Obama on whether the U.S. is trying to contain China
Barack Obama tours the Great Wall of China in Badaling, outside of Beijing on November 18, 2009. (Getty Images)
January 20th, 2012
11:46 AM ET

Obama on whether the U.S. is trying to contain China

I spent the last few weeks working on an essay for TIME Magazine on Barack Obama's foreign policy and, in association with that piece, I interviewed the president on Wednesday in the Oval Office. Here's an excerpt of that interview where we talk about U.S. policy toward China and Asia. 

Fareed Zakaria: As the Chinese watched your most recent diplomacy in Asia, is it fair for them to have looked at the flurry of diplomatic activity — political, military, economic — and concluded, as many Chinese scholars have, that the United States is building a containment policy against China?

Barack Obama: No, that would not be accurate, and I’ve specifically rejected that formulation.

I think what would be fair to conclude is that, as I said we would do, the United States has pivoted to focus on the fastest-growing region of the world, where we have an enormous stake in peace, security, the free flow of commerce and, frankly, an area of the world that we had neglected over the last decade because of our intense focus on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Read: Barack Obama on Bush, Romney and Iran.

So if you look at what we’ve done, we’ve strengthened our alliances with Japan and South Korea — I think they’re in as good of shape as they’ve ever been. We have involved ourselves in the regional architecture of — including organizations like ASEAN and APEC. We’ve sent a clear signal that we are a Pacific power and we will continue to be a Pacific power, but we have done this all in the context of a belief that a peacefully rising China is good for everybody.

One of the things we’ve accomplished over the last three years is to establish a strong dialogue and working relationship with China across a whole range of issues. And where we have serious differences, we’ve been able to express those differences without it spiraling into a bad place.

I think the Chinese government respects us, respects what we’re trying to do, recognizes that we’re going to be players in the Asia Pacific region for the long term, but I think also recognize that we have in no way inhibited them from continuing their extraordinary growth. The only thing we’ve insisted on, as a principle in that region is, everybody’s got to play by the same set of rules, everybody’s got to abide by a set of international norms. And that’s not unique to China. That’s true for all of us.

Fareed Zakaria: But do you think they’re not?

Barack Obama: Well, I think that when we’ve had some friction in the relationship, it’s because China, I think, still sees itself as a developing or even poor country that should be able to pursue mercantilist policies that are for their benefit and where the rules applying to them shouldn’t be the same rules that apply to the United States or Europe or other major powers.

Read: Barack Obama on al Qaeda.

And what we’ve tried to say to them very clearly is, 'Look, you guys have grown up. You’re already the most populous country on earth, depending on how you measure it, the largest or next-largest economy in the world and will soon be the largest economy, almost inevitably. You are rapidly consuming more resources than anybody else. And in that context, whether it’s maritime issues or trade issues, you can’t do whatever you think is best for you. You’ve got to play by the same rules as everybody else.'

I think that message is one that resonates with other Asia Pacific countries, all of whom want a good relationship with China, all of whom are desperately seeking access to China’s markets and have forged enormous commercial ties, but who also recognize that unless there are some international norms there, they’re going to get pushed around and taken advantage of.

Fareed Zakaria: You think it’s inevitable that China will be the largest economy in the world? It’s now the second largest, even on PPP.

Barack Obama: Well, they are — assuming that they maintain stability and current growth patterns, then, yes, it’s inevitable. Even if they slow down somewhat, they’re so large that they’d probably end up being, just in terms of the overall size of the economy, the largest.

But it’s doubtful that any time in the near future they achieve the kind of per capita income that the United States or some of the other highly developed countries have achieved. They’ve just got a lot of people, and they’re moving hundreds of millions of people out of poverty at the same time.

Read the full interview transcript here.

soundoff (16 Responses)

    ان النظام المجرم مستمرفي اجرامه وحرب الابادةالتي يقوم بها ضد شعبناالاعزل اننا نطلب من جيشناالحر بضرب خطوط الكهرباء الرئيسية المتجهة الى لبنان والاردن وخطوط البترول والغاز المتجهة الى الموانئ السورية لشل النظام اقتصاديا هم ينعمون بكل شيء وشعبنا محروم من كل شيئ عاشت سورية حرة ابية والمجد والخلود لشهدائنا الابرار والنصر قريب بعون الله

    January 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
    • Chris, Austin

      نتمنى لكم التوفيق مع إنشاء سورية الحديثة.

      January 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Reply
    • truthfor477

      In Antarctica have found oil. The government of the USA has declared – to a bloody regime of penguins the end will soon come.
      Have been killed so Indians because of their earths... So killed Iraqis for oil... So killed Libyans… So will kill also others
      You have an oil? Then we go to you// USA, Pentagon

      January 22, 2012 at 7:30 am | Reply
    • Manoj John

      الشعب السوري سوف يفوز. انها فقط مسألة وقت.

      January 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  2. JAL

    Obama has a great team, when it comes to working with China. Jon Huntsman is still a good man to lead this initiative.

    January 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply

    Very well said from both sides.

    Just curious, since my question is based on reading books, "The Rise Of China",...some Medias and academical discussions. It wasn't that long ago, we criticized China on its Human Right abuse, Child labor, low wages, pollution,...
    But now, it seems we are telling them what we discussed behind the Scenes. We become totally Extravertal and we are telling them, "Don't go forward, economically and Militarily. If you do, we will crossed your legs and hands".

    In reality, are we Jealous on anyone/any-Country who try to become like US or better than US???
    Aha, we got the Motives.

    However, America has no comparable when it comes to contributing and sacrificing itself to the whole World. Even China and others are dancing and doing businesses by the expenses and sacrificed payed by America.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply
    • Maersk

      America is sacrifying itself to the whole world? You must have zucked your uncle's kwok one time too many and swallowed one mouthful too much. The only problem is that you don't know you are full of it. Currently your uncle is the biggest criminal in the world commiting crimes against humanity.

      January 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    China is the second largest economy of the world and adopts a mercantilist policy in Africa and elsewhere. Despite its growth it remains humble and is reluctant to take on international responsibilites, like securing the common good. Indeed China has all the reasons to be proud of itself and should show that it cares about the others.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  5. Onesmallvoice

    What a joke! The U.S. trying to contain China? It's the United States, Great Britain and France that needs to be contained since they are the ones invading all these countries in Central Asia and elsewhere!!!

    January 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  6. Mark

    I believe that our President will make the right decision due to his foreign policy record. The president makes great impressions abroad and seems to satisfy foreigners with his policies and procedures generally speaking. If we loose him, then expect another war to ignite due to the policies that hes implemented changed for selfish acts. Although America hates and despises Obama for no reason, he was utilized for a bigger and unselfish purpose. If you travel around the world, others are subjected to us, but hate us no matter how you put it due to previous sanctions put on them. Great job Mr President and disregard the haters because they know not what they say............

    January 21, 2012 at 9:09 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Come on Mark, you must be kidding here. Barack Obama is one of the biggest haters of Muslims around. Just look at the obscene butchery over in both Afghanistan and Pakistan by his use of those godless drones, hurling 500 lb. bombs on defenseless people. So don't tell me that Obama's doing the right thing!!! Besides, anyone with half a brain knows better that that!

      January 21, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
    • vkhan

      I'm with you Mark....

      January 23, 2012 at 1:01 am | Reply
  7. That'snotTrue={

    Well....just hoping that what he says is true...the US doesn't need to get into another war hot or cold, its citizens doesn't want to....and it would mean not only mutral distruaction....but possibily the end of the world, if nuclear is used...but does the US have that much authority? I highly doubt it, maybe in America, but Asia really is half a world away,so stay out if you can!!!
    As long as the US president know what degree to take on matters, but America shouldn't be in Asia in the first place...I doubt it'll bring peace, but only more weapons *sigh*. Depends on who have more say in the white house government then?

    January 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  8. asad is war criminal and he must be hanged

    with out attacking bashar al asad and take him to court as they killed 8000 people , nothing will happen he take money and weapons from russia and iran pays the bill, iraq pay him cash too plus free oil those shiia thugs are killers and terrorists all helping hizboallah , when usa and un will wake up!!/ attack now and get red of syrian thugs so we can be ready for the evil iranians.

    January 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply

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