U.S.–China Week: Obama and Xi’s missed connection, persistent U.S. pressure, Pelosi in Tibet, cyberspace stirrings (2015.11.16)

Welcome to Issue 29 of U.S.–China Week. There has been a lot of recent activity and there is a lot on the agenda for U.S.–China relations. While the U.S. and Chinese governments have condemned Friday’s shocking terrorist attacks in Paris, officials are also looking toward the climate summit there beginning at the end of this month. President Barack Obama is still planning to attend, and I would be surprised if President Xi Jinping isn’t also.

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].

Obama and Xi not scheduled to meet at G20 or APEC

U.S. officials briefing reporters said Obama is scheduled to meet alongside Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and East Asia Summit (EAS) meetings with the leaders of Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Laos, Singapore, andCanada—but not China’s Xi. Daniel Kritenbrink, the top White House official for Asian affairs, said “there’s no formal bilateral scheduled between President Obama and President Xi, in large part because, as you know, they just had a very successful state visit here in Washington.” Xi is to attend the APEC meeting, and Premier Li Keqiang is to represent China at the EAS. Obama’s visit to the Philippines, host of the APEC meeting, will include a visit to a Philippine warship. There was no mention of a meeting between Obama and Xi in Turkey, where both leaders are attending a G20 summit. Obama has already met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin alongside the G20 for an apparently unscheduled consultation.

ANALYSIS: It is not necessarily surprising that Obama and Xi are taking the present summits as opportunities to meet with leaders they haven’t seen so recently (or at all, in the cases of the new prime ministers from Australia and Canada). It does tell us, however, that the September summit did not open areas of work that would make another meeting a priority. The greatest promises from recent Obama–Xi meetings are the climate effort and an uncertain opening on cybersecurity—both efforts that could falter for a variety of reasons. If these fail, the Obama administration could end with confrontation outweighing cooperation.

U.S. delegation discusses cybercrime efforts in China before formal first meeting of new channel

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas was in Beijing to meet with officials on cybersecurity and other issues. The new mechanism announced during Xi’s U.S. visit is apparently to be called the “U.S.-China Ministerial Dialogue on Cybercrime and Related Issues.” People’s Daily reported Mayorkas’ interagency delegation was received by Politburo Member Meng Jianzhu, with Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun in attendance. The MPS said the U.S. delegation included the Departments of Homeland Security, State, and Justice, and the FBI. Guo is said to be the minister-level representative on the Chinese side for the “Ministerial Dialogue,” underlining the focus on cybercrime as opposed to broader cyberspace issues. As discussed last week, the first meeting of the group is to take place December 1–2.

ANALYSIS: This new mechanism, with such wide membership, is in a sense a replacement for the bilateral working group China suspended after U.S. indictments of alleged Chinese military hackers. What it lacks is the military-strategic element, which could conceivably be discussed in the promised “senior experts group” on norms of state behavior in cyberspace. Will the U.S. side get some satisfaction on commercial hacking issues? I wouldn’t bet on it, and if there is no significant movement I would not be surprised to see sanctions some time after the climate summit.

Nancy Pelosi among Congressional delegation that traveled to Tibet

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, long known for outspoken criticism of human rights practices in China and especially Tibet, visited Lhasa. “We engaged in candid talks with the Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Chen Quanguo; Vice Party Secretary of TAR, Baima Chilin; and Party Secretary of Lhasa, Qi Zhala regarding the importance of respecting Tibet’s autonomy, its ecology, and the human rights and religious freedom of its diverse people. Ours was the first Congressional delegation to enter Tibet since the 2008 unrest marked by protests, demonstrations and violence,” Pelosi said in a statement. The delegation reportedly met in Beijing with Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhang Dejiang. The president of the International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement “we welcome this initiative.”

ANALYSIS: Human rights issues have been notably quiet in the news on U.S.–China official interactions in recent years. Human rights groups have been vocal, and the U.S. government has made regular statements, but rights issues have rarely if ever seemed to displace other efforts in the Obama era. The old assumption in China has been that Democrats are tougher on rights than Republicans. If Marco Rubio were president, this perception would likely change.

GM to sell Chinese-made cars in U.S.; Alibaba to invest in U.S. startups; Google eyeing China app store

In what industry figures are calling a “landmark” and a “milestone,” GM willreportedly begin selling Chinese-made Buick Envision SUVs in the United States in 2016. / Alibaba’s Jack Ma told Bloomberg: “I want our team to invest in high-technology startups in the States and help them to grow. Not only with the money but by helping them to come to China one day. This is a huge market.” / Google is reportedly considering what Chinese media have questionably called “a return to China” in the form of a Chinese version of its app store, a market where it would facestiff competition. / MEANWHILE: The U.S. Secretaries of Commerce and Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative are to visit China next week for the 26th China-U.S. Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting.

ANALYSIS: These stories are a few among many and serve as a ritual reminder that U.S.–China news may be dominated by fears of strategic rivalry and military jockeying, but the economic picture is full of individuals and firms developing ventures that often are, yes indeed, “win-win.”

U.S. government, through words and deeds, signals persistent pressure on South China Sea, global order

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, on returning from a trip to Asia, gave a significantspeech. “The single most influential factor in shaping the region’s future is how China rises and relates to the principled order that has undergirded regional peace, stability, and security. As a rising power, it’s to be expected that China will have growing ambitions and a modernizing military. But how China behaves will be the true test of its commitment to peace and security. This is why nations across the region are watching China’s actions in areas like the maritime domain and cyberspace.,” Carter said, later adding: “We meant what we say. We will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.” A Chinese spokespersonresponded: “Facts have given us a clear idea of who is breaching the international order and creating troubles.” MEANWHILE: U.S. B-52s flew over the South China Sea near China’s installations, with reports disagreeing on whether they entered within 12 nautical miles of any specific feature.

ANALYSIS: It seems clearer and clearer that the U.S. government intention is to continue a variety of legal and norm-based challenges to Chinese activities in the South China Sea, putting recent headache-inducing discussions about the precise messaging surrounding so-called “freedom of navigation” operations in context. Perhaps the initial U.S. ambiguity was designed to give Chinese counterparts room to maneuver while the long-term nature of U.S. efforts sinks in. The real question is whether U.S. strategists have envisioned a remotely realistic scenario for Chinese officials to back down under pressure.


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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