U.S.–China Week: Top diplo in Beijing resigns & Calif. governor meets Xi over climate; Chinese gov’t Windows edition; beyond FONOPS (2017.06.12)

Welcome to Issue 102 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, and you can follow me on Twitter at @gwbstr. Please send your comments, quibbles, and suggestions to [email protected].

Acting U.S. ambassador in Beijing resigns rather than deliver notification of Paris climate agreement withdrawal

David Rank, a career Foreign Service officer who had been serving as acting ambassador in Beijing (Chargé d’affaires) reportedly resigned rather than formerly notifying China’s government of President Donald Trump’s decision to begin the process to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Rank, who had served as Deputy Chief of Mission, was the interim leader of the embassy awaiting former Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad’s formal transition to the ambassadorship. Rank was replaced by Jonathan Fritz, another veteran Foreign Service officer. John Pomfret reported on Twitter that “Rank called a town hall meeting” to announce his decision to colleagues.

Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson had no information to provide on dates for the first meeting of the new U.S.–China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, which the State Department had previously reported would take place this month in Washington.

ANALYSIS: China is one of the only countries to which the Trump administration has nominated and confirmed an ambassador. Nonetheless, Rank was still on duty as Branstad prepared to take the position. Such a public show of dissent from within the Foreign Service is extraordinary, and if Chinese officials needed any more evidence that the U.S. government and political community is divided, this surely helped. If the new U.S.–China bilateral meeting actually takes place this month, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis chairing the U.S. side, this public discord will certainly hurt the Trump administration’s credibility.

California Gov. Jerry Brown meets Xi in Beijing, brings home agreements on emissions trading, climate, clean tech

President Xi Jinping received California Governor Jerry Brown in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing with some of the optics usually befitting a head of state. “California has important economic and social influence in the United States,” Xi said according to Xinhua. “I hope California can contribute to the advancement of U.S.–China regional relations and advance bilateral cooperation in areas like technology, innovation, and green development.” Asked about Brown’s trip, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said, “Well, Jerry Brown is not a part of the Trump administration,” and “this is the first I’m hearing about it.” Matt Sheehan’s Chinafornia newsletter this week has a great roundup of the trip and its reported outcomes. / Meanwhile, NYT reports on management-worker tensions at a Chinese-owned auto glass factory in Ohio, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S.–China bilateral investment treaty (BIT) negotiations are on the Trump administration’s agenda but will follow more focused market access issues.

Expert calls for moratorium on Microsoft’s new Chinese government Windows edition pending security review

The prominent computer security expert and Chinese Academy of Engineering Academician Ni Guangnan argues in the Southern Metropolis Daily that the Chinese government should suspend purchases and use of Microsoft’s new Windows 10 China Government Edition. Ni writes that Microsoft claims to have undergone “user testing” and “security testing,” but has not undergone the national security review required under the Cybersecurity Law now in effect. Moreover, Ni writes, performing a thorough security review requires greater access to source code than Microsoft has so far provided. (I’ve translated the opinion piece in full at Transpacifica.net.) In a blog post announcing the custom Windows 10 edition, a Microsoft representative wrote that “over the last two years, we have earnestly cooperated with the Chinese government on the security review of Windows 10.”

ANALYSIS: As a major figure, Ni’s criticism may well carry some weight, but it is best read an example of the relatively tough end of a spectrum of Chinese views on how to proceed with the national security review system required under the Cybersecurity Law and the National Security Law. (Ni also “has for some time been a tireless promoter of an indigenous operating system to compete with Windows,” Eurasia Group’s Paul Triolo pointed out in an e-mail. Baidu Baike dates his advocacy on this front back to 1995.) Implementing measures aimed at establishing the new review system were released a few weeks ago in “interim” form, suggesting they may be revised, and although they went into effect on June 1 alongside the Cybersecurity Law, they call for setting up a Cybersecurity Review Committee and third-party assessment system that has not fully emerged. It seems likely to me that Microsoft’s close work with China’s government will ease any eventual further security review of its special Windows 10 edition. It is the details of Ni’s argument that should give foreign firms pause: While not everyone agrees with Ni that full source code access is required for effective security reviews, he is not necessarily an outlier here. Microsoft provides government customers with “transparency centers,” including in Beijing, where experts can examine code in a secure environment. If this is enough to satisfy China’s security reviews, expect other companies to follow suit; if not, we’re in for several more rounds of controversy. (On that note, see a pretty full-throated dismissal of foreign concerns about the Cybersecurity Law from the People’s Daily‘s “Zhong Sheng” column.)

Dutton and Kardon: ‘Forget the FONOPs—Just fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows’

In a refreshing piece for Lawfare, Peter Dutton and Isaac Kardon of the Naval War College argue, in a partial echo of what I’d speculated last year, that the USS Dewey’s recent activities near Mischief Reef in the South China Sea were “probably—but maybe not” a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) as defined by the formal FON Program. They argue that “FONOPs should continue in routine, low-key fashion wherever there are specific legal claims to be challenged (as in the Paracel Islands, the other disputed territories in the SCS); they should not be conducted—much less hyped up beyond proportion—in the Spratlys. Instead, the routine exercise of freedom of navigation is the most appropriate way to use the fleet in support of U.S. and allied interests.” / Meanwhile: South Korea reportedly paused deployment of the THAAD missile defense system one-third through pending an environmental assessment.

ANALYSIS: Dutton and Kardon’s most important prescriptive insight is that, whether or not the U.S. government considers the recent Dewey maneuvers a FONOP, “a formal FONOP is the wrong tool for the job.” That’s because FONOPs challenge excessive claims, and no one has made a specific claim in the area to challenge. There is some possibility that U.S. authorities have decided to regard China’s behavior in warning away other countries’ vessels and aircraft, sometimes referring to an ill-defined “military alert zone,” as constituting an excessive claim. We will find out when the next annual FONOP report is released by the Department of Defense: If there is not a new category of claims challenged compared to the past, the Dewey voyage was not counted. In any case, the U.S. government and advocates for U.S. demonstrations against Chinese activities should carefully disentangle the discussion about FONOPs from the discussion about making broader points.

‘$8.9-Million Is Given in Ford Fund Grants”

“The Ford Foundation announced yesterday that it had made 29 grants totaling $8,913,000 for educational and related purposes. Five of the grants, totaling $5-million, were made for research to expand Western understanding of China and for the training of specialists to fill teaching and government posts in the field of Chinese study. Harvard University received $1.5-million, the largest award, to be used for China study at its East Asian Research Center. The other grants in that category were $1.2-million to Columbia University for its East Asian Institute; $900,000 to the University of California for its Berkeley Center for Chinese Studies; $900,000 to the University of Michigan for its Center for Chinese Studies and $500,000 to Cornell University for its China-studies program. Harvard also received $800,000 to help support research on contemporary Japan at the university’s East Asian Research Center. The African-American Institute received a $500,000 grant for general support and the Association of Research Libraries $500,000 to help establish a China Materials Development Center in Washington.”

(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. 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).

Free Subscription to U.S.–China Week by clicking here or e-mailing me is 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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