4.1 The United States ‘pivot’ to Asia
China’s rise and a reassessment of US priorities led the Obama administration to announce in 2011 a ‘pivot’ to Asia. In a much-publicised article in Foreign Policy magazine, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spelled out the new policy priority:
As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theaters. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment – diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise – in the Asia–Pacific region.
Listen to this short excerpt from a report from BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight programme recorded in 2013. The report is from the BBC's Washington correspondent, Paul Adams, and is introduced by Ritulah Shah. As you listen, make notes in the box below on the following questions.
Transcript: World Tonight: Paul Adams
- In what ways do contributors to the report portray the relationship in terms of cooperation?
- What are mentioned as key problems and areas of conflict in the relationship?
- You will have heard speakers – President Obama, for example – talk of the attempt to build cooperation with China, and others talking of the extensive cooperation, communication and dialogue between the United States and China via multiple diplomatic channels.
- A range of issues – including cyber espionage, human rights and disputed territories – are highlighted as areas of tension and conflict. It is also claimed that there was substantial ignorance and misunderstanding between the two.
Now listen to this extract from the subsequent studio debate between US and Chinese analysts. The discussion is chaired by Ritulah Shah and features Chinese academics Wang Yizhou and Jin Canrong, and US analysts Paul Haenle and Ian Bremmer.
Transcript: World Tonight: Studio debate
- Note down what is said about the role of domestic politics and the views of political leaders.
- What contrasts in views can you note about the potential for cooperation and conflict?
You may have noted a number of points. Here are some that we noted:
- Wang Yizhou claims that crucial to cooperation will be the ability of the two leaders to successfully manage potential crises, and whether domestic populations in other countries see the potential gains from China’s rise. Paul Haenle also notes the damage to relations that the mishandling of the pivot announcement caused, obscuring areas of mutual interest.
- Jin Canrong notes how popular Chinese views saw the pivot as a hostile move and a signal for potential conflict. However, the Chinese leadership didn’t interpret the pivot in such negative ways. Speaking just as Xi Jinping assumed his premiership in 2013, Canrong argues that China's new leadership is pursuing a ‘new type of major power relations’. In stark contrast, and emphasizing conflict, Ian Bremmer highlights persistent and, in his view, growing areas of zero-sum relations.