Category Archives: U.S.–China Week

U.S.–China Week: Red line at Scarborough? Selling TPP to beat China, PACOM’s communicator (2016.05.09)

[NOTE: If you’ve arrived here looking for Issue 53 (May 23, 2016), my apologies! Please click here.]

Welcome to issue 51 of U.S.–China Week. For a day at least, the attention of U.S.–China relations watchers is diverted to the Philippines, where early reports suggest today’s presidential election will result in a win for Rodrigo Duterte, who has attracted attention for impolitic statements and a stated intention to break with the current government’s strategy and engage in talks with the Chinese government over the South China Sea. This introduces considerable uncertainty to the situation surrounding the Philippines’ arbitration case against China, which is expected to conclude this month or next. With the next Philippine president scheduled to take office June 30, we’re likely in for several weeks of intrigue. Meanwhile my Yale colleague Paul Gewirtz discusses some other elements of uncertainty in a new Brookings paper on the “limits of law.”

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 please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

SOUTH CHINA SEA
Framing Scarborough Shoal as a test case for U.S. resolve and deterrence

As observers and regional governments await the result of the arbitration case the Philippines brought against China under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), speculation has turned to China’s likely reactions to an adverse award. At the center of that speculation has been the possibility that China would begin land reclamation at Scarborough Shoal, which lies near the Philippines and far from China’s existing outposts in the South China Sea. A Washington Post editorial set up Scarborough reclamation as a test: “A failure by the administration to prevent this audacious step could unravel much of what it has done to bolster U.S. influence in the region.” In a well-constructed “hypothesis” essay, Zack Cooper and Jake Douglas read U.S. activities as a “plan for deterring China at Scarborough [that] relied on demonstrating not only that the United States would stomach some risk of military escalation to prevent reclamation there, but also that Washington would avoid overt public pressure and give Beijing a face-saving way to climb down the escalation ladder.” A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson reiterated the Chinese stance that “Whatever decision the arbitrar[al] tribunal makes on the South China Sea case, it is illegal and null and China will not accept nor recognize it.” And a Chinese diplomat outlined positions on the South China Sea, repeating the “do not accept, do not participate, do not recognize” language about the arbitration. / The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama warned President Xi Jinping not to build at Scarborough or declare an air defense zone in the South China Sea.

ANALYSIS: Military analysts identify a substantive difference between China’s existing installations and a potential outpost at Scarborough Shoal. Aside from the expansionist implications such construction would carry, Scarborough is in relatively close proximity to Manila and Philippine facilities that host U.S. military activity. Given that Scarborough has been rhetorically elevated in the public discussion to a kind of (dare I say it?) red line, the stakes are high for all involved. If Cooper and Douglas are right, the U.S. government is walking a very fine line and, if Chinese ships take action, it may find itself faced with the choice of either following through on “resolve” to prevent Chinese development of this feature (thereby risking a confrontation at sea or more broadly), or being seen to back down. Have Chinese authorities been persuaded not to test U.S. statements of resolve?

RULE-MAKING
Obama op-ed: ‘TPP would let America, not China, lead the way’; MFA: ‘China stays open to TPP’

In a Washington Post op-ed, Obama offered the latest and most prominent iteration of his 2015 State of the Union argument that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal deserves Congressional support because it would prevent China from “writ[ing] the rules.” TPP “would give us a leg up on our economic competitors, including one we hear a lot about on the campaign trail these days: China,” Obama wrote. The op-ed used a recent meeting of negotiating parties for another trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), to imply that the United States could be left in the dust of history. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespersonresponded: “The U.S. seems to have a big ambition but a narrow vision. It is China’s stance that world trade rules should be jointly written by all countries, instead of being dictated by any single country. China stays open to TPP.” / Meanwhile, Robert Orr, the recent former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) examined prospects for cooperation between ADB and the Chinese-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Orr wrote that cooperation would at least initially be contingent on AIIB meeting ADB standards, declared that “Washington and Tokyo were less than thrilled with the creation of the AIIB” but “the U.S. position was not to discourage other countries from joining the AIIB,” and noted that the U.S. government was also skeptical about the ADB in the beginning.

ANALYSIS: It’s hard not to be cynical about the White House effort to gain TPP approval from the U.S. Congress by resorting to a kind of economic “China threat” discourse. Especially in the context of the weekend’s NYT profile of National Security Council communications chief Ben Rhodes, it is clear that salesmanship has taken over for rational argument on the TPP issue. Will Congress, in a lame duck session, buy what Obama and Rhodes are selling? I hope that, if the Senate ratifies TPP, it does so in endorsement of the deal itself, not a facile us-versus-them narrative. TPP would have significant effects on international economics, but it cannot negate the size and centrality of China’s economy.

COMMAND PERFORMANCE
Harris profiled amid speculation about White House–Pacific Command tension; China’s RIMPAC attendance reconfirmed

In a profile in the NYT, Admiral Harry Harris, who leads U.S. Pacific Command, said, “There is a natural tension between elements of the government and the chain of command, and I think it’s a healthy tension. … I’ve voiced my views in private meetings with our national command authorities. Some of my views are taken in; some are not.” The profile noted racially-tinged Chinese commentary about Harris, who is the son of a Japanese mother and a U.S. father. Jane Perlez, the reporter, wrote: “The admiral has added another facet to his job: communicator, an unusual objective for a military leader. In his ‘commander’s intent,’ a document he drew up last year describing his goals, he wrote, ‘We must communicate clearly with key audiences, including allies, partners, and potential adversaries.'” / Meanwhile, Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, said a recent denial of permission for a U.S. aircraft carrier to dock in Hong Kong will not interfere with China’s participation in the multinational Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises to be held in coming weeks, according to The Wall Street Journal. / And another PACOM officer followed Harris in arguing that the Chinese Navy is generally “professional” but the U.S. concern is about “non-military vessels who have poor… communications systems on board.”

ANALYSIS: What has fueled intrigue about potential tensions within the U.S. government has been, in no small part, a long string of anonymous quotes parceled out from uncertain sources with unknown levels of endorsement by unnamed bosses. The ambiguities produced through this kind of information flow certainly play into Chinese calculus about likely U.S. actions under various conditions. Does that ambiguity support White House goals or undermine them? In recent days, one can perceive an effort to ensure U.S. sources are on the same page, but there remains considerable flexibility in the public U.S. position on South China Sea issues. We’ll have to wait a long time to find out what messages have been sent behind closed doors.

#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
‘Red China Explodes Device Viewed as Step to H-Bomb’

“HONG KONG, May 9[, 1966]—Communist China announced today that it had successfully detonated a device containing ‘thermonuclear material.’ The Peking radio said the explosion, third in a series of nuclear tests, took place yesterday at 4 P.M. Peking time over western China.” / EARLIER: “Japanese Desire to Rearm Grows“: “The prospect of a mushroom cloud over China intruded subtly on Japan’s usually exuberant celebration of the annual Constitution Day holiday today. The resulting expressions of concern seemed to indicate a significant growth in sentiment in favor of protective rearming of Japan. … If people are not thinking much about the Constitution today, the major newspaper Yomiuri commented, the situation merely ‘reflects the postwar success of constitutional government.’ ‘But frank consideration must also be given to the problem of insuring that this country is protected from attack in view of the realities of the present world,’ Yomiuri continued. This was an allusion to the growing national debate surrounding the 1947 Constitution’s article 9.” And the debate about Article 9 has not subsided or been resolved.

(This entry is part of a new feature of U.S.–China Week, following 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. His website is gwbstr.com.

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

Subscription to U.S.–China Week by clicking here or e-mailing me is free and 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].

U.S.–China Week: ‘Having it both ways’ on UNCLOS; steel dispute; FBI ‘optimistic’ on cybercrime (2016.05.02)

Welcome to issue 50 of U.S.–China Week. The U.S. government announced that this year’s U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) and associated meetings are to be held in Beijing in early June.

Meanwhile, after China passed its new law regulating foreign NGOs as expected, a White House spokesperson said “the United States is deeply concerned” and declared “that a vibrant civil society is a cornerstone of stability and prosperity.” Analysts who reviewed the law expected significant effects on foreign and Chinese NGOs but added that implementing regulations yet to be revealed will shape that effect in both scope and severity. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman urged foreign governments to “respect China’s legislative sovereignty.”

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 please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

SOUTH CHINA SEA
Blinken says China ‘can’t have it both ways’ with UNCLOS; Hua responds in kind

Speaking to a Congressional hearing (in Q&A, following this statement), Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China “can’t be a party to The Law of the Sea Convention [UNCLOS] and then ignore or reject the provisions of that treaty, including arbitration as an appropriate mechanism and the binding nature of any arbitration decision on the parties to that decision. … It can’t have it both ways there.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Hua Chunying responded, saying Blinken “either doesn’t understand the nature of the South China Sea dispute and UNCLOS, or is deliberately mislabeling China” as a scofflaw. China’s rejection of the Philippine arbitration proceedings, she said, “upholds the sanctity and opposes the abuse of international law, including UNCLOS.” Hua also labeled the U.S. “freedom of navigation” (FON) program as a “preemptive move before the signing of UNCLOS” to produce “the American-style maritime order outside the framework of UNCLOS.” / Blinken spoke separately on U.S.–China relations at another hearing. On the new North Korea sanctions, he said China “took the lead on producing [them] at the UN.” He praised international cooperation including China on Afghanistan and in peacekeeping efforts. / Meanwhile, Chinese authorities denied a U.S. aircraft carrier permission to dock in Hong Kong. / And Reuters’ Megha Rajagopalan has a rare on-the-ground story on China’s “maritime militia.” One company executive in Haikou says: “If some foreign fishing boats infringe on our territory and try to prevent us from fishing there … Then we’re put in the role of safeguarding sovereignty.”

ANALYSIS: Blinken has the unenviable task of championing UNCLOS when his country hasn’t ratified it. The U.S. position is that, as Blinken said in Q&A, “the United States has not ratified the Law of the Sea but we abide by it. China’s ratified by it but ignores it.” Here is the awkward reality: A fair reading of the convention supports the arbitral tribunal’s power to decide its own jurisdiction, a power China denies in this case; and the United States does act in accordance with UNCLOS in many realms (though, for instance, it claims an exclusive economic zone around at least one feature many experts agree doesn’t generate one); but the United States, having declined to ratify, is fundamentally not subject to the very jurisdiction it insists China must accept. If someone wanted to challenge excessive U.S. claims, they would have to do so outside the convention. Thus when the U.S. government champions “the” rules-based order, it champions an order in which the United States is often exempt from being dragged into court. Is it any surprise Hua charges that “it is an open secret that the U.S. abides by international law only when the law meets its interests”?

STEEL
U.S. Steel urges U.S. government to investigate price fixing, other practices by Chinese competitors

Reuters reported: “In a complaint to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), [U.S. Steel Corp] called on regulators to investigate dozens of Chinese producers and their distributors for allegedly conspiring to fix prices, stealing trade secrets and circumventing trade duties by false labeling. … The petition, known as Section 337 and used to protect against intellectual property theft, listed some of China’s top producers, including Hebei Iron & Steel Group and Anshan Iron and Steel Group and Shandong Iron & Steel Group Co.” China’s Ministry of Commerce responded with astatement arguing in part that the a Section 337 investigation involves intellectual property (IP) infringement, that steel is a relatively mature product, and there is no IP dispute. Therefore, the statement urged ITC to reject U.S. Steel’s request.

ANALYSIS: This commentator decides his own jurisdiction, and subtleties of trade law fall well outside it. Still, it’s worth noting that neither the U.S. nor the Chinese steel industry is in a happy position at a time of global oversupply. Given the regularized rhythm of bilateral trade disputes, it seems unlikely that this kind of dispute, even if it advances, would have significant political effects—but it could do so by influencing the eventual U.S. decision about China’s “market economy” status, originally set during WTO negotiations for recognition this year. If Donald Trump were to become president, all bets are off.

CYBERSPACE
FBI director ‘reasonably optimistic’ about progress with China on commercial hacking

FBI Director James Comey spoke positively of progress working with Chinese authorities on cybercrime, AFP reported. Comey said “there are signs of progress in the Chinese helping us impose costs on active engagement and theft. I’m reasonably optimistic (about China), less so with Russia.” In apparent reference to the Sept. 2015 parallel statements by Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama forswearing support for commercial hacking, Comey spoke of “an agreed upon framework for what is nation-state action appropriate, that is intelligence collection, and what is theft.”

ANALYSIS: Here, Comey adds his voice to those of some private firms and other subtle administration messaging saying that China’s government seems to have followed through on its commitment—at least to some extent, and at least so far. Still, it is always important to remember that the most headline-grabbing China-associated cybersecurity incident—the breach of government personnel records—would still be fair game under “intelligence collection” versus “theft” distinction.

#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
‘China’s Hostility Is Called a Propaganda Device’ in article from Briton after visit to mainland

“Signs of anti-American feeling are everywhere in China. Yet there is something fishy about it all. If the United States did not exist, the Central Committee of the Communist party would have to invent it,” opens Frank Tuohy. He concludes: “Since the American bomb is a ‘paper tiger’ and since capitalism is inevitably doomed, why can’t the Chinese play an isolationist waiting game? It appears to be because of China’s need for something to hate in opposition to its love for Chairman Mao.” Though it has taken many forms, the argument that anti-foreign rhetoric is a tool for the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy has been around for a long time.

(This entry is part of a new feature of U.S.–China Week, following 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. His website is gwbstr.com.

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

Subscription to U.S.–China Week by clicking here or e-mailing me is free and 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].

U.S.–China Week: NGO law moving, Scarborough reclamation? New U.S. spy cases, Fontaine and Rapp-Hooper on world order (2016.04.25)

Welcome to issue 49 of U.S.–China Week. 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 please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

BOUNDARIES
‘Foreign NGO’ law changed substantially as passage seen likely this week; reported changes leave much uncertain

The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress on Monday began a session that is to include review and possible passage of the much-discussed “foreign NGO” law. My Yale colleague Jeremy Daum, founder of China Law Translate, has posted a detailed discussion of changes to the bill that Xinhua reported are included in the version under consideration. While Global Times reported that police are likely to remain the regulating agency, Xinhua tells us the definition of “foreign NGO” has shifted significantly. While the earlier definition covered vaguely defined “not-for-profit, non-governmental social organizations formed outside mainland China,” the new definition gives examples of covered types of organizations, naming: “foundations, social groups, or think tanks.” Daum adds that the Xinhua article “says that an additional section of the law expressly states that: ‘Exchanges and collaboration between foreign schools, hospitals, natural science and engineering science research establishments or academic organizations’ and the domestic organizations within these same categories, are to be handled ‘according to the relevant provisions of national law.'” This is not certain to be the final language of the law, and in Daum’s assessment this media report leaves significant ambiguity about what activities would constitute “exchanges and collaboration” and therefore fall under the new, differentiated category of activities. There is much more detail atChina Law Translate.

ANALYSIS: Many foreign NGOs have operated in legal gray areas for lack of a way to register as NGOs. This law has been presented as a way to remedy this legal lacuna, but previous drafts raised concerns that a huge range of activities would fall under vague definitions, increasing regulatory burdens and effectively shutting out many actors. Notwithstanding the ambiguities, the revisions appear responsive to some of the Chinese and foreign concerns communicated during public comment. The revisions meanwhile do nothing to allay concerns that the law will be used to cut down on foreign activities and cross-border collaborations on social and political issues. The final text and implementation will tell us much more about what the law means in practice, but today’s news of modifications may be intended to decrease the chance that organizations engaged in “exchanges and collaboration” feel the law means they should close up shop. That may shrink the number of organizations that face real trouble under the new rules, but it would not seem to reduce obstacles for international “foundations, social groups, or think tanks,” which are often influential voices in their home countries.

SOUTH CHINA SEA
Rumors of Chinese plans for Scarborough; U.S. attack planes patrol near Philippines; officials trade accusations

The South China Morning Post, quoting “a source close to the PLA Navy,” reportedthat China will begin land reclamation “within this year” at Scarborough Shoal. The article cited no corroborating source but bears inclusion here because of the reaction it caused. / Several U.S. A-10 “Warthog” attack planes reportedly stayed behind in the Philippines after a joint exercise and patrolled in South China Sea waters west of the Philippine island of Luzon—therefore in the general region of the Scarborough Shoal, though details were unclear. David Axe speculates that the deployment may be a precursor to a U.S. sale of the aging but versatile planes to the Philippines. / Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Vietnam China’s “massive land reclamation projects in the South China Sea and the increasing militarization of these outposts fuels regional tension and raises serious questions about China’s intentions.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded: “The United States has repeatedly questioned China’s intentions, but will the U.S. explain its real motive in stoking tensions and increasing military presence in the area?” / Meanwhile, China “reached consensus” with Brunei, Cambodia, and Laos on the South China Sea, Xinhua reported. Laos is landlocked and Cambodia does not border the South China Sea, but Brunei is a claimant in the Spratly Islands. All are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

ANALYSIS: The SCMP report seems a bit thin. That said, there has been plenty of speculation about whether China might build an installation at Scarborough, where radars could reportedly monitor activities at Philippine bases now set to continually host U.S. forces. There is potential for a test at sea if Chinese crews move in and Philippine and/or U.S. forces try to prevent reclamation. In public, China is not explicitly on notice that moving into Scarborough would cause a confrontation, but it would definitely produce an amplified U.S. and Philippine response. One wonders if any more explicit signals have been sent in private.

ESPIONAGE
U.S. authorities target two in China-tied spy cases

A Chinese citizen with U.S. permanent residency was charged with “conspiring to illegally export U.S. technology used in underwater drones to a Chinese state-owned entity,” Reuters reported. That “entity” was reportedly Harbin Engineering University. / In a separate case, a Chinese national was reportedly arrested for attempting to acquire a high-grade carbon fiber material used for “aerospace and military applications,” according to Defense News. That case reportedly involved a sting in which the U.S. government created a front to catch illegal export attempts.

ANALYSIS: These two cases are slightly different from some previous cases that focused on trade secrets or “commercial espionage.” In these new cases, national security-related material is at issue. U.S. authorities have been repeatedly embarrassed in economic espionage cases against China-linked individuals, most recently and spectacularly in September when charges against a Temple University professor were dropped when it was revealed that FBI investigators did not understand what had and had not been transferred to Chinese collaborators. The reputational stakes are perhaps higher still with national security-related or dual use technology transfer cases.

YOU AND WHOSE ORDER
Fontaine and Rapp-Hooper: U.S. needs China policy that realizes ‘there is no single international order to be saved’

Richard Fontaine and Mira Rapp-Hooper of the Center for a New American Securityargue in The National Interest that “there is no single answer to the question of whether China intends to embrace the rules-based international order, nor is there a monolithic way to characterize the type of great power China aspires to be. … Because there is no single international order, and because Chinese participation is diverse and complex, U.S. leaders cannot simply absorb China into a preexisting structure. If American policymakers hope to increase China’s participation in the web of institutions, regimes, rules, and norms that together constitute world order, they must craft an engagement strategy that is as nimble as Beijing’s international participation itself.” They argue: in favor of a U.S. strategy that acknowledges that China’s approaches in its region and globally differ; that “there is a difference between Chinese attempts to erode existing international rules (and America’s dominant role in setting them) and a move toward wholesale replacement”; that “as China and others offer concepts for alternative institutions, the United States should not adopt knee-jerk rejectionism itself”; that “U.S.-Chinese relations are bound to be especially competitive in those domains where rules remain unwritten” such as cyberspace and space; and that Chinese approaches may change.

ANALYSIS: The authors reject one of the most stubborn and misguided false dichotomies—between “the” international order and China’s divergent efforts—and offer preliminary points on how to make policy given their insight. The article does not get into detailed policies or discussions of U.S. interests, but it is an excellent frame for further analysis and breaks toward reality and away from the kind of breathless commentary that boils down global politics to a U.S.–China contest over some specific issue or domain.

#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
William Hunt, ‘old China hand who once controlled all the tea in China,’ dies at 60

“William P. Hunt, an old China hand who once controlled all the tea in China and at another time took over China’s entire merchant fleet, died yesterday,” an obituary inThe New York Times read. “In 1937, when the Government of China was being pressed hard by the Japanese military machine, China’s fleet of merchant vessels was in imminent danger of being sunk or captured. To protect the ships, wharves and warehouses, the Chinese hit upon the idea of signing them over to an American citizen they had learned to trust. This put the maritime properties worth $25-million, out of reach of the Japanese. Seven years later they asked for the ships back and offered to pay $1-million, William P. Hunt indignantly rejected the offer. ‘I loaned you the protection of my citizenship—I didn’t sell it,’ he said. ‘I want $10 [in Chinese money, worth 1/20th of a United States cent] for the properties—with your autographs on the bill.’ So was this extraordinary trust justified.” This can only be a small portion of the story of Hunt, once a young diplomat and later a businessman, but quick searches reveal little about him.

(This entry is part of a new feature of U.S.–China Week, following 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. His website is gwbstr.com.

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

Subscription to U.S.–China Week by clicking here or e-mailing me is free and 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].

U.S.–China Week: Tit-for-tat posturing, Kerry and Carter on ‘the’ order, hacking declines?, resolve and deterrence (2016.04.18)

Welcome to issue 48 of U.S.–China Week. There are two notes of clarification from last issue. First, this year was not, as many reported, the first time the U.S. government had included Chinese censorship in a list of trade barriers—though it was the first time since 2013. This Reuters story reporting a Chinese denial includes that point. Second, last week’s mention of a U.S. Navy officer accused of espionage included language saying he was “charged.” I and others missed the subtlety that charges had not yet been formally issued but instead were being sought. On the first point, kudos to Reuters for catching the previous mention. On the second, I regret the error.

As I prepare to send this issue, the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) has just sent out a new report on “U.S.–China Relations in Strategic Domains” that looks very promising and will be next on my reading list.

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 please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

SOUTH CHINA SEA
U.S.–Philippine joint patrols revealed, Carter visits carrier on patrol, Fan visits new outposts, Chinese military plane lands

On a trip to Asia, Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, accompanied by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. Carter also said “the United States will be keeping nearly 300 troops, including Air Force commandos armed with combat aircraft and helicopters, in the Philippines through the end of the month,” AP reported. China’s navy meanwhile sent a military plane to the newly built airstrip on landfill at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. Reports said the plane had been sent to evacuate ill workers. And Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, visited unspecified locations in the Spratlys, according to a Xinhua story posted on the Defense Ministry website. / Also this week, a team of scholars and policy analysts working with NBR and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation published an extensive body of resources called the Maritime Awareness Project, with an extremely useful interactive map as its most exciting feature. And Michael Fuchs proposed imaginative and unusually plausible steps to decrease tensions in the South China Sea.

ANALYSIS: The U.S.–Philippine joint patrols are news, but everything else has been previously announced or expected. What this round of events represents is a continuation of a tit-for-tat dynamic between the United States and China in the South China Sea that, so far, takes place in the realm of posturing. The governments involved will have another round of “required” posturing following the eventual resolution of the Philippine arbitration case. I wish I could say I am confident the line between escalatory posturing and escalatory use of force would be hard to cross.

WHICH ORDER?
Kerry waxes dramatic on risks of Chinese leadership absent TPP; Plus, Carter on the ‘Chinese mind’

Speaking in Los Angeles, Secretary of State John Kerry warned of the risks of failing to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). “Right now, China is working to finish its own version of TPP, binding its market with 16 countries, extending from India to Japan. … So the choice for us is to lead and help define the rules of global trade or to witness the fastest-growing markets race to the bottom, while standards antithetical to our interests and values become business as usual for billions of people across our planet. I can’t think of anything more dangerous or damaging to the rule of law and structure we have worked for since the end of World War II.”

Speaking to Vox, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had this to say about the “Chinese mind”: “[T]here is a tinge in Chinese thinking which says not only do we need to grow and become wealthy, powerful — all that is fine, that’s what 1.3 billion industrious people will do. The United States doesn’t have any strategic problem with that, but also in the Chinese mind the idea that we need to right the wrongs of the past and dominate our region, and reject the system of rules-based order that we associated with the United States. Of course, we associate that with rules and the right way for nations to conduct, and the best climate for business, and protection of intellectual property, and all that stuff. There’s a part of the Chinese mind that thinks that that’s an American creation, rather than a good in itself.”

ANALYSIS: Neither of these statements is a great departure from recent U.S. government rhetoric, but they are worth reading together. In extending the administration’s effort to sell TPP domestically using the threat of Chinese leadership, Kerry reaches over to another rhetorical strand, the idea that China’s government seeks to undermine “the rule of law and structure” the United States has painstakingly built, a structure associated with “our interests.” Carter echoes the talking point that the U.S. government welcomes China’s rise under certain conditions, and he argues that “the” rules-based order is no mere U.S. interest but “a good in itself.” The two seem to agree that the status quo is virtuous, but they aren’t fully aligned on whether it was a U.S. creation. Meanwhile, neither seems to realize that one could be for a rules-based order but object to elements of the current rules-based order. Policy thinkers often write of “legitimate interests,” and the disagreement between the U.S. and Chinese governments seems to be over which of each other’s perceived interests are legitimate.

CYBERSPACE
Report: Chinese hacking of U.S. companies down since September

The Financial Times reports that private sector and government analysts believe China-based commercial hacking appears to be down since President Xi Jinping declared opposition to state-sponsored commercial hacking in September. “None of the 22 separate Chinese state-sponsored hacking units identified by FireEye, [a] security firm, are still active against U.S. companies, chief executive David DeWalt told the Financial Times. ‘The activity stopped after the handshake,’ said Mr. DeWalt, referring to the presidential agreement. ‘It’s been dramatic.'” / Meanwhile, media reports (double checked with a transcript) say a U.S. admiral believes Chinese hackers attack U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) networks “every day” and that “the cyber threat that I specifically face with MDA [is] on par with any intercontinental ballistic missile threat that either Iran or North Korea possesses.”

ANALYSIS: If state-sponsored commercial hacking has indeed decreased following Xi’s statement, this is a strong sign that U.S.–China cybersecurity dialogue is far more alive than many believe. A recent RAND report analyzed in depth how the U.S. government might bring China back to the table for formal talks. What if avoiding a formal mechanism (that one side can suspend over symbolic issues) is actually a better option?

RESOLVE
White: ‘Only the clear threat of a conflict with America’ would deter China using maritime disputes to challenge U.S. power

Hugh White of Australian National University, in an ongoing debate with Robert Manning and Jim Przystup, describes the trouble with a U.S. strategy based on the assumption that maintaining primacy in Asia is desirable and achievable. “[W]e all know what the [U.S.] strategy is. It is to take advantage of China’s own assertive behavior to build anxiety about China’s ambitions among its neighbors, and then harness that anxiety to assemble a coalition which will act together diplomatically to compel China to abandon its challenge, leaving the U.S.-led order intact.” White writes that the success of this strategy is doubtful because: It “overestimates the resolve of America’s friends and allies in Asia,” “underestimates China’s resolve,” and “overestimates the deterrent effect of U.S. military power in Asia today.” On the third point, White writes, “The reality is that no one in Washington has seriously asked the key question: is America willing to fight a war with China to preserve the current order in Asia? Until that question has been plainly asked and unambiguously answered in the affirmative, Washington has little chance of deterring China. And my hunch is that the answer will be in the negative.”

ANALYSIS: The basic debate here has on one side people who believe that the United States must have primacy (an ill-defined concept that many say must be “maintained,” implying the non-obvious assumption that the United States already has it). These people often argue for shows of “resolve.” White comes from another camp, where U.S. primacy either doesn’t exist or cannot be maintained without unacceptable costs, and where the difficulty of showing resolve comes not from signaling miscues but from a fundamental lack of resolve itself. His perspective leads to the harder question of what the U.S. interest really amounts to, and I think that’s where the real strategic thinking should happen.

#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
Secretary of State outlines 10 points for future China policy

Secretary of State Dean Rusk, speaking to a House subcommittee, gave a speechabout China policy that included 10 “elements of future policy.” Two points seem especially resonant today: “First, we must remain firm in our determination to help those allied nations which seek our help to resist the direct or indirect use of threat or force against their territory by Peking. … Sixth, we must keep firmly in our minds that there is nothing eternal about the policies and attitudes of Communist China. We must avoid assuming the existence of an unending and inevitable state of hostility between ourselves and the rulers of mainland China.”

It is worth remembering, too, that U.S. discourse (in this case from a secretary of state) has long speculated about Chinese intentions: “First, the Chinese Communist leaders seek to bring China on the world stage as a great power. They hold that China’s history, size, and geographic position entitle it to great power status. They seek to overcome the humiliation of 150 years of economic, cultural, and political domination by outside powers. Our concern is with the way they are pursuing their quest for power and influence in the world. … Peking’s use of power is closely related to what I believe are its second and third objectives: dominance within Asia and leadership of the Communist world revolution… Peking is striving to restore traditional Chinese influence or dominance in South, Southeast and East Asia.” Was this true then, and is is true now?

MEANWHILE: Chinese media claimed a U.S. military plane that took off from the Philippines had been shot down after intruding into Chinese territory near Hainan. The plane, a tanker, was apparently never recovered, and online tributes to the missing pilot continue today.

(This entry is part of a new feature of U.S.–China Week, following 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. His website is gwbstr.com.

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

Subscription to U.S.–China Week by clicking here or e-mailing me is free and 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].

U.S.–China Week: Discontent at PACOM? Carter skips China, censorship as trade barrier, Blair’s U.S.–Japan China strategy (2016.04.11)

Welcome to issue 47 of U.S.–China Week. 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 please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

SOUTH CHINA SEA
Civil-military tension on South China Sea creeps into public view; More ‘assertive’ option seemingly ill-fit to challenge

The Navy Times made a big splash with a story that, based heavily on anonymous quotes, claimed the White House had imposed a “gag order” on U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) personnel over South China Sea issues. That story framed PACOM Commander Harry Harris as “arguing behind closed doors for a more confrontational approach to counter and reverse China’s strategic gains” in the area, asserting that his appeals “have met resistance from the White House at nearly every turn.” The measures reportedly proposed by Harris include conduct near Chinese installations that would be inconsistent with “innocent passage” rules and therefore demonstrate different opinions from those expressed through earlier “freedom of navigation operations” (FONOPS). The article directly referenced a National Security Council memo that supposedly asked military commanders to avoid commenting on the South China Sea before President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Washington. It also suggests PACOM can independently order patrols in the region, such as a recent visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier, but FONOPS require White House authorization. / Both Harris and the Pentagon denied any “gag order” had been issued, with Harris saying “any assertion that there is a disconnect between U.S. Pacific Command and the White House is simply not true.” Harris had previously asserted that “China seeks hegemony in East Asia. Simple as that.” / Meanwhile a U.S. Navy officer was charged with [may face charges of]* espionage, allegedly passing secrets to China [and Taiwan], according to reports. The officer reportedly had experience as an intelligence specialist on U.S. spy planes.

[*A NYT story was corrected to indicate the charges weren’t yet filed. It appears I missed the detail of the meaning of an Article 32 hearing. WaPo now adds Taiwan, with more details in NYT. I regret the distortion in any case.]

ANALYSIS: Notwithstanding Harris’ denial of discord, it is hard to disagree with the (unsourced) Navy Times remark that Harris and PACOM “have been waging a persistent campaign in public and in private over the past several months” to raise alarm on the South China Sea. What’s remarkable about the story is the contrast between the public, heated frustration with supposed White House reticence, and the really modest nature of what is supposedly being proposed—a FONOP that is not undertaken using “innocent passage” procedures. Such an operation would be a slightly more assertive move but by no means a game changer, and there is no reason at all to think it would stop China’s outpost construction efforts. The public discord undermines any “resolve” U.S. officials want to signal, and nowhere in this story does one get the impression the U.S. government has a clear objective in the region—let alone tactics matched to such an objective. What a mess.

CONFIDENCE BUILDING
Sec. Carter postpones already announced China stop, keeps visits to Philippines and India

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter postponed (or perhaps cancelled) an announced visit to China on his present Asia trip, which now includes stops in the Philippines and India. Carter had said publicly he accepted a Chinese invitation and looked forward “to a visit this spring.” U.S. and Chinese sources told reporters this was a postponement. A Global Times commentary (en/zh) pointed out that U.S.–China military ties sometimes pause over politics, but “it is the U.S. that is more active in resuming and improving communications.” With the China stop off the docket, Carter is scheduled to visit one of the Philippine installations where, under a new deal, the U.S. military will station some forces. / Speaking about the THAAD advanced missile defense system under discussion for deployment in South Korea, a move the Chinese government firmly opposes, Carter reportedly said, “It’s going to happen.

ANALYSIS: Without further details, it is hard to believe Carter’s canceled China stop was merely a scheduling problem. The reported lack of any deliverables to release at such a meeting is a possible reason, but it is hard to believe they couldn’t manufacture something. Perhaps the U.S. side wants to save the trip for the announcement of some next step in confidence building measures. But by failing to credibly dispel speculation that Carter skipped the visit in disapproval of Chinese conduct, the public signal is that the U.S. government is using a pause in military-to-military dialogue to penalize China. This is a precedent U.S. officials usually would want to avoid, on the principle that mil-mil ties should stay strong, especially during times of friction, so that any potential incident is prevented from escalating into a broader crisis.

CYBERSPACE
U.S. puts Chinese censorship on list of trade barriers

The New York Times reported that the U.S. government for the first time included China’s system of Internet blocks, known as the Great Firewall, in a list of trade barriers. “Over the past decade, China’s filtering of cross-border Internet traffic has posed a significant burden to foreign suppliers, hurting both Internet sites themselves, and users who often depend on them for their businesses,” a U.S. Trade Representative report stated. “Outright blocking of websites appears to have worsened over the past year… Much of the blocking appears arbitrary.” The report’s 15-page section on China outlines many other “priority issues,” including, for instance, “secure and controllable ICT policies,”  “indigenous innovation,” and “theatrical film distribution.” Only India and Russia merited longer sections in this official report on “foreign trade barriers.” / Meanwhile, Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency,said the “jury is still out” regarding China’s follow-through on the September 2015statements regarding government support for “cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property.”

ANALYSIS: As some have noted, including a single paragraph in a 474-page litany of trade grievances is a moderate or low-key way to raise an issue. But as NYT reporter Paul Mozur put it in a tweet they should have made the headline, “Most have thunk it for a while, but the US gov’t finally out and says it.” The question is whether there will be any follow-through in multilateral trade forums regarding this alleged “significant burden.”

TRANSPACIFIC TRIANGLE
Blair outlines ‘An Updated U.S.–Japan Strategy for China’ centered on ‘assertive engagement’

Dennis Blair, who served as director of national intelligence and commander of PACOM, last month published a detailed vision for the U.S.–Japan alliance and its approach to China. While much of the report is devoted to charting the uncertainty inherent in predicting the future of China’s development and its government’s security goals, Blair offers a policy approach with an eye on the period through 2030. He argues today’s China requires a new approach, because “China has simply outgrown the boundaries of the current American and Japanese policies of cooperation and deterrence.” Blair rejects both an “economic and military buildup” and “accommodation,” instead proposing “assertive engagement.” That approach involves: better coordinating U.S. and Japanese strategy toward China; strengthening both countries’ economies; “realistic economic relations with China” (“It is unrealistic to think that the United States and Japan can force China to accept a global system developed largely without China’s input.”); prevailing against China and others who advocate “cyber sovereignty” in Internet governance; stronger alliance military capabilities; response to China in the South China Sea “at a level below the use of military force”; and other points.

ANALYSIS: Blair’s report is refreshingly honest about the uncertainty of China’s future, about risks of escalatory spirals, and about the unreality of proposals to simply accommodate China’s objectives. “Assertive engagement” is no grand innovation in strategic thinking or wordsmithing, but this report is a must-read for those focusing on U.S. China policy, because it very properly puts policy choices in the context of the U.S.–Japan alliance and broader regional relationships. Still, some recommendations are more realistic than others. Blair advocates for coordination between U.S. and Japanese defense messaging on China. As we see in the first item above, the U.S. government can hardly coordinate messaging between PACOM and the White House.

#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
Progressive Republican group Ripon Society urges GOP to ‘fill a leadership vacuum’ in U.S. China policy

A report suggested the Republican Party should advocate a new approach to China, “continuing to ‘contain’ her militarily while also ‘opening wide an alternative realm of contact.'” The GOP should fill the gap left by ossified Johnson administration policy, the report argued, including “dropping overt opposition to Chinese admission to the United Nations.” The report advocated extending a cautious open hand while acknowledging that it would be “foolish to expect an overnight change in Chinese opinion once these initiatives are taken.”

The report came out of the Ripon Society, a group of mostly young Republicans with a progressive bent that rose to prominence (so says then-Harvard undergrad and now long-time Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson in a 1965 Harvard Crimson article) in opposition to a divisive Republican presidential candidate in 1964—Sen. Barry Goldwater. NYT quotes Ripon’s purposes as follows: “As members of a new generation of Americans and of Republicans we can no longer be silent while vital issues are discussed in a manner which is narrow-minded and unimaginative.” [If anyone out there knows where I might get a copy of this report, please drop me a line! -gw]

(Source: The New York Times. This entry is part of a new feature of U.S.–China Week, following 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. His website is gwbstr.com.

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

Subscription to U.S.–China Week by clicking here or e-mailing me is free and 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].