Bush's Foreign Policy Successes

4 / 6
4 / 6

No. 2 China

On April 1, 2001, not even three months into his presidency, George W. Bush found himself in a treacherous predicament. A U.S. EP-3 spy plane, flying over the South China Sea, collided with a Chinese military jet and was forced to land on China's Hainan Island. A tense 10-day period followed as China held the 24-person crew while the two sides negotiated a resolution. Finally, the U.S. offered up an "apology" that satisfied China. The statement, released only in English, expressed that the U.S. was "very sorry" for the death of the Chinese pilot and the plane's landing in Chinese territory. The Chinese took liberty with the translation and scored some "face" points with its domestic audience. The American crew was released and the plane returned a few months later. In the seven-plus years hence, the Bush administration has continued an uncanny nimbleness in dealing with China, which was growing into a super-power-in-waiting and the world's third-largest economy. Although China opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and blocked a few other U.S.-sponsored actions in the UN, for the most part, the U.S. has maintained a mutually constructive relationship with China - and not at the expense of other regional allies such as Japan and South Korea. It was a far cry from an adversarial approach many had envisioned before Bush took office. Bush had campaigned on the basis that China would be treated as a "strategic competitor" instead of a "strategic partner" as it was during the Clinton era. Without a doubt, 9/11 necessitated a reassessment of U.S. relations with China, as the U.S. had more pressing security concerns. Also, the growing U.S.-China trade required both sides to seek more accomodations, not confrontations. The Bush administration was particularly adroit in handling a potentially explosive situation across the Taiwan Strait. The Bush years ran almost concurrently with the presidency of Taiwan's Chen Shui-bian, who made it his business to endlessly provoke China with incessant rhetoric toward "independence." As Taiwan's security guarantor and arms supplier, the U.S. dealt with Chen smartly by exerting pressure both publicly and privately. The administration's handling of Taiwan allowed China to step back and calmed the tensions without sacrificing Taiwan's vital interests. With help from Taiwan's voters in 2008, the prospects for sustained peace across the strait have improved dramatically. Bush hoped to liberalize China by opting for pragmatism and engagement - in that regard, the results were a mixed bag. Under current president Hu Jintao, China's record on human rights and religious and press freedom has not improved appreciably. But even to the very end, Bush chose diplomacy over grandstanding, most symbolically by accepting Hu's invitation to attend the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.

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