[Viewpoint] The Hu Jintao doctrine

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[Viewpoint] The Hu Jintao doctrine

This year may be the inflection point in the U.S.-China relationship in the 21st century. It is hard to distinguish which side is the shield and which side is the spear. While it is unclear who is dominant at the moment, the rules of the game are starting to be defined. The United States, which is in a phase of relative decline, is returning to the Asia-Pacific, and China, which is emerging as one of the world’s great powers, is expanding beyond the East and South China seas to the world.

As we repeat the cycle of checks and balances and of clashes and collaborations, we may find a point of compromise. The United States and China seem to have found some common ground.

The U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue on May 3 and 4 marked the ultimate cooperation. Chinese President Hu Jintao proposed a new vision and defined a framework for new bilateral relations. He wants to build a cooperative partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect regardless of the international and domestic circumstances of the two countries.

His motivation is to break away from the conventional pattern of confrontation and discord. It seems that the U.S.-China relationship should not be a repetition of the zero-sum game between the United States and the Soviet Union.

State Councilor Dai Bingguo expanded on the idea by explaining that China and the United States should not be a G-2 but pursue to become a C-2, “the two in cooperation.” China wants to avoid the responsibility of being one of the G-2 but still hopes to lead the world.

This vision may be called the Hu Jintao doctrine as it is the legacy of China-U.S. relations in Hu’s decade. According to Xinhua News Agency, Washington responded positively.

Still, Beijing’s relationship with the United States poses fundamental contradictions in foreign policy on which present and future leaders need to contemplate.

The five principles proposed as part of the new relationship resemble the five principles of peaceful coexistence, the foreign policy concept that made fledgling China the leading power of the nonaligned countries in the early days of the cold war.

The Joint Statement on the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue has 50 clauses encompassing pending issues and agreements between the two countries as well as a regional and global agenda. This kind of document hasn’t existed since the cold war. It seems like Washington and Beijing are shouting out to the world, “It’s the Sino-American era, stupid!”

The increased promises of cooperation between the two countries has already lead to some apparent changes for the better.

Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights lawyer, escaped from house arrest and entered the U.S. Embassy, and the complicated case is being resolved smoothly thanks to the new detente between China and the United States. The case of Chen Guangcheng symbolizes maturing Sino-American relations.

But at the same time, human rights diplomacy of the United States is under fire. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not mention Chen Guangcheng at the meeting, which reflects an almost overly pragmatic foreign policy. Is American exceptionalism based on the calling to protect liberty and human rights weakening? Has neo-isolationism become a fate as its power declines?

The new detente between the United States and China casts both light and shadow over the Korean Peninsula. In the short term, it could suppress North Korean provocation. Pyongyang will not be able to pursue double-dealing diplomacy. North Korea cannot carry out its third nuclear experiment because its escape is blocked.

Historically, when the United States and China were in conciliatory mood, Pyongyang has approached Seoul. The historic inter-Korean joint statement of 1972 is a product of the shock from the normalization of the U.S.-China relations.

In contrast, confrontation between the United States and China encouraged inter-Korean confrontation, which escalated the Sino-American confrontation even further. For instance, The confrontation escalated when Pyongyang attacked the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.

Right now, though, Pyongyang is in no position to propose talks with Seoul, as it has already declared a renewed war. Where is Pyongyang headed? North Korea may be going through a struggle to define its own direction.

Reconciliation between the United States and China is a variable that will make the division of the Korean Peninsula permanent. It will maintain the status quo instead of pursuing changes. We are faced with a trial of diplomacy.

Building on our ever-important alliance with the United States, Seoul needs to establish further strategic talks with China, Japan and Russia. Multilateral cooperation with China and Japan is also indispensable for South Korea to become the center of the future of the peninsula.

Only then can we transcend the power of our neighbors and have an independent influence. To get this done, the present and future leaders of Korea need to discuss national strategy with this particular goal in mind.

*The author is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Young-hwan
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