Welcome to issue 45 of U.S.–China Week. President Xi Jinping will travel to Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit, and Xi will hold a bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama on Thursday, according to the White House. Xinhua has set up a special page (English, Chinese) for the trip, currently focusing on Xi’s present stop in Prague. I anticipate little new on the South China Sea, but we might hear more to build on September’s statements about cyberspace norms and commercial espionage. There is also a chance of some developments on the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) process, though there may not be much incentive to make that news public. This is one of Obama and Xi’s last chances to meet while both are in power, along with the G20 meeting in Hangzhou in September. If the governments release outcome documents of any length, I’ll be checking for new announcements of military-to-military activities as at least a signal of friendliness after significant negative statements from the U.S. side in recent weeks.
Other developments this past week weighed more heavily on “views” than on “news,” so this edition focuses on viewpoints.
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A THIRD WAY
Bader: No simple ‘accommodation’ or ‘untrammeled rivalry’ with China, but ‘global cooperation, regional resolve’
Jeffrey Bader, the top White House Asia adviser during Obama’s first years in office, published a Brookings paper that neatly outlines a moderate view of U.S. policy toward China, one based on a belief that “the relationship with China cannot, and should not, be reduced to one of pure rivalry, nor should we overlook the very real strategic differences in the Western Pacific between us.” Bader names aspects of “cybersecurity and cyber innovation,” investment and banking measures, and “fisheries treaties and conservation” as areas where China might “play a greater role in supporting the global system.” The United States could protect its interests by “negotiating a bilateral investment treaty or agreement that imposes commercial disciplines on state-owned enterprises,” “restrict[ing] access to the U.S. market for companies that benefit from cyber-espionage,” and other measures. Bader also calls for: clarity on alliance commitments; U.S.–China–South Korea cooperation on North Korea; “operations, exercises, and challenges to claims contrary to international law and norms” in the South China Sea; working with the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIIB); and this: “A human rights policy that makes China pay a price for extraterritorial seizures of citizens abroad and for interference with legitimate activities by U.S. information technology companies and citizens, while articulating U.S. values but making clear that China’s political system is for its citizens, not Americans, to decide.”
ANALYSIS: This is the best existing short explanation of the rationale for a U.S. China policy that is predicated neither on acquiescence to uncertain future changes nor on an assumption that a new Cold War (or worse) is inevitable. The mouthful in the last quote, however, highlights how hard it is to make this pragmatic principle into concrete policies. Bader does not make any claims that it’s going to be easy—just that the simpler, extreme approaches won’t cut it.
State Department’s Daniel Russel outlines Asia approach in Germany, flags ‘universal rights,’ ‘rule of law’
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for the Asia-Pacific, gave a wide-ranging speech and answered questions in Berlin. Beginning with a reminder that “the rebalance is definitely not a turn away from Europe,” Russel tackled several China-related issues. Domestically, he said, “as the middle class in China grows, … expectations rise. … [T]hey want a say over the decisions that affect their lives.” On the South China Sea, he dismissed several justifications for China’s island construction: protecting civilians, assisting fishermen, monitoring weather, humanitarian relief, and safeguarding freedom of navigation. Russel said the Philippine arbitration decision can spur a process toward a “new arrangement that would reduce tensions and that would open the door to cooperation.”
In Q&A, a questioner asked about whether “this rules-based system is to a certain degree not applying or cohering with their [Chinese] cultural experiences.” Russel replied firmly on the universality of the rules the United States advocates, saying “people are people and people want the same thing. They want opportunity, they want fairness, they want justice, they want safety, and that is what makes these values universal.” Russel pushed a narrative claiming the AIIB (which the U.S. government is widely accused of erroneously opposing) evolved significantly from its original proposal to what we see today, “due to concerted effort by a number of countries that either joined or declined to join.” He also called the “One Belt, One Road” initiative “a very poorly defined or an undefined set of policies and programs” and then criticized it on the substance.
ANALYSIS: There is a lot here to discuss, but Russel’s strong stance on the universality of international law and norms the U.S. government advocates, plus his invocation of the old assumption that economic development leads to democratic-sounding demands, fit into all the Chinese narratives about a U.S. policy of undermining Communist Party rule. His point-by-point dismissal of Chinese justifications for island construction was particularly effective, but his treatment of the likely outcome of the Philippine arbitration decision focused on the good possibilities while ignoring the bad ones. Finally, his point on AIIB is something I’d considered in the past: What if, despite how badly the publicity went for U.S. officials, the AIIB is now set up in alignment with U.S. preferences as a result of pressure from U.S. friends?
Dai Bingguo: China still invested in Deng’s ‘low-profile’ international approach
Former State Councilor Dai Bingguo has been relatively quiet recently, but comments at a recent appearance with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger emergedrecently. “In recent years, China’s diplomacy has focused on one fundamental strategic goal, and that is to foster a sound external environment for the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, thus a favorable overall environment and a good basis for the great renewal of the Chinese nation. … It does not pursue expansion or hegemony and believes in mutual respect and win-win cooperation. … We respect the traditional influence and practical interests of the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific, and the U.S. should also respect China’s legitimate and growing interests in this region.” / Dai’s primary point was about the “new model of major-country relations,” which he framed explicitly as a tool to avoid what he called the “so-called [Thucydides] trap.” / Another version of the text appears here.
ANALYSIS: Dai may reemerge as a voice on the scene, as he recently published a memoir. In any case, if Dai is correct that the Chinese government’s “fundamental strategic goal” is a “sound external environment,” it is inescapable that events in the South China Sea have produced a neighborhood full of wary governments who have pursued balancing against Chinese infringements on their perceived interests. Continued Chinese emphasis on the “new model” may not find receptive ears in Washington, but it is helpful to see it framed so explicitly as a way to prevent rivalry. It is too bad, perhaps, that nothing ever came of Susan Rice’s call to “operationalize” the concept.
THIS WEEK IN 1966
Worker’s Gymnasium holds 16,000-person rally supporting U.S. antiwar efforts
“With 16,000 Peking citizens and friends from five continents present, and hundreds of thousands throughout China listening to the live radio broadcast, it was an impressive demonstration.… Speaker after speaker—Chinese, American, Vietnamese, Japanese, Laotian, Somali, Colombian, British and Australian—rose to acclaim the mountaining revolutionary struggles in America and throughout the world. …Nancy Milton, an American living in China, … said: ‘The American people are beginning to understand the real nature of the system which is the enemy of all the people of the world, including the American people themselves.’”
(Source: Peking Review, April 1, 1966. This entry is part of a new feature of U.S.–China Week, following U.S.–China relations as they developed in another era of change and uncertainty, 50 years ago.)
ABOUT U.S.–CHINA WEEK
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 Paul Tsai 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).
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