Obama is using old-fashioned 'containment', official says

A top Chinese diplomatic adviser has accused the Obama administration of reviving a cold war tactic in its recent dealings towards China.

Zhao Qizheng , spokesman for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, is the first official to proclaim that Washington has adopted a 'containment' policy towards China.

'The recent US policy towards China has clearly demonstrated that Washington adopt both containment and engagement [approach towards China],' Zhao told the South China Morning Post at the sidelines of the annual parliament session. Zhao is also the chairman of the advisory body's Foreign Affairs Committee.

Containment was a US policy using military, economic and diplomatic strategies to temper the spread of communism during the cold war, which is associated with the policies of US President Harry S Truman, who was in the White House from 1945-53. Under Truman the US helped to establish the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in 1949. Describing the opposing policies as akin to using a car's accelerator then braking, Zhao said Washington's policymakers recently took turns to use both approaches in their dealings with China. 'They took turns to step on the accelerator and brake,' Zhao said in an exclusive interview with the Post.

'And once you step on an emergency brake, you are adopting the containment policy,' Zhao said, referring to Washington's arms sales to Taiwan and US President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Sino-US relations have deteriorated in recent months due to a series of disputes. And Zhao said Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama and the new US arms sales to Taiwan severely damaged their core interests.

Ahead of his first visit to China last November, Obama said the United States saw China as a strategic partner, a remark seen as a significant development in bilateral relations and Obama's approval of upgrading ties between the powers.

Obama's terminology of 'strategic partnership' theoretically upgraded ties from the Bush administration's 'stakeholder' relationship to the new concept of 'strategic reassurance'.

Last year, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, Obama's top China expert, offered the administration's own take on rapidly evolving Sino-US ties, calling for 'strategic reassurance' in the bilateral relationship.

Before Obama, US policy for China was conducted under a formula termed by then deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick in September 2005 as a 'stakeholder' relationship. But throughout the last century, US diplomats and academics had been engaged in a debate on whether to adopt the so-called containment and engagement in its China policy, or use them in turn, despite the fact that US officials have never endorsed the concept of 'containment'.

Zhao's claim suggests there has been a dramatic shift in Sino-US relations in a short period of time. It comes only a few months after Obama and Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao agreed to upgrade ties.