U.S.–China Week (2016.05.31)

Welcome to issue 54 of U.S.–China Week, coming to you from Honolulu, where I have already gained a great deal of insight from conversations with members of the large and diverse community of Asia-Pacific policy professionals based here. As advertised, this edition is slightly off-schedule due to a combination of travel and the Memorial Day holiday in the United States. I will still be on the road (in Beijing) in a week, but I expect to return to regular programming beginning June 13. This abbreviated edition covers only some of the high-profile events of the last few days.

The calendar is full for U.S.–China relations, with the weeks-long RIMPAC multilateral military exercises beginning June 1, the Shangri-La Dialogue set for June 3–5, and the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) set for June 5–7. Watch for expected high-profile speeches from Admiral Harry Harris and Admiral Sun Jianguo, and for which countries hold sideline meetings at Shangri-La. There is a pretty good chance that this will be the last meeting of the S&ED as currently constituted, since a new U.S. administration can be expected to make at least minor adjustments before next summer. One hopes the two governments will use this opportunity to cement some progress on issues of mutual interest as the coming transition throws U.S. priorities into question.

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].

G7 statement all but explicitly endorses Philippine arbitration proceedings; Chinese response targets Japan

In a detailed section of the G7 leaders’ statement issued during President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan, the leaders took on maritime security in language that strongly supports the U.S. government position on disputes in the South China Sea. Among the most pointed remarks were: “We reaffirm the importance of states’making and clarifying their claims based on international law, refraining from unilateral actions which could increase tensions and not using force or coercion in trying to drive their claims, and seeking to settle disputes by peaceful meansincluding through juridical procedures including arbitration. … We are concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas, and emphasize the fundamental importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes” (emphasis added). A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson dismissed the G7 criticism in familiar terms; reiterated the Chinese government’s recent emphasis on claimed support from other governments for its position; and singled out Japan (as host of the G7), but not the United States, in responding. / Earlier, the bilateral jointstatement from Obama’s visit to Vietnam said the governments “expressed serious concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea, … called for non-militarization and self-restraint in addressing disputes, [and] reaffirmed shared commitments under the Sunnylands Declaration.”

ANALYSIS: While the result of the Philippine arbitration case against China is expected in the next few weeks, the ground has already been prepared for China and the Philippines, backed by its ally the United States, to both claim international support for their view of the legitimacy of those proceedings. The war of words might as well be pre-scripted. What the words and the arbitration come to mean will depend on the actions taken by several governments.

U.S. Defense chief coins ‘Great Wall of self-isolation’ in graduation speech with strong China focus

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, speaking to graduates at the Naval Academy, spent significant time on the Asia-Pacific and China in specific. He cited “freedom of navigation” (FON) operations including by the USS Lassen, surveillance flights, and the presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier as positive contributions of the U.S. Navy and Marines. He called Chinese actions in the South China Sea “expansive and unprecedented,” citing “militarization” of artificial islands. “And when other aircraft, ships, and even fishermen act in accordance with international law near these features, China tries to sometimes to turn them away,” Carter said. He declared that “China’s cyber-actors have violated the spirit of the Internet—not to mention the law.” He championed “principles and systems that have served all of us so well,” and said “China sometimes plays by its own rules…undercutting those principles” while speaking about “win-win cooperation.” Saying these patterns are not “where the region wants to go,” Carter gave us a new, awkward phrase in asserting that “China’s actions could erect a Great Wall of self-isolation.”

ANALYSIS: The official Chinese response to this speech was fairly muted, focusing mostly on the “Cold War mentality” critique, but also promising response if foreign action “threatens or undermines China’s territorial sovereignty and security.” It’s hard to say what exactly the U.S. government gets out of a tough China speech, but it certainly signals firmness and Defense Department determination to do what is feasible to oppose some Chinese actions. Which actions might produce what responses is left ambiguous in the rhetoric on rules and principles.

#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
FBI warns China buying U.S. technical information

“WASHINGTON, May 30, 1966 (UPI) — J. Edgar Hoover warned today that Communist China was buying large amounts of unclassified American technical information. In an article in the current issue of the magazine Nation’s Business, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that through the purchases China and other Communist nations have saved ‘incalculable resources in their race to overcome the camp of freedom.’ Since 1949, he said, China ‘has poured tens of thousands of dollars into the American economy through purchases of non-classified publications of myriad types and descriptions.’ … ‘This activity’—the systematic collection of vital information, much of it available free or at a moderate cost to any interested person in the United States—is one of the most intensive which Red China has launched against the United States,’ Mr. Hoover said.” Link.

(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.)


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).

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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