U.S.–China Week: Xi’s Sept. 22–28 itinerary, sanctions for cybertheft, PLA Navy off Alaska, GOP China posturing (2015.09.08)

Welcome to Issue 19 of U.S.–China Week, back after two eventful weeks of late-summer hiatus, and coming to you on Tuesday this week, following the U.S. Labor Day holiday. We return to our regular Monday schedule next 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].

Xi’s plan: Seattle Sept. 22, Washington Sept. 24–25, UN speech in New York Sept. 28

Though official announcements have not yet emerged, several news reports are beginning to color in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s likely itinerary during a U.S. visit from about Sept. 22–28. In The Diplomat, I underline the significance of the U.N. speech and review some of what we know, including a statement by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad that he hopes to meet Xi with other governors in Seattle. SCMP reports Xi will take part in public engagements in Seattle Sept. 22. The SCMP source said “Apart from a reception with business executives, there would also be a CEO roundtable chaired by former US treasury secretary Henry Paulson.” CNN reports Xi’s state visit is set for Sept. 24–25, meaning there will be time for more than just the formalities.

ANALYSIS: A Seattle visit would keep Xi away from the New York and D.C. media, which will also focus on Pope Francis’s first ever visit to the United States on virtually the same dates. Seattle is also far from the presidential primary action, the source of the least useful lines of discourse in U.S.–China relations today.

U.S. sanctions against Chinese entities for commercial cyber-spying reportedly on the way, possibly before Xi visit

The U.S. government “is developing a package of unprecedented economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals who have benefited from their government’s cybertheft of valuable U.S. trade secrets,” the Washington Post reported. A hint of the thinking behind the possible sanctions comes from recent former White House cybersecurity official Rob Knake, who told the Post sanctions would “put China in the position of having to choose whether they want to be this pariah nation — this kleptocracy.” Sources told The Wall Street Journal the decision had not been made, but initial sanctions could target “about five companies.” Others told CNN the sanctions could come as soon as this week, before Xi’s late September visit.

ANALYSIS: Two questions. First, would sanctions be effective? They would have to be remarkably strong and extremely well-targeted to have the effect of decreasing state-sponsored intellectual property theft, imposing costs higher than the benefits for the decisive actors. This is a tall order, and sanctions might instead be part of an array of pressure tactics. If this is the case, the costs in terms of potential retaliation could outweigh benefits for the U.S. government. Second, why are we hearing about this now? People inside the U.S. government could be leaking debates to push for eventual action. They could be leaking the threat of sanctions in an attempt to gain leverage during Xi’s visit. And they could be signaling “toughness” ahead of making nice with Xi.

Chinese navy transits U.S. territorial waters off Alaska; U.S. says it was legal

Following a joint exercise with Russia and coinciding with U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska, a group of Chinese warships passed through U.S. territorial waters off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. U.S. officials said the maneuver was legal under the regime of “innocent passage,” which allows ships to transit other countries’ territorial seas without warning, so long as they follow certain rules. Reports said the passage was a first. A U.S. Northern Command statement read, “The five PLAN ships transited expeditiously and continuously through the Aleutian Island chain in a manner consistent with international law.” / Meanwhile, the Pentagon released a new Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy. Andrew Erickson says it doesn’t go far enough in the South China Sea.

ANALYSIS: Some analysts have questioned whether the Chinese transit would imply a laxer stance toward U.S. maneuvers in proximity to Chinese-claimed islands (whether genuine or man-made). I doubt it, but calls for the U.S. government to protest are misplaced. The U.S. military and civilian fleets exercise innocent passage very regularly throughout the world, and the U.S. policy of sticking up for freedom of navigation should apply to China as well. The timing alongside Obama’s visit is interesting, but it’s more illuminating to remember the PLA Navy was a bit left out at the concurrent military parade, since you can’t drag a warship down Chang’an Avenue.

Rubio: ‘Downgrade’ Xi’s state visit; Walker: ‘Cancel’ it

Senator Marco Rubio writes: “The U.S. must continue to pursue cooperation with China when possible, but we can no longer succumb to the illusion that more rounds of cordial dialogue with its rulers will effect a change of heart. That is why President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington next month should not be canceled, but rather downgraded to a working visit from a state visit. This is an opportunity to speak bluntly to this authoritarian ruler and achieve meaningful progress, not to treat him to a state dinner.” Governor Scott Walker writes: “On Monday, I called on President Obama to cancel the upcoming state visit by China to the United States. The pomp and circumstance that comes with an official state visit should be reserved for special friends and allies of our country. … These planned honors for China are the disturbing culmination of President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s many years of empty threats and symbolic summits.”

ANALYSIS: The current negativity over Xi’s visit among Republican presidential candidates is predictable, but ultimately I don’t see how these kinds of statements hurt either Obama or bilateral ties—which both face greater challenges than some political posturing.



U.S.–China Week is a weekly news and analysis brief that covers important developments in U.S.–China relations and features especially insightful or influential new policy analysis.

Graham Webster is a senior research scholar, lecturer, and senior fellow of The China Center at Yale Law School, where he specializes in U.S.–China diplomatic, security, and economic relations through research and Track II dialogues. A full bio is available here.

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

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 U.S.–East Asia politics, Transpacifica.

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






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