a US spy plane with a Chi­nese PLA fighter jet in the South China Sea caus­ing the death of the Chi­nese pi­lot.

Shen be­lieves Obama’s pointed words at China are be­cause his own cred­i­bil­ity of lead­er­ship is at stake as “he is un­der siege given his for­eign pol­icy per­for­mance vis-à-vis Syria and Ukraine.”

The US al­lies in the re­gion are also ex­pect­ing harsh words from Obama in the wake of Crimea, ac­cord­ing to Shen.

Yan Xue­tong, dean of Ts­inghua Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Mod­ern In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, dis­missed people’s con­cerns that China’s rise has not been peace­ful and East Asia is on the brink of war.

Yan be­lieves that East Asia has en­dured peace since 1991, longer than Europe which has had two wars since the Cold War, namely in Kosovo and Ge­or­gia.

“There has been no war in East Asia. Even to­day, the re­gion, in my view, is still very peace­ful,” Yan said.

He said there might be ac­ci­dents, but no dan­ger of war in this re­gion.

Dou­glas Paal, vice-pres­i­dent for stud­ies at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, noted that Obama also failed to men­tion the re­bal­ance in his sub­se­quent de­tailed in­ter­view on his speech with NPR.

“So one has to won­der whether he has con­cluded the rhetoric sur­round­ing the re­bal­ance is cre­at­ing more static than clar­ity. I see no sign yet that the sub­stance of the pol­icy (in the re­strained sense that I un­der­stand it) has changed no­tably,” he said.

Paal de­scribed Obama’s speech as an odd doc­u­ment, piec­ing to­gether talk­ing points from around the world’s hotspots and some gen­eral lessons from the ex­cesses of the Iraq and Afghan con­flicts, but not ar­tic­u­lat­ing a larger strat­egy.

“It ap­pears to be a poll­ster and speech­writer’s doc­u­ment and not a strate­gic ar­gu­ment. In that it falls very short in my


Pres­i­dent Barack Obama (cen­ter) and Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Robert Caslen Jr., su­per­in­ten­dent at the US Mil­i­tary Academy, stand for the na­tional an­them dur­ing a grad­u­a­tion and com­mis­sion­ing cer­e­mony at the academy on Wed­nes­day in West Point, NY. In a broad de­fense of his for­eign pol­icy, the pres­i­dent de­clared that the US re­mains the world’s most in­dis­pens­able na­tion, even af­ter a “long sea­son of war”, but ar­gued for re­straint be­fore em­bark­ing on more mil­i­tary ad­ven­tures.

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