“There will still be setbacks and even conflicts between China and the United States,” said People’s Daily, the flagship publication of the Chinese Communist Party in the last few days. “It will take the constant efforts of one or two generations, perhaps several, to bring stable progress to relations.”
We should thank Beijing’s ruling group for pointing out the fundamental flaw of American foreign policy toward China. Even if our policies are working — they’re not, but that’s another story — Washington is employing tactics that will take decades to bear fruit. So far, we have been appealing to the good instincts of autocrats who interpret gestures of friendship as signs of weakness and who respect nothing but strength. Perhaps we can entice them to be cooperative, but they have just told us that this approach will require a lifetime of unilateral concessions and obsequious behavior on our part.
So we should not be surprised that President Obama has come away from his three-day trip to Beijing and Shanghai empty-handed. What should he do next time? Next time, he should skip China altogether. He can use the time he saves and head to New Delhi.
India looms large in the Chinese imagination. The development Beijing fears most is a tie-up between the world’s most populous democracy and its most powerful one. If China’s Hu Jintao saw Mr. Obama drawing closer to India, the Chinese leader would do almost anything to woo us, including helping on the great issues of the day.
So if Obama wants to improve ties with the Chinese, he should stop telling them how important they are and begin ignoring them instead.
— Gordon G. Chang is the author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World. He lived and worked in China and Hong Kong for almost two decades.