Readout of the President’s Phone Call with Chinese President Xi Jinping
The President called Chinese President Xi Jinping today to congratulate him on his new position and to discuss the future of the U.S.-China relationship. The President underscored his firm commitment to increasing practical cooperation to address Asia’s and the world’s most pressing economic and security challenges. Both leaders agreed on the value of regular high-level engagement to expand cooperation and coordination. The President noted that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will visit China next week and that Secretary of State John Kerry will also visit Beijing in the coming weeks as part of his upcoming trip to Asia. The President highlighted the threat to the United States, its allies, and the region from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and stressed the need for close coordination with China to ensure North Korea meets its denuclearization commitments. President Obama welcomed China’s G-20 commitment to move towards a more flexible exchange rate, and he underscored the importance of working together to expand trade and investment opportunities and to address issues such as the protection of intellectual property rights. In this context, the President highlighted the importance of addressing cyber-security threats, which represent a shared challenge. The two leaders agreed to maintain frequent and direct communication.
On Monday night, the world experienced the third and final presidential debate. This time, topic was pure foreign policy, or at least it was suppose to be. Needless to say, China Law & Policy was anxiously watching – China’s rise was supposed to be one of the few subjects to be discussed.
After an hour and twenty minutes, the debate finally turned to China. With less than ten minutes, each candidate was forced to discuss his policy toward the world’s second largest economy and a rising global power.
Was ten minutes sufficient to discuss a foreign policy matter as important as our economic, military and moral relationship with China? Absolutely not. One hopes that the next president has a policy toward China that is more complicated than what can be explained in less than his allotted five minutes.
But in all fairness, the lack of attention to China was likely not a result of ignorance of China’s importance vis-a-vis the United States. This debate is for the American people and let’s face it, right now the Middle East is at the forefront of most American minds. For the past few months, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Libya, have appeared on the front page of major national newspapers; it’s in this region where American lives are on the line on a daily basis; and with all the saber rattling in the region there is a very real fear amongst Americans that the U.S. entanglement in a third war in the region is a possibility.
While we would have liked to have seen more discussion on China, the focus and time spent on the Middle East was necessary. And hey, China should feel lucky – it got more time than the European debt crisis (0 minutes) which arguably is a much more time-sensitive crisis with severe, global repercussions.
But back to China. Between the two candidates, there was no clear winner or loser in terms of China. The only real loser was Bob Schieffer who pivoted to the China topic by saying “Let’s turn to China. Mr. President what is the U.S.’ biggest national security threat?” Gee Bob, I wonder who YOU think is the biggest national security threat. Not surprisingly, neither candidate fell into Bob’s trap.
What was the most interesting aspect of the debate was that it was perhaps the clearest representation of how similar China policy is and has always been between the two parties. Each candidate began his statement on the importance of the U.S.-China trade dealings and the symbiotic relationship between the two countries. Neither candidate discussed cutting or changing this mutually dependent relationship. Instead, each candidate underscored the need for China to “play by the rules” and trade fair – Obama highlighted the many WTO cases his administration has brought, and won against China, and Romney emphasized the need to protect intellectual property. So in reality, the two China policies were pretty much the same. Two key differences, and where each candidate lost equal points, were the following:
Romney declaring China a currency manipulator. Romney has promised to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. But what he doesn’t mention is that this declaration is largely symbolic – like Amtrak declaring May 10 National Train Day – it’s sort of self-serving. As Bloomberg noted in a great article about this last week, presidential declaration of currency manipulation does nothing. All it would do would be for the Secretary of the Treasury to analyze whether the president’s claim is true using a specific formula. If it is, then the Treasury Secretary is required to work with the International Monetary Fund to negotiate a solution with the offending nation. There is no guidance about what to do if negotiations fail. So basically, Romney’s plan is to do what is currently being done – negotiating with China to limit its currency manipulation.
Obama highlighting the need for government to support the green tech industry. Obama reinforced the need for government funding for industries like green tech so as to compete with China. Romney was critical of government’s role and thought that funding of industries should be left to business and venture capitalists. China Law & Policy has long maintained that government policies and funding of green technology is important in maintaining any competitive advantage over China. (SeeHow China Beat the U.S. and Became the New Green Tech Giant). But what Obama failed to mention is that one of the bills that could have kept us in competition with China – the Climate Change Bill – failed to pass a Democratic-controlled Senate (after passing the Democratic House).
On China – Same, Same but Different
Missing from the discussion was any mention of the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands, the U.S. military’s abysmal relations with the Chinese military, reasserting US power in the region, potential Chinese cyberattacks, or human rights.
In the end, the debate did little to distinguish between the two candidates in terms of China. Anyone who is an undecided because of China issues will likely stay that way.
Who received the invitation to the Legal Experts Dialogue?
One would think that after a six-year hiatus, the resumption of the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue would receive a little more fanfare than a cursory four-sentence press release from the Department of State (“DOS”), issued on June 6, a mere two days before the big event.
For the past two years, almost every high-level discussion between the U.S. and China has raised the issue of the Legal Experts Dialogue (“LED”), with the goal of resuming the talks (last held in 2005). When President Obama visited China in November 2009, the two countries’ Joint Statement directly stated that “[t]he United States and China decided to convene the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue at an early date.” Ditto for the Joint Statement after President Hu’s visit to Washington, D.C. in January 2011.
It wasn’t until April 28, 2011, at the Human Rights Dialogue, that anyone provided somewhat more of a hard date. At a press conference, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner announced that the U.S. and China finally agreed to convene the LED in “June 2011.” This vague date was reiterated a few weeks later in the statement issued at the conclusion of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue.
So why the lame press release about the LED? It’s been a priority item in the U.S.’s negotiations with China. One would think that finally being able to achieve the goal of actually having the LED and especially of hosting it in the midst of the Chinese government’s crackdown on rights-defending lawyers, would be a feather in DOS’s cap; something that they would want the world to know about.
Why remain mum on who these “experts” are and what they will be discussing? Instead, DOS only states that there will be “government and non-government experts” who will “explore key legal issues of mutual interest.” Could DOS be more vague?
There are occasions when the U.S. might achieve more by pressuring China behind the scenes. In the case of Xu Zhiyong in 2009, it looks like that approached worked. But the LED is a completely different beast – the existence of the Dialogue has long been made public and given that there will be non-government experts, it does not appear that there will be high-level discussions here on par with Hu-Obama talks. It sounds like it is one group of lawyers talking to another. Given some of the issues that have sprung up in the past few months, including the assault on public interest lawyers, China’s indigenous innovation policy, various WTO cases, and the criminal trials of U.S. citizens, it would be interesting to know what is on the agenda.
But in general, I do not hold out hope that the LED will produce any earth-shattering results, if it produces results at all. While DOS has stated that there will be “in-depth discussions and practical cooperation on the rule of law” (yeah, I don’t know what that means either), it’s basically two days of meetings among strangers with translators in between. How much can really be achieved?
And maybe that’s why the U.S. hasn’t given the LED the credit one would think it is due. Maybe even DOS realizes that bringing over a delegation of Chinese lawyers and legal experts for a mere two days is likely a waste of taxpayer’s money.
I do think that more open dialogue between the U.S. and China is a good thing. But there are better ways to increase the lines of communication between the legal communities in the two nations and assist China with improving upon its commitment to a rule of law. Identifying and inviting reform-minded Chinese lawyers to the United States for a longer period of time – anywhere between three months to a year – is a better use of money. Through that experience, a Chinese lawyer can see how our legal system functions, see the good and the bad, interact with U.S. lawyers, and determine which aspects if any should be replicated in China.
These types of sustained contact are what can best assist China with implementing a rule of law. A two-day conference likely cannot. But unfortunately, we won’t really know because nothing about the LED is publicly available.
Chinese artist's rendition of Barack Obama with Cultural Revolution Slogan "Serve the People"
Beijing, China – A certain excitement has lighted the streets of Beijing in anticipation of President Barack Obama’s maiden visit here this week. Not only has the capital experienced two days of clear blue skies, a rarity in a city that is usually encased in a yellow, gritty smog during the cold winter months, but there is an electricity in the air as everyone discusses President Obama’s visit – from the formal news casters on TV analyzing the potential agenda to the famously earthy taxi drivers complaining about the potential traffic nightmare.
But like President Obama’s fan base back home, the young in China are especially keen on his visit. And the President is acutely aware of this fact. On Monday, his first day in China, President Obama will meet with a group of Chinese college and graduate students in Shanghai, to listen to their opinions and answer their questions. What do these students think of President Obama? What questions or recommendations will they have for the President?
In talking to a group of graduate students from the China University of Political Science and Law, one of Beijing’s most prestigious universities, President Obama’s rise to power has filled them with the hope that the impossible, or at least the improbable, is achievable. “He gives young people encouragement. If you work hard, you can obtain a high position….it’s the American Dream.” said Xie Jinbao (pronounced SyehGin-bao). “For many, it is very dream-like” explained Liu Huisheng (pronounced Leo Hway-sheng), while cautioning that only those who care about politics have been paying attention. “In general though my friends are neutral [about President Obama].”
In pinpointing the source of this hope, the Chinese students spoke more frankly than their American counterparts on
China University of Political Science and Law
one subject in particular: President Obama’s race. “He’s America’s first black president” Li Siming (pronounced Lee Tsi-ming) offered excitedly, “it makes young people very excited.” “America was able to elect a black president, it shows that it has a certain openness” said Dong Jianjun (pronounced Dong Geeann-june). The students also derived inspiration from the multicultural nature of the President’s cabinet, mentioning by name, at least their Chinese names, the appointment of Chinese-Americans including Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu. “In China, this could never happen; a foreigner could never work in the administration” said Xie Jinbao.
For the students, many who have little recognition of a world before President George W. Bush, President Obama represents a new approach to the global order, an approach that they eagerly look to be a part of. “He is much better than Bush” Xie Jinbao said. “Bush believed in unilateralism, but Obama supports multilateralism.” At a time when many western observers question China’s commitment as a collaborator on the world stage, Li Siwei (pronounced Lee Tsi-way) seemed to imply her generation’s eagerness for greater responsibility: “Obama is willing to work with other countries, there will be more cooperation.”
But even though the term superstar was used repeatedly to describe President Obama and student Liang Xuanjing (pronounced Leeang Syuan-jing) was in awe of President Obama’s charisma, there were words of caution. “Confucius had a saying ‘If a person is too perfect, we will have doubts’” Liu Huisheng said, noting that perhaps President Obama’s speeches are a bit “too perfect.” Dong Jianjun echoed this sentiment: “Compared to presidents like Roosevelt or Kennedy, Obama has similarly great charisma…but we have yet to see if his [Obama’s] policies will be effective.” Like many Americans, these Chinese students are looking for President Obama to follow through on the promises of his speeches. In a relationship as close as the one between China and the U.S., President Obama’s actions, or lack of action, directly impact China and many of these Chinese students’ futures.
Not surprisingly though, many of the topics that the students would like Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao (pronounced Who Gin-tao) to discuss are the same as their U.S. contemporaries – international trade and the ever escalating tariff war topped the list for these students. But so did the issue of climate change and energy efficiency as well as the economic recovery.
China’s youth are not that different from the young back home – they share the same hope that Presidents Obama and Hu can make the world a better place and they express an eagerness for a new world order where the U.S. and China can work through their issues. But like their American brethren, if Presidents Obama and Hu cannot solve many of today’s problems, including the economic crisis, climate change, and an increasingly cantankerous trade relationship, it will be their generation that will be left holding the bag.