Jan 15, 2013 04:48 PM

Turning a Page on the U.S. Pivot to Asia

(Beijing) – Wary of the motives behind the Obama Administration's announcement of a strategic pivot to Asia, many in China have defined the shift as skewed in favor of expanding U.S. influence.

In an interview in Beijing with Caixin, Kenneth Lieberthal, senior fellow at the U.S. think tank Brookings Institute, said the policy was spurred by economic realities.

Looking ahead, Lieberthal also explained how China's urbanization drive will require a coordinated set of political reforms in several areas.  

Lieberthal served as the senior director for Asia at the U.S. National Security Council under the Clinton administration and is the author of several books including, "Bending History: Barack Obama's Foreign Policy." Excerpts of the interview follow.

Caixin: How do you feel about the U.S. China relationship in the past four years under the first term of the Obama administration? 

Kenneth Lieberthal: The relationship continued to mature and broaden. The range of mutual activities is extraordinarily large. Our degree of mutual interdependence economically is also extraordinarily great.

At the same time, I've become more worried. I think there are some increasing tensions, especially in the Asia Pacific region. There needs to be some initiatives by both sides to make sure that this relationship remains on the constructive track, otherwise, over time, it may run into increasing difficulty.

The return to Asia policy is actually seen here in China by many as a threat to China's dominance in Asia right now. Do you think so?

From the start the understanding of the rebalancing toward Asia or the pivot to Asia, in China, has not been accurate. I am absolutely confident that President Obama has seen this all along as a strategy for Asia as a whole. Of course China is in the center of Asia. So China is also very important as part of this policy.

But it's not a policy designed to limit China, or constrain China, or target China. It's a policy designed to achieve a situation ten years from now, where Asia is very vibrant economically and leads global economic growth, and where security issues are sufficiently stable that security tensions do not get in the way of economic growth. That helps the United States, because our economy benefits. So we want a stable security situation and a vibrant economic situation. This is a region-wide strategy to try to assure that the U.S. facilitates that, and also benefits from it.

But to this point, the security issues have become more difficult in the last year and a half or so.

And will this policy benefit China?

Absolutely. China seeks a stable security environment and it seeks to benefit from economic growth very much involving the other countries in the region, very much involving the United States and North America as a whole. It does not seek an antagonistic relationship with the United States, it wants a constructive relationship in what is now being called a new type of great power relationship.

So I think there is great opportunity here, with a rebalancing toward Asia. But if China sees it as directed against China, I think that's the wrong way to see it and it will make it more difficult to achieve positive outcomes.

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