The death of Osama bin Laden has been news over the entire world this week. Also in China. The official reaction has been congratulatory. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokeswoman called the death of Osama bin Laden a ‘milestone and a positive development for the international anti-terrorism efforts’. The question remains what sort of milestone it will be for China and US relations. 2001-2011 also marks a decade where the question of China’s rise was on the agenda but still pushed aside on the priority list compared to terrorism and fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Looking back at the early Bush-presidency and presidential candidacy, China was spoken of as a ‘strategic competitor’. Yet that evaporated with September 11. China became an ally with its support for the fight against terrorism. The inclusion had its costs. The West tweaked values along the way changing denominations for Xinjiang from a local resistance movement to a terrorist movement following China’s own classification.
Obama inherited that terrorism agenda and the two wars from Bush. And although commentators rush around stating that the fight against terrorism is far from over, then there is no changing that the public face of September 11 is gone and that it gives Obama extra impetus to extract himself from the wars of his predecessor and shape a new agenda. And it no longer gives him reason to give China concessions based on its support for the war on terrorism.
And we might have seen the contours of that already in 2010 with the US ‘going back’ to Asia where the real strategic game of the 21st Century is going to be played out. The US wants to be fully engaged in what China’s rise entails in Asia both when it comes to trade, investments, alliances and military contingencies.
For Europe, it might mark a further unmooring of the US from transatlantic constraints and where Europe is among the bargaining chips in a US settling the new deals with rising Asia. The insensitive way the US pressured Europe on the reduction of IMF-votes in the G-20 show the contours of such a new setting.
Yet it could also mean Europe and the US moving closer together on values which the Arab Spring has brought to the fore and where China still stands out. That is also part of the worry you can see expressed in China in the blogosphere by for example Wen Yunchao on his twitter-account, “Now that bin Laden is dead, there’s one less constraint. The Free World now has more power to encircle China on the issue of universal values.”