U.S.–China Week: Trump staffing, first contacts, early uncertainty, Cybersecurity Law (2016.11.14)

Welcome to issue 77 of U.S.–China Week. A week ago, I argued that “a Donald Trump win would at minimum drastically raise uncertainty in the U.S.–China relationship and could easily throw it into economic and security crisis as a consequence of that uncertainty.” (I also predicted “some level of economic turmoil … immediately upon a Trump win.” Instant accountability: Turmoil has in fact been very minor so far—a fact I will take as an inaugural caution about making predictions in a Trump era.) Then, I promised that I would “return to regular programming” this week. So today I move back toward regular programming in that I will not directly address U.S. domestic conditions in this forum. Instead, I will focus on the uncertainty Trump’s win delivered as promised in U.S.–China relations and some of the small areas of added information we have gained since Wednesday morning, when I compiled an early “Trump-China Reading List, and Unanswered Questions for his Asia Policy” for the Lawfare blog. That list includes material that emerged before the election, and there has been a great deal published since, despite limited new information. Maura Cunningham put together a great initial round-up of commentary.

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 Medium and on Facebook, and you can follow me on Twitter at @gwbstr. And please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

Xi and Trump speak by phone after questions about missing phone call

President Xi Jinping sent a “congratulatory message” to President-elect Trump on Wednesday, saying he looks forward to “push[ing] bilateral relations for greater progress at a new starting point.” In response to questions about Trump proposals for a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports, Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, “I believe that any US politician, if he takes the interests of his own people first, will adopt a policy that is conducive to the economic and trade cooperation between China and the US.” Later, after WSJ reported that Trump said he had spoken to “most leaders, though he hadn’t yet spoken with” Xi, Xinhua reported that Trump and Xi discussed U.S.–China relations on Monday. According to Xinhua, Trump “thanked Xi for the congratulations and said that he agreed with Xi on his views about U.S.-China relations. China is a great and important country with eye-catching development prospects, said Trump. The United States and China can achieve win-win results featuring mutual benefits, he added.”

ANALYSIS: These news items give us very little, and it appears the Chinese government is in a wait-and-see mode, but we might as well keep track of whether Chinese officials again use the term “new starting point” and whether Trump makes a habit of hyping potential “win-win” deals.

Unusual pool for Asia advisers after establishment denunciations; policy direction unclear or uncharted

A great deal of speculation has surrounded the question of who might take on important positions for Asia policy. The economist Peter Navarro has long been one of the most visible Asia-oriented Trump policy advisers. The day before the election, he co-authored a Foreign Policy article arguing the Obama era’s “pivot” was merely speaking loudly and arguing for carrying a larger stick. “Trump will steadfastly pursue a strategy of peace through strength, an axiom of Ronald Reagan that was abandoned under the Obama administration,” the article said, adding support for a dozens more naval ships and calling for South Korea and Japan to share more costs for regional security. Alexander Gray, Navarro’s co-author here, is a former adviser to Rep. Randy Forbes, leader of the House China Caucus and an advocate for Naval procurement who lost his primary in Virginia after redistricting and has been discussed as a likely secretary of the Navy. A BuzzFeed article based on a list provided by a “source close to the campaign” also named former Senator Jim Talent, currently a member of the U.S.–China Commission, former State Department official Randy Schriver, and think-tanker Elbridge Colby, whose biosays he has worked on U.S.–China nuclear weapons issues. James Woolsey put himself in the public eye as a Trump adviser with a SCMP op-ed saying he can “see the emergence of a grand bargain in which the US accepts China’s political and social structure and commits not to disrupt it in any way in exchange for China’s commitment not to challenge the status quo in Asia. It may not be a spoken agreement but a tacit understanding that guides the relations in the years to come.” (The same quote appears in a China Daily report before the election based on a conference appearance.) The Hill reports that James Jay Carafano is working on the State Department transition. FT reports that “Dan DiMicco, the former chief executive of steel company Nucor and a longtime advocate of a tougher US line on China, is the point person on trade in Mr Trump’s transition team.” Michael Pillsbury, a veteran defense analyst known to many in the field as a China hawk, has been identified as an adviser to the transition.

“What percentage of the qualified national security establishment has refused to work for Mr. Trump? I would guess it’s at least half,” Pillsbury told Bloomberg. Among the many Republican Asia policy experts who have signed public lettersopposing Trump are several we might have expected to see on another Republican president-elect’s radar: Michael Auslin, Daniel Blumenthal, Aaron Friedberg, Paul Haenle, and others. Eight even said they would vote for Clinton: James Clad, Patrick Cronin, Charles Dunne, Michael Green, Frank Lavin, Robert Manning, Anja Manuel, and Peter Watson.

ANALYSIS: We have no real idea who will play what role in shaping U.S. policy toward China and the Asia-Pacific. That includes Trump’s role and his inclinations. In my “reading list” from Wednesday, I recount many of the campaign statements he and his affiliates made, but those statements often conflict both before the election and with further statements afterward. Even the post-election statements we have seen need to be regarded with skepticism, because people are likely angling for positions. At the most basic level, it is too early to tell what the world should expect. (Thus although there have been at least a dozen reasonable speculative articles about a potential Trump China policy, I’m not processing them here, because I want more information before we start evaluating predictions.) As a Chinese oil industry source tells the WSJ, “Nobody knows what he’ll do.”

Abe to meet Trump on way to APEC meeting in Lima, where Obama faces regional leaders in final summit

Reuters reports: “U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s meeting next week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may mark the start of talks to garner Japan’s support for a push back against China’s growing influence in Asia, a security adviser to Trump said. … The Trump adviser said the president-elect would want to allay any ‘unfounded’ concerns Abe may have and affirm his commitment to their countries’ security alliance.” The Trump-Abe meeting is set for Thursday. / Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is preparing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima this weekend. National Security Adviser Susan Rice wrote in The National Interest a restatement of Obama administration views on the Asia-Pacific: “This APEC summit will be President Obama’s last, but it cannot and will not be the end of American engagement with the region. … Our interests in the region are enduring. Our commitment must be as well.” There, as U.S. commitment to the TPP appears finished for the forseeable future and likely for good, China is expected to press trade priorities including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the long-discussed but nascent APEC-wide Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

China passes new Cybersecurity Law; U.S. businesses concerned

An item authored by former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and colleagues at the law firm WilmerHale notes: “Drafts of the Cybersecurity Law had raised significant concerns in the international business community, due to provisions with the potential to restrict market access such as data localization requirements, national security reviews for ICT products and services, and data retention and sharing requirements. The final draft is largely consistent with previous drafts, although the provisions of the Law are cast broadly, and it will be up to the State Council, Cybersecurity Administration of China, and other government bodies to issue implementing rules in the months and years ahead (in addition to related rules that are already in place). The Cybersecurity Law itself will take effect June 1, 2017.” The translated full text of the new law is available with notes on changes since the last draft at China Law Translate. At Lawfare, Christopher Mirasola notes several areas of concern for foreign firms, many of which are rooted in the ambiguities of the law as written (while awaiting more detailed regulations and evidence of how enforcement will be practiced).

’19 Experts on Asia Are Named by Rusk As Advisory Panel’

“WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 (AP)—Secretary of State Dean Rusk named today a 19-man advisory panel on East Asian and Pacific Affairs headed by Prof. Edwin O. Reischauer of Harvard, former Ambassador to Japan. The new Group: Edwin O. Reischauer, former Ambassador to Japan and now a professor at Harvard; John M. Allison, former Ambassador to Indonesia, director of the Overseas Career Program, University of Hawaii, Honolulu; Hugh Borton, president of Haverford (Pa.) College; Claude A. Buss, associate of history, Stanford University; Russell G. David, associate director, Center for Studies in Education and Development, Harvard University; Russell H. Fifield, professor of political science, University of Michigan; Caryl Haskins, president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington; Alice Hsieh, China expert, Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif.; Walter H. Judd, former Representative and medical missionary to China; Lucien W. Pye, professor of political science, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; A. M. Rosenthal, former foreign correspondent and now metropolitan editor for The New York Times; Dr. Howard A. Rusk, contributing editor of The New York Times; president of the World Rehabilitation Fund and director of refugee and health projects for Korea and Vietnam; Robert A. Scalapino, China expert and chairman of the political science department, University of California; Arch T. Steele, journalist, Portal, Ariz.; George E. Taylor, director of the Far Eastern and Russian Institute, University of Washington; Frank N. Trager, professor of international affairs, New York University; Robert E. Ward, professor of political science, University of Michigan; Clifton Wharton Jr., acting executive director, the Agricultural Development Council, Inc., New York; Kenneth T. Young, former Ambassador to Thailand, now president of the Asia Society, New York.”

(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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