Commentary | November 13, 2012

Sino-U.S. Ties Entering Uncharted Waters

Writing for Singapore's The Straits Times, David Firestein, EWI vice president for strategic trust-building and track 2 diplomacy, discusses the implications of President Barack Obama's reelection for China-U.S. relations.

The re-election of Mr. Barack Obama as President of the United States represents both a remarkable moment in American political history and, at the same time, a reaffirmation of the broad contours of US foreign policy – towards the world, towards Asia and towards China in particular. Notwithstanding broad policy continuity from Mr. Obama’s first presidential term to his second, however, challenges loom.

In any number of ways, this election marks a significant milestone in US politics. With his victory earlier this week, Mr Obama became the first sitting American president in history to win a second term against the backdrop of a US unemployment rate in excess of 7.1 per cent.

Less commented upon is the fact that he also became the first US president since Mr Ronald Reagan to twice win the majority of the national popular vote – and the first Democrat to do so since Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt (who last did so in 1940 and 1944). (Mr. Bill Clinton, the last two-term Democratic president, never won a majority of the US popular vote, winning 43 per cent in 1992 and 49 per cent in 1996, both three-way races.)

And with his win, Democratic candidates for president and vice president have now won the national popular vote in the United States in five of the last six elections (1992 to 2012) – an impressive run that matches the similar GOP run from 1968 to 1988.

Clearly, Mr Obama has made political history in a variety of important ways. With respect to the implications of his re-election for US foreign policy, though, the story is much less dramatic – at least at first blush. In a second term, “continuity” will largely be the name of the game, including in the Asia-Pacific region and with regard to China – America’s single most consequential diplomatic partner.

Click here to read the rest of this column at The Straits Times.

Click here for a round-up of media coverage on David Firestein's most recent trip to China.