【明報專訊】FOREIGN AFFAIRS affect domestic affairs and vice versa. The former are the extension of the latter. Having tripped in the midterm elections, US President Barack Obama is now fettered by the Senate and the House of Representatives, both of which are controlled by the Republicans. Constitutionally, he has little latitude to deal with domestic affairs. The only area where he can do something is diplomacy.
On the foreign front, the US is mainly faced with three adversaries — Middle East terrorism, Russia and China. Obama has had defence secretary Chuck Hagel replaced because he did not get sufficiently tough with ISIS, an extremist Islamic armed organisation. Because of the Ukraine crisis, the US has worked with Western Europe to impose economic sanctions against Russia. As oil prices have been brought down by man-made factors, Russia has been incessantly grumbling. As for China, the US has attempted to block and contain it as part of its "return to Asia". Last Wednesday Obama talked about China in replying to guests' questions on a public occasion in Washington. He said he thought Chinese President Xi Jinping had consolidated power very fast and threatened human rights.
Furthermore, Obama, whose state visit to China had just ended, suddenly talked about disputes about the South China Sea and the Diaoyu Islands. What he said about them shows the US sets itself against China and clearly sides with the countries with which it has territorial disputes. This cannot but arouse suspicions that the US will make bold moves under its "return to Asia" strategic design. The situation in the East China Sea and that in the South China Sea are already quite turbulent. Such utterances from top US officials may add fuel to the flames — may again tense up matters, which have slightly eased.
It has much to do with the Democrats' defeat in the midterm elections that Obama has suddenly become so "aggressive" on the foreign front. Fettered on the domestic front, he wants to make up on the roundabouts what he has lost on the swings — to gain political capital for himself and the Democrats. Therefore, the US has recently made a number of diplomatic offensives. It has used stronger words in commenting on Russia and China and put greater pressure to bear on them. As a result, hot spots have appeared tensing up. Russia is not easy to handle. In their long-haul flights, Russian bombers have come near NATO member states. Such sorties smell strongly of retaliation. About Obama's remarks, Beijing has said China and America's common interests outweigh their differences, but it has not mentioned how it looks at what Obama has said about the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea.
Former Premier Zhu Rongji once said, "Sino-US relations can't be awfully good or awfully bad." That is a general comment made ten years ago, when Sino-US relations were rather good. It describes the way the two countries positively interact with each other when there are no serious conflicts between them. Now the two countries are like two kings spearing together in the west of the Pacific. Neither would give in or be outdone. One may say that, by provoking disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea, Obama has again signalled America's challenges. From this it seems clear that such may be the Asia strategy the US will mainly employ in the next couple of years. An extremely dangerous tendency may emerge once geopolitics is linked to any strategy of presidential electioneering. It will be nothing surprising if Sino-US relations worsen again in the next couple of years.