Today, little remains of the Obama administration's hopes for a dramatically improved relationship with China. Indeed, it is difficult to point to an area where U.S. policy has achieved meaningful success:
In the economic realm, Beijing continues to depress the value of its currency, subsidize export industries and refuses to take adequate measures to protect intellectual property rights. The result over the last four years has been a growing trade imbalance, and a loss of jobs for American workers and billions of dollars in revenues for American companies.
Despite repeated pleas from Washington, China has failed to exert even a fraction of the leverage available to it to help contain North Korea's nuclear programs or to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons of its own. And it has stepped up its assistance to Pakistan, providing two new reactors to a country that has been responsible for the onward transfer of nuclear technology to other states.
Beijing continues to provide aid to repressive regimes in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Ignoring U.S. appeals, China joined with Russia to veto a UN resolution calling for tough sanctions against the Syrian regime.
To judge from their most recent actions, the Chinese do not appear to be impressed by the "pivot." They have stepped up pressure on their maritime neighbors, while at the same time seeking to shift blame for heightened tensions onto others, including the United States and Japan.
This catalog of failures suggests that we need a new direction in U.S. policy toward China. A President Romney should continue to seek the best possible relationship with China. But as Romney clearly recognizes, U.S. foreign policy only succeeds when the United States operates from a position of strength - economic, military and moral.
If we are to ensure that strength in the long run, we need to put our own house in order, closing the budget deficit and reducing our massive national debt. We must work with our friends and allies to block China's efforts to pursue its interests at the expense of others, but we should simultaneously make clear that we are open to cooperative approaches from which all can benefit. Only if Beijing faces a strong and unified response will it back away from its efforts to intimidate its neighbors and extend its unilateral claims to territory and resources.
The United States and the other advanced industrial democracies must use their collective leverage to compel China to modify its predatory economic policies. Beijing should be made to pay a diplomatic price when it persists in supporting oppressive and dangerous regimes. For both moral and strategic reasons, the United States and other democratic nations should continue to speak out on behalf of those in China who fight for the freedoms we hold dear.
Given the repressive and secretive character of the current regime, it is important to be realistic in our expectations about what can be achieved. China's rulers are determined to retain their exclusive grip on political power. They must be treated with respect, but not with the kind of undue deference that might encourage them to believe that history is on their side and not on ours.