U.S.–China Week: UNCLOS tribunal roundup, U.S. and China on ‘market economy’ status, Trump adviser on pivot’s pitfalls (2016.07.18)

Welcome to issue 60 of U.S.–China Week. The center of gravity of this edition has once more been shifted by the sheer mass of news on the South China Sea following the tribunal’s award almost a week ago. This provides a good chance to highlight, for-something-completely-different, another resource out there on U.S.–China relations. From the USC US-China Institute this week comes an edition of its Talking Points newsletter marking 45 years since President Richard Nixon took to television to announce his historic trip to China. Looking at the archive, Talking Points appears to come out irregularly but with great material each time. I’ve signed up.

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].

Tribunal overwhelmingly favors Philippines in arbitration; Chinese response loud, but little action reported so far

It’s impossible to cover everything, so let’s begin with the key documents and U.S. and Chinese statements (setting aside others because this is, after all, U.S.–China Week). The Permanent Court of Arbitration, which acted as the registry for this tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), has all of the official documents, including the PCA’s detailed press release and the full award. My Yale colleague Rob Williams produced a rapid summary of the legal details of the result, including Itu Aba’s status as a “rock,” a preemptive opinion against any declaration that the Spratlys are a single archipelagic feature, and the conclusion that the nine-dash line is not a legal basis for “historic rights” or other rights beyond those set out in UNCLOS. / The Chinese government issued several official responses: from the Foreign Ministry (MFA), from thegovernment of China, remarks by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, a detailed white paperand associated press conference with Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, an interview with State Councilor Yang Jiechi, a preemptive statement by President Xi Jinping in a meeting with EU representatives, and other statements. Chinese state media have been relentless in publishing stories that frame the arbitration as scandalously corrupt, going farther in language if not in spirit than the official statements. / The U.S. government quickly released a statement by the State Department spokesperson; Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken addressed the arbitration at a summit with Japanese and South Korean counterparts; the White House spokesperson answered questions twice, both times calling the award “finaland binding“; and the State Department press corps had a bit of fun with the government’s careful wording about its “expectations” about China’s behavior.

Concrete reaction by China and the United States appears cautious so far. Chinese civilian aircraft landed on two of the controversial Chinese installations in the Spratly Islands. Vice President Joe Biden visited the USS Stennis, an aircraft carrier that has played a key role in the U.S. Navy presence in the region, while it was somewhere in the Western Pacific. (Biden reportedly revealed that he told Xi personally about U.S. plans to fly B-52s through China’s East China Sea air defense identification zone in 2013, calling into question official statements at the time that the maneuver was a “routine training mission planned long in advance,” in The New York Timesparaphrase.) The PLA Air Force reportedly “recently” sent nuclear-capable bombers and other aircraft on patrol near Scarborough Shoal and said this would become a “regular” practice. Meanwhile, Chinese fishermen were reportedly preparing to fish in the Spratlys, though the South China Morning Post does not make explicit whether this would include within the Philippines’ EEZ, and the Chinese Coast Guard reportedly turned away a Philippine fishing boat approaching Scarborough Shoal after the tribunal release. Other actions may likely have occurred without public reporting.

In a meeting in Beijing, top Chinese Admiral Wu Shengli told his U.S. counterpart, Admiral John Richardson, that China would not stop its construction in the Spratlys. Richardson tweeted that the meeting was “productive…candid & frank.” Richardson’s visit to China is scheduled to last through Wednesday.

Finally, a few of the better commentaries: The excellent Maritime Awareness Project has a compilation of several short opinions by well-placed experts plus its updated interactive map. Jeff Bader gives a positive if not especially feasible-seeming vision of what the United States and China should do now. My Yale colleague Paul Gewirtzproposes a similar but somewhat more stern U.S. approach in the Washington Post.Andrew Chubb, admittedly in preliminary speculation, asks whether China’s initial statements indicate shifts toward compatibility with UNCLOS. Mira Rapp-Hooper and Patrick Cronin offer informed speculation about what will happen next, including in terms of Philippine actions I have not discussed here. There has been much, much more, but these will give a good primer in about 20 minutes of reading.

ANALYSIS: I have encountered no close observer who was not surprised by the tribunal’s unanimous and thorough award in the Philippines’ favor. No one, meanwhile, was surprised that the Chinese government continued to reject the legitimacy of the proceedings and their outcome. The implications will take months if not years to sink in; but at minimum, judgement about China’s reactions must be withheld until after the G20 summit to take place in Hangzhou in early September. Many of the more assertive potential Chinese responses could risk Obama or other major leaders withdrawing, a major diplomatic blow under any circumstances but especially after the Obama administration embraced the G20 as a major global forum valuable in part because of China’s seat at the table.

A short-term question will be in what form and with what kind of publicity any future U.S. “freedom of navigation” operations (FONOPs) take place. Will the U.S. Navy sent warships within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, which the tribunal explicitly declared unable to generate a territorial sea? What activities will the U.S. military undertake under the related banner of “presence operations”? And will the Chinese military, civilian forces, and maritime militia maintain safe operations in any challenges to U.S. activities? The initial vocal reactions all around have set up an imperative for several actors to follow through on their firm statements. The volume and tone of domestic Chinese media on these issues virtually guarantees some actor will cross a line that Chinese officials judge to justify a response, so all sides would do well to establish anti-escalation protections for expected or unexpected contingencies.

At WTO, U.S. challenges whether China has done what’s necessary to deserve ‘market economy’ status

Reuters reported that Chris Wilson, a U.S. representative at the World Trade Organization, cited aluminum and steel industries as examples of areas where “China’s market reforms have fallen short of the expectations that were held by many members when China joined the WTO.” U.S. and Chinese representatives reportedly agreed that the expiry of a 15 year timeframe in an agreement at China’s accession to the WTO did not automatically require states to grant China “market economy” status, but a Chinese representative argued the expiry would “eliminate the legal basis for countries to continue to use ‘discriminatory anti-dumping methodology’ against China,” Reuters reported. The relevant term of the 2001 agreement is to expire Dec. 11.

Trump advisor Navarro takes on ‘pivot,’ declaring Obama administration failure and blaming Clinton for China situation

Peter Navarro, reportedly an Asia adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, strongly criticized the U.S. government response (characterized as “absolutely nothing”) after China broke a U.S.-brokered deal over the Scarborough Shoal in 2012. “To Beijing, this was an open invitation, and not just to hold on to Scarborough Shoal,” Navarro writes in The National Interest. “America’s response set in motion a chain of events that have gotten us to this point.” In Navarro’s narrative “this point” is one where the Philippine arbitration outcome is likely to lead China to “react badly.” Among other comments on the “pivot” policy, he writes: “China immediately (and correctly) saw Hillary’s pivot as a Cold War-style tactic meant to “contain” China.” Meanwhile, Navarro has published two short pieceson Taiwan after recently traveling there, arguing in the second that the White House and candidates must affirm support for the Taiwan Relations Act and the “Six Assurances“—”without promoting the ‘One China, Two Systems’ propaganda of Beijing.”

ANALYSIS: It should be no surprise that an Asia adviser to Trump would publicly declare Hillary Clinton’s signal Asia policy as Secretary of State a failure. It would have taken some imagination to anticipate a Republican declaration that the Philippine arbitration outcome was counterproductive because China will lash out. What is guaranteed is that if Trump continues to use the kind of rhetoric he has thus far, and if he is receives advice from people like Navarro, this campaign will be packed with arguments the Clinton campaign (familiar as they are with conventional GOP opponents) is not immediately prepared to counter—whether or not those arguments make much sense.

#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
Johnson on U.S. ‘obligations in Asia as a Pacific power’: ‘A peaceful mainland China is central to a peaceful Asia’

In a nationally televised speech, President Lyndon Johnson spoke of “essentials” to achieve peace in Asia: “the determination of the United States to meet our obligations in Asia as a Pacific power”; “to prove to aggressive nations [referencing North Vietnam] that the use of force to conquer others is really a losing game”; “the building of political and economic strength among the nations of free Asia”; and “reconciliation between nations that now call themselves enemies.” On the last point, Johnson continued, “A peaceful mainland China is central to a peaceful Asia. A hostile China must be discouraged from aggression. A misguided China must be encouraged toward understanding the outside world and toward policies of peaceful cooperation. For lasting peace can never come to Asia as long as the 700 million people of mainland China are isolated by their rulers from the outside world.” In the speech, Johnson announced that the U.S. government had approved a passport for a U.S. businessman to visit China, but NYT reported that a State Department spokesperson said “there was no reason to relieve [sic – apparently a typesetting error] that the visa would be granted” by China.

(This entry is part of an ongoing feature of U.S.–China Week that follows 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].






One response to “U.S.–China Week: UNCLOS tribunal roundup, U.S. and China on ‘market economy’ status, Trump adviser on pivot’s pitfalls (2016.07.18)”

  1. […] the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations visited Chinese counterparts last week, National Security Adviser Susan Rice became the highest-level U.S. […]

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