Welcome to issue 81 of U.S.–China Week. Coming to you this week from Beijing, allow me to open with what in normal days would have been a banner headline here: The U.S. president-elect has announced his intended new ambassador to China, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. Official Chinese media (eg. here) greeted the news by referring to Branstad, who first met President Xi Jinping in 1985 when Xi was a local official visiting the United States, as “an old friend of the Chinese people.” Of course, the president-elect is Donald Trump, and he used the occasion to declare that “China is not a market economy … they haven’t played by the rules, and they know it’s time that they’re going to start. They’re going to start. They’re going to.”
“Market economy” is a special word this week, as China passed its 15th anniversary of entering the World Trade Organization. As Caixin reports, the United States, Japan, and the European Union are not immediately treating China as a “market economy” that would be exempt from differential treatment under WTO rules, despite what some understand as a commitment to accord China that status after 15 years. Scott Kennedy of CSIS has a good analysis of the gap in expectations.
The remainder of this issue comes in an abbreviated form with minimal commentary, as I am on the road. I thank friends and colleagues in Shanghai and Beijing for sharing their insights and questions, and in many cases for sparing me the questions no one can answer about Trump’s intentions. Even amidst uncertainty, I look forward to sharing some perspectives and learning from others when I give a talk Friday evening in Tokyo before I return to the United States (details here). With that under my belt, I expect next issue (the last before a holiday break in publishing) to include more in the way of reflection.
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. Please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].
Trump seems to condition ‘one-China’ support on ‘deal with China’ over other issues
- In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump said of his conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen: “I heard the call was coming probably an hour or two before. I fully understand the One-China policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade. I mean, look, we’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation, with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don’t tax them, with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing, and frankly with not helping us at all with North Korea. You have North Korea. You have nuclear weapons and China could solve that problem and they’re not helping us at all. So, I don’t want China dictating to me and this was a call put into me. I didn’t make the call, and it was a call, very short call saying congratulations, sir, on the victory. It was a very nice call. Short. And why should some other nation be able to say I can’t take a call. I think it actually would’ve been very disrespectful, to be honest with you, not taking it.”
- Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said “we are seriously concerned about his words.” In delivering a relatively moderate reaction, Geng said, “Adherence to the one China principle serves as the political foundation for the development of China-US ties. If this foundation is wobbled and weakened, then there is no possibility for the two countries to grow their relations in a sound and steady way and cooperate on key areas. We urge the new US administration and leadership to be fully aware of the high sensitivity of the Taiwan question, stick to the one China policy and the principles of the three joint communiqués, and approach Taiwan-related issues with prudence so as to avoid any serious disruption and harm to the overall interests of the China-US relationship,” Geng said.
- John Bolton, rumored but not named for a top State Department post, said, “Honestly, I think we should shake the relationship up. For the past several years China has made aggressive… belligerent claims in the South China Sea.”
- In response to the specific point about a deal over Taiwan, invoked by Trump above and previously proposed by Bolton as a potential U.S. tactic, the Global Times in an unsigned commentary wrote (en/zh): “The One China policy is not for selling. Trump thinks that everything can be valued and, as long as his leverage is strong enough, he can sell or buy. If a price can be put on the US Constitution, will the American people sell their country’s constitution and implement the political systems of Saudi Arabia or Singapore?”
- Meanwhile, in a development that would otherwise have gained more attention, a Chinese Ministry of Defense spokesperson denounced parts of a U.S. defense bill calling for close ties with Taiwan’s armed forces.
Chinese military aircraft undertake symbolic maneuvers near Taiwan and Japan, and in the South China Sea
- U.S. officials said China flew a nuclear-capable bomber along the nine-dashed line in the South China Sea, Fox News reported. Also, “In recent days, U.S. intelligence satellites have spotted components for the Chinese version of the SA-21 surface-to-air missile system at the port of Jieyang, in southeast China, where officials say China has made similar military shipments in the past to its islands in the South China Sea,” according to Fox. The Fox sources said the flight was a signal to the United States. Meanwhile, Vietnam has reportedlyengaged in land modification activities in the Spratly Islands.
- Around 10 Chinese planes reportedly conducted an exercise near Taiwan and Japanese islands, Reuters reported. “The Chinese jets flew north to south and entered the Miyako Strait around Japan’s southern islands as well as the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan, but did not enter Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement,” according to the Reuters report. The Global Times published accusations that “two Japanese F-15 fighter jets closely disrupted a Chinese air force training mission with decoy flares over the strait.”
OPEN A CHANNEL
Top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi reportedly meets with incoming Trump adviser Gen. Flynn
NYT reported: “On Friday, China’s senior foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, met with Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, whom Mr. Trump has designated as his national security adviser, according to a person told about the meeting. It was not clear what the men had discussed.” The Foreign Ministry’s Geng said Yang met Flynn and other Trump advisers on the way to Latin America. Who else was in the room? The lack of an answer underlines how little the world knows about Trump’s Asia policy lines of influence.
Third ‘cybercrime and related issues’ dialogue held
“Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, together with Chinese State Councilor and Minister of the Ministry of Public Security Guo Shengkun, co-chaired the third U.S.-China High-Level Joint Dialogue on Cybercrime and Related Issues,” according to a joint document (en/zh). The joint document, which seems more detailed than usual, calls for “as early as possible in 2017, a U.S.-China government and technology company roundtable to discuss cybersecurity issues of mutual concern” and for the dialogue to be held each year. / Meanwhile, Fortune reported that, according to documents of unspecified provenance, previously reported online intrusions into U.S. law firms had been linked to the Chinese government.
‘Rusk Visits Nationalist China’
“TAIPEI, Taiwan, Dec. 7[, 1966]—Secretary of State Dean Rusk arrived here today for his second visit to Nationalist China in five months. United States Embassy officials described the visit as a personal courtesy to President Chiang Kai-shek. Mr. Rusk is on a quick tour of Asia on his way to a meeting in Paris next week of the Ministerial Council of the North Atlantic Alliance.”
(Source: The New York Times. 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.)
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. He is also a fellow for China and East Asia with the EastWest Institute. 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].