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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Barack Obama cherche partenaire chinois

by Dominique Bari

Barack Obama seeks a Chinese Partner

Nikita Shah

Translated Tuesday 22 December 2009, by Nikita Shah and reviewed by Isabelle Métral

The American President’s first official visit in China began in a tense atmosphere, owing to commercial disputes between the two countries.

With the international financial crisis pressing, Barack Obama said repeatedly, “China is not the United State’s rival, but its partner.” That is the main message of his three-day long Presidential visit to the People’s Republic. "Today, we have a positive, constructive and understanding relationship", he declared at the beginning, to students of the Chinese economic metropolis on Monday. "A relationship which opens the door to a partnership on the main concerns of our time.” And accordingly went on to emphasize the importance of bilateral relations, insisting on the fact that, "China and the United States shouldn’t have to be adversaries," but that bilateral exchanges should be "rebalanced". Which, good intentions aside, brings us back to the heart of Sino-American relations and explains why a strong degree of cooperation with Peking has become such a strategic priority for Washington.

Not only has China ‘bought’ part of America’s debt in buying around €533 billion in Treasury bonds, but it already possesses €2,000 billion in reserve. A strength – but also a weakness should the dollar be devalued – which has led Western powers to attribute the role of the planet’s ‘lifeline’ to China. Statements by the Director of the Chinese Central Bank on the need to create a reserve currency independent of the dollar have dampened these hopes. Peking, while behaving cautiously with regard to the dollar, is trying to free itself from that role. It has already signed with six countries agreements allowing for the formulation of commercial transactions not in dollars, but in Yuan, or in the currency of those countries. The Chinese currency is being criticised as much by the United States as by the European Union, who accuse it of being undervalued, and the cause of the trade imbalance. China alone represents close to two thirds of the United States’ trade deficit, the consequence of a strong Chinese growth accumulated over three decades from exports, of which more than 60% have come from foreign societies established in the country, and whose privileged recipients are the American and European markets.

What is it that Obama is asking for today? That China, and, more broadly, Asia, import more Western products. It was already the tone of his speech at APEC (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) in Singapore. In concrete terms, the United States announced that is was going to charge a tax on Chinese steel pipes used in the petrol industry, incurring a response from Peking. "The United States and other Western countries used to be the supporters of market freedom...and suddenly we have a protectionist United States!", the spokesperson of the Minister of Trade remarked yesterday to the press, even before the summit meetings.

For the moment, it is in the interest of neither party to permit relations to degenerate. The Chinese government is awaiting the longer term effects of its $600 billion recovery plan, that is, 8% of China’s GDP for 2009-2010, implemented a year ago, and destined to develop its domestic market.

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