U.S.–China Week: Yang Jiechi meets Trump, NPC, NK missiles, Huntsman for deputy at State? China’s cyber co-op strategy (2017.03.06)

Welcome to Issue 90 of U.S.–China Week. Thank you to all who wrote in over the last week with extremely helpful feedback on experimental changes to U.S.–China Week. I’m going to keep iterating, and I’ll be writing back to each of you soon. More thoughts are always welcomed. Because I recently led with Pew numbers suggesting U.S. views of China were increasingly unfavorable, I should also mention Gallup numbers from a more recent survey suggesting no such movement over time and more favorable U.S. views over all. Both sources suggest Republicans are consistently less favorable toward China than Democrats.

The “two meetings” are in progress in Beijing. Premier Li Keqiang’s annual work report is, as always, primarily a domestic-focused restatement of existing priorities. Things I noticed about this year’s report: Unlike last year, the report did not mention the United States specifically, even in connection with the negotiation of investment and trade agreements where it was mentioned last year. Also unlike last year, the report did mention building “a new type of international relations based on cooperation and mutual benefit.” NPC Observer has a look at senior spokesperson Fu Ying’s National People’s Congress (NPC) press conference, and WSJ‘s Josh Chin has crunched some numbers and finds mentions of “party” are up this year. There may be more to discuss next week.

Bay Area colleagues: I will be in town all next week for the EastWest Institute Cyber Summit at Berkeley and other meetings. I would love to connect with other U.S.–China watchers while I’m there, so drop me a line.

As always: Please encourage friends and colleagues to subscribe to U.S.–China Week. Here is the web version of this issue, ideal for sharing on social media. You can also find U.S.–China Week on Medium and Facebook, and you can follow me on Twitter at @gwbstr. Please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

EMISSARIES
Yang meets Trump, Kushner, Bannon; Trump–Xi meeting possible; Tillerson said to ready trip to China and region

State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat and the highest-ranking Chinese official to travel to the United States since President Donald Trump took office, met with Trump for “five to seven minutes,” according to a Reuters source, who also said the possibility of a meeting between Trump and President Xi Jinping was discussed, but no date set. Xinhua’s readout, which emphasized Trump’s call with Xi, said Vice President Mike Pence and Trump son-in-law/adviser Jared Kushner attended the meeting.

Before he met with Trump, Yang met with new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Kushner “and I think some others sat in on the meeting,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a regular briefing. (In the same briefing, Spicer made headlines by claiming, in response to questions about whether Trump extracted concessions from China in exchange for reaffirming the “one China” policy, “the president always gets something.”) Reuters reported that controversial White House strategist Steve Bannon also met with Yang, perhaps along with McMaster and Kushner.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met separately with Yang, according to a State Department readout. Reuters reported Tillerson is planning to visit China, Japan, and South Korea this month, citing Kyodo as reporting March 17–18 are likely dates for Japan. Kyodo also reportedly said the U.S. and Chinese governments were expected to arrange a Trump–Xi meeting for as early as April.

ANALYSIS: As I wrote last week, arranging a Xi-Trump meeting was probably a significant mission of Yang’s trip. Speculation has now turned to timing and location, with the rumor mill suggesting April or May in the United States—before the two would naturally meet at the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July. Wherever and whenever the two meet, Chinese diplomats will be sensitive to potential comparisons with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Trump’s Florida resort and will want to ensure Xi does not appear to receive second-rate treatment. If Tillerson indeed travels to China in the next couple of weeks, I would guess an announcement would wait until after his return—but guessing is dangerous these days.

KOREAN PENINSULA
North Korea launches four missiles as NPC opens; Chinese protests against South Korea’s Lotte over THAAD

North Korea launched four ballistic missiles eastward into the waters west of Japan. Abe told the Diet “The launches are clearly in violation of Security Council resolutions,” Reuters reported. Chinese spokesperson Geng Shuang said China “opposes relevant launches” but also mentioned U.S.–South Korean joint military drills and urged “restraint.” Geng confirmed China’s top diplomat for Korean Peninsula affairs spoke with U.S. and South Korean counterparts before the launch. State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner said the United States is “prepared to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against this growing threat.”

In China, protests against South Korean Lotte stores were widely reported online after the company moved forward with a deal allowing land it controlled to be used to deploy the THAAD missile defense system, a U.S.–South Korean measure opposed by the Chinese government. Lotte also said a DDoS attack linked to Chinese IP addresses had crashed one its websites, and online discussion suggested a Chinese patriotic hacker group was behind the attack. Lotte also said Chinese authorities closed 23 of its stores. Meanwhile, the NYT reported that U.S. authorities had used “cyberstrikes, electronic warfare and other exotic forms of sabotage” to undermine North Korea’s missile program.

ANALYSIS: In addition to obviously targeting Japan, the timing of the North Korean missile tests is a clear insult to China, where top leaders are focused on the pageantry of the last major annual political meetings before the twice-a-decade Party Congress coming later this year. When it comes to North Korea, China’s government appears short on friends. Officials express displeasure with South Korea and the United States over THAAD, and with North Korea over missile tests and the killing of Kim Jong-nam. There is no sign of renewed amity with Japan. One hope for now is that working-level discussions on Korean Peninsula problems are making progress, because high-level ties and public diplomacy are deeply strained (and the United States has no apparent high-level policy).

THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
Huntsman under consideration for deputy sec. state; Former TPP negotiator joins White House; Navarro subtweets China

  • Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman was under consideration to be deputy secretary of state, WSJ reported.
  • The White House announced appointments to the National Economic Council, including Andrew Quinn, a former deputy assistant U.S. trade representative who earned quite a headline from Brietbart—”Enemy Within: Top TPP Negotiator Now Part of Trump Administration.” Politico was clearer, saying Quinn served as deputy chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Meanwhile, a new U.S. policy document promised to “defend U.S. national sovereignty over trade policy” and resist adverse effects of the WTO, at which Chinese spokesperson Geng Shuang took the opportunity to say “China supports the rules-based, fair and open multilateral trade regime with the WTO as its core.”
  • Peter Navarro, China threat provocateur and director of the newly created but little-staffed White House National Trade Council, writes in a WSJ op-ed on trade deficits and doesn’t name China in outlining the risks of large-scale foreign purchases of U.S. debt: “Suppose the purchaser is a rapidly militarizing strategic rival intent on world hegemony. It buys up America’s companies, technologies, farmland, food-supply chain—and ultimately controls much of the U.S. defense-industrial base. How might that alternative version of conquest by purchase end for our sons and daughters? Might we lose a broader cold war for America’s freedom and prosperity, not by shots fired but by cash registers ringing? Might we lose a broader hot war because America has sent its defense-industrial base abroad on the wings of a persistent trade deficit?”

CYBERSPACE
China releases strategy for international cyberspace cooperation, decries ‘cyber deterrence’ as U.S. seeks it

The Foreign Ministry and Cyberspace Administration of China released a new “International Strategy of Cooperation on Cyberspace” (available in English and Chinese). The launch was accompanied by a People’s Daily commentary by the pseudonym Zhong Sheng on “common destiny” in cyberspace. I have a forthcoming post on the document for Lawfare, but as a preview I’ll note the apparently U.S.-targeted statement that “the tendency of militarization and deterrence buildup in cyberspace is not conducive to international security and strategic mutual trust.” In the next paragraph, the document nonetheless says China will “expedite the development of a cyber force and enhance capabilities … to prevent major cyber crisis, safeguard cyberspace security and maintain national security and social stability.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense released a task force report on “cyber deterrence.” The report identifies China as a “major power” challenge, saying major powers have a “significant and increasing ability to hold U.S. critical infrastructure at risk or otherwise use the information domain to harm vital U.S. interests.” It says, “for at least the coming five to ten years, the offensive cyber capabilities of our most capable potential adversaries are likely to far exceed the United States’ ability to defend and adequately strengthen the resilience of its critical infrastructures.”

ANALYSIS: The new Chinese strategy is primarily a compilation of diverse strains of cyberspace-related policy rhetoric. Putting them all together must have presented significant challenges, one of which is apparent in the handling of deterrence and “cyber forces.” In the same section, the Chinese government both seeks to delegitimize U.S. (or other states’) efforts to deter and defend against online threats and also claims righteously to be preparing its own capabilities, even mentioning “active defense,” which in the cybersecurity context means developing capabilities also useful for offense. Watch Lawfare over the next day or two for my further thoughts. As is clear from the U.S. report, deterrence against threats in cyberspace is likely to remain a U.S. priority, at least in the defense community.

#USChinaWeek1967
‘China Warns U.S. 426th Time’

“HONG KONG, Feb. 27[, 1967] (Reuters)—Communist China issued its 426th ‘serious warning’ today on alleged United States violation of its air space, Hsinhua, the Chinese press agency, said.”

(Source: The New York TimesThis entry is part of an ongoing feature of U.S.–China Week that follows U.S.–China relations as they developed in another era of change and uncertainty, 50 years ago.)

ABOUT U.S.–CHINA WEEK

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 Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, where he specializes in U.S.–China diplomatic, security, and economic relations through research and Track II dialogues. He is also a fellow for China and East Asia with the EastWest Institute. His website is gwbstr.com.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are my own (and I reserve the right to change my mind).

Free Subscription to U.S.–China Week by clicking here or e-mailing me is open to all, and an archive of past editions appears at my long-running website on East Asia and the United States, Transpacifica.

Contact: Follow me on Twitter at @gwbstr. Send e-mail to [email protected].