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The Month in U.S. - China Relations 中美关系月报 (September 2015)

The White House was wise to ignore GOP candidates’ calls for the cancellation or downgrading of the September state visit of General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi’s visit brought both ceremony and substance—even if Pope Francis and John Boehner sucked most of the media oxygen from the autumn air. As you will read in the articles below, President Obama and General Secretary Xi have much to be proud of. The two leaders announced cybersecurity and climate change agreements, an accord on military encounters at sea and air, and consequential trade deals. More importantly, they seem to have arrested the downward slide in mutual perceptions of the relationship, at least for a while.

The White House was wise to ignore GOP candidates’ calls for the cancellation or downgrading of the September state visit of General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi’s visit brought both ceremony and substance—even if Pope Francis and John Boehner sucked most of the media oxygen from the autumn air. As you will read in the articles below, President Obama and General Secretary Xi have much to be proud of. The two leaders announced cybersecurity and climate change agreements, an accord on military encounters at sea and air, and consequential trade deals. More importantly, they seem to have arrested the downward slide in mutual perceptions of the relationship, at least for a while.

They did not appear to breach fundamental differences regarding security in the Western Pacific, the international role of civil society, or human rights, however, and the key dynamics of the relationship are unchanged, even if the atmospherics have improved. Much depends on next-steps and on whether bureaucracies in both countries can build on the momentum of the summit.

The summit underscored that the ability to shape regional and international orders is now the measuring stick for both the cooperative and competitive sides of the relationship. Beijing has long insisted that China does not wish to replace the existing system, but to improve it. Indeed, Xi’s primary goal during his U.S. visit seemed to be to bury China’s image as a “free rider” and reintroduce the PRC as a respected global power that contributes to the common good.

Major Issue Tracker

China as an Emerging Superpower

  • As Economy Falters, Military Parade Offers Change to Burnish China’s Image (September 1): On September 3rd, China celebrated a new national holiday commemorating the 70th anniversary of the “Victory of Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War.” The festivities had been planned long before the sudden devaluation of the RMB and China’s stock market slump, but the timing could not have been better from Xi’s point of view. According to this New York Times article, “The event allowed Mr. Xi to push a much bolder nationalist agenda just as the Chinese public is beginning to question the party’s main sources of legitimacy: it’s ability to deliver economic growth.” For a review of some of the latest weapons systems displayed in the parade, see this IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly report.
  • China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan Gives Speech on Education in English at UN (September 28): The always elegant First Lady of China, Peng Liyuan, delivered a speech in English at the United Nations Education First conference. Ms. Peng discussed the importance of education for girls and also revealed some personal details about her family. Forbes ranks Ms. Peng as the 68th most powerful woman in the world.
  • China Surprises UN With $100 Million and Thousands of Troops for Peacekeeping (September 28): In a 2014 interview with New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, President Obama called China a “free rider,” chiding it for not providing international public goods at a level commensurate with its economic strength. Chide no more, Mr. President. In what the New York Times called “one of the more surprising announcements during his visit,” General Secretary Xi announced that China would provide $100 million to the African Union as well as set up a UN permanent peacekeeping force of 8,000 troops in order to create a unit capable of responding rapidly to emergencies. Quartz has the full transcript of Xi’s speech on their site.

The American Rebalance to Asia

  • GOP Senators Say U.S. Should Send Navy Vessels to South China Sea (September 18): Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, Ambassador David Shear testified last month to the Senate Committee on Armed Services (SCAS) at a hearing on Maritime Security Strategy in the Asia-Pacific Region. Republican Senators urged the Pentagon to sail Navy ships within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands China is building in the South China Sea. According to Senator John McCain, chairman of the SCAS, this would make it clear that the United States does not recognize China’s territorial claims in the region. Video of the hearing, as well as Admiral Harris and Ambassador Shear’s testimony, can be found on the SCAS website.
  • President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United States (September 25): The White House released a fact sheet outlining all the areas President Obama and General Secretary Xi have agreed to work together.
  • Remarks by President Obama and President Xi of the People’s Republic of China in Joint Press Conference (September 25): At the press conference, Xi reiterated China’s position on the South China Sea, saying the islands “since ancient times are China’s territory” and that “China does not intend to pursue militarization” of its new facilities.

Cyber, Espionage, and Crime

  • China says U.S. has Repatriated ‘Most Wanted’ Fugitive (September 18): In August’s monthly newsletter we included a New York Times piece on Beijing’s efforts to hunt down corrupt officials who have fled overseas. Under “Operation Fox Hunt,” a total of 680 fugitives suspected of economic crimes have been repatriated to China from various countries. Fox Hunt was recently folded into a more expansive effort in April, codenamed “Operation Skynet.” According to the Financial Times, days before Xi was to land in the United States, Chinese authorities happily announced that one of China’s 100 “most wanted” fugitives had been repatriated by the United States.
  • China Formally Arrests U.S. Citizen Accused of Spying (September 22): An American businesswoman was formally arrested in China shortly before President Xi Jinping’s state visit. Phan Phan-Gillis, also known as Sandy, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was accompanying a delegation of officials and businesspeople from Houston when she was detained …Read More>>
  • U.S. and China Back Off Internet Arms Race but Obama Leaves Sanctions on the Table (September 25): After much speculation over whether the United States would hit Chinese individuals and companies accused of cyber theft with sanctions (see the Financial Times, New York Times and Brookings piece), Obama and Xi made nice in the Rose Garden and reached a “common understanding on the way forward” on cyber issues. Both leaders pledged that their governments would not conduct nor condone economic espionage. President Obama cautioned however, that “What I’ve said to President Xi, and what I say to the American people, the question now is: ‘Are words followed by actions?’”…Read More>>
  • U.S. Intel Official Not Optimistic About Cyber Deal with China (September 29): Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper told the Senate Committee on Armed Services (SCAS) last month that while “hope springs eternal,” he believes the cyber agreement announced last month is unlikely to deter Chinese state-sponsored cyber-attacks on U.S. businesses…Read More>>


  • Chinese Navy Ships Came Within 12 Nautical Miles of U.S. Coast (September 2): According to the Wall Street Journal, defense officials spotted five Chinese navy ships passing through U.S. territorial waters as they transited the Aleutian Islands. The passage, which came just as President Obama was visiting Alaska, followed China’s joint military exercises with Russia. The action “was a legal transit of U.S. territorial seas conducted in accordance with the Law of the Sea Convention.”
  • China Completes Runway on Fiery Cross Reef (September 24): According to this IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly report, satellite imagery dated September 20th shows a completed runway on Fiery Cross Reef, which is part of the disputed Spratly Island chain. The completion of the runway will enable China to accelerate construction of infrastructure and potentially start air patrols over the Spratly Islands. Fiery Cross Reef is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam as well as the PRC.
  • Obama-Xi Summit Produces Landmark Deal to Reduce Military Encounters (September 29): Reports on the Obama-Xi summit focused on cybercrime and cooperation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Overlooked was an accord on 'Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air-to-Air Encounters.' According to Bonnie Glaser (in The Interpreter), the agreement is an annex to the MOU on rules of behavior for safe military encounters at sea and in the air that was signed at the Obama-Xi summit in November 2014. The signing underscores U.S. and Chinese commitment to reduce the risk of unintended military incidents that could harm the overall relationship.

Soft Power

  • A White Guy Named Michael Couldn’t Get His Poem Published. Then he Became Yi-Fen Chou (September 8): Michael Derrick Hudson is not of Asian descent. But after his poem “The Bees” was rejected by 40 different journals, he decided to seek publication using the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou. The ruse worked. “The Bees” was not only published but was included in the 2015 edition of “Best American Poetry” which came out last month. Hudson was widely criticized by the Chinese American literary community. “When you’re doing this from a position of entitlement, you’re appropriating an ethnic identity that’s one, imaginary, and two, doesn’t have access to the literary world,” Chapman University professor Victoria Chang told The Washington Post.
  • Bon Jovi Concerts in China Are Canceled, and Dalai Lama Image Is Seen as Cause (September 9): In the lead-up to his first shows in China, Jon Bon Jovi released a cover of the Chinese classic “The Moon Represents My Heart.” His gesture was unappreciated and, in early September, his Shanghai and Beijing shows were canceled. The Financial Times reported that China’s Ministry of Culture scuttled the performances after discovering that a video backdrop for the band’s 2010 Taiwan concert featured an image of the Dalai Lama.

Trade & Economic Relations

  • U.S. Urges China to Improve Communication (September 1): U.S. policymakers are concerned over what they see as poor signaling of Chinese intentions in the wake of August’s stock market rout and sudden currency devaluation. According to the Financial Times, U.S. officials urged Beijing to be mindful of how it communicates policy changes.
  • Chinese Officials Unveil Energy, Railway Tie-Ups With U.S. Companies (September 17): According to a Wall Street Journal article, top Chinese economic advisors made a rare public appearance to announce deals between U.S. and Chinese companies in advance of Xi’s visit. The projects include cooperation between General Electric and the China National Machinery Industry Corp. to build clean-energy projects in Africa as well as an agreement between Chinese rail companies and a U.S. firm to build a rail line linking Southern California to Las Vegas (see below).
  • A High-Speed Rail from LA to Las Vegas? China says it’s Partnering with U.S. to Build (September 18): China Railway International USA, a consortium led by state-owned China Railway, is partnering with XpressWest, a private U.S. firm, to build a 185-mile route between LA and Las Vegas. “As China's first high-speed railway project in the United States, the project will be a landmark in overseas investment for the Chinese railway sector and serve as a model of international cooperation,” Yang Zhongmin, chairman of China Railway International, told Xinhua News Agency…Read More>>
  • U.S. Presses Firms to Raise China Complaints (September 22): Less than a week before Xi Jinping’s arrival in Seattle, President Obama urged a group of CEOs at a Business Roundtable to keep Washington informed about problems they face in China. “When your companies have problems…and you want us to help, you have to let us help. Don't tell us on the side, ‘we’ve got this problem, you need to look into it, but…leave our names out of it’ for fear of possible repercussions in China. The full transcript of Obama’s remarks to the Business Roundtable can be read here.
  • Chinese Censorship Costing U.S. Tech Firms Billions in Revenue (September 22): The so-called “Great Firewall” shuts out American tech giants—Google, Facebook, Twitter—as well as start-ups such as Snapchat, Dropbox and Wordpress. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but the Los Angeles Times estimates that “If Google maintained the same share in China it held in early 2010 (before it was given the boot), it would have taken in $3.5 billion on the mainland last year — nearly 5 percent of Google’s total revenue.”

Academic Relations

  • Chinese Students Abroad Used to be Seen as Diligent, Penny-Pinching, and Idealistic. No Longer (September 1): In less than two decades, the image of Chinese students studying in the United States has transformed dramatically. The first Chinese students to arrive on U.S. shores in the 1980s received international scholarships and funding from Beijing. Today, “for many Chinese…time spent stateside is but a steppingstone to a Chinese dream – one that’s for sale.” The purchasing power of these so-called fuerdai, or “second-generation rich” kids, can be seen at upscale department stores, such as Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale’s, that sponsor events aimed specifically at wooing them…Read More>>
  • Can 1 Million American Students Learn Mandarin? (September 25): In a joint press conference with General Secretary Xi, President Obama announced the launch of “1 Million Strong,” an initiative that aims to increase the number of American students studying Mandarin Chinese to 1 million by the year 2020. “If our countries are going to do more together around the world,” said Obama, “then speaking each other’s language, truly understanding each other, is a good place to start”…Read More>>
  • U.S. Colleges Seek to Integrate Chinese Students Better (September 29): According to the Institute of International Education, the number of Chinese students studying in the United States rose from 61,765 a decade ago to over 270,000 in the 2013-2014 academic year. According to Kissinger Institute Director, Robert Daly, some of today’s students have a different attitude from the Chinese who came in the 1980s and 1990s. There’s not a sense of coming to America…so much as buying a credential to get a better job.”…Read More>>


  • Don’t Rain on Our Military Parade (September 1): Preparations for China’s September 3rd military parade included road closures, public transit disruptions, and media censorship. The U.S.-based site, China Digital Timesuncovered censorship instructions issued to the media by the government prior to the military parade. Websites were instructed to “actively promote positive, sunny netizen commentary.” The guidelines stipulated that “Until September 5, all news and comments related to the military parade must be carefully reviewed before posting to guarantee they are positive and not offensive to the PLA."


If You Read/Watched Nothing Else in September...

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:


National Security Advisor Susan Rice offered one of the finest explications of U.S. China policy that we’ve heard in a long while in an address at George Washington University on the eve of the Obama-Xi summit (September 21)


U.S.-China Cyber Deal Takes Norm Against Economic Espionage Global (David Fidler, Council on Foreign Relations presents Net Politics, September 28)


  • Forget Beijing’s Victory Parade: In 1945, China was a Failed State (Sergey Radchenko, Foreign Policy, September 3)
  • China’s Preferred World Order: What Does China Want? (Sun Yun, PacNet Number 62, September 21)


  • China Announces Cap and Trade Program (Wilson Center’s Trending with Jennifer Turner, September 25)
  • Xi in Washington: Outcomes Explained (CSIS Asia Maritime Initiative, September 30)
  • 美前驻华大使:习奥会点明中美方向 (Phoenix TV Interview with Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy on Impact of Obama-Xi Summit on U.S.-China relations, September 30)

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 mission of Kissinger Institute on China and the United States is to ensure that informed engagement remains the cornerstone of U.S.-China relations.  Read more