Welcome to issue 56 of U.S.–China Week, coming to you from San Francisco, where I will be based for about the next two months. Readers in the Bay Area are encouraged to get in touch.
There’s plenty of news below, including outcome documents from the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), but observers of U.S.–China relations will find time anew survey of five Asia-Pacific countries especially intriguing. Published by the University of Sydney, the survey covers views about the strength and nature of U.S. and Chinese influence in the world, and the nature of many other bilateral relationships. Among the many interesting comparisons, 43 percent of Chinese respondents viewed conflict with Japan as “quite” or “extremely” likely, while only 9 percent of Japanese respondents reported the same. (The firm YouGov conducted surveys in all five countries—Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea—which sounds good for comparability, though even the best weighting of surveys conducted online may be insufficient in China and Indonesia, where the World Bankestimates Internet penetration at 49 and 17 percent, respectively.)
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The two governments (U.S./China) released lengthy and mostly identical documents listing “outcomes” from S&ED. On the strategic track, at least 52 of 120 such outcomes are directly related to the environment or clean energy, and many recapitulate previous meetings and agreements. The economic side, a unilateral U.S. “fact sheet” emphasized what the administration says it got out of China, including notes on exchange rates, transparency, China’s goal of a shift to consumption-led growth, steel overcapacity, ICT openness, and openness in China’s financial system. Both sides published a “joint fact sheet” on the economic track (U.S./China) that goes into greater detail and does more to speak to Chinese priorities. The joint document includes interesting language on cybersecurity and limits to bilateral information and communication technology (ICT) trade, committing that any limits “should be consistent with WTO agreements.” The U.S. State Department’s full list of documents not owned by Treasury is here. Despite a large number of events on environment issues, U.S. press reports focused on what areas didn’t see progress: most prominently, the South China Sea. There, while the Beijing meetings continued, the U.S. government reported a new “unsafe intercept” by a Chinese jet in proximity to a U.S. reconnaissance plane. Unlike some recent such announcements, U.S. Pacific Command actually published a statement, though I could only find it on Facebookand Twitter—both blocked in China.
ANALYSIS: What is the future of the S&ED? Skeptics reasonably ask whether anything is accomplished in this format that would not be in the dozens of issue-based bilateral meetings that take place each year. “Outcome” documents, rich with reiteration of previous statements and plans to hold more meetings from which outcomes often go unreported, certainly feed such skepticism. My conversations in Beijing last week gave little sense that U.S. participants felt the time was well spent. Still, I would generally advocate for better constructed meetings, not their elimination. A new U.S. administration is an opportunity to cut out what’s stale and build new patterns.
Russian Navy vessels reportedly sailed through the “contiguous zone,” near the Japanese-administered Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, followed within hours by a Chinese Navy ship. The Japanese government reportedly summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo at about 2 a.m. to demand that the Chinese ship leave. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the action “unilaterally heightens tensions.” There wasspeculation that the Chinese ship entered to counter the presence of a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ship that pursued the Russian vessels. And Japanese vessels reportedly warned the Chinese frigate not to enter the contiguous zone before it had done so. Neither the Chinese nor Russian ships were reported to enter Japan’s claimed territorial sea. The Chinese Ministry of Defense, in a Weibo post, said “It is proper and legal for Chinese Navy ships to operate in waters administered by China (本国管辖海域).” / Meanwhile the incoming Philippine foreign minister saidthere would be no bilateral talks with China on the South China Sea before the Hague tribunal result is released.
ANALYSIS: The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides for a contiguous zone, 12 nautical miles in width and just outside the territorial sea, where a state “may exercise the control necessary to prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea.” Nothing about provision would seem to empower coastal states to prohibit foreign warships from entering, thus for Japan to warn the Chinese ship away would seem to represent a non-law-based assertion of jurisdiction over the waters. The Chinese statement is less specific about what administrative power or jurisdiction is claimed. If a Chinese naval ship navigated through Japan’s claimed territorial sea while following the norms of innocent passage, would Japan’s response accord with the liberal U.S. vision of navigation rights for warships?
One of the most intriguing and least discussed “outcomes” from President Xi Jinping’s trip to the United States in September was $100 million of Chinese financing for a high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California. Construction had reportedly been delayed due to a stalled regulatory process. Then the U.S. firm, XpressWest, terminated the joint venture with the Chinese consortium over “timely performance” and challenges in “obtaining required authority to proceed with required development activities.” Reuters quoted Xinhua as reporting that XpressWest’s “unilateral” announcement of the break violated the initial agreement. Caixin reported that a Chinese-side executive claimed XpressWest cut ties “because the Chinese side refused to make certain concessions.”
ANALYSIS: From press reports, it is hard to determine just what went wrong here; and it’s hard to determine whether the initial deal had been done in a way that was ever likely to succeed. Several reports suggested a U.S. requirement that rail cars be built in the United States, despite the fact that no U.S. factories build high-speed rail cars, is a challenge—but the one article that lists possible sources for cars if a waiver is granted didn’t include China. One wonders whether the two sides ever had compatible ambitions.
#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
NYT on founding of the National Committee: ‘Cecil Thomas Will Direct U.S.-China Relations Panel’
June 11, 1966: “Cecil Thomas has been designated executive secretary of the newly formed National Committee on United States-China Relations. Mr. Thomas is also associate peace secretary of the American Friends Service Committee. The new organization, formed to promote widespread public discussion and knowledge of Communist China, also named the following men to its development or steering committee: A. Doak Barnett, professor in the Department of Public Law and Government at Columbia University; Claude A. Buss, professor of history at Stanford University; Robert W. Gilmore, president of the Center for War/Peace Studies; Jack Gomperts, former chairman of the World Trade Association; David Hunter, deputy general secretary of the National Council Churches, and Carl F. Stover, executive director of the National Institute of Public Affairs. Robert Scalapino, professor of political science at the University of California, is acting chairman of the committee. A headquarters will be established in New York.” Link.
(Source: The New York Times. 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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