Obama must show China he’s up for a reality pivot

Published: 4:02 AM, June 6, 2013
Updated: 10:10 PM, June 6, 2013
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On Friday China’s new President, Mr Xi Jinping, and United States President, Mr Barack Obama, will meet for two days of talks at Sunnylands, a private estate near Los Angeles.

It will be their first meeting since Mr Xi assumed the presidency.

The future fortunes of the world are bound up with the two countries finding a new kind of modus vivendi. It will not be easy.

We are living through an extraordinary shift of power from the US, which has been long dominant, to China, which many now accept will be the dominant power of the future. As has frequently been observed, such shifts are generally the cause of great instability and have often led to conflict.

There have certainly been worrying signs of a deterioration in their relationship. Most important, in this context, has been the so-called US pivot towards east Asia that began in 2010. So far it has been overwhelmingly military in character — involving the deployment of new weapons systems, the strengthening of America’s military alliances with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, and the stationing of marines in northern Australia.

The non-military component of the Asian pivot, or “rebalancing” as the Americans now call it, has been the initiative for a new trade bloc — the Trans Pacific Partnership — whose terms are manifestly an attempt to exclude China. With good reason, the Chinese have seen the pivot as an attempt to contain China in its own backyard.


East Asia touches on a crucial question for the future of Sino-American relations. The US has for long been the dominant superpower. Its relations with all other countries, be they friend or foe, have been profoundly unequal. But China’s rise increasingly requires the US to treat it as an equal.

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