The Month in U.S.-China Relations
May & June, 2014
It’s been a contentious run-up to July’s Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED) meetings in Beijing. Despite deepening ties at the sub-national level, despite burgeoning Chinese investment in the United States, and despite broad academic, cultural and people-to-people ties that evince the two nations’ desire for constructive relations, American and Chinese suspicions of each other continue to deepen. Many Chinese and American observers say bilateral relations are at their lowest point in twenty-five years. Dialogue has stalled, with both sides convinced that the fault lies entirely with the other. Beijing sees a United States stuck in a “Cold War mindset” and determined to contain China and “stir up trouble” through its Rebalance policy. Washington accuses Beijing of “behaving in a 19th Century fashion” as it asserts territorial claims and creates new territory in the Western Pacific. Mutual accusations of outmoded thinking and bad faith proliferate, even as we assure each other of our good intentions. Against this background, the S&ED offers a timely opportunity for reasoned reassessment. Both sides need to find a new tone and new strategies to stall or reverse the course of the past year and to lay the groundwork for the meeting between President Obama and Chairman Xi in November.
Major Issue Tracker
- Keep Hope Alive: How to Prevent U.S.-Chinese Relations From Blowing Up (July/August 2014 Issue): James B. Steinberg and Michael O'Hanlon capture the current atmosphere in U.S.-China relations in a Foreign Affairs essay...Read More >>
- Treasury’s Jack Lew talks yuan, slowing China economy (May 21): Treasury Secretary Jack Lew visited Beijing to discuss China’s economy, bilateral trade relations, and the value of the RMB. While in Beijing, he was interviewed by Caixin Magazine’s Hu Shuli, who is profiled in the book by Evan Osnos recommended below...Read More >>
- President Obama's Full NPR Interview (May 29): President Obama barely mentioned China in a West Point speech that his staff had touted as a major policy address. His silence on China policy reignited speculation that he isn’t fully committed to his Rebalance to Asia. The President discussed China at length the following day in an NPR interview with Steve Inskeep. His remarks helped correct omissions in the West Point speech, but the President still hasn’t presented the Rebalance as a national priority to the American people...Read More >>
China as an Emerging Superpower
The deterioration in U.S.-Chinese relations has resulted in an explosion of prose, much of it purple. We’re highlighting four non-purple or slightly mauvish essays from May and June that we found helpful:
- Can China Best the West at Statecraft? (May 16): John Micklethwait & Adrian Wooldridge, The Wall Street Journal…Read More >>
- Explaining China's Behaviour in the East and South China Seas (May 22): Hugh White, The Interpreter...Read More >>
- Your 3-Letter Guide to the Latest News From China (May 27): James Fallows, The Atlantic...Read More >>
- China and America: Dancing Around the Containment Question (June 23): Joseph Bosco, The National Interest...Read More >>
- Yang's Visit Underlines China-Vietnam Standoff (May 1): A Chinese oil company moved an oil rig into waters claimed by China and Vietnam sparking anti-Chinese riots which Hanoi eventually quelled. Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi visited Vietnam in June, but may have done more to stoke tensions than relieve them...Read More >>
On June 20, China sent a second rig into waters claimed by Vietnam. The first rig is scheduled to conduct exploratory drilling through August.
- Norway criticised over snub to Dalai Lama during Nobel committee visit (May 6): Under pressure from China, the government of Norway decided that none of its representatives would meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit to their country. The Dalai Lama, a past Nobel Peace Prize recipient, had been invited by the Nobel Committee to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the prize...Read More >>
- Sinica: Narendra Modi and Sino-Indian Relations (May 16): Narendra Modi’s election as Prime Minister of India could usher in a new era in Sino-Indian-U.S. relations. China’s outreach to Modi was the subject of recent Sinica Podcast with Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn...Read More >>
- Get Ready World: China and Russia Are Getting Closer (May 20): Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China was viewed through the lenses of (1) Russia’s economic and diplomatic isolation following the annexation of Crimea; and (2) China’s growing clout in Central Asia and seeming desire to work more closely with Russia to counter the power of the United States and the West...Read More >>
The visit ended with an agreement, or near agreement, for China to import Russian natural gas...Read More >>
- Xi: China Must Take Technological Future Into Own Hands (June 10): Speaking before Chinese research institutes, Xi Jinping called for a new era in Chinese innovation to spur economic development and national power, saying “We cannot always dress up our tomorrow in other peoples’ yesterdays… We cannot always rely on others’ science and technology to raise our own technological level.” ...Read More >>
- China Builds Artificial Islands in South China Sea (June 19): The Philippines accused China of building up reefs, expanding islands for habitation and military bases, and conducting other land reclamation projects in the contested Spratley Islands. China’s goal appears to be to establish control of and sovereignty over land features, which could form the basis of claims to surrounding waters...Read More >>
- Taiwan emotions run high over China visit (June 25): The director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Zhijun, became the first PRC ministerial-level official to visit Taiwan. He encountered protestors throughout his four-day trip, which was hailed as a success by Beijing...Read More >>
- Hong Kong marches in protest of Chinese control (June 30): Hong Kong residents who wish to directly elect the Special Administrative Region’s chief executive in 2017 conducted a referendum and rally at the end of the month that was denounced by Beijing. The protests followed Beijing’s issuance of a “white paper” which stated that all Hong Kong administrative personnel, including judges, must “love China.” The white paper was widely interpreted as a reminder that Hong Kong is only as special as Beijing suffers it be. It fueled a democracy movement which had long planned to hold summer demonstrations in the Central business district...Read More >>
The demonstrations were opposed not only by Beijing but by Hong Kong’s international business community, including the Big Four accounting firms...Read More >>
- Xi Jinping delivered major speeches on Chinese foreign policy and regional security on May 21, at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia...Read More >>, and on June 28, at a meeting with leaders of India and Myanmar to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the three countries’ agreement to conduct relations according to the “five principles of peaceful coexistence.” At the May meeting, he called for a new regional security architecture in which Asians alone would be responsible for Asian security (no role for the U.S. there). In June, he promised that China would never seek regional hegemony.
Trade & Economic Relations
- Is This the Best Response to China’s Cyber-Attacks? (May 19): The U.S. Justice Department indicted five officers of China’s People’s Liberation Army for cyber-theft of American corporate secrets. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement included publication of FBI “wanted” posters featuring the officers’ photographs. The wisdom of the indictments was discussed in an Asia Society forum...Read More >>
- China Reacts Strongly to U.S. Announcement of Indictment Against Chinese Personnel (May 20): China reacted to the indictments with denials by the Foreign Ministry and by suspending its involvement in a Sino-U.S. cyber security working group...Read More >>
It later responded to the indictments, and to the Snowden revelations, by taking action against American corporations, including
On June 27, the U.S. informed China that it was prepared to re-start the
suspended talks on cyber security.
- As Ties With China Unravel, U.S. Companies Head to Mexico (May 31): In The New York Times, Damien Cave reported that American companies faced with rising labor costs in China have begun to relocate their operations to Mexico...Read More >>
- This Chart Shows How China Just Surpassed the U.S. (June 17): China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest issuer of corporate debt...Read More >>
- Ni hao, y'all: Alabama among states attracting jobs and investment from Chinese companies (June 23): As we noted in April, China continues to invest in the U.S. and to provide American jobs in some of the areas hardest-hit by the recession...Read More >>
- Putter Panda (June 10): In a 63-page report, Putter Panda, the cyber security firm Crowdstrike identified a second Chinese PLA unit that specializes in hacking American systems...Read More >>
- Dempsey Wants to ‘Rebalance the Use of Military Power’ (May 12): In an interview with Defense One, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, described his vision for U.S.-China relations and the uses of military power. In May, Dempsey also hosted a visit by his Chinese counterpart, General Fang Fenghui...Read More >>
- Shangri-la Dialogue no paradise as China and U.S. trade barbs (June 1): The Shangri-La Dialogue, a forum held annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore for civilian and military leaders from 28 Asia-Pacific nations, was unusually testy this year. In language that was unusually blunt for the forum, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and American Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized China for destabilizing actions in the Western Pacific. Chinese Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong gave an equally direct response...Read More >>
- China's RIMPAC debut 'unlikely to ease tensions' (June 26): The world’s largest regularly scheduled multinational military exercise, RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific), kicked off in waters near Hawaii. Hosted by the U.S. Pacific Command, in 2014, for the first time, RIMPAC includes ships from the PRC. Deutsche-Welle interviews the U.S. Naval War College’s James Holmes on the reasons for China’s inclusion in RIMPAC...Read More >>
- A Chinese Awards Show Gets a Hollywood Welcome (June 3): The Wall Street Journal reports that a major Chinese awards show—the Huading Film Awards—was held in the United States for the first time, in Hollywood’s Ricardo Montalbán Theatre. We mention this because, to the best of our knowledge, it is Ricardo Montalbán’s only connection to U.S.-China relations...Read More >>
- 'Transformers' breaks box-office records in China (June 30): Transformers, Age of Extinction, like Iron Man III, Pacific Rim, X-Men Days of Future Past, and nearly every other would-be Hollywood blockbuster these days, features Chinese actors and settings. It is poised to become China’s all-time box office champion...Read More >>
- China National Security Council orders probe of foreign NGOs (June 20): China’s new National Security Council, led by Xi Jinping, has ordered an investigation of foreign NGOs operating in China, implying that many of them may be attempting to “infiltrate” China. Infiltration was also the accusation lodged recently against the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a major national think tank. Scrutiny of think tanks and NGOs is being conducted even as those institutions are increasingly seen by Beijing as potential instruments of Chinese soft power. Xi Jinping has called on China’s state-run think tanks to internationalize and has given them a prominent position in the U.S.-China High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange...Read More >>
- Chinese Directors on Winning Global Box Office: 'Attacking Hollywood Is the Best Way' (June 18): Chinese and American film professionals alike wonder whether the Sinification of Hollywood/Americanization of Chinese Cinema is a good thing, as The Hollywood Reporter reports...Read More >>
- Tiananmen at 25: Enduring Influence on U.S.-China Relations and China’s Political Development (May 20): The Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a hearing titled Tiananmen at 25: Enduring Influence on U.S.-China Relations and China’s Political Development. Former U.S. ambassadors to China Winston Lord and (Kissinger Institute founder and Wilson Center distinguished scholar) Stapleton Roy offered testimony. You may find the video here.
- House committee votes to give Chinese Embassy new address: No. 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza (June 24): The House Appropriations Committee voted to rename the road in front of China’s Washington Embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza,” in honor of the brave, imprisoned Chinese dissident. KICUS has not heard arguments against the move, but wonders whether a standing affront of this sort can improve an already complicated and vital relationship...Read More >>
- On Partnerships with Foreign Governments: The Case of Confucius Institutes: In June, The American Association of University Professors called on U.S. institutions of higher education to either divulge their contracts with the Chinese government agency that underwrites the Confucius Institutes (CIs) or, in effect, to terminate the contracts and boot the CI’s from their campuses...Read More >>
The AAUP’s action provoked another round of debate over whether CIs threaten academic freedom on American campuses...Read More >>
- China's 'Sovereign Internet' (June 24): As reported in The Diplomat, The People’s Daily published a series of essays on China’s concept of “Internet Sovereignty”—the notion that each nation should define and control the Internet for its own purposes...Read More >>
Earlier in the month, The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos had asked whether China had the ability to remain sovereign in the cyber realm...Read More >>
- Hillary Clinton book blocked in China (June 27): China’s state-owned publishers declined to issue either Chinese- or English-language versions of Hillary Clinton’s book, Hard Choices. Memoirs of this sort are often popular in China, but Secretary Clinton writes about the Chinese government in an unflattering light in connection with Chen Guangcheng affair and other issues, so you won’t see this title in Xinhua bookstores...Read More >>
If You Read/Watched Nothing Else in May and June…
- Could this map of China start a war? (June 27): A state-owned Chinese publisher issued a new national map which, for the first time, depicted China in a vertical rather than horizontal format. The old horizontal map featured a corner cutaway of the South China Sea in which China’s territorial claims were depicted within the nine-dash line, but were graphically disembodied from the mainland. The new vertical map, which is much stronger graphically, depicts the mainland and the entire SCS, now within a ten-dash line, as a geographic whole all the way south to Borneo...Read More >>
- Age of Ambition (June 23): New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos published Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). While the book is not about U.S.-China relations, its rich depiction of the aspirations and frustrations of the Chinese people has implications for American policymakers and strategists. Osnos spoke at the Wilson Center on June 23...Read More >>
- Decoding China’s Emerging “Great Power” Strategy in Asia (June 11): Christopher Johnson and his colleagues at the Center for Strategic & International Studies issued an excellent report on Xi Jinping’s strategic thinking titled Decoding China’s Emerging “Great Power” Strategy in Asia. You can read the whole thing here or read a New York Times summary here.
- What Americans Think About China (May 12): Michael Lipin of the Voice of America launched a promising new series on What Americans Think About China.