U.S.–China Week: Bannon’s Beijing, Trump and Kim, ‘cyber superpower’ strategy (2017.09.25)

Welcome to Issue 114 of U.S.–China Week. At New America today, Elsa Kania, Samm Sacks, Paul Triolo, and I are out with a translation of an important recent essay in Qiushi (PDF version here) on the official rhetoric and strategies for increasing the Chinese government’s power in cyberspace. It’s mostly candy for China tech policy watchers, but it is the best up-to-date one-stop summary of China’s strategies you’ll find, and it also contains significant signaling on the U.S.–China cyberspace dialogue processes. The authors, from a previously unknown unit of the Cyberspace Administration of China, say China should “work with U.S. Internet companies and think tanks to strengthen joint activities and successfully conduct China-U.S. Internet forums and high-level China-U.S. expert meetings on international cyberspace rules, etc.” They also call for work with Russia, Europe, and Belt and Road states. This comes as U.S.–China cyberspace dialogue is stretched across several different channels and at a time when U.S. policy on online issues is murky. In a short introduction, Paul Triolo and I anticipate that President Xi Jinping and colleagues will further push China’s leadership role in global Internet governance.

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, and you can follow me on Twitter at @gwbstr. Please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

THE PRESIDENT’S MEN?
Former Trump strategist Steve Bannnon meets Wang Qishan in Beijing—let’s all speculate

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former top strategist until he was removed following a China-directed interview with the liberal American Prospect, made comments in Hong Kong last week that appeared more attention-seeking than newsworthy. This week it emerged in FT reporting that Bannon then went to Beijing and met Politburo member and anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan. That’s newsworthy.

Wang Qishan had supposedly initiated the meeting in early September, FT later reported, and Bannon also hoped he might meet President Xi Jinping, which apparently did not happen. NYT reported that former Goldman Sachs president and Brookings Institution board co-chair John Thornton “helped arrange” the Bannon-Wang meeting.

Numerous observers want this news to tell us something—about Bannon’s continued influence, about Wang Qishan’s chances of remaining in the Party leadership after the 19th Party Congress next month, or about the trajectory of U.S.–China relations leading up to Trump’s November visit.

Hold your horses. Bannon as Trump’s trusted backchannel to Beijing? It’s at least as likely that he’s trying to pass himself off as such as it is to be true. (Recall Henry Kissinger’s trip to Beijing, coinciding with a Trump call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen that Kissinger probably didn’t see coming.) A Bannon meeting signaling Wang’s career durability? Let’s see what meetings he takes after the Party Congress before extrapolating. Bannon’s “economic war with China” message betwixt the two leaders? Any Bannon role must be viewed in the context of official ties such as Ross’ visit this week, and taking into account that China’s leaders will discount any statement of Trump administration preferences as potentially temporary.

KOREAN PENINSULA
Trump’s ‘Rocket Man’ rhetoric, U.S. jet fly-bys, and debate over whether the United States is at war with North Korea

In his address to the United Nations, Trump said, “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” Kim Jong-un responded with an unusual direct attack on Trump, calling him a “dotard.” The U.S. military reportedly flew military aircraft near North Korea. The North Korean foreign minister said to reporters: “Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country.” The White House spokesperson then said “We have not declared war on North Korea.” There were plenty of Trump tweets and little discernible strategic cohesion behind them.

ANALYSIS: As Trump emissaries visit Beijing in preparation for his visit there in November (as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was reportedly doing today), consider how the Chinese government’s representatives might be guessing at the relevance, authoritativeness, or permanence of U.S. official statements—given what they know about the immoderate, changing, and uncoordinated nature of the volatile U.S. president’s statements on a matter so grave as reviving the Korean War with nuclear weapons on both sides. If China’s government had the power to single-handedly solve the Korean Peninsula dilemma, one has to imagine current conditions would make doing so an appealing option.

TRADE + INVESTMENT

  • China has blocked WhatsApp almost completely as of the weekend, NYTreported.
  • The U.S. International Trade Commission “found that low-cost, imported solar panels from China and other countries have hurt two domestic manufacturers. They are Georgia-based Suniva and Oregon-based SolarWorld,” NPR reported. “China’s Ministry of Commerce called on the United States to “exercise caution” on trade restrictions and rejected the US International Trade Commission’s ruling on Friday that the cheap [solar panel] imports were responsible for the woes of the two companies,” SCMP reported.
  • A Chinese group that was stopped by Donald Trump from buying a US chip-maker last week has announced a £550m takeover of British chip designer Imagination Technologies,” The Guardian reported.
  • WSJ reported on a $9 billion Chinese effort to gather DNA samples and conduct related research through 2030, with this interesting tidbit for data protection watchers: “Scientists collecting data for the Chinese government haven’t been told where to upload it. Instead, universities are squeezing genetic information—each human’s genetic code takes up gigabytes of storage—on to their own servers.”
  • AP reported on a four-month crackdown on intellectual property violations, which it identified as “an effort to mollify foreign companies ahead of a visit to Beijing by U.S. President Donald Trump.”
  • National roll-out for China’s “negative list for foreign investment…will be adopted nationwide as early as 2018,” Xinhua reported.

#USChinaWeek1967
‘[Long Island] Man Describes Detention by China’

“HONG KONG, Sept. 20[, 1967] — A yachtsman from Baldwin, L.I., described today how he was at first almost ‘scared to death’ and later almost ‘bored to death’ during a month-long enforced stay in Communist China. He is David J. Steele, 39 years old, who has been supplying manager for Esso Petroleum Company in Saigon for the last four years. Although he was subjected to intensive interrogation during the first week of his detention, Mr. Steele was treated reasonably well by the Chinese and appeared in good health as he discussed his detention at a news conference here today. Mr. Steele sailed for Hong Kong early last month in a 32 1/2-foot trimaran that he built himself in Saigon. On Aug. 17 near Hainan he was intercepted by fishing trawlers. Mr. Steele was forced to board a Chinese trawler and his craft was taken in tow. It later turned over and sank. He was later taken to Canton and arrived by train yesterday.”

(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, and he is based in Oakland, California.

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].