U.S.–China Week: First Anniversary Edition (2016.02.15)

Welcome to the special first anniversary edition of U.S.–China Week.

One year ago this week, I sent out the first “beta” issue of U.S.–China Week to 10 friends and colleagues. Today, after 49 issues and only three weeks off all year, this issue goes out to more than 800 subscribers. You are diplomats and journalists, scholars and defense professionals, think tankers and businesspeople. About three-quarters are from the United States and China, with at least 20 other countries represented. My sincere thanks to all of you for reading. I am grateful for the dozens of thoughtful and informative comments readers have sent. It has been a special pleasure to meet new friends and colleagues through this work, and I look forward to meeting even more of you as I travel to Beijing and Washington in the coming days.

To celebrate this anniversary, I am introducing a new series of U.S.–China flashbacks, with the first appearing as the last item below. This material is based on a reading of the week’s news from both countries—from exactly 50 years ago. Since I have the rare privilege of access to a great library, I’ve been reading publications from early 1966 on both sides of the Pacific in under-loved bound periodicals and some electronic archives. In the coming weeks, I’ll feature some of what people reported and argued at the time. As time goes on, I may shift to other decades, but early 1966 was very rich, and history ensures there will be plenty to discuss in the coming weeks.

Again, thanks for reading.

As always, but especially on this one-year anniversary: 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 hosts Southeast Asian leaders at Sunnylands in bid to solidify ‘rebalance’ as regional legacy

President Barack Obama is to welcome the leaders of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) today at the Sunnylands estate where he hosted President Xi Jinping for their first in-depth meeting in June 2013. Michael Fuchs, who has just returned to the Center for American Progress (CAP) after most recently serving as a deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for multilateral affairs in East Asia, writes that “ASEAN-centered institutions are the most effective mechanisms through which the United States can forge solutions to Asia’s biggest threats.” At CAP, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes previewed the trip, and the top East Asia officials from the White House and State Department both told reporters the Sunnylands U.S.–ASEAN summit is “not about China.” Reporters disagree, framing China issues as “an underlying goal” and ASEAN as “increasingly sandwiched between Washington and Beijing.” In a seeming fight to emphasize the “not about China” point, the White House took the unusual step of issuing a “fact sheet” before the meeting even started, detailing the substantive policy areas on the agenda.

ANALYSIS: As I write today at The Diplomat, and as Obama’s initial top Asia adviser Jeff Bader has publicly lamented, the U.S. press is going to make any East Asia story into a China story. By hosting ASEAN leaders at Sunnylands, Obama is hardly avoiding that impression. Despite persistent suggestions that the Obama administration has not delivered on the promise of the “pivot” or “rebalance” rhetoric, U.S. engagement in the region, with ASEAN and the related East Asia Summit meetings as a hub, has increased. Holding this summit helps cement those efforts on the U.S. side and makes it harder for a future president to deemphasize ASEAN.

Top U.S. intelligence officials tell Congress Chinese commercial hacking may be down

Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said “I think there has been a decline” when asked about whether China was adhering to the September 2015 joint declaration against state-sponsored commercial espionage online. NSA Director Michael Rogers, in the same hearing, said “we have seen some lessening in activity, but we’re not yet prepared to say that that’s a result of the systematic policy choice on the part of our Chinese counterparts.” Clapper described the remaining uncertainty as determining “whether this is a case where these … cyber actors that are under the control of the state have actually reduced their activity or if they were told, ‘Don’t get caught.’ … And of course, there’s also the challenge of determining whether, per the agreement, that any information that was purloined is actually used for economic advantage.”

ANALYSIS: These statements are pretty clearly hedged, but it is certain at minimum that the administration has not decided to sustain its public shaming tactics that led up to (and may have helped produce) the September declaration. It is always important to remember that Xi never agreed to stop national security-related spying, and the meaning of “knowingly support” is pretty vague.

Debate and conflicting reports over whether U.S. ‘freedom of navigation’ program may gain partners

U.S. and Indian officials have held talks about the possibility of conducting joint naval patrols, potentially in the South China Sea, Reuters reported. A State Department spokesperson said “at this time, I can say there’s no plans for any joint naval patrols.” Mira Rapp-Hooper writes that Australia was conducting surveillance flights and was considering operations that would challenge Chinese claims, that Japan announced an intention to patrol the South China Sea by air, and that the Philippines has expressed a desire to conduct joint patrols with U.S. forces. / Meanwhile, reports emerged that a decision is expected from the arbitral tribunal in the Philippine case against China in May, and the Philippine foreign minister said the Philippines should engage in bilateral talks with China if the award favors the Philippines.

ANALYSIS: Significant sectors of regional governments have apparently come around to the idea that demonstrating objections to Chinese activities through patrols is a desirable course of action. Introducing joint patrols or “freedom of navigation” operations would significantly change the equation. For one, a U.S. partner that has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea might use the convention’s dispute settlement mechanisms to challenge Chinese practices the U.S. government considers illegal. On the other hand, such activities with U.S. allies would reinforce the perception that U.S. alliances are directed against China. Any joint patrols, therefore, should target excessive claims made by multiple countries.

U.S. Congress passes new sanctions; Chinese official calls on U.S. and North Korea to return to talks

The U.S. Congress passed a new package of sanctions against North Korea by wide margins and there was no sign Obama would veto the bill, which requires the president to investigate and designate individuals or entities that do business with North Korea in ways that benefit the country’s military and nuclear weapons programs. Also targeted are those who “imported, exported, or reexported significant luxury goods to or into North Korea,” potentially including Chinese people or businesses not directly related to proliferation or weapons. / Meanwhile, a Chinese spokesperson, echoing the readout from Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s meeting in Munich with Secretary of State John Kerry, urged the United States and North Korea “to be seated, talk and discuss how to address each other’s reasonable concerns.” This is consistent with the Chinese position favoring a return to the six-party talks.

ANALYSIS: In an engaging panel at the Munich Security Conference, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Corker and National People’s Congress Foreign Affairs Chair Fu Ying reenacted the persistent difference of perspective between the two governments, with Corker asking why Chinese authorities won’t exert more pressure (and Fu suggesting he meant starve the North Korean people), and Fu asking why the U.S. government won’t pledge not to invade (and Corker saying it’s a non-issue, “unless”). It seems unlikely the U.S. position will change. Will China’s?

Accusations of imperialism as U.S.–Taiwan military agreement enters force; NYT reporter describes ‘the new China experts’

» A commentary declared a new “status of forces” agreement between the United States and the Republican government in Taiwan “illegal, null, and void.” “According to the agreement,” read a recap of the Beijing Da Gong Bao commentary, “the U.S. can station its invading troops in Taiwan without limit and can arbitrarily occupy Taiwanese territory. This way, the American imperialists are free to turn Taiwan into a base for invasion and war in Asia. The U.S. invaders also threaten to use Taiwan as a transit station to ‘support the Vietnam War’ and as the ‘closest large base’ to the mainland.” A short New York Times report on the agreement when it was signed in August 1965 saw things differently, saying “the agreement details criminal jurisdiction to be applied against American personnel charged with violating Chinese Nationalist laws,” but the United States could opt to prosecute its own personnel for “death, rape, robbery, security offenses against the Chinese Nationalist Government, narcotics, and arson.”

» “Who are the experts who sit in on the great decisions and calculate China’s reaction,” asked the journalist James Reston in The New York Times. “Most of the ‘old China hands’ of the Bohlen-Thompson generation—John Paton Davies, John Carter Vincent, Edmund Clubb, etc.—were shunted aside in the McCarthy raids on the State Department, and the new China hands are not invited to the critical White House policy sessions.” Reston identified “a new generation,” whether or not out of the loop, in then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Edward Earl Rice, the diplomats Oscar Vance Armstrong, John H. Holdridge, Assistant Secretary William P. Bundy, and others. Reston argued that “the people who know the most about China in this Government are not in touch with the President personally, and at least some of them certainly do not share his confidence that the war in Vietnam can be enlarged without bringing China into the struggle.” Reston speculated that the new generation remembered “the fate of the old China hands” and “do not want to get caught between President Johnson and Senator Fulbright, and who can blame them?” (Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more on Fulbright and Bundy.)


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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