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Fareed Zakaria ” Secretary of State John Kerry is making news on his first foreign trip swinging through nine countries in Europe and the Middle East.

He’s talking about European trade deals, about providing greater assistance to the Syrian opposition and he’s talking about Iran, of course. These are all important issues.

But I wonder if Kerry should instead have just visited two countries on his first trip, China and Japan. That’s where the most significant and dangerous new developments in international relations are unfolding and where American diplomacy could make a bit difference.

The world’s second- and third-largest economies have been jostling for months over territory, reviving ugly historical memories and making clear that, in the event of a crisis, neither side would back down.

Trade between the two countries, which usually hovers around $350 billion a year, is down substantially. An accident, miscalculation or unforeseen event in the East China Seas could easily spiral out of control.

And that would mean conflict between great powers in the fastest growing region of the world. The kind of problems that always has global consequences. The Obama administration came into office determined to make Asia a priority, topped by its ties to China. Hillary Clinton’s first trip as Secretary of State was to Asia. The administration wanted to engage China as a partner.

China’s reaction to these overtures was confused and muddled. Beijing worried that it was being asked to involve itself in superpower diplomacy, which would distract it from its single-minded focus on economic development.

Some in the Beijing foreign-policy elite wondered if this was a trap, forcing their government to rubber-stamp decisions that would be shaped out of Washington. As a result, Beijing’s response to the administration’s initial diplomacy was cool, sometimes even combative.

Meanwhile in Asia, many of the continent’s other powers had begun worrying about a newly assertive China. From Japan to Vietnam to Singapore, governments in Asia signaled that they would welcome a greater American presence in the region, one that would assure them that Asia was not going to become China’s back yard.

The Obama administration shrewdly responded with its pivot in 2011, combining economic, political and military measures, all designed to signal that the U.S. would strengthen its role in Asia, balancing any potential Chinese hegemony.

The result of the pivot, however, was to further strain relations with Beijing. Today China and the United States maintain mechanisms, like the strategic and economic dialogue between senior officials, but they are formal and ritualistic.

No American and Chinese officials have developed genuinely deep mutual trust. Beijing views the pivot as a containment strategy and believes that rising Japanese nationalism, tolerated by Washington, is responsible for the crisis in the East China Sea.

The lack of progress in U.S.-China relations stands as the single greatest vacuum in President Obama’s otherwise reasonably successful foreign policy.

Whoever is to blame, the fact remains that the only durable path to peace and stability in Asia is a strong relationship between the United States and China. The two countries are not always going to agree, but they need to have much better and deeper ties.

So when he gets back from his trip, Secretary Kerry should start planning his next one, to Asia.”

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1303/03/fzgps.01.html

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