U.S.–China Week (2016.02.23)

Welcome to issue 41 of U.S.–China Week. I’m publishing from Beijing this week, one day late because of transit. Publishing may be off the usual rhythm next week as well.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi begins a three-day visit to the United States today, likely in part to prepare for President Xi Jinping’s reported visit to Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit at the end of March. (The two governmentscommitted in September to hold a bilateral meeting on nuclear security before the summit, but I haven’t seen reports of one taking place yet.)

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].

Anti-aircraft weapons spotted near site of last U.S. FON operation; Chinese spokesperson denies ‘militarization’

Citing satellite imagery apparently provided by the private remote sensing firm Imagesat, Fox News reported that the Chinese military had deployed surface-to-air missile launchers on Woody Island in the Paracels. A New York Times editorial called the move “unwise” but also noted potential “legitimate” purposes for the weapons. The deployment coincided with the U.S.–ASEAN meeting in California hosted by President Barack Obama. Before the deployment made the news, Obamacriticized China for “resorting to the old style of might makes right, as opposed to working through international law and international norms.” Bonnie Glaser drew a line between the different but connected situations in the Paracels, where China’s installations are more established, and the Spratlys, where Chinese land reclamation has caused recent outcry: “If you look at what’s going on in the Paracels, that gives us a good sign of what’s going to happen in the Spratlys.” Sen. John McCain said the United States should escalate its pressure with “policies with a level of risk that we have been unwilling to consider up to this point,” according to FP. A Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said China “has been deploying various kinds of national defense facilities [in the Paracels] for several decades. It is nothing new and has nothing to do with the so-called militarization of the South China Sea.” The commander of U.S. Pacific Command agreed at least on the first point, saying “this isn’t exactly something new.” / Meanwhile, Japan and Vietnam conducted joint exercises in and around Vietnam. And a U.S. admiral acknowledged “we lost control of the message” for the first “freedom of navigation” (FON) operation in October.

ANALYSIS: If the U.S. conference with ASEAN leaders (see next item) was designed in part to stem China’s influence and maintain opposition to Chinese activities in the South China Sea, it would make sense for Chinese officials to have made sure that effort did not go unanswered. Thus deploying (or redeploying) some missiles in an area that the U.S. Navy recently transited, in opposition to Chinese positions, makes that point while also suggesting there are costs for U.S. FON operations. This makes sense if you assume Chinese decision makers in this arena engage in tit-for-tat behavior to deter U.S. interference with Chinese goals. The “militarization” issue is really a sideshow, given that both the United States and China are already making points with military hardware.

Little is new in U.S.–ASEAN joint position on maritime security

In a press conference concluding the U.S.–ASEAN meeting at Sunnylands, Obamasaid: “the United States and ASEAN are reaffirming our strong commitment to a regional order where international rules and norms—and the rights of all nations, large and small—are upheld. We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas. Freedom of navigation must be upheld and lawful commerce should not be impeded.” (Then the U.S. reporters asked him about the Supreme Court.) Chinese observers might note that the U.S.–ASEAN joint statement also affirmed “mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, equality and political independence of all nations,” and everyone would love to see the “shared commitment” to “non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities” in maritime affairs be a reality.

ANALYSIS: The U.S.–ASEAN meeting need not have been “about China” to be relevant to the U.S.–China relationship, but it’s not all about balancing Chinese influence. U.S. bilateral security ties with ASEAN members are probably more important in that respect. In fact, the non-maritime security issues discussed in the U.S.–ASEAN context, including disaster response and counterterrorism, are natural areas for all countries involved to cooperate with China. In terms of statements about the South China Sea, the Sunnylands ASEAN summit was nothing new.

U.S. Congressman gives detailed human rights speech at NYU Shanghai, emphasizes Christian faith

Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) delivered a speech at NYU Shanghai criticizing Chinese human rights conditions across several areas and describing his Christian faith-based motivation for frequently speaking out on rights issues in China. According to “excerpts” of Smith’s remarks, published by his office, he addressed freedom of religion, forced abortion and involuntary sterilization, sex-selective abortion, human rights lawyers, civil society regulations, and prominent individual rights activists, saying that “deteriorating human rights conditions not only hurt the Chinese people but are a barrier to closer U.S.–China relations. Smith’s office said he was on a five-day “human rights mission” to China and that the speech was open to NYU faculty and students.

ANALYSIS: Smith’s speech is noteworthy not for its content, which echoes dozens of other statements he has made, but for its setting at the NYU campus in Shanghai. That campus was jointly established with a Chinese university, and the extent of academic freedom there has been a question since before it was established. So it is interesting that the speech did not include discussion of academic freedom, something Smith held a hearing on in June. Smith is undoubtedly right that human rights is a barrier to closer bilateral ties, though he offers little in the way of a realistic mechanism to improve rights conditions or bilateral cooperation.

Top U.S. diplomat on U.S.–PRC opposition in Asia, and detailed response from Chinese press

Assistant Secretary of State William P. Bundy gave a long speech on “The United States and Communist China” at Pomona College on Feb. 12, 1966. Excerpt: “The unfortunate fact is that the kind of world that we seek and the kind of world our Asian friends seek is totally antithetic to the kind of Asia and the kind of world that Communist China seeks. What we seek is a situation where small as well as large nations are able to develop as free and independent countries, secure from outside aggression or subversion. We look toward their economic, political, and social development and growth; we hope their development will be in the direction of increasingly democratic institutions, but we recognize that these nations must develop as they themselves see fit, in accordance with their own traditions and customs.”

Bundy’s speech made repeated reference to a contemporaneous essay on “How to Deal with the Chinese Revolution” by John K. Fairbank, published in The New York Review of Books and available at ChinaFile.

The English-language Peking Review carried a translated People’s Dailycommentary (here in pdf) called “Refuting Bundy,” saying in part: “U.S. imperialism sees in China the biggest obstacle in the way of its world domination. Its inveterate hatred for and implacable enmity towards the Chinese people is itself evidence that the Chinese people are among the most revolutionary and most progressive. Otherwise, U.S. imperialism would not be opposing us as it is doing now. … Posing as a historian, this creature of imperialism, Bundy, said that China has now sought ‘to restore’ itself to ‘its past position of grandeur’ under the old emperors. This is the ‘valid evidence of [China’s] Asian ambitions,’ he offered.”


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. 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].






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