The unclean slate of American foreign policy
James Vreeland, international political economy (IPE) scholar extraordinaire, has started a blog — the Vreelander. James is one of the sharpest tools in the IPE shed, so it’s to the good that he’s started blogging (longtime readers might remember this guest post from last year). I, for one, would like to officially welcome my good friend ...
James Vreeland, international political economy (IPE) scholar extraordinaire, has started a blog -- the Vreelander. James is one of the sharpest tools in the IPE shed, so it's to the good that he's started blogging (longtime readers might remember this guest post from last year).
James Vreeland, international political economy (IPE) scholar extraordinaire, has started a blog — the Vreelander. James is one of the sharpest tools in the IPE shed, so it’s to the good that he’s started blogging (longtime readers might remember this guest post from last year).
I, for one, would like to officially welcome my good friend to the blogosphere by questioning his political sanity.
Last week he blogged about the Dalai Lama’s meeting with Obama — a fact that displeased Vreeland to no end:
President Obama is planning to meet with the Dali Lama at the White House. This is terrible. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet, an advocate for autonomy from China, and the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile. And the visit with Obama implies a tacit US endorsement that will deeply offend the Chinese government, not to mention many of the Chinese people.
Right now we need close cooperation with China to address serious global issues ranging from the economic crisis, to the environment, and even global security.
Meeting with the Dali Lama is a major affront to Beijing and to many Chinese. They consider this an issue of national sovereignty….
China is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual country. It has to deal with some problems similar to those of the United States. The path is long, circuitous and difficult. And having the leader of a rival power meet with a head of government-in-exile doesn’t help.
More importantly, we’ve got bigger issues to deal with regarding China. Rather than meet with the Dali Lama, Obama should be talking about Chinese currency revaluation. And he should be doing so on a daily basis. Leave China’s sovereignty alone.
Oh, please. First of all, the U.S. can’t "leave China’s sovereignty alone," unless we’re also prepared to jettison the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and fail to mention China’s Internet restrictions. That’s clearly not going to happen. Meeting with the Dalai Lama, in comparison to sending arms to Taiwan, seems pretty tame.
It’s also pretty routine, as CSIS’s Charles Freeman pointed out. He also provided some useful context:
Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have all met with the Dalai Lama. Indeed, an express refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama would not only stray from established principle but would engender a raft of criticism from Congress and human rights groups that might constrain the president’s efforts to conduct a China policy that emphasizes engagement and cooperation.
And this is the thing — foreign policies are never crafted with a clean slate, even with a change in presidential administrations. If no president had ever met with the Dalai Lama before and then Obama bumped into him in the Map Room, that sends one signal. If every president for two decades met with the Dalai Lama and then Obama abstains from meeting him — let’s call this the Vreeland Gambit — that sends another signal.
I understand Vreeland’s concerns that Tibet will gum up the foreign economic policy works, but I also know that the signal Obama would have sent by canceling this meeting would not have been a good one.
I would interpret this is a massive exercise in (oh, the irony) kabuki politics. Obama has a meeting that leads to no real policy differences, and China gets visibly upset and the inconsequential meeting. A week from now, neither side’s rhetoric on this issue will matter all that much.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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