Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Evan Medeiros has ‘modest expectations’ for Xi Jinping visit, cites risk of election rhetoric

The Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing hosted former U.S. National Security Council Senior Director for Asia Evan Medeiros this month and just released a podcast, in which Medeiros is interviewed by Carnegie-Tsinghua Director Paul Haenle. Since Medeiros is fresh out of the White House (departure was announced in June), he has said little publicly. That podcast is definitely worth your time, but I found myself transcribing three of the answers. These are complete answers, but I have not transcribed the questions. Listen to the full podcast here.

MEDEIROS: I don’t believe that we’re at a tipping point. I think that you rightly pointed out we’re in a complex period in the U.S.-China relationship, but in my experience we’re always facing a complex time in the U.S.–China relationship, simply because this is a relationship defined by both cooperation and competition, and both elements are intensifying in recent years. So the important goal in China policy is to manage that cooperation and competition to ensure greater levels of cooperation, to elicit that from China, to encourage that using both incentives and disincentives, while at the same time bounding the disagreements, bounding the competition, so that doesn’t become the defining element of the relationship. And I think that is the core policy challenge, because I think there is wide agreement among specialists in the United States that we want to avoid inevitable rivalry between the United States and China. A final factor to keep in mind in assessing the future of the relationship is that this is a highly resilient relationship. We’re in year seven of the Obama administration, not year one. The channels of communication across the relationship are broader and deeper than they’ve ever been before. We know the Chinese, and they know us. We also have built up a very solid track record. The us and China, over the last seven years, have worked through some difficult issues, we have resolved crises, and we have a good track record of working together to solve important problems. North Korea’s nuclear program, Iran’s nuclear program, climate change, etc. So I think that fundamentally this relationship over the next 18 months under the Obama administration will continue to be a constructive one.

The principle issue that I’m worried about is China getting drawn into the U.S. election cycle, because that’s never a source of stability in the relationship, because it results in debates in the United States that can often demonize China in ways that negatively affect the U.S.-China relationship during the election and potentially constrain candidates, if and when they’re elected. So that’s not a helpful dynamic. I think the areas we need to work on are the areas of competition that you referred to earlier, Paul. In particular the issue of the South China Sea and cybersecurity. These are issues that not only affect American economic and security interests, they also touch on the fundamental question at the heart of the relationship, which is, what kind of rising power is China going to be? Is China going to adhere to international norms that have been accepted for decades? Or is China going to seek to revise those rules in ways that support China’s narrow interests. And so work on the South China Sea issue and the cyber issue is going to need to be done over the next 18 months, so these don’t become corrosive issues that undermine the overall stability of the relationship and put us on a path to inevitable rivalry.

Well having been through three of these big summits between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, I have modest expectations. I think first and foremost, the most important element of any of these visits is ensuring that there’s plenty of time for both leaders to have extended discussion about the major strategic priorities in the U.S.–China relationship. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of that sort of interaction between the president of the United States and the president of China, to really work through the complexity of the relationship in order to expand cooperation and manage competition. I would encourage your listeners to do an assessment of the deliverables. That’s always important, and in particular it’s important to demonstrate that the U.S.–China relationship is delivering for the American people and that it’s serving American economic and security interests, but that should not be the only metric by which the state visit is judged as a success or a failure. I would encourage your listeners to pay attention to what President Obama and President Xi say at their press conference on the morning of the 25th. That is very high level strategic signaling on both parts, and hopefully both of them will have significant messages about taking the relationship to the next level.

Personnel hack calls not for sanctions, but stronger and ‘active’ defense

My latest piece for Nikkei Asian Review builds on last week’s U.S.–China Week and argues that sanctions are not the answer for the Obama administration as it weighs a response the hacking of U.S. government personnel data, allegedly by the Chinese government. Read the whole piece, but here are some highlights:

Given that primary defense has failed, however, widespread calls for retaliation are not surprising. One option is sanctions. In April, President Barack Obama issued an executive order threatening foreign individuals and entities with sanctions in response to “malicious cyber-enabled activities” that constitute a threat to “the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said June 12 sanctions were a “newly available option … that is on the table” in response to the OPM hacks.

Levying economic sanctions against China in response to its efforts to gain access to a “legitimate foreign intelligence target,” however, would be misguided. To do so would invite economic retaliation not just from China but from other countries that are targets of similar U.S. efforts. It was never a secret that the U.S. government spies on foreign governments online, but Edward Snowden and other leakers have exposed those efforts in unprecedented detail.

But the loss of important government secrets calls for a different range of policy options. The best responses might be considered “active defense.” For instance, if a breach is detected while the intruders are still working, security officials might break into the intruders’ own systems to destroy or distort the stolen data. They might also target the same intruder’s other systems for disruption as a deterrent.

This kind of “active defense” is called for and expected in the world of espionage. Given news reports that the government only discovered the OPM intrusions after weeks or months, it seems less likely these measures would be effective. Unfortunately, the most realistic response now is to minimize the harm to those affected, increase accountability for maintaining secure systems, and more effectively compartmentalize data. [more]

 

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.

What did Baucus really say he's 'very wary' of in US-China ties?

Max Baucus

Max Baucus.

In a news cycle guaranteed to be dominated by President Barack Obama’s State of the Union, Senator and Ambassador to China–designate Max Baucus visited the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing this week (video). His opening statement was relatively bland, and the atmosphere among veterans of the Senate was mostly chummy, even though Senator John McCain took the opportunity to make a speech about the risk of a World War I–like situation in East Asia. But media soon reported that Baucus was distancing himself from the White House’s careful acceptance of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “new type of great power relations” (新型大国关系) concept.

The South China Morning Post reported:

He even said the US should be “very wary” of President Xi Jinping’s frequent call for Beijing and Washington to develop a “new type of major-power relationship”, saying the model was “not an approach that makes sense to me”. He said his approach to Beijing would be “cautious” and he agreed with Republican Senator John McCain that China was trying to be the dominant power in Asia.

Really? Agence France-Presse reported something similar:

Baucus distanced himself from President Xi Jinping’s frequent calls for China and the United States to develop a “new type of major-power relationship.” President Barack Obama’s administration had initially welcomed Xi’s theme, which some US experts saw as innocuous and vague but others viewed with suspicion.

Under questioning, Baucus said that the United States “should be very wary” of Xi’s new relationship model which “is not an approach that makes sense to me.”

“It’s frankly one that suggests that China take care of its own issues in China, whether it’s the human rights issues, or whether it’s Taiwan” or islands contested with Japan, Baucus said.

In reality, Baucus made somewhat more subtle comments that might be even more problematic from the Chinese side. Since the official transcript isn’t out yet, I have transcribed the pertinent section, which runs from about 36:30 to 40:50 in the video. Key statements in bold, and any corrections or comments welcome. What emerges is that, first, Baucus in this answer did not use the full phrase “new type of great power relations” or the White House version, “new model for of major country relations.” [My typo there on of/for. -gw] He did, however, appear to agree with or accept the premise of a question from Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, and he said he’s sure Obama agrees, even though he hasn’t checked:

MENENDEZ: You are extremely well versed in all of the economic trade and related issues and I think as someone who’s had the privilege of sitting on the Finance Committee under your chairmanship, I’ve seen that first hand. But as you recognized in your opening statements, this is a pretty comprehensive portfolio with China. And in that regard I’d like to visit with you on one or two things. One is China continues to refer to a “new type of great power relationship,” and I wonder what you think China means by that. And is that China laying down a marker for saying, “Hey, we have a greater say in our backyard,” so to speak? And what should America’s counter be? Should we even be using that phrase? What are your views on that?

BAUCUS … It is imperative that we in America be deeper involved in the Asia-Pacific. The rebalancing mentioned by our president … I think is critical. Because the United States and Chinese relationship is so [valid/valuable?] to solving problems not just in China and America but worldwide. China talks about a new relationship. I think it’s always interesting and somewhat helpful to talk about new relationships, to look forward to try to find something new and something afresh—like Chinese New Year, [the] first of any new year.

But China’s interpretation of the new relationship as I understand it, that is revolving around its, as it says, its core interests is one that I think we should be very wary of. As I understand China’s interpretation of the new relationship and focus on its core interests, it’s frankly one that suggests that China take care of its own issues in China, whether the human rights issues, or whether it’s Taiwan, or its the Senkaku Islands—Diaoyu in their version—or the South China Sea. And that’s essentially a version where China takes care of its part of the world and the rest of the countries take care of their parts of the world. That is not an approach that makes sense to me. That’s not an approach which makes sense, I’m sure, to the president, though we’ve not talked specifically about this.

The approach that makes sense is for the United States to urge China to be a full member of and participate fully in the United Nations, rule of law, to resolve issues according to international rule of law principles and norms and that includes work with the United Nations with respect to North Korea, United Nations with respect to Syria and Iran. It means open skies, open seas to maintain security in the world. Half of the commercial tonnage shipped in the world today crosses through the Straits [sic.] of Malacca in the South China Sea. It’s extremely important that the United States stays engaged in the world and helps work with China. The approach to China should be—it’s very simple at this point—it’s positive, it’s cooperative, we work to constructive results. But one grounded in reality. We stand up for our principles, stand up for our principles as we work and engage China.

It is perhaps not the best sign when a nominee gives his own view of the intentions of a foreign leader, and then says he’s confident his president agrees, just before admitting he hasn’t checked. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that Obama has actually explicitly embraced the concept of a “new model of major country relations. A joint fact sheet published by the Chinese government and the White House in December begins: “Building on President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping’s shared commitment to building a new model of major country relations, both countries affirm their commitment to practical cooperation for the benefit of our two economies and to address global economic challenges” (emphasis added).

This is a big course change for Baucus, and there is a lot of subtlety to take on board. It seems more likely he is still in the orientation phase rather than making a break from the administration, and perhaps White House officials did not take as much time to prepare a nominee virtually guaranteed to be confirmed. But those inside and outside the government in China watch carefully for changes in language, so we will have to see what develops.

Asia in Obama's 2014 State of the Union: We're Still Number One

President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union does not emphasize Asia, except as a competitor. Last year’s post is here.

Opening comments

Asia got scant attention in this State of the Union. Japan was not mentioned at all, which has been a kind of norm for Obama. China came up twice as a competitor (once along with Europe). Myanmar/Burma was dropped in with Tunisia as places where the United States is helping those who work toward democracy. Neither North Korea nor South Korea came up at all.

From a U.S.–China relations standpoint, the speech was almost neutral. If it had any message, it was that the United States intends to compete with China on the international economic stage. Since Japan and South Korea got no mentions explicitly, it was essentially impossible to avoid reaffirming U.S. commitment to its East Asian allies. The mention of U.S. humanitarian assistance in the Philippines was welcome, but I would have campaigned to slip China in somewhere, whether in substance or a friendly (as opposed to competitive) note.

The humanitarian assistance note was one possible venue for this. Obama could have mentioned that the United States, alongside China and Japan, performed disaster relief operations. Now only the South Korea would be left out of the lovefest, but China would get a nice note and there could be no accusation of “Japan passing.”

The speech avoided using the term “rebalance” and gave no mention of Australia, for instance. Instead, Obama cited a “focus on the Asia-Pacific.”

Asia was not the only region that one might claim was overlooked, as Mexico’s former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, notes on Twitter: “Mali, Burma, Tunisia & Ukraine merit mentions in SOTU (not to mention Israel, Iran, Afghanistan) but not a single country in Latin America.”

Egypt also did not come up, rankling some. As has been the pattern, this was not a major foreign policy speech except to rally support for the interim deal with Iran. Still, it seems to me there are too few, not too many, signals to China and East Asia, and I hope to see more soon.

Country mentions in 2009-14 SOTUs

Asia Mentions: 

Here are the results of your efforts: The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America.  Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.  And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs.  We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”  China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines.  Neither should we.

Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.  From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy.  In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future.  Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.  In the Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.  And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America!”

Here, on the White House annotated feed, a picture of Obama with Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared on screen while the president mentioned the “focus on the Asia-Pacific.” In lieu of a spoken signal, this is something positive.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 12.19.40 PM

Foreign policy sections, first one on trade

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America.  Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.  And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs.  We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”  China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines.  Neither should we.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too.  Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.  Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

“Foreign policy and national security section”

Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.  And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

[AFGHANISTAN AND AL QAEDA]

Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure.  When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, all our troops are out of Iraq.  More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan.  With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.

After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future.  If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda.  For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.

[NEW THREATS]

The fact is, that danger remains.  While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects  the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks.  And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.

We have to remain vigilant.  But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office.  But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts.  We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

[APPROACH ON DEFENSE, CLOSE GUANTANAMO]

So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks – through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners – America must move off a permanent war footing.  That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.  That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.  And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.

You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.  American diplomacy has rallied more than fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.  American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear. As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.

[IRAN]

And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade.  As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.  It is not installing advanced centrifuges.  Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.  And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon

These negotiations will be difficult.  They may not succeed.  We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away.  But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb.  If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible.  But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.  For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.  If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.  But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

[THAT TRANSITION GRAF]

Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want.  And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.

[LIST OF REGIONS NOT MENTIONED AT LENGTH]

Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.  From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy.  In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future.  Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.  In the Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.  And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America!”

We do these things because they help promote our long-term security.  And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.  And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment – when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium – and brings home the gold.

My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do.  On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might – but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them.