Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:10 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:10 | SYDNEY

Email of the day: The times suit Obama


Sam Roggeveen


3 March 2008 11:27

Fergus Green writes:

I have followed with great interest the debate that has played out on these pages (and on those of The Australian) over the past few days concerning whether Obama or McCain is likely to be more adroit at managing the US-China relationship. From my temporarily privileged perspective at CSIS in Washington (I am a recent Australian graduate who has been in the US for the last seven months), I venture a few further points:

First, Hugh White’s case in favour of McCain seems to rest largely on the argument that Obama is more likely to take a confrontational stance toward China because, being a Democrat, he will face pressure to avoid positions that make him susceptible to being painted as weak on security. Obama has demonstrated two qualities which suggest he may be able to rise above this hectoring: a willingness to take progressive policy positions based on principle and on merit (eg. his opposition to the war in Iraq); and an ability to support his positions by articulating progressive arguments in a manner that is convincing to ordinary Americans.

Obama has so far combined these qualities to great success. If he can successfully defend his liberal values and progressive policies all the way to the White House, there is every reason to believe he will continue to do so while in office — including with regard to China. One factor in Obama’s favour is that the times suit his liberalism. A plurality of Americans seems to have woken up to the fact that being 'tough on security' does not necessarily lead to sound foreign policy.

Secondly, assuming Ma Ying Jeou is elected in Taiwan and Fukuda holds onto power in Japan, there will be a confluence of more dovish leaders in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. This would arguably both reduce the possibility of major tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and increase the willingness of major regional powers to cooperate and to engage in dialogue with China. In other words, we may see more engagement and less hedging from key states in the region — a phenomenon that would better suit Obama’s predisposition toward diplomatic dialogue and cooperative security.

Finally, it is worth remembering that all three of the remaining candidates are very serious about climate change. The pressure on China to do more to cut its rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions will only increase. This will add a critical new dimension to US-China relations and underscores Hugh White’s premise that the US-China relationship will remain the most important for Australia. While the climate change factor does not necessarily bear upon the relative merits of Obama and McCain, it is worth keeping in mind as we configure our Presidential preferences.