By Zhao Minghao Source: Global Times Published: 2016-1-17
US President Barack Obama delivered his future-focused State of the Union address Tuesday and at the same time summed up the legacy of his seven-year mandate on the official website of the White House. With his campaign mantra of "Change we can believe in," Obama was elected the first African-American president in US history. Although he has not realized all his election promises, Obama has brought some changes to the US.
Obama firmly believes that domestic prosperity is a foundation for US leadership and that the restoration of national strength is of vital importance for the US.
In the past 70 months, more than 14 million new jobs have been created, especially in the auto industry. This has helped Washington overcome the economic recession, which was the most serious one since the Great Depression. The Obama government has implemented healthcare reform, which benefits more than 17 million people, amid huge controversies. The minimum wage has been increased in a number of states. Working families have benefited from tax reform as well. More importantly, in the last seven years, the US has achieved self-sufficiency in energy and is playing a leading role in the explorations of clean energy.
Regarding foreign policy, although the Obama Doctrine has received criticism from conservatives, it has given US global strategy a break from excessive intervention. Obama finished the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 160,000 US soldiers managed to return home. The Obama administration has been quite cautious in handling the crises in Libya, Ukraine and Syria, and restored the US relationship with Iran and Cuba. Different from his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama is extremely cautious in the use of force and detests the militarization of foreign policy. Just as the editor of Foreign Affairs Gideon Rose claimed that Obama`s "national security tools of choice have been drones, sanctions and negotiations."
Surprisingly, Obama did not boast about his achievements in his final State of Union address. He is wise to do so. The Republican presidential candidates threatened to overturn Obama`s healthcare plan and tear up the US agreement with Iran. Hard-line politicians including John McCain regard Obama`s caution as weakness and consider the troop withdrawal as a defeat. The observer Charles Krauthammer violently criticized Obama`s foreign policy as one "designed to produce American decline." Obama`s fellow Democrats are unsatisfied with the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well. Obviously, the political dysfunction of Capitol Hill and other phenomena suggest that the US is becoming a divided nation.
Yet, one thing can make the nation united. That is fear toward the future. In his State of Union address, Obama put forward more questions than answers. How to prepare US citizen to tackle the challenges brought about by the new economy? The springing up of Uber and other enterprises is a reflection of the new economy. As a result of profound reform of the economic growth pattern, ordinary people will face tougher competitions. How to make technology work for people, and not against them? How to lead the world without becoming its policeman?
More importantly, Obama considers it necessary to fix US domestic political institutions. Politics is increasingly controlled by money. Just as the White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said, the problematic political ecology of the US is sidelining too many citizens.
Evidently, other countries including China will confront the same challenges with the US. In the past few years, China has carried out many major reforms. Medical and health insurance reform has been promoted since 2009. Currently, 95 percent of the overall Chinese population are guaranteed basic healthcare services. Yet, China is still facing a number of challenges.
The Chinese government aims to help 70 million citizens shake off poverty by 2020. Amid economic slowdown, China needs to guarantee a successful economic transition as well. As a large country with nearly 1.4 billion people, China is encountering a number of difficulties in developing the creativity-driven and equality-focused new economy.
Obama urged US citizens to ponder on their future in his State of Union address. Yet, the efforts of other countries in shaping their future should not be ignored. In fact, there are no major differences between the US and China in their attitudes toward future.
The author is a visiting fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.