Hillary Clinton’s book Hard Choices reaffirms what critics have long stated about President Barack Obama’s China policy: that there is none but merely vague generalizations and that the administration is largely reactive rather than proactive.
Clinton’s book will be welcomed by those who are interested in certain areas of the world more than others, because, unlike many memoirs, this book is not organized chronologically. Instead, there is a chapter for each region or country of special interest: one on Afghanistan, one on Pakistan, one on Europe, one on China, and a whole chapter on Chen Guangcheng.
Clinton allows that there are three possible approaches to the region. The United States could prioritize “broadening our relationship with China” to encompass new issues and areas of potential collaboration, or it could emphasize “strengthening America’s treaty alliances in the region,” or it could “elevate and harmonize the alphabet soup of regional multilateral alliances.” Clinton writes that she favored an amalgam of the three approaches. She writes, “Over the next four years, we practiced what I called ‘forward-deployed diplomacy’ in Asia borrowing a term from our military colleagues. We quickened the pace and widened the scope of our diplomatic engagement across the region, dispatching senior officials and development experts far and wide, participating more fully in multilateral organizations, reaffirming our traditional alliances, and reaching out to new strategic partners.” A fine mix that says little about the strategic choices at issue: should the U.S. yield some of its positions it amassed in the region to make room for a rising China? Or insist that every pile of rocks is worth fighting over? Seek to contain China – or seek to engage it as a partner in management of regional, if not global, affairs?