The road to Obama’s inauguration has the world equally fixated as the election itself. Jeffrey Garten, former undersecretary of commerce under the Clinton administration poses an interesting proposition: that the President-elect, in his first presidential trip abroad, makes China the first stop. Not only that, Garten says Obama should bring his all-star cast to Beijing: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his appointed ambassador.
Traditionally, most US Presidents made Canada the first stop as a strong recognition of its closest ally and neighbor. President Bush, being the cowboy that he was, chose Mexico and set the tone of importance Latin America had to his administration. Garten argues that Obama can send the same message about China. This echoes sentiments among many in the Washington policy community that in changing times, the US has to integrate, not isolate China.
Other than the damning statement President-elect Obama made about China and its “currency manipulation”, an already very sore point in US-China economic relations, Obama gave away little on how he would deal with China during his campaign. Garten considers this a “clean slate” which Obama can now build upon with a visit to show “that the deepening of friendships now trump American preoccupation with problem countries … because we need close allies to solve the big challenges.”
Would this fly with his administration, with Congress, with the Democratic Party (hello Nancy Pelosi) and most importantly, with the American people?
Critics could say that an early trip would lack the necessary preparation of such diplomatic overtures. … But the trip would not be designed to negotiate or resolve specific issues. Instead, Obama would be setting the style and the tone of a new U.S. approach to China before the bureaucracy does it for him. (…)
Naysayers might also complain that this is no time for the president to be traveling 13 time zones away when he should be at home tending to the economic meltdown or the crisis on the Indian subcontinent. But that misses the significance of China’s overwhelming importance to U.S. domestic and international interests.
If this were to really happen, it would be indeed, in Garten’s words, a “showstopper”.
We can only hope.