Welcome to Issue 33 of U.S.–China Week. In The Diplomat this week I examine the divergent public messages on whether the Chinese government has responded to U.S. pressure on hacking issues and conclude it’s too early to declare a U.S. “win” in cyberspace.
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END OF THE BEGINNING
U.S.–China coordination partially credited with Paris climate deal, but China left out of ‘high ambition coalition’
Despite some lingering differences, the U.S. and Chinese governments are receiving credit for contributing to the successful conclusion of a deal at the UN climate summit in Paris. A good Los Angeles Times story tells part of that story, pointing out the immense change since the Copenhagen summit six years ago. At that time, one source says, “both of the biggest nations in the world were not ready to deal.” Secretary of State John Kerry recounted “a calculated initiative to go to China, enlist their support, recognizing they had environmental challenges in China and had an interest.” A U.S. official said “over the last two weeks we have been in very regular, very, very regular contact with the Chinese discussing all the issues.” Those issues included “mitigation, transparency, finance, and so forth.” President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama spoke in person at the open of the conference, again by phone leading up to the conclusion, and once more after the deal, with the U.S.readout emphasizing bilateral initiative and Xinhua emphasizing multilateral cooperation and the potential for U.S.–China cooperation on global challenges.
Not all was rosy. The United States was among a self-declared “high ambition coalition” that some reports frame as opposed to Chinese and Indian positions on verification and financing. Another stumbling block reportedly came when a draft included the word “shall” instead of “should,” which might require U.S. Congressional approval, ensuring rapid death of the deal.
ANALYSIS: It is for others to analyze the efficacy of the deal itself, but clearly much follow-through is required. Barbara Finamore of NRDC describes next steps for China. I continue to recoil at the U.S. diplomatic tic describing efforts to “enlist” other countries in various enterprises, as if everything is run from Washington. In fact, with an obstructionist Congress and general unwillingness to undertake significant changes, the United States is at least as much a barrier to effective climate cooperation as the developing countries. The Paris deal is a commendable example of states enlisting themselves in a collective effort—one defined not by a single state’s leadership but by recognizing common interests, navigating obstacles, and forging compromise to keep a common enterprise alive.
THE ABE FACTOR
Japan beats out China for Indian rail project; Abe and Modi reference South China Sea; Japan to join India–U.S. exercise
During a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India, the two governmentsannounced that a “Japanese company or a Japanese-Indian joint venture” would be the primary contractor on a $15 billion high-speed rail project, reportedly beating out Chinese competition. Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Japan would join a regular U.S.–India military exercise. The joint statement declared a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership,” paralleling recent U.S.–Japan languageon a “robust alliance and global partnership.” The joint statement also referenced the South China Sea, calling upon “all States to avoid unilateral actions that could lead to tensions in the region.” A Chinese spokesperson’s reactions were measured.
ANALYSIS: In the context of the newly announced defense cooperation between the United States and Singapore, the Japan–India decision to include the South China Sea in their statement and to announce Japanese inclusion in joint exercises bolsters the impression of intentional encirclement. Still, the “global” language is in part characteristic of Abe-era Japanese diplomacy, as illustrated by the parallel with the U.S. relationship. India’s government meanwhile appears to be effectively playing a many-sided game, and India cannot be ignored in the Asia-Pacific—or make that Indo-Pacific.
Cisco’s ‘dramatic recovery’ in China and a ‘win-win’ for foreign corporations and Chinese security rules?
Top Cisco executive John Chambers told Reuters, “We will find a way to make it a win-win situation” with Chinese authorities. The global leader in internet switching infrastructure has been in a questionable position as China’s government advanced an ambiguous policy requiring certain information technology to be “secure and controllable.” “We give our source code to no one,” Chambers said. More from Chambers: “We spent three years winning the trust of the Chinese government, and if you watch most American companies, their businesses in China is down dramatically. So was ours for several years. Do you know how much we grew in China last quarter? Forty percent.” James McGregor notes Chambers attended the Seattle meeting with Xi and Cisco has a joint venture with a Chinese firm. McGregor asks: “So, is the spike in Cisco’s sales in China a result of selling equipment through—and to—a local competitor which is also investing huge money in cloud computing centers? Foreign tech leaders are finding themselves walking down winding paths to do business in Chinese these days.”
ANALYSIS: The “secure and controllable” language has yet to be publicly unpacked into specific requirements. Does it mean companies using encryption will have to hand over keys or include a software back door, or does it simply mean the government wants to examine the code? Are Chinese regulators satisfied with examining source code without taking a copy? Has Cisco transferred technology to its Chinese partner to evade scrutiny of foreign origin?
Jeb Bush: Chinese influence could be a ‘good thing’ but is also a ‘threat,’ frames a zero-sum power competition
Presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, speaking to Business Insider, describes a zero-sum power competition: “‘It’s a good thing if it goes in the right direction, which requires our total engagement,’ Bush said of China’s rising influence. ‘But it’s also a threat. And how that plays out really relates to our strength as a nation. What’s clear to me is that if we pull back, we have a weak economy, we don’t fix the problems of our own country, when we look inwardly and we abandon our allies, that China and Russia—but China particularly—takes one step forward. Every step we take back, they aggressively pursue it. They lack respect for us when we lack respect for ourselves.'” Bush went on to attack Hillary Clinton for her “pivot” rhetoric and its implication that the United States was turning away from other regions, and he spoke in favor of continued freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
ANALYSIS: This is some of the most reasonable talk coming out of the Republican primary on China, but it still comes off as a bit improvised. Long before this stage in the 2008 cycle, Obama had settled on a more graceful talking point: “China is rising, and it’s not going away. They’re neither our enemy nor our friend. They’re competitors. But we have to make sure that we have enough military-to-military contact and forge enough of a relationship with them that we can stabilize the region. That’s something I’d like to do as president.” If you combine that sentiment with Bush’s statement, I think you have a broad outline of Obama administration China policy.
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U.S.–China Week is a weekly news and analysis brief that covers important developments in U.S.–China relations and features especially insightful or influential new policy analysis.
Graham Webster is a senior research scholar, lecturer, and senior fellow of The China Center at Yale Law School, where he specializes in U.S.–China diplomatic, security, and economic relations through research and Track II dialogues. A full bio is available here.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are my own (and I reserve the right to change my mind).