U.S.–China Week: Climate focus for Obama in China, BIT progress, cyberspace moves in China, assessing China experts (2016.08.29)

Welcome to issue 66 of U.S.–China Week. 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. You can also find U.S.–China Week on Mediumand on Facebook, and you can follow me on Twitter at @gwbstr. And please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

BIT exchange, climate announcement to accompany G-20 and Obama-Xi meeting in Hangzhou

With the G-20 in Hangzhou set for the weekend and President Barack Obamavisiting China for the occasion, U.S.–China diplomatic ties 1are in a period of concentrated effort. Though not directly relevant to the G-20, reports emerged that a fourth exchange in negotiations toward a possible bilateral investment treaty (BIT) was expected to take place before Obama meets with President Xi Jinping alongside the summit. That optimism came from U.S.-China Business Council President John Frisbie within days of the release of the organization’s annual report. / A South China Morning Post editorial reports that “President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama are expected to jointly announce ratification of the landmark pact by Beijing and Washington ahead of the G20 summit of major economies in Hangzhou this week. Senior climate officials from both countries worked late into the night in Beijing in recent days to finalise details.” White House Senior Adviser Brian Deesewas in Beijing for talks on climate issues. / Meanwhile, Wang Wen of the Chongyang Institute at Renmin University outlines some Chinese priorities for the summit, and Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina of Reuters discuss risks from the Chinese perspective.

ANALYSIS: The BIT news continues to trickle out month by month, and the most recent optimistic account holds that a deal might be reached while Obama is still in office. Even if this is the case, any U.S.–China accord would be subject to intense scrutiny and possibly further adjustments under a new U.S. president and Congress. In the not unlikely event that no bargain is reached, keeping the negotiations going could still be useful for both governments to understand each other’s economic priorities. / An Obama-Xi announcement on climate measures would once again give the two governments a positive note to trumpet, but it seems unlikely it would reflect real progress unless accompanied by concrete measures to reduce emissions.

UN Ambassador Power argues U.S. interests affected by treatment of people in other countries

Writing in The New York Review of Books, Ambassador to the United NationsSamantha Power argues: “it is now objectively the case that our national interests are increasingly affected not just by what happens between states, but also by how people are treated within states.” The essay addresses diverse topics but those remarks directly pertinent to U.S.–China relations include: “In countries like Venezuela and China, we see the chilling effects of government crackdowns not only on those who stand up for human rights, but also on those who challenge the official version of events, including in the economic sphere. When business leaders, journalists, and economists are criticized or attacked for circulating objective information about the economy; when blog posts and news stories are censored for raising legitimate questions about inflated government production figures, dubious currency values, or corrupt officials; when fear prevents people from sharing accurate data about markets or from recommending reforms that would make them more efficient, the resulting dearth of credible information and of innovative ideas doesn’t just undermine the economy of any one country; it threatens the stability of an ever more interconnected, regional, and even global market. … State-to-state relations matter hugely, but our knowledge of the people who live in those states must get much deeper. … This should include building relationships not only with well-known civil society organizations, but also with groups like teachers’ associations, workers’ unions, and leaders in the business community—and not only with the vocal majorities, but with the minorities who are harder to find and hear.”

ANALYSIS: In framing this short essay, Power explicitly references Henry Kissinger’s views on national interests, seeking to harness a rhetoric often used to set aside internal affairs such as rights abuses in favor of power calculations. Arguing for U.S. policy concerns about domestic affairs in the language of U.S. interests—rather than, for instance, the responsibility to protect—reads like a ploy to redirect policy attention and national security resources toward problems Power has long studied. If this way of thinking gains currency, human rights could eventually be “securitized” and drawn closer to the center of the U.S. policy agenda with China.

CAC gives Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, IBM seat at policy consultation table; U.S.–China cybercrime hotline reported open

The Wall Street Journal reports that a key Chinese government body involved in drafting cybersecurity standards will allow Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, and IBM to “take an active part in drafting rules, rather than participating simply as observers.” The body, known as Technical Committee 260, is reportedly responsible for defining the vague but crucial Chinese policy term of art “secure and controllable” and reports to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). / The CAC reported that a U.S.–China hotline on cybercrime and related issues opened August 26, and Vice Minister of Public Security Chen Zhimin spoke with Under Secretary of Homeland Security Suzanne Spaulding and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz and an FBI representative using the line. / Meanwhile: WSJ reports on Chinese companies’ investments in artificial intelligence development.

ANALYSIS: Inviting several U.S. companies to the standards-drafting table could be significant or merely symbolic, depending on how far along the process already is and what if any influence comes with participation. / The last U.S.–China meeting on “cybercrime and related issues” in June drew some skepticism after the joint statement was largely a statement of intentions rather than accomplishments. Establishing this hotline is a concrete achievement the two sides had previously promised. The real question is still how such a mechanism will be used. At the time of the last meeting, the next round of such talks was announced to be planned for “the second half of 2016 in Washington, D.C.”

Mattis: What kind of China expertise does the U.S. government need anyway?

In a much-discussed short essay, Peter Mattis asks whether the U.S. government has the China specialists it needs. His starting point is a 1977 memo by then National Security Council staffer Mike Oksenberg calling for “an in-government assessment of our national intelligence capability on China” and recounts several present-day concerns that the U.S. government lacks the depth it needs on China. Mattis outline three types of expertise to consider: “(1) Knowledge of China: This traditional notion of expertise captures understanding how the Chinese party-army-state functions, i.e. its people, political culture, institutions, and the way things work; (2) Ability to make deals with Beijing: This might be called ‘operational expertise’ in the sense of knowing how to negotiate or create leverage to get things done; (3) Moral-strategic clarity: Values create interests, and interests guide action. One should be able to empathize with China’s values (and recognize the legitimacy that those values hold), but still be able to pass judgment on the implications that Beijing’s values have in the context of one’s own values and interests.”

#USChinaWeek1966 <— follow this hashtag on Twitter for more
NYT Editorial: ‘Xenophobia in Peking’

From August 26, 1966: “Officially, the youthful Red Guards now on the rampage in Peking are seeking to replace ‘bourgeois ideology’ with ‘revolutionary proletarian ideology.’ In practice, however, much of their activity suggests xenophobia run riot. They have proclaimed bans against Western style clothing, long haircuts, permanent waves and even manicures. They want the bourgeois traffic lights—red for stop, green for go—reversed on the ground that the revolutionary red should signify forward movement. The impartiality of their antiforeign campaign is suggested by the fact that the desecration of Peking’s few remaining Christian churches has taken place simultaneously with insulting and threatening acts directed at the Soviet Embassy and its personnel. It is all a dismaying display of Chinese know-nothingism.”

(Source: The New York TimesThis 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].






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