Asia in the State of the Union 2015: Follow Our Rules

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Introductory thought: Like last year, China is set up as a competitor or even a rival in this speech, with the exception of a nod to the U.S.–China climate deal. For the most part, in the passages below that mention China and/or allude to Asia-Pacific issues, the vision of U.S. relations with China is one of competition. The U.S. would, in this framing, exert efforts to ensure that China obeys U.S.-endorsed rules, does not make new rules in regional trade, and basically stop upsetting a particular vision of an existing international order. Read the passages.

These messages will not be read as forward-looking by the Chinese government; they will be read as a confirmation of suspicions that the U.S. seeks to contain China. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is explicitly tied to preventing China from playing a rule-making role in the Asia-Pacific. While this might appeal to a narrow vision of U.S. interests, a more pragmatic vision for the future of U.S.–East Asia relations would acknowledge that changes in China are already changing global patterns. The task is not to prevent China’s rise from changing the world but to ensure that the United States and its allies evolve with China in a way that maximizes peace and welfare for everyone. Despite a lot of protestations over the last few years that the U.S. government seeks a positive-sum future, today’s frame was zero-sum.

This analysis is based on the  text as prepared, released by the White House at the beginning of the speech.

My annual mention count: China gets three mentions this year, up from two in 2014. See the rest in this updated chart:

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Asia- and China-related passages:

21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.

Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense. But ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.

There, he said it: TPA, and TPP is about stopping China from exerting rule-making authority, and about “bringing jobs back” from China.

A swipe at China without being named, in this cybersecurity paragraph:

No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information. If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.

More on Asia-Pacific—as close as Japan or South Korea get to a hat tip:

In the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules — in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, and how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief. And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

A friendly note on China, perhaps:

I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.

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Headlines hail ‘Sunnylands 2,’ but US government is equivocal

Robert S. Wang

Robert S. Wang

Robert S. Wang, formerly the No. 2 U.S. diplomat in Beijing and now the senior U.S. official for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), told reporters in Washington Wednesday that U.S. President Barack Obama would remain in Beijing for a one-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 12, following the APEC Leaders Summit to be held earlier in the week.

Headline writers have already called the meeting “Sunnylands II” and “Sunnylands 2.0.” But what Wang actually said left open the possibility of a more run-of-the-mill bilateral meeting.

Asked by a reporter whether the meeting would adopt the informal style of the June 7–8, 2013, meetings between the two presidents at the the Sunnylands estate in California, Wang did not provide a direct answer:

MR. WANG: Yeah, as I mentioned at the very beginning, after the leaders meeting is finished, the 10th and 11th, President Obama will stay behind in Beijing on the 12th, and so that’s where the bilateral meetings will be held between China and the United States. Some of the questions you’ve asked actually are probably best answered by the Chinese. We don’t know exactly what the Chinese have planned for the 12th in terms of how they want to do the bilateral at this stage, so I think that’s still in the process of discussion.

But obviously, I’ve heard a lot of comments about how effective it is to actually have smaller meetings where you can actually talk about issues in a more personal way, and I think knowing President Obama’s style and, of course, from the U.S. point of view, we did Sunnyland[s], and so we think that that’s an effective way of doing things. But – and of course, the Chinese seem to be receptive to that, but exactly what they have planned, we don’t really know at this stage whether it’ll be Beijing, whether it’ll be outside somewhere else. But that’s something I think that the Chinese are discussing with us, but not yet decided, I believe.

Media reports that the November 12 meeting will be “informal” and similar to Sunnylands hinge on the phrase in italics above, which strikes me as pretty weak. Also note that Wang says both “President Obama will stay behind in Beijing on the 12th, and so that’s where the bilateral meetings will be held,” and “we don’t really know at this stage whether it’ll be Beijing, whether it’ll be outside somewhere else.” The meetings will occur in Beijing, but we don’t really know whether it might be somewhere else.

In all likelihood, both governments would like to signal continuity with last June’s effort, which produced considerable optimism about the two governments’ ability to work on both areas of disagreement and common challenges. The U.S. and international media narrative on Obama in East Asia, however, took a hit when he skipped a trip to last year’s APEC summit to attend to the U.S. government shutdown. As I argued at the time, “what hurts the United States is not a few cancelled meetings, but dysfunction in the U.S. political system that distracts from long-term foreign policy goals.” If Obama followed-up with real personal attention despite the constant supply of international fires that need fighting, I argued, little would be lost.

Since Sunnylands, the sense that the U.S. government has been neglecting its East Asia policy and especially constructive relations with China has nonetheless been hard to escape. The Chinese government, of course, is not without blame. When Vice President Joe Biden traveled to China in December, it seemed his visit might continue the spirit of Sunnylands; but the Chinese government announced its East China Sea air defense identification zone (ADIZ), surprising the U.S. side and souring the atmosphere for Biden’s visit.

So will November’s Obama–Xi meeting be informal? Will the delegations shed their ties? Will they leave Beijing’s formal reception halls for a countryside retreat (in the south, if they want to stroll outside)?  Or will the meeting take a different course? Despite today’s headlines, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive not a factional struggle, or not one we recognize?

Cheng Li, director of the Thornton China Center at Brookings, and his assistant director Ryan McElveen argue at China-US Focus that Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive is genuinely the most significant ever in the People’s Republic of China.

They also seek to refute speculation that Xi is simply trying to eliminate competitors from one or more other factions and concerns that the campaign is damaging the economy.

While Xi’s campaign has been deep and pervasive, it has not been excessive. A large number—but only a small percentage—of officials have been affected. China has over 5,000 officials who rank at the vice minister level or above. Of those officials, only 32 have been arrested, amounting to only roughly one-half of 1 percent of high-ranking officials.

Although the primary leaders of the campaign—namely Xi Jinping and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Chief Wang Qishan— are both princelings in the faction led by former President Jiang Zemin, their factional association has not been a major driver of the campaign. In fact, the four largest corruption cases (namely Bo Xilai, Liu Zhijun, Xu Caihou and Zhou Yongkang) have all involved heavyweight leaders in the Jiang camp.

Despite having targeted these members of his own camp, it is also unlikely that Xi has strained his relationship with his two main patrons, former President Jiang and former Vice President Zeng Qinghong. Instead, he has most likely made a deal with them. Yet the majority of the prominent members of the Jiang camp, including some who were very close to Bo Xilai, Liu Zhijun and Xu Caihou, still remain in power.

If they’re right, this would seem to undermine a narrative I heard recently from Japanese analysts including Tetsuo Kotani, who argued in a recent speech in Beijing that some of China’s recent external activities—for example introducing the East China Sea ADIZ—reflect concessions to factions under pressure in the anti-corruption drive. As I heard it (and not just from Kotani), the idea is that Xi was seeking to solidify power through eliminating some “tigers” who hold sway over large networks of cadres, but that this upset some in the military and oil industry systems. Thus what neighboring countries have called “provocations” or “assertiveness” from China have been to some extent side-effects of domestic power plays. The PLA Air Force gets an ADIZ, and the oil industry gets to deploy its platform near Vietnam.

This explanation always seemed a little too neat and tidy to capture the full story, and the Brookings writers make a decent case. But reality is very likely to be somewhere in-between or something entirely different, and it seems unlikely that there is simply no “factional” play or rival-elimination going on in the anti-corruption campaign. Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen make a concise case that the highest-profile individuals to fall came from the same Jiang Zemin–oriented network as Xi and Wang Qishan. But what if this is not the salient division, and what if different battle lines have been drawn that aren’t captured by asking who’s loyal to Jiang or Hu Jintao?

A truly comprehensive anti-corruption campaign would have to be much, much bigger than what we’re seeing, so there must be a reason some people are targeted and some are not. Indeed, former Politburo Standing Committee No. 2 Wen Jiabao and Xi himself have been shown to have family members with immense wealth. There are clearly choices made on whom to target, and political analysts clearly don’t know exactly how they’re made.

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This site is undergoing repairs and some functions may not be stable for a few days. I hope to have everything back to normal by the end of this week.

~Graham

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Pictures of Obama, Xi, Abe, and others hobnobbing in The Hague

White House transcript of remarks by Obama and Xi is here.

Obama’s team standing off-camera. Danny Russel, Susan Rice, John Kerry. Is Evan Medeiros behind Russel?

Is Xi following Obama’s lead with the jacket buttoning?

Xi’s team in a meeting with the Dutch Parliament.

Wonder who decided these two should sit next to one another:

Xi got Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan

Hey! This guy!

Someone’s not invited.

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About

Since 2006, Transpacifica has been a blog, and collection of resources on East Asian politics and international relations in the Asia-Pacific, with a special focus on China, Japan, and the United States. Transpacifica is edited and primarily written by Graham Webster, Research Scholar and Senior Fellow for U.S.–China Relations, Yale Law School China Center. Get in touch, or follow Graham on Twitter.

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