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The Month in U.S.-China Relations 中美关系一个月(April 2016)

The Month in U.S.-China Relations 中美关系一个月(April 2016)
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signs a State Department guestbook

April saw the now customary tit-for-tat finger pointing in the South China Sea. Whether each side’s latest “provocation” constituted an escalation or merely confirmed a worrisome “new normal” in the area remains to be seen. Even if the Western Pacific is manageable for the time being, domestic political developments in each country are exacerbating tensions between Washington and Beijing. In the United States, presidential candidates from both parties have criticized China for unfair trade practices and stealing American jobs. An MIT report found that, between 1999 and 2011, trade with China resulted in the loss of about 2.4 million U.S. jobs. Statistics like that will make frequent appearances in Democratic and Republican stump speeches. In recognition of the role U.S. domestic politics plays in the U.S.-China relationship, The Month in U.S.-China Relations will include a section on the U.S. elections beginning this month to track how candidates portray China and how China responds. In China, Beijing kicked off its first ever National Security Education Awareness Day by warning young Chinese women away from handsome red-headed foreigners looking to steal state secrets. China’s concern over foreign infiltration was also on display in a new law that subjects foreign NGOs to police supervision. April also saw an uptick in articles on Chinese espionage cases in the United States.

Although President Obama and Chairman Xi continue to emphasize positive developments in the relationship, it was clear in April that strategic mistrust between the governments and their citizens continues to shackle the relationship.

Sandy PhoProgram Associate, Kissinger Institute 

Major Issue Tracker

China as an Emerging Superpower

Leaders Put Positive Spin on U.S.-China Relations (April 1): Obama and Xi’s meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit reviewed the growing list of friction points between Washington and Beijing, from the South China Sea to cyber issues. Still, the two sides pointed to progress on nuclear security…Read More>>

Lost in Nicaragua, a Chinese Tycoon’s Canal Project (April 3): Chinese billionaire Wang Jing broke ground on a proposed canal project in Nicaragua a year ago. 16 months later, as reported by the New York Times, Mr. Wang’s project is shrouded in mystery and is producing angry protests in Nicaragua.

China Announces Restrictions on Trade with North Korea (April 5): In line with United Nations sanctions, banned imports of gold and rare earths from North Korea and halted exports to the country of jet fuel …Read More>>

China, Sri Lanka Keen to Push Colombo Port Project (April 7): China and Sri Lanka are determined to push forward with a stalled port project in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Regional actors such as India and the U.S. believe Chinese investment in Sri Lanka is about more than trade and development…Read More>>   

Workers Protest as Greece Sells Piraeus Port to China COSCO (April 8): According to Reuters, Greece finalized the sale of Piraeus Port Authority to China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co. The deal is the latest in a string of port development projects and logistics centers carried out by the Chinese government in order to build a modern-day “Silk Road” connecting China, Central Asia, and Europe. For more analysis, please see these Foreign Policy and Der Spiegel articles.  

Taiwan Accuses China of Abducting its Citizens (April 13): Taiwanese officials accused Beijing of “abducting” its citizens after Kenya deported 45 Taiwanese prisoners to the Mainland for cybercrimes. Kenya does not have official relations with Taiwan and considers the island part of "One China," in line with the position of Communist Party leaders in Beijing. Both Reuters and the Los Angeles Times carried the story.

China Breaks Ground on Naval Base in Africa (April 18): As reported on NPR, China plans to open its first overseas military base in the African country of Djibouti, where the U.S. has operated its major African intelligence gathering base for the last 15 years.

China Passes Law Imposing Security Controls on Foreign NGOs (April 28):  A Chinese government offensive against civil society that campaigners describe as the worst in nearly three decades intensified when Beijing approved a controversial law that gives public security forces control over foreign NGOs in the country. The Guardian, Reuters, the New York Times, and Xinhua covered the story.

The U.S. Rebalance to Asia

U.S., Philippines Begin Military Exercises as Maritime Tension Simmers (April 4): As reported in Reuters, about 8,000 U.S. and Filipino troops conducted annual military exercises amid tension over China's assertiveness in the South China Sea. Related: U.S., Philippines Conduct Joint Patrols In South China Sea and U.S. to Give Philippines Eye in Sky to Track South China Sea Activity.

America Needs More than Symbolic Gestures in the South China Sea (April 12): The Chinese have acted less like a responsible stakeholder and more like a bully, wrote Senator John McCain for the Financial Times.

U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Carrier in Disputed South China Sea (April 15): As reported by Reuters, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited an American aircraft carrier transiting the disputed South China Sea in April. Not to be outdone, China said one of its top military officers had visited islands and reefs in the region to oversee building work.

U.S. Stands by South Korea Defense Talks Despite Chinese and Russian Objections (April 29): The White House said talks to install a new anti-missile defense system in South Korea would continue in the wake of nuclear arms and missile tests by North Korea, despite calls by China and Russia for the United States to back off…Read More>>

Southeast Asia and the South China Sea

Pavlovian Conditioning and 'Correct Thinking' on the South China Sea (April 1): In this excerpt from his speech at the Institute of Policy Studies, Singaporean ambassador Bilahari Kausikan gives his reading of what has spurred China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.

China Says Business Spats with Myanmar Can be Resolved (April 6): Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his counterpart Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the resumption of a stalled $3.6-billion dam project…Read More>>

Chinese General Visits Man-Made South China Sea Islands (April 15): China's second-ranking general visited the country's man-made islands in the South China Sea last month, underlining the strategic importance of the structures. The Wall Street Journal, The Military Times and Bloomberg all reported on this story.

Cyber, Espionage, and Surveillance

U.S. Military Cyber Head Questions Beijing's Spying Activities (April 5):  In September 2015, President Obama and Chairman Xi announced an accord under which neither the U.S. nor the Chinese government would conduct cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property. Admiral Michael Rogers, who heads the U.S. military's Cyber Command, told lawmakers last month it was unclear if the Chinese government was holding up its end of the deal…Read More>>

Feds Raid Home of Suspected Boeing Spy (April 5): The FBI entered the home of Keith Gartenlaub and his Chinese-born wife while the couple were visiting relatives in Shanghai. Gartenlaub, who works for Boeing, is suspected of spying for China…Read More>>

Navy Officer Accused of Passing Secrets to China Faces Espionage, Prostitution Charges (April 10): According to the Washington Post, a Taiwan-born Navy officer who became a naturalized U.S. citizen, faces charges of espionage, attempted espionage, and soliciting prostitutes. The officer was arrested in 2015 and is accused of providing classified information to China. Related: Risk of Exposing Navy Secrets Could Complicate Edward Lin Prosecution.

China Uses Mr. Bean and Batman to Explain the Importance of Protecting State Secrets (April 15): What could be worse than Tax Day? In China, April 15th is now National Security Education Day, a new holiday that publicizes the importance of safeguarding state secrets. The Ministry of State Security produced a series of cartoon videos that mix pop culture references with government sermonizing. Score one for Western culture…Read More>>

Chinese Cartoon Warns Against Dangerous Love With Foreigners Who May Be Spies (April 22): As part of China’s National Security Education Day, posters warning female government workers that handsome foreigners trying to steal state secrets were displayed throughout Beijing. The campaign was reminiscent of the FBI’s 2014 video, “Game of Pawns,” that warned U.S. citizens studying abroad not to become spies for China. The New York Times and NPR both reported the story.

U.S. Charges Woman for Exporting Underwater Drone Technology to China (April 21):  A Florida woman was charged with conspiring to illegally export U.S. technology used in underwater drones to a Chinese state-owned entity, according to an indictment unsealed last month and obtained by Reuters. Amin Yu was a citizen of China and a lawful permanent resident of the United States while obtaining parts from companies in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.


Defense Chief Ash Carter Postpones Visit to China (April 8): According to the Wall Street Journal, Secretary Carter "scrubbed a planned visit to Beijing amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China" over the South China Sea.”

SECDEF Carter: China Still Invited to RIMPAC 2016 Despite South China Sea Tension (April 18): The United States has not revoked its invitation to China to participate in this year’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises because the U.S. hopes China might still join a "system of cooperative nations," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said April 15th…Read More>>

Soft Power

Sotheby’s Hong Kong Defies China Luxury Slowdown as Auction Season Starts (April 4): Sotheby’s kicked off its Hong Kong spring auctions on April 3rd, setting global art price records. Despite worries that China’s economic slowdown would curb its demand for art and luxury goods, art still serves as an alternative asset for China’s rich wishing to avoid the domestic stock market…Read More>>

If Mao Had Been a Hermit (April 7): China’s book industry, with sales now reported at $8 billion annually, is the second-largest in the world. American authors and their publishers are eager to break into this growing market, but government censorship remains a major obstacle for many. Perry Link's article warns of how China’s purchasing power might enable Beijing to export its censorship regime and poses tricky questions about why Norton’s Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature reflects the tastes of CCP propaganda organs…Read More>>

ABA Cancels Book for Fear of ‘Upsetting the Chinese Government’ (April 15): According to Foreign Policy, the American Bar Association rescinded its offer to publish Chinese rights activist Teng Biao’s book last month. The book, provisionally titled "Darkness Before Dawn" presents China’s politics and society through “shocking stories” of Chinese human rights lawyers. Related: Congressional-Executive Commission on China Chairs Write to ABA President, Seek Information on Whether Fear of Offending China Led to Book Project Cancellation

China Cites U.S. Gun Violence in Retort to Human Rights Report (April 14):  China cited alleged brutality by American police and the country’s high incidence of gun violence in its annual rebuttal of a U.S. State Department report on human rights around the world that criticized China’s "severe" crackdown on lawyers...Read More>>

Jianbing, a Chinese Crepe, Migrates to Manhattan (April 20): Jianbing, a street-food crepe from northern China made with eggs, chili and sweet sauce, cilantro, scallions and a crunchy deep-fried wafer, is Beijing’s latest culinary flexing of soft power…Read More>>

Beijing Auditions Foreign Public Relations Firms to Polish China Brand (April 22): Five global public relations firms have made pitches to the Chinese government for a potential new campaign, as Beijing tries to communicate more effectively with the West…Read More>>

Media and Technology

Hong Kong Film Awards: Ten Years Wins Top Prize Amid China Anger (April 3): A controversial movie about the future of Hong Kong won top prize at the city’s film awards. The local box office angered Beijing with its portrayal of the SAR in 2025…Read More>>

Amid Media Crackdown at Home, Chinese News Outlet Looks Abroad (April 7): "The Paper," a Shanghai-based, media company overseen by the Chinese Communist Party, has won Chinese readers though hipster reports on controversial issues, is launching an English-language platform called Sixth Tone in hopes of attracting readers overseas…Read More>>

China asked Apple for its Source Code (April 19): During a Congressional hearing last month, Apple's top lawyer Bruce Sewell confirmed that the Chinese government has asked Apple for its source code, and Apple refused…Read More>> 

Twitter's China Managing Director Linked to the Great Firewall (April 20): According to Business Insider, Twitter's new boss in China faces criticism over her links to China’s military and her involvement with the Chinese government's Great Firewall. Twitter has been blocked by the Firewall since 2009. Related: Narrow-minded opposition against Twitter appointment.

China Film Insider Q&A with Wendy Su, (April 20): Wendy Su discusses her upcoming book, China’s Encounter with Global Hollywood: Cultural Policy and the Film Industry, 1994-2013, which takes a forensic look at how the Chinese government, filmmakers, and moviegoers have grappled with their love-hate relationship with Hollywood…Read More>>

Closing of iTunes Movies Shows Apple Isn't Immune to Chinese Regulators (April 21): China shut down Apple Inc.’s iTunes Movies and iBooks services in April. …Read More>>

Ratpac, Warner Bros. to Launch Chinese Film Fund With China Media Capital (April 27): Warner Bros. and RatPac Entertainment are increasing investments in China with the launch of a new film fund, which they will use to finance Chinese-language movies and other content for the country's booming theatrical market…Read More>>

Comcast Buy of 'Kung Fu Panda' Producer Aids Asia strategy (April 29): Comcast's planned purchase of DreamWorks Animation would increase the media giant's foothold in Asia, particularly China, as it competes in a global battle for entertainment dollars…Read More>>

Education and Academic Relations

U.S. Authorities Arrest 21 in Fake University Visa Scam (April 5): A fake university established as part of a sting operation to expose student visa scams has arrested 21 suspects. More than 1,000 foreign nationals, mainly from India and China, are said to have conspired to falsely attain student and foreign worker visas…Read More>>

Congressman wants Homeland Security to Address SAT Cheating Overseas (April 28): Congressman Matt Salmon called on the Department of Homeland Security to address whether foreign students are cheating on the SAT to get into American universities and illegally qualify for U.S. visas…Read More>>

Art Show to Feature Work by Students from U.S., China (April 29): The Tuscarawas County Center for the Arts in Philadelphia will present “Duo,” an exhibition featuring the work of high school students from the United States and China…Read More>>

Trade and Economic Relations

Anbang’s Pursuit of Starwood Always Faced High Hurdles (April 4): Anbang Insurance Group Co. suddenly dropped its bid for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. last month, citing “various market considerations.” Analysts say the Chinese bidder always faced formidable hurdles in its quest for Starwood as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Please also see this AustralianFinancial Review piece.

Say No to The Dress (April 5): Using images stolen from across the web, sketchy retailers are selling ultra-discounted clothes to women on Facebook. A BuzzFeed News investigation shows many of the retailers are linked to one of China’s richest men.

Ivanka Trump’s China-Made Scarves Recalled (April 7): As reported by the Daily Beast, Ivanka Trump’s branded scarves, which are manufactured in China, were recalled last month over flammability concerns. The safety of products manufactured in China has become a major concern for American consumers and is frequently cited by Republican front-runner Donald Trump as a reason for “getting tough” with China.

China's ZTE Revises Down 2015 Profit after U.S. Export Curbs (April 6): According to Reuters, Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp revised down its 2015 net profit due to export curbs imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department for ZTE’s alleged violations of sanctions against Iran. Related: China's ZTE Executives to Step Down amid U.S. Sanctions Row.

Conspiracy Charges Spotlight China’s Nuclear Champion (April 15): A U.S. indictment against China General Nuclear Power Corp. for conspiracy to illegally produce nuclear material shone a light on one of the country’s leading atomic energy companies...Read More>>

China Killed 1 Million U.S. Jobs, But Don't Blame Trade Deals (April 18): Economists have agreed for decades that more open international trade is good for the U.S. economy. But recent research finds that, when it comes to China, the downside for American workers has been much more painful than predicted…Read More>>

Yum Sales Jump in China in First Quarter, Boosted by KFC (April 20): The owner of the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell franchises, Yum Brands Inc., saw larger than expected sales in the first quarter, helped by Lunar New Year KFC chicken bucket promotions, marking an auspicious start to a year in which the company plans to spin off its China unit…Read More>>

GM China Sees Strong Growth for Luxury Models and EVs (April 28): Chinese consumers' love of luxury brands could help make that country Cadillac's largest global market in the next five to ten years, the head of General Motors China said last month…Read More>>

If You Read/Watched Nothing Else in April…

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 60 days, but KICUS would like to highlight the following work nonetheless:


No, Xi Jinping Has Not Built a Cult of Personality (Jude Blanchett, April 3)


How China Sees World Order (Richard Fontaine and Mira Rapp-Hooper, The National Interest, April 20)  Related: 中国如何看待现存世界秩序?(环球新闻)


U.S.-China Relations in Strategic Domains (The National Bureau of Asian Research, April 2016)

Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations as Tsai Ing-wen Assumes the Presidency in Taiwan (Bonnie Glaser, Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 19)


China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know (Arthur R. Kroeber, Oxford University Press, April 1)


2016 U.S.-China Public Perceptions Snapshot Survey (Committee of 100, April 14)


The Value of Values: Reconsidering the Role of Human Rights in U.S.-China Relations (Kissinger Institute, April 20).

Thanks for reading and for your continued support of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.

About the Author

Sandy Pho

Senior Associate
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Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

The Kissinger Institute works to ensure that China policy serves American long-term interests and is founded in understanding of historical and cultural factors in bilateral relations and in accurate assessment of the aspirations of China’s government and people.  Read more