Guy W. Farmer: U.S.-China relations in a dangerous world

President Obama faced the most serious foreign policy challenge of his presidency last week as he hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao on an official state visit to the U.S. That's because the U.S.-China relationship is exceedingly important and fragile in an increasingly complex and dangerous world.

Obama and Hu agreed on the need for friendly relations between the world's economic superpowers, but differed on other issues such as copyright protection, fiscal policies and human rights. It was somewhat surprising when Hu admitted that "a lot needs to be done" in order to improve China's human rights record; however, he warned against U.S. involvement in China's "internal affairs."

Fortunately, on the eve of Hu's arrival in Washington, I attended a very informative and enlightening presentation on U.S.-China relations by the former American Consul General in Hong Kong, Richard Mueller, a career diplomat who recently retired to Northern Nevada. Mueller made the Foreign Service look good with his in-depth analysis of President Hu's state visit.

"China has become a leading power, economically, politically and, increasingly, militarily," Mueller told a high-powered audience at a Reno breakfast sponsored by Ty Cobb Sr.'s National Security Forum (NSF). "These have been good developments overall for the U.S. and China," Mueller added as he cautioned against treating China as an enemy. Obama agreed by calling China "a friend and vital economic partner."

Mueller said that Chinese leaders seek respect from us as they attempt to govern a diverse nation of 1.3 billion people in a complex, fast-moving world, which he described as "a gargantuan, maybe impossible, task." Mueller believes that we should cooperate with China while strongly defending our core values along with our economic and commercial interests. His comments echo Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who urged China to revalue its currency, enforce international intellectual property laws and respect human rights in a speech earlier this month.

Congress was a tough sell for Hu, who faced tough questioning on Capitol Hill. Neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who called President Hu a dictator - which he is - nor House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, attended Obama's state dinner in honor of Hu last Wednesday.

Nevertheless, we should cooperate with China because, as someone said at the NSF breakfast, "We need to be friends with the guys who are holding our wallets," in reference to the fact that China holds a significant portion of our huge national debt.

I liked a Washington Post editorial, which argued that Presidents Hu and Obama "must try to set a new course in which competition is carefully managed and a premium is placed on cooperation." Good advice.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment