U.S.–China Week: Duterte’s China trip, Dueling ‘inclusives’, Quiet FONOPs? AI and ‘independent innovation’ (2016.10.17)

Welcome to issue 73 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].

Duterte pledges to raise tribunal decision but not bargain during China visit, with hundreds of businesspeople in tow

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte travels to China Tuesday, where he is to hold talks with Chinese leaders. Reuters reports that Duterte promised to bring up the UNCLOS tribunal decision and pledged not to “bargain” on the South China Sea, but, he said, “We will talk, we will maybe paraphrase everything in the judgment and set the limits of our territories, the special economic zones.” Duterte will reportedly travel with about 250 business executives in an effort to improve business ties with China. “We have members who are looking for some tie-up with their like in power, agriculture, financing facilities and joint ventures,” an industry group leader told Reuters. “They (China) might be offering certain packages, grants on the table.” A Xinhua story based on an interview with Duterte painted a strongly pro-China picture of his remarks and reported in paraphrase that he said he was “willing to pursue joint development of the waters together with China.” Xinhua’s kicker Duterte quote: “My grandfather is Chinese … It’s only China (that) can help us” (ellipsis and parenthetical in original). / Meanwhile, China’s Defense Ministry urged restraint surrounding a U.S.–South Korea military exercise this week, and the Pentagon reported it had detected a failed North Korean missile launch. And Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it was “extremely regrettable that China, despite our multiple representations, is carrying on with unilateral development in an area where no maritime border has been set” in the East China Sea.

ANALYSIS: Duterte’s comments on how he plans to handle the South China Sea, at least in the bits and pieces that have been reported, seem possibly contradictory. Perhaps he was saying that he will set out the Philippine position on maritime boundaries and not bargain over them with China. But if Xinhua’s report that he is willing to pursue joint development reflects his actual position, some bargaining will be in play down the line. In the mean time, it seems likely that some economic deals will be announced this week, and other assurances will surely be made. Despite plenty of alarmed commentary, is too early to tell whether Duterte’s apparent charm campaign with China will result in a sustained shift away from the United States. A split with the United States is still possible, however, over the surge in extrajudicial killings in the Philippines connected to a drug crackdown.

Russel outlines ‘operating system’ for Asia-Pacific, hints not all FONOPs are publicized, signals hope for TPP

Speaking to a CSIS conference, Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel outlined avision of Asia-Pacific architecture, borrowing from his predecessor Kurt Campbell’s new book the idea of an “operating system” for the region. He framed version 1 of the OS as the “post-World War II” order, said we’re now in version 3.2 (released, so to speak, when the United States and Russia joined the East Asia Summit), and said the next step is version 4.0—”a platform that supports network connectivity and new applications. It’s based on sensible, understandable rules. … The region’s unhappiness with China’s rejection of a binding Arbitral decision regarding its and the Philippines’ maritime entitlements shows that the default for the Asia-Pacific has clearly become adherence to rules and norms.” Russel name-checked Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s “principled and inclusive security network,” emphasizing the inclusivity element. And he said TPP’s “virtues as an advantageous trade agreement,” including on labor standards, environmental safeguards, and intellectual property protection were reasons to believe Congress would support it. / Separately, speaking to a gathering of defense reporters, Russel reportedly said of “freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) that the U.S. military does not necessarily “announce every FONOPs [sic.], so some things are visible; some things are only visible to people with radar and tracking.”

ANALYSIS: When Carter first rolled out the “principled security network” at Shangri La, I thought it might fade away, since the phrase hadn’t been taken up by other officials. Then it reappeared as the “principled and inclusive” network in a Carter speech this month and jumped the Potomac to appear in Russel’s speech this week. According to Google searches, neither of the formulations appears on the White House website, but it seems like it will be around at least a while longer. / Russel’s comment about FON operations is potentially more significant. After a period of intense public discussion and pressure favoring more frequent and/or more assertive such maneuvers, a U.S. official reportedly indicated in November an intention to conduct two or more per quarter. (That message seems to trace back to an anonymous source speaking to Reuters, raising the possibility that it represented internal lobbying via press leaks.) Since the UNCLOS tribunal decision was released in July, there have been no reported FON operations, and somecommentators have observed that the lack of such maneuvers could undermine the U.S. message. What Russel said signals that, consistent with those who urge regular and quiet FON operations in the South China Sea, some number of unpublicized FON operations may have occurred. It’s possible the U.S. message is, at long last, being quietly sent. On the other hand, the U.S. government may have halted FON operations to avoid flare-ups following the tribunal decision. In either case, the U.S. legal position on the South China Sea is quite clear, and it has always been debatable whether transits and maneuvers by warships are necessary to make a legal point.

At Xiangshan Forum, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin advances Chinese ‘inclusive’ regional architecture plan

Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin outlined at the Xiangshan Forum (en/zh) some new ideas on regional security architecture, advancing several rhetorical strains already developing in China. An MFA summary said, “The construction of a new Asia-Pacific security architecture should have following features: first, it should be guided by a new security concept and advocate the concept featuring common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security; second, the regional security architecture should be based on the rule of law and international norms, and abide by international and regional relationship norms which are jointly agreed by all countries; third, the security architecture should be held together by partnerships. We should jointly build an Asia-Pacific partnership featuring equality, mutual trust, inclusiveness and mutual benefit through consultation and mutual accommodation; fourth, the security architecture should be supported by a comprehensive, multi-level and multi-layered network, and further coordinate, upgrade and improve existing mechanisms; fifth, it should draw strength from common development and achieve inclusive and mutually beneficial development.” Liu’s speech also cited the “new model of major country relations” between the United States and China and the “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Russia, among other greatest hits, as part of China’s efforts toward regional security. Alice Eckman reported that “several Chinese researchers who contributed to the domestic brainstorming and policy-making discussions on the topic” said the proposed architecture could include members of the U.S.-led alliance system.

ANALYSIS: The U.S. and Chinese visions of “inclusivity” are pretty similar: Each promotes an inclusive vision on terms that exclude some of the other’s principles and interests. It is not clear whether or at what level U.S. officials attended the Xiangshan Forum this year (the delegation list on the website is blank, though several U.S. experts were listed as attending, and Evan Medeiros’ title is missing the “former” on the website). But Liu’s speech is clear in targeting certain elements of U.S. rhetoric: “Rule of law and norms are thus essential elements in the building of the Asia-Pacific security architecture. At the same time, the rules should be based on consensus and universally recognized international and regional norms. The will of a few countries can’t be equated to international or regional rules, nor taken as the sole basis for ‘a rules-based order.’” It is notable that, in pursuing competing pathways, U.S. and Chinese diplomats tend to tie their efforts to some of the very same legitimizing ideological anchors—inclusiveness, rules and norms, and commonality.

China leads U.S. by one measure of artificial intelligence development; Xi calls for ‘independent innovation’

The Washington Post reported that China leads the world in the number of papers published annually on “deep learning” or “deep neural network” technology, a subset of artificial intelligence (AI). The Post report was based on a White House strategic plan for AI research, and the Global Times picked up the report with a clickbait headline exclaiming, “In this field, China’s lightning progress overtook U.S.! Foreign media stunned.” / Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping called for “independent innovation” in a speech before a study session, declaring that China should develop its own strengths in “high-performance computing, mobile communication, quantum communication, core chips and operating systems,” according to Xinhua English. APeople’s Daily article gives more detail and notes Xi called for accelerated replacement of systems with domestically made, secure and controllable substitutes, as well as defending China’s “cyberspace sovereignty.”

ANALYSIS: The number of published research papers mentioning a certain key phrase is an almost embarrassingly bad metric on which to judge national progress on fundamental research, but the Post and GT stories reflect a sense of competition perceived by some. Certainly Xi’s renewed weight behind the effort to produce homegrown technology subject to Chinese regulations and government control has direct implications for U.S.–China tech sector competition. Still, the markets and research agendas are deeply intertwined. For example, “deep learning” is a major focus of Baidu’s lab in Sunnyvale, Calif., and having visited there recently it is obviously a multinational team. (See this Sinica podcast with Andrew Ng.) The White House also issued a report on “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence” that addresses important issues including “justice, fairness, and accountability” and “AI in weapon systems.” In the emerging thicket of social and political challenges connected to AI technology, there will be many challenges China and the United States both face (in addition to those that entail competition). The two governments have the opportunity as two top sources of AI innovation to help solve some of the common challenges together—even, perhaps, “inclusively.”

‘The Black Panthers and Mao Zedong’

Breaking from the usual pattern, this issue I want to feature Eveline Chao’s recent piece on Mao and the Black Panther Party, marking the 50th anniversary of its founding on Oct. 15, 1966. An excerpt: “To expand, they needed more guns. To get guns, they needed money. One way they raised money was selling copies of the infamous Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, popularly known in English as the ‘Little Red Book,’ a ubiquitous talisman in Cultural Revolution-era China. Just within a few months after founding the Black Panthers, [Huey P.] Newton and [Bobby] Seale went to the China Book Store in San Francisco, bought roughly a hundred or so copies of the book for 20 cents each, and sold them for a dollar apiece on the Berkeley campus, according to Seale in the 1990 documentary Berkeley in the Sixties. With the earnings, they bought more books, and eventually, more shotguns.”Much more on ChinaFile.

(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].






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *