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Obama's foreign policy is reluctant to adapt to new developments

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

01-14-2016 16:08 BJT

By Qian Liwei, research professor and deputy director of the Institute of American Studies at China Institute of Contemporary International Relations

On January 12, United States President Barack Obama delivered his final State of Union Address. He focused on domestic issues, but how should we review his foreign accomplishments? After seven years in the White House, he's still trying to forge a legacy for himself.


Obama made some achievements, such as signing a nuclear deal with Iran, normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, and approving a climate change agreement in Paris. When he came to power in 2009, America was stricken by an economic recession and plagued by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US hegemony, both hard and soft powers, was declining in a rapidly changing world. From his "audacity of hope" and "yes, we can" slogans, Obama had infused a liberal spirit, characterized by coining the terms, "smart power", "multi-partner world", and "zero nuclear world."

He tried to improve relations with the Islamic world, to "reset" ties with Russia, revitalize links with traditional allies in Europe and Asia, while constructing positive relations with emerging powers, including China and India.

His foreign policy had also served U.S. economic recovery and employment efforts. By launching the National Export Initiative (NEI) and InvestUSA, Washington had embarked on economic diplomacy by forging trade deals, such the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade Investment and Partnership).

More American products and services have been sold in world markets. Washington's leadership role in global trade and investment, as well as with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank has made an impact on global economic governance.

Obama believes his reforms are necessary to reflect the rise of the emerging markets. Nevertheless, Obama was reluctant to adapt himself to new developments. He claimed the US has vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region. And as an African-American born in Hawaii, he may have felt closer to Asia than his predecessors.

The initial "pivot to Asia" or later "rebalancing strategy" had enjoyed rare bipartisan consensus that was designed to shape long-term prosperity and security rather than to respond to every specific crisis that erupted.

Sino-U.S. relations had been a strategic focus for his foreign policy. As the two largest economies in the globe, the complexity and volatility of bilateral relations required a continuous push for consensus from both sides.

The two nations had reached a comprehensive framework of cooperation. Frequent top leader summits, Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) and High-level Consultation on People-to-People Exchanges (CPE) had become pillars of a new type of major country relationship.

What is more encouraging is that there had been more frequent military exchanges. One should not forget the political situation Obama faces at home. Many issues have caused partisan rancor. The Iran nuclear deal, détente with Cuba, TPP and climate change have not been supported by a Republican-dominated Congress or obstructed by Obama's fellow Democrats.

Stepping into the last year of his presidency, Obama's foreign policy achievements can be counted with corresponding side effects. He had encouraged military restraint with hurry-up withdrawals of U.S. troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan that sparked a geopolitical vacuum and led to regional instability.

The "Arab Spring" swept across the Middle East, resulting in widespread religious, sectarian and inter-nation conflicts. The ascent of ISIS poses a more serious threat to US national security. Terrorist attacks in Paris and California appear to be warning signs that global Islamist extremists and terrorists can launch attacks anywhere.

Obama and his White House successor must tackle terrorism at home and abroad. Obama's China policy remains a contradiction on a strategic level that could add to more misunderstandings. Obama also insisted that Washington, not Beijing, should set the rules for international trade.

The new type of major country relations should be based on mutual respect and trust; endorsing cooperation instead of competition. A "New Cold War" rhetoric is heating up in the West after the Ukraine crisis erupted. The US and EU have imposed economic sanctions against Moscow that triggered renewed instability in Europe.

U.S.-Russia relations have fallen to a new low after the Cold War, with no sign of improvement in the foreseeable future. Obama has repeatedly advocated "American leadership" in his address, but a multi-polar world calls for the democratization of international relations, and the decline of U.S. hegemony would be inevitable.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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