The discussion that has begun in China over curbing government spending and tightening liquidity is happening too early for Obama's taste. When he visits Beijing, he will try to encourage the Chinese to continue playing their role as the principal driver of the world economy.
Meanwhile, the Americans see Europe moving from the passenger's seat to the back seat in terms of the US's international partners. It was former President George W. Bush who upgraded the Chinese by launching a G-20 summit process to combat the financial crisis, rather than leaving it up to the G-8 member states, as the German Chancellery would have liked him to do.
Obama is continuing this course of realignment. If, from the American perspective, there is anything resembling a tentative world government, it does not consist of either the United Nations in New York or the G-8. In Obama's opinion, the G-20 is the key forum.
Next to the United States, China is the most important G-20 member, and the Americans are treating it with appropriate deference. When she became US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton's first foreign trip was to Asia, to pay her respects to the new world power. "The United States is committed to pursuing a positive, cooperative relationship with China, one that we believe is important for the future peace, progress, and prosperity for both countries and for the world," she gushed.
Obama agrees with Clinton completely. "The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century," he said in the summer. Sources close to Obama talk -- half seriously, half jokingly -- about a G-2 group of the world's two most important countries. In a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Clinton wrote: "Few global problems can be solved by the US or China alone."
Europe's importance has declined, primarily because the importance of Asian nations has increased. According to a new study by the European Council on Foreign Relations, Europeans believe that shared values and a common history are sufficient to ensure their permanent place at America's side, and they see themselves as the "natural partners" of the United States. But they are mistaken, the study concludes, because America's policies are defined mainly by its interests.
Washington's interest in China is primarily economic. The People's Republic, established 60 years ago, and with which the United States had no official relations for 30 years, is of central importance to the country's well-being today. China is the US's most important creditor. The Chinese hold more than a quarter of all US treasury securities, and as a result China's foreign currency reserves have increased to $2 trillion (€1.35 trillion). China is also the US's most important supplier of goods. Nowadays, the American way of life is "made in China," because the key elements of American manufacturing -- from furniture to televisions to the computer industry -- have been outsourced to the Middle Kingdom.
As a rising economic power, China is even playing a key role in the reorganization of the American auto industry. General Motors recently sold its Hummer SUV brand to a Chinese company that hardly anyone in the West had even heard of before.