In sum, Obama’s stance on China came off as soft, vague and perhaps even indecisive — much like the policies of several previous administrations, whether Democratic or Republican. That lack of clear-cut US objectives and interests has made the chances of a strategic miscalculation more likely.
A few instances of a US policy of “strategic clarity” would look like this: On Taiwan, the US insists that any change in the “status quo” be peaceable and in accord with the freely expressed wishes of Taiwanese.
On the South China Sea and every other international body of water, the warships of all nations will have freedom of navigation in accordance with international maritime law.
On intellectual property rights, the US recognizes that there are cultural differences in what constitutes such rights and is willing to negotiate agreements on them.
In substance, these policy suggestions are not too far off from the stands that the US has already taken in recent years, under Republican and Democratic administrations, but the nuance would be more clearly stated and the posture given greater strength.
In the execution of those and other policies, the US would reserve the right to decide the means, timing and place in which Americans would seek to protect their national core interests and that would be the essence of “tactical ambiguity.”
Richard Halloran is a commentator in Hawaii.