January, 2015

The new year in U.S.-China relations began in the uncertain afterglow of President Obama’s and General Secretary Xi’s November summit in Beijing. Those meetings—Xi was said to spend more time with Obama than with all other national leaders combined—were widely read as a joint effort to ease the friction and mutual suspicion that had characterized relations since Xi and Obama met at Sunnylands in 2013. The new emphasis on cooperation, demonstrated in agreements on military communication, climate change, trade in high tech products, and long-term visas announced after the APEC meetings, raised hopes that there might be renewed will on both sides to forge a constructive relationship.

Optimism was tempered, however, by doubts about the Obama administration’s ability to sustain focus on China and by suspicions that Beijing’s smile diplomacy represented a temporary shift in tactics rather than abandonment of its presumed goal of dominating East Asia. The afterglow dimmed at the end of January when American tech industry associations sent a letter to Xi Jinping stating that new Chinese regulations, purportedly aimed at increasing cyber security, were in fact protectionist measures that would harm international and Chinese corporations. At the same time, China’s Minister of Education deepened Xi Jinping’s campaign to demand Marxist orthodoxy in academic, cultural, media, and think tank circles by announcing rules limiting the use of foreign textbooks in Chinese universities, stating that they brought harmful Western values into China.

You will find links to articles on these and other stories in the newsletter that follows.


Major Issue Tracker

America’s Rebalance

  • China-savvy tea partyer leads House panel on Asia (January 17): Representative Matt Salmon, a Mandarin-speaking Tea Party Republican from Arizona, became chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia  and the Pacific. He learned Chinese during the two years he spent in Taiwan as a missionary...Read More>>

  • President Obama's India Trip (January 26): President Obama conducted a successful visit to India that was widely seen as an attempt to balance China...Read More>> Chinese commentators professed to be unimpressed by the dance between the elephant and the eagle (Read More>>), while stateside reviews of the trip were generally positive...Read More>>

China as an Emerging Superpower

  • China Creates New Avenue for Afghan Peace Talks (January 6): Beijing hosted a delegation of Taliban officials as part of its ongoing effort to promote peace in Afghanistan following the American withdrawal. The meetings followed an October 2014 visit by Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani. The United States has been supportive of China’s efforts to play a stabilizing role in the region...Read More>>

  • China's Mixed Signals (January 7): Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, speaking in Chicago, said, “It is the United States that leads the world. We have a clear understanding of this…China does not have any ideas or capabilities to challenge the leading role of the United States..Read More>> His tone and message were received skeptically by some listeners...Read More>> Perhaps skeptics had read the speech given by General Zhu Chenghu at People’s University on January 3, in which he declared, "Although China has said that we do not challenge the leadership of the United States position, I want to tell our American friends that China’s challenges to you are inevitable and unavoidable. China's development is bound to challenge the U.S. leadership" ...Read More>>

  • China and Japan 'to hold maritime security talks' (January 7): The South China Morning Post reported that China and Japan had agreed to hold talks on maritime security in connection with the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute...Read More>> The situation in the East China Sea remained tense, however. On January 22, Reuters reported that Japan was scrambling jets in response to Chinese and Russian incursions into its airspace at a rate not seen since the Cold War…Read More>>

  • Sri Lanka's President Loses an Election—and China Loses an Ally (January 9): The defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka’s election was a potential blow to China’s Indian Ocean ambitions and a boon to India, which closed out a month of successful China-balancing by hosting President Obama (see above)…Read More>>

  • China's Turn to Gouge Latin America (January 25): While its man took a beating in Sri Lanka, Beijing hosted the first China - Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC—a forum that pointedly excludes the U.S. and Canada) Ministerial Meeting.  CELAC reactions to the gathering were mixed (Read More>>) and Chinese infrastructure projects in the region continue to encounter resistance due to concerns about transparency and environmental protection. Voices of opposition are particularly strong in Nicaragua, where a Chinese company that may be backed by Beijing wants to build a canal that will dwarf even the expanded stream in Panama (Read More>>), and in Mexico, where an enormous Chinese mall in Cancun was just put on ice…Read More>>

  • China sending large Ebola relief team to West Africa (January 12): China continued to play a leading role in Ebola alleviation efforts in West Africa, dispatching a large team of medical personnel to reinforce the teams sent earlier in the epidemic.…Read More>>

  • China in South Sudan: Practical Responsibility (January 13): Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi continued his efforts as peacemaker in Sudan, demonstrating that China sees a growing need to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries…Read More>>

Espionage

  • China calls Snowden's stealth jet hack accusations 'groundless' (Januray 19): China has trumpeted Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance programs as proof of American perfidy and hypocrisy, but it was quick to dismiss his leaks as groundless when Snowden gave documents to a German magazine purporting to detail Chinese theft of American F-35 stealth fighter technology...Read More>>

History

  • China blasted for taking ‘bullying approach’ towards Japan with military parade (January 28): China is gearing up for commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which it will mark on September 3. It remains to be seen whether China will view this as a chance for reconciliation or as an opportunity to remind Asians once again of slaughters perpetrated by an unrepentant Japan. It is worth noting that the Chinese do not habitually speak of “World War II.” The popular phrases are “The War of Resistance Against Japan,”  “The War Against Japanese Aggression,” and “The War Against Fascism”...Read More>>

Military

  • There is an ongoing discussion among China watchers about whether China’s Communist Party (CCP) exercises strict, direct control over the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) or whether PLA commanders sometimes act on their own inclinations (e.g. in the East and South China Seas) and challenge the government to “own” such actions afterward. The most widely-read study on rogue behavior in the PLA was published by Linda Jakobsen of Australia’s Lowy Institute in late 2014. Read More>> On January 6, 2015, Peter Mattis of the Jamestown Institute countered Jakobsen in the National Interest. On January 12, NI featured Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt of the  Center for Naval Analyses in support of Jakobsen. Read More>>

Soft Power

  • Maoists in China, Given New Life, Attack Dissent  (January 4): Xi Jinping continues to exhort Chinese ministries, industries, and artists to develop China’s cultural power as a component of comprehensive national power. At the same time, he is cracking down on universities, cultural figures, free thinkers, media, think tanks, and NGOs. Many Chinese feel that the campaign’s methods are reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution and that its style smacks of a cult of personality. The New York Times offered a good overview of the campaign. Read More>>

  • Stockholm University to Close Confucius Institute (January 5): The University of Stockholm announced that it would close its Confucius Institute (CI). The announcement followed similar moves by the University of Chicago, Penn State, the Toronto public school system, and McMaster University...Read More>> Momentum seemed to swing against CIs after the American Association of University Professors stated that CIs threatened academic freedom in June of 2014. The CI cause was probably not helped by an English-language interview that Hanban director Xu Lin gave to the BBC in late December 2014... Read More>>

  • CCP General Office and State Council General Office Opinions concerning Strengthening the Construction of New Types of Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics (January 20): The CCP issued new guidelines aimed at strengthening and regulating Chinese think tanks. Xi Jinping wants think tanks to be a vector for Chinese soft power. The guidance that this document gives to think tanks, however, may call their objectivity into question as they stride onto the world stage... Read More>>

  • How Japan became a pop culture superpower (January 31): Despite investments in Confucius Institutes, television stations, and now think tanks, China has been frustrated by its inability to build soft power. Commissars in the ministries of culture, propaganda, and education would do well to read this Spectator article on Japan’s cultural power...Read More>>

Trade/Economy

  • Will China’s Economy Dominate the 21st Century? (January 5): David Dollar of Brookings offered his views on the global prospects of China’s economy in the 21st century... Read More>>

  • Yahoo to Spin Off Alibaba Stake Tax-Free as Public Company (January 28 & 29): Two stories shone a spotlight on American tech companies’ dependence on the China market. Yahoo created a company to hold its 384 million Alibaba shares, which are now worth $40 billion...Read More>> and Apple, whose valuation is now double that of Microsoft, posted strong fourth quarter earnings and increased market share in China thanks to the sale of larger smart phones in the PRC...Read More>>

  • Is this North Korea? Chinese netizens squirm as party tightens grip on Internet. (January 29): While Chinese netizens were complaining about the government shut-down of virtual private networks...Read More>> American tech firms and industry groups were sending a letter to a Chinese government committee chaired by Xi Jinping requesting that new regulations be rescinded and warning that failure to do so would harm not only multinationals, but China’s economic development as well...Read More>>

Academic Relations

  • 'Patriotism Abroad' (January 6): Inside Higher Education reported on the growing number of Chinese students in the States who are offended by what they see as negative depictions of their country in university classrooms...Read More>>

  • China Warns Against ‘Western Values’ in Imported Textbooks (January 30): Minister of Education Yuan Guiren told China’s universities to reduce their dependence on foreign textbooks, which can transmit negative views of the CCP and harmful Western values. The MOE has also advised faculty to avoid speaking on sensitive topics, criticizing the government, or simply acting glum...Read More>>

Media

  • Protect the Internet: Keep the contract with ICANN (January 4): The Washington Post editorial page weighed in on China’s attempt to establish “internet sovereignty,” advocating that The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers retain its management of the Internet to ensure the free flow of information...Read More>>

  • CHINA’S MEDIA WAR: Censorship, Corruption & Control (January 27): The International Federation of Journalists released its new study of reporting conditions in China...Read More>>

If You Read/Watched Nothing Else in January…

The fine writing and film/videography on U.S.-China relations published each month far exceeds the assimilating capacity of any institution. It would be ridiculous to feature “the best” efforts of the past 30 days, but KICUS would like to highlight the following work nonetheless:

Book

  • Richard Bernstein’s China 1945: Mao’s Revolution and America’s Fateful Choice looks back to the fateful year when a series of crises, faulty assumptions, and inescapable commitments set U.S.-China relations on a difficult course. Read Jeffrey Wasserstrom's review here.

Forum

  • The Asia Society’s chinafile.com is worth bookmarking and checking daily. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, chinafile ran a contributors’ conversation seeking to answer the question many Chinese were asking: Why did the world march for Paris after the Charlie Hebdo killings, but not for Kunming after the even more horrific slaughter in the train station there? Read More>>

Essay

  • Ambassador Chas Freeman gave a provocative talk on China as a Diplomatic Actor at the American Academy of Diplomacy on January 23. He undermined Americans’ worst assumptions about Chinese intentions and suggested that Beijing’s descriptions of its ambitions and motives can be taken more-or-less at face value. Readers might wonder whether senior Chinese diplomats give lectures at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that are the mirror image of this one, suggesting to Chinese that America is not hegemonic and simply wishes the rest of the world to share in the prosperity that liberal democracy and free markets confer. Read More>>

Chart

  • This graphing of world values suggests that America and China have difficulty understanding each other because the U.S. espouses traditional self-expression values while China is in the survivalist, secular rationalist camp. View the chart here>>

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The Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.