As the new leaderships in China and the US try to find a new way to frame their relationship, US President Barack Obama made his first international trip to Southeast Asia from November 17-20. This was an obvious move to continue and intensify the "Asia pivot" strategy in his second term.
Obama wrapped up his trip on Tuesday. He paid a visit to Myanmar, the first ever by a sitting US president, Thailand, and participated in the East Asian Summit in Cambodia.
His visit to the region is part of a "rebalancing," as National Security Adviser Tom Donilon termed it at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"The US has a system of alliances and security commitments in the region, and after all the Pacific is of immense strategic and diplomatic importance to it, so showing their commitment by visiting is not strange, especially in view of the historic changes that have been made in the last year in Myanmar," Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, told the Global Times.
Accompanied by Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Thailand and Australia during the past week.
The frequency of visits to Asia by the president and top officials in such a short period sent a very strong signal that the US is back in the region in a significant manner.
The inexorable rise of China has made America look east. Reorienting the country's foreign policy after a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward the Pacific, Obama sees such a shift as a mission for the next four years and a possible legacy.
During Obama's first term, the US created a network of bilateral military partnerships and alliances on China's periphery. It expanded naval exercises with its allies, sent an aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea, urged China to open talks with Southeast Asian nations on South China Sea disputes and sent the first contingent of 200 US Marines to Darwin in Australia for training.
Unnerved by Obama's shifting focus to Asia, Chinese analysts are suspicious of US strategic intentions. Some senior Chinese officials have accused the US of pursuing a policy to "encircle China."
According to Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University, Washington is exploiting regional tensions and urging some countries to "hedge against China's rise."
However, Dwight Perkins, a professor of political economy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, told the Global Times that "neither the US or China want to see their relationship degenerate into a series of confrontations and there is little reason to think that will happen."
Brown also doesn't think "armed conflict is likely at all" and that Obama will stick to a pragmatic, results-based policy with China.
Ni Feng, deputy director of the Institute of US Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that "the US will adjust its policy as it escalated tensions throughout Asia during Obama's first term, which in return caused negative effects to the US. In his second term, Obama will proactively deepen the country's engagement in Southeast Asia, instead of provoking conflicts."
During the latest presidential election contest, both Obama and Mitt Romney pledged to take a tougher trade stance with China.
Perkins dismissed the election rhetoric's impact on US policy which he believes will continue much as it has for the past decade. But "there will no doubt be continuing WTO complaints by both sides," he said.
Kerry Brown noted that the challenge Obama will face of "producing jobs and reenergizing the US economy won't go away, and it is likely that he will increase pressure on China for market access and for flexibility on the RMB rate."
The Obama administration is pressing WTO complaints against China at nearly double the pace of President George W. Bush, according to CNN reports.
Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming told reporters on the sidelines of the 18th national congress of the CPC that China would try its best to avoid a trade war with the US. Chen hoped that the Obama administration would stop trade protectionism and help maintain a fair and free trade environment.
The two country's economies are so intertwined that they look like conjoined "Siamese twins," as described by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman.
"The two have no choice but to work with each other. The main challenge now is to at least deliver more trust into the relationship. Obama needs to create the best possible working relationship with Xi Jinping and the new Chinese leadership. After all, they are now set to work with each other for the next four years. They need to have the best possible understanding of each other and personal chemistry," Brown said.
As an article carried by Reuters on November 19 commented, "It will not be easy for either country - suspicions will continue, tensions will flare and progress will be slow. It's a diplomacy of decades, not news cycles."