Category: Obama Administration

Events in Preparation for Hu’s State Visit

By , January 7, 2011

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

______________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                     January 7, 2011

Guidance on Events leading into the China State Visit

In advance of President Hu’s state visit to Washington on January 19, several senior members of the Obama Administration will be addressing different aspects of our relationship with China.

This weekend, Secretary Gates will travel to China to advance military-to-military ties between our two countries.  After he travels to China, Secretary Gates will also be making stops in Japan and the Republic of Korea.

On Wednesday the 12th, Secretary Geithner will delivers remarks at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where he will discuss our economic relationship with China, including our efforts to create balanced and sustainable global growth that supports jobs and opportunity for the American people.

On Thursday the 13th, Secretary Locke will be speaking to the U.S. – China Business Council, where he will discuss how leveling the playing field for U.S. businesses in the Chinese market will help spur global innovation and create jobs in America.

On Friday the 14th, Secretary Clinton will deliver a major address at the State Department that presents our broad vision of U.S. – China relations in the 21st century, including our efforts to make progress on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues.

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Human Rights Lawyer Teng Biao Recounts Police Abuse

By , December 27, 2010

With President Hu Jintao set to make an official State visit to the U.S. next month, expect an increase in op-eds concerning violations of human rights in China and the demand that President Obama raise human rights issues with President Hu.  These op-eds usually name particular human rights activists, those who have been at it the longest and whose regular imprisonment and abuse make the international news.  Teng Biao is one such human rights lawyer who receives international attention whenever the Chinese police take him into custody, which, unfortunately, is a fairly regular occurrence.

In a recent essay translated in the Wall Street Journal, Prof. Teng recounts the wrongful detention and police brutality he suffered on December 23, 2010, when attempting to visit a colleague’s mother.  But what makes Prof. Teng’s essay particularly poignant is that he admits that because of his special status as an internationally-known human rights lawyer, the beatings he suffers at the hands of the police are much less severe than someone with less international name recognition.

The op-eds that will inevitably appear prior to President Hu’s visit to the U.S. should not just call for the freedom of a single human rights activist; rather it is important that these op-eds also look at the systemic problems with the culture of lawlessness that permeates the Chinese police and the lack of a rule of law.  Prof. Teng portrays a police force drunk on its own power and willing to cast aside the law to do as it pleases, including abusing its citizens.

‘A Hole to Bury You’
A first-hand account of how China’s police treats the citizens it’s supposed to serve and protect.

Human Rights lawyer, Teng Biao

By Teng Biao*

Beijing – On Dec. 23, the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Forced Disappearance came into force. China has declined to accede to this convention. My experience that same day is just one of many examples of how the authorities continue to falsely imprison Chinese citizens.

That evening, I was in the Xizhimen area of Beijing chatting with my colleagues Piao Xiang, Xu Zhiyong and Zhang Yongpan. Ms. Piao had been disappeared after she and I went to Dandong on Oct. 7 to argue the court case of Leng Guoquan, a man framed by the police for drug trafficking; she had only been released on Dec. 20. Her abductors had been officers from the state security squad of the Public Security Bureau. I asked her to narrate the entire process of her disappearance in detail.

Later, I suggested to Mr. Zhang, “Let’s go and see Fan Yafeng’s mom.” The day before, we had contacted fellow human rights lawyer Fan Yafeng and found out that he was under strict house arrest. But he had said that his mother was going to be alone at home in the evening and so I thought we should go see her.

Because I used to go there frequently I remembered clearly where she lived. As Mr. Zhang and I entered the block of flats and started walking up the staircase, I had a feeling that someone was following us. Observing that we went to the third floor, a young security guard asked us whom we were visiting. We said, “We’re seeing a friend.” Immediately, he called out for someone else to come up.

We knocked on the door and were greeted by Mr. Fan’s mother. But as we entered the flat, the security guard came with us, and a person in plainclothes stormed in just behind him. The man in plainclothes demanded to check our IDs in a very coarse manner. I asked him in a loud voice, “What sort of people are you? How can you enter a private residence without permission?”

The plainclothes man said, “I am a police officer. We want to check your ID cards.” “You’re a police officer? I want to see your police ID.” “If I am telling you I’m a police officer, then that’s what I am. What are you doing here?” “Is that your business? How can you prove you’re a police officer if you don’t show your police ID card?”

***Click here to Read More***

*Prof. Teng Biao is a lecturer of law at the Law School of the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), one of China’s most prestigious law school.  After working with human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong to successfully abolish the Custody and Repatriation system, Teng and Xu opened the public interest law firm, Open Constitution Initiative, which was shut down in summer 2009.  Teng has been repeatedly warned by administrators at CUPL that if he continues with his rights defense work, he could lose his job and even his personal freedom.

President Hu Jintao to Visit the U.S.

By , December 23, 2010

Yesterday, the White House announced that President Hu Jintao will make a State visit to the U.S. on Wednesday, January 19, 2011.  President Hu’s visit is long overdue; at the end of President Barack Obama’s State visit to China in November 2009, it was expected that President Hu would visit the U.S. by the summer of 2010.

Needless to say, President Hu’s visit will come at an interesting time.  The State visit was not the only China-related news that the Administration announced on Wednesday; the Obama Administration also supported the United Steelworkers’ contention that China is illegally subsidizing its wind turbine industry by filing a suit in with the World Trade Organization.  And as trade issues continue to plague U.S.-China relations, North Korea’s recent bellicose actions against the South reflect the importance of China in maintaining peace in Asia while North Korea undergoes a leadership change.  Given the importance of the two nations to each other as well as to the rest of the world, a one-day State visit seems a bit short.  It will be interesting to see what deliverables emerge from the visit.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

______________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                     December 22, 2010

Statement by the Press Secretary on the Visit of President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China

The President will host Hu Jintao, President of the People’s Republic of China, at the White House on January 19 for an official State visit.  This will be the third State visit of the administration and reciprocates President Obama’s State visit to China in November 2009.

President Hu’s visit will highlight the importance of expanding cooperation between the United States and China on bilateral, regional, and global issues, as well as the friendship between the peoples of our two countries.  The President looks forward to welcoming President Hu to Washington to continue building a partnership that advances our common interests and addresses our shared concerns.

The President and Mrs. Obama will host President Hu for an official state dinner on the night of January 19.

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What’s the Big Deal About a Pile of Rocks? The Diaoyu Island Incident

By , October 7, 2010

This past September, the world watched as the centuries-old feud between China and Japan reached epic proportions over a little-known chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.  Known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese, the Senkaku Islands in Japanese, both China and Japan claim them as their own and each seeks control of the oil-rich seabed that potentially lies beneath. 

 As Marcy Nicks Moody writes in Foreign Policy Digest (reprinted below), at stake with these islands is more than just a pile of rocks. 

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Wallet: China Flexes Economic Muscle in Regional Disputes
By Marcy Nicks Moody
Originally Printed in Foreign Policy Digest

DEVELOPMENTS
Last month, a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japanese coastguard patrol ships off the coast of a small chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.  Japanese authorities took the boat’s crew into custody, and prosecutors debated whether to press charges against the boat’s captain for obstruction of justice.  Demanding the captain’s release, Beijing made strenuous arguments invoking Chinese sovereignty and human rights.  Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao refused to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan during a recent United Nations Summit meeting in New York and insisted that the conflict be resolved through diplomatic channels, while simultaneously suspending all mid- and high-level political contact between the two countries.  When the fishing boat captain was released, Beijing responded by insisting that Japan issue a formal apology and provide financial compensation.   Japan, in turn, argued that China should compensate Japan for the damage done to its naval ships.  Whether the collision was intentional is unclear, and it is unlikely that further light will be shed on the subject.

BACKGROUND

If the scale and particularly bitter nature of the diplomatic denouement following this small maritime accident strikes readers as odd, it should.   These events put into sharp relief the changing security landscape that both Asia and the United States face today in the Asian maritime.  They may also provide some insight into how China intends to conduct its increasingly forward facing maritime and energy security policy.

The islands near which the collision occurred are a matter of ongoing dispute between China and Japan that dates back for at least 40 years. Although the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu Islands, in Chinese) are effectively a pile of uninhabitable rocks, it became known in the 1970s as an area potentially rich in oil and gas deposits in the surrounding waters, control of which could improve either country’s energy security dramatically. At present, the islands are controlled by Japan, but claimed by China. Although both have legitimate grounds for their claims, there is no foreseeable end to the dispute in sight. As Japanese authorities held the Chinese fishing boat captain on the basis that they might charge him with a violation of Japanese law, they were implying that these waters are, indeed, Japanese. For this reason, it is not entirely surprising that China would respond with such vociferous complaints as it did. What was surprising were the unannounced measures that China also took.

In addition to arresting four Japanese citizens in China for spying, which may have been coincidental, China appears to have suspended the export of rare earth minerals to Japan. Rare earths are elements in the Earth’s crust. Although they exist in miniscule concentrations, they are crucial to a range of modern technologies, including car batteries, wind turbines, and many other electronics. China mines approximately 97 percent of the world’s rare earths and, given the relative importance of electronics manufacturing to the Japanese economy, this move has the potential to be extremely damaging to Japan. No one from the Chinese government announced the suspension, and officials from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) have denied any sort of embargo. Chinese officials have, however, made public that they are contemplating fining Toyota Motor Company’s Chinese operations for various violations, including illegal rebates to Chinese car dealerships. While it is possible that the dispute with the trawler captain, the suspension of rare earths exports, the arrests, and the Toyota fines are all coincidental, it seems more likely that China is manipulating its economic and commercial relationship to gain leverage in its dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

China has similar ongoing disputes over other chains of islands in the South China Sea with its Southeast Asian neighbors—in particular, Vietnam. Like the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the waters surrounding the Spratly and Paracel Islands are believed to be rich in oil and natural gas, in addition to their valuable proximity to busy shipping lanes. The U.S. government inserted itself into the dispute in July, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would be willing to facilitate multilateral talks on the issue. She insisted upon U.S. neutrality, but argued that the United States has a strong interest in preserving free shipping in the region. Not surprisingly, a number of Southeast Asian countries welcomed the announcement, while China, caught off-guard by the announcement, maintained that the talks should be undertaken in a bilateral format.

ANALYSIS

China has not been the positive, productive, and cooperative international partner that the Obama administration seems to have been expecting two years ago. On the security side, cooperation on the North Korean question has disintegrated; Beijing has refused to move forward on sanctions against Iran; and U.S.-China military-to-military relations are increasingly strained. On the economic side, meanwhile, China has not allowed its currency to appreciate materially; it has recently placed steep tariffs on some U.S. exports, and the business environment is widely acknowledged to have become increasingly hostile to non-Chinese enterprises. If nothing else, Secretary Clinton’s July announcement is a mechanism for registering U.S. frustration with the current trajectory. Like China, Washington is also willing to play the zero-sum game.

The disputes over the Senkaku/Diaoyu, Spratly, and Paracel Islands are all based, at least in part, in China’s quest for greater energy security. At the same time, Beijing has taken an increasingly aggressive stance in a range of its foreign policy dealings, both with the United States and with its Asian partners. Given the trend of global economic interdependence that relies more and more heavily on China’s mammoth economy, Beijing’s recent behavior could forecast some serious struggles in the future, as China manipulates its growing commercial influence to leverage its position in the Asian security landscape.

Marcy Nicks Moody writes about China. In 2007-08, she was a Fulbright Scholar in China, where she was also a Research Fellow with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. She received an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and graduated from Brown University.

Warming Relations? China & the U.S.

By , April 2, 2010

In just a day, it appears that the bad blood that seemed to be spill between the U.S. and China is behind us.  Yesterday morning, China announced that it will participate in talks about sanctions against Iran, by late afternoon, President Hu Jintao of China announced that he will be visiting Wasnhington DC at the end of April, and this evening, the White House just issue a press release summarizing President Obama’s call with President Hu (text below).  Interesting turn events.  Does this signal a changed attitude between the two countries or perhaps just the natural ups and downs in a relationship between two powerful countries?

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

______________________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                                                                                   April 1, 2010

Readout of the President’s Call with President Hu of China

Tonight, President Obama spoke with President Hu of China for about an hour. President Obama welcomed the decision by President Hu to attend the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit which will be an important opportunity for them to address their shared interest in stopping nuclear proliferation and protecting against nuclear terrorism.  They also discussed the importance of developing a positive bilateral relationship.  President Obama underscored the importance of working together to ensure that Iran lives up to its international obligations.  He also emphasized the importance of the United States and China along with other major economies implementing the G20 commitments designed to produce balanced and sustainable growth.

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The NY Times Overreacts to U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan

By , February 2, 2010

In yesterday’s New York Times, Helene Cooper argued that the Obama Administration’s recent announcement of over $6 billion in arms sales to Taiwan shows a “new toughness” toward Beijing and perhaps even a “fundamentally new direction” in the Administration’s China policy.  But, by focusing on the arms sales, Ms. Cooper overemphasizes the event.  U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are far from novel or tough, and some may argue, periodically required under U.S. law.

Similarly, Beijing’s angry reaction was predictable.  In fact, for each prior Administration’s arms sales to Taiwan, the Chinese government has responded in much the same way: postponement of military-to-military meetings, issue formal protests with U.S. officials, and saber-rattling for the domestic consumption.  However, Beijing’s recent threat of sanctions against U.S. companies involved with the arms sales is new and serious.  But this is more a reflection of China’s growing confidence and less a reflection of a changed or “tough” U.S. policy toward China.

Why Does China Care so Much about Taiwan?  Isn’t it a Separate Country?

Nope, scrap that vision from your mind.  Taiwan is not a separate country, at least not in the eyes of the Chinese, Taiwanese or U.S. governments.   The People’s Republic of China (a.k.a. the mainland) views Taiwan (a.k.a. “The Republic of China”) as a renegade province and any relations between Taiwan and other countries is viewed as interference in the mainland’s domestic affairs.  While Taiwan has largely developed as an independent society, it agrees with the mainland’s assessment that there is only “one China.”  The Taiwanese government has never called for independence and the Kuo Min Tang party (pronounced Gwo min-dang and a.k.a. “the Nationalists” or KMT), which has ruled Taiwan for most of Taiwan’s separate existence, also espouses the view of “one China” and that eventually, the mainland and Taiwan will reunite.  The difference is who rules this reunited China.  For Taiwan, it’s the KMT; for the mainland, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

All of this stems from World War II.  After the War ended in 1945, the KMT and the CCP resumed their civil war, a civil war that was put on hold to fight the Japanese invasion from 1937 to 1945.  By 1949, the CCP’s victory was certain and the KMT government fled to the province of Taiwan to continue the Republic of China.

China DailyThus began the baffling existence of two Chinas – the communist People’s Republic of China on the mainland and the KMT’s Republic of China on Taiwan.  Each China claimed that it was the “official” and “rightful” China and the other a mere province; each forced the international community to recognize only one China – either China on the mainland or China on Taiwan – hence the birth of the “one China” policy.

The U.S. continued to ally itself with the KMT and the Republic of China, recognizing Taiwan as the official China and all but denying the existence of the mainland.  But starting in 1972, with President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to the mainland, relations between the U.S. and the PRC began to improve and in 1979, the U.S. switched recognition of China from Taiwan to the mainland.

Obama’s Arms Sales to Taiwan Is Par for the Course in U.S.-China Relations

The Obama Administration’s recent announcement of arms sales to Taiwan follows a long line of arms sales by the U.S.  Almost every president since 1978 has sold arms to Taiwan.  In fact, the U.S., under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), is required to sell defensive arms to Taiwan.  In 1979, after changing recognition to mainland China, the U.S. did not want to leave its former ally completely open to attack or takeover.  As a result, Congress passed the TRA.

The TRA authorizes quasi-diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.  For example, instead of having an official embassy on Taiwan, the TRA allows for the “American Institute in Taiwan.”  Additionally, and more importantly, the TRA established the U.S.’ responsibility toward Taiwan if it is threatened.  At issue here is the TRA’s requirement that the U.S. periodically sell defensive arms to Taiwan.

In announcing arms sales to Taiwan, the Obama Administration is merely following its obligations under the TRA.  green peopleAdditionally, the Obama Administration has not acquiesced to Taiwan’s request for F-16s.  During the George W. Bush Administration, Taiwan repeatedly requested the purchase of F-16s.  Similarly, Taiwan put out feelers with the Obama Administration to see if there was a possibility that they could purchase F-16s.  Again, Taiwan was told not to put in a formal request for F-16s.

The F-16s are a big issue since they are not “defensive” arms; Beijing would very much view a sale of F-16s to Taiwan as going a bit too far.  But Obama’s package to Taiwan merely includes the usual: Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, mine-hunting ships and information technology.

If the Obama Administration wanted to use the Taiwan arms sales requirement to “toughen” its stance to Beijing as the New York Times claims it has, the Administration would have acquiesced to Taiwan’s request for F-16s.  Instead, it merely sold similar arms to Taiwan that President George W. Bush sold in 2008.

This is not to say that the Obama Administration does not have a strong China policy.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent policy speech on internet freedom was a robust critique of countries like China that censor their internet and partake in cyberhacking.  This follows President Obama’s strong and public criticism of internet censorship while in China this past November.  The New York Times would have done better to focus its argument on the Administration’s novel and forceful rhetoric on internet freedom vis-à-vis China.

State of the Union & China

By , January 28, 2010

State of the Union addresses are mandated by the Constitution, and like most requirements in life, are often dull.

Barach Obama's first State of the Union

Barach Obama's first State of the Union

The speech usually turns into a laundry list of the President’s priorities with little rhetorical flair.  Often the most exciting part is when the TV cameras pan the audience and catch Senators and Congress members misbehaving.  This year it seems as if everyone Congress member was “tweeting” on their blackberry.

So to spice it up a bit, we at China Law & Policy decided to analyze President Obama’s first State of the Union address in terms of China.

Not surprisingly, President Obama’s speech focused mostly on the domestic agenda.  But China was mentioned twice, although both times only briefly.   China was first mentioned in regards to the technology behind its fast trains.  Similarly, when President Obama brought up China a second time, it was in regards to its technological advancement and that the U.S. must not fall behind.  In both instances, China was used more as a foil than anything else.

More compelling were the points when China wasn’t named but perhaps should have been.  In terms of trade partners, President Obama stated that he wanted closer ties with Panama, South Korea and Colombia.  But this is likely less of a snub to China than the fact that the Obama Administration is waiting on Democrats in Congress to approve free trade agreements with these three nations.

China was also absent when President Obama discussed the nuclear threat from both North Korea and Iran.  In fact, no other nation was mentioned and while President Obama was very forceful in threatening the two countries with increased sanctions, his actions appeared rather unilateral.  This is in contrast to his predecessor; in George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, the President specifically mentioned China as necessary to reach a peaceful solution on the Korean peninsula.

Does this mean that the U.S. is not receiving China’s support on this front?  It’s hard to tell.  Given the American public’s focus on the economy, health care and the corruption culture of Washington, it’s not surprising that President Obama’s speech had very little focus on foreign policy.  To draw any conclusions from the little he did say is speculative, but at the same time is something to be aware of and to watch.

Click Here for a Transcript of the State of the Union Address

Translation: China’s Global Times Responds to News of U.S. Arm Sales to Taiwan

By , December 13, 2009

China’s response to reports that the U.S. will sell arms to Taiwan has been swift, with an official response

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu

coming within 24 hours of the first U.S. news articles.  As reported in the English language edition of the state-run Global Times, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (pronounced Geeang You) not surprisingly reiterated China’s strong opposition to arm sales to Taiwan and called on the U.S. to stop its intended actions.  China’s response offers an interesting glimpse into how the government and the Party often use the media to respond to crises. 

The English language editions of China’s newspapers never tell the full story and usually are written with China’s foreign audience in mind, presenting a peaceful, soft and conciliatory China.  But if the English language editions are politically correct vis-à-vis the Western world, the Chinese language editions of the same newspapers answer to the political correctness of the Chinese market, presenting an image of China that is often bolder, stronger and less forgiving, but at the same time the victim of Western (usually U.S.) aggression.

In reporting on the proposed U.S. arm sales to Taiwan, the Global Times continued with this Jekyll and Hyde approach, providing more detail in their Chinese language edition.  Below we translate one of two (and the more interesting) articles that appeared in Friday’s Global Times.

The Global Times, an uber-nationalist newspaper, has very strong connections to the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party and at times, the CCP uses the Global Times to inform the public on the subtleties of some of their policies (see Susan Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower, p. 86-87).  Thus, the Global Times is not objective journalism; in reporting on international issues, it is communicating the views of the Party.  Because it is the mouthpiece of the Party, the article translated below shows the Chinese government’s likely response to U.S. arm sales to Taiwan, and it does not look particularly good for the U.S. if it should go forward with its plan.

 

Global Times LogoThe Experts: If the U.S. Sells Arms to Taiwan, it Must Face Strong Retaliation and Sanctions from China
The Global Times (Chinese Edition) – Click Here for original article
December 11, 2009
Translation by China Law & Policy

According to a December 9 Reuters news report, an American government official leaked publically the Obama Administration’s new plan to sell arms to Taiwan, including a plan to sell submarines and black hawk helicopters.  The American State Department as well as the Defense Department have been unwilling to discuss this news, but the media generally been stating that American arms sales to Taiwan “is now only a matter of time.”

China military expert Dai Xu [pronounced Dye Sue] believes that China must oppose arm sales to Taiwan and make those countries who sell arms to Taiwan pay a serious price.  He personally recommends that China should continue verbally protesting the U.S.’s actions and should also include some sort of substantive retaliation – an eye for an eye – sell arms to the U.S.’s latent opponents.  National Defense University Professor, Meng Yangqing [pronounced Mong Yang-ching] believes that China has never harmed the U.S.’s core interests, but America, by selling arms again to Taiwan, has harmed China’s core interests; the U.S. should not take China’s past conciliatory response [to arm sales to Taiwan] as a sign of weakness or cowardness.  This time, China should not just use strong language and diplomacy to respond, but should also conduct actions of retaliation and sanctions.

China’s People’s University Professor Jin Canrong [pronounced Gin Tsan-rung] believes that if the U.S. sells arms to Taiwan, then China should certainly seek to retaliate and sanction the U.S.  In regards to military affairs, China could cut off military relations.  For the U.S., that would be a very difficult situation.  Of the world’s six strongest militaries – the U.S., Russia, China, Europe, Japan and India – the U.S. knows’ the inside story on the Russian military, it controls the European and Japanese militaries, looks down upon the Indian military, but is the most worried about China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the U.S. most urgently wants to better understand the PLA.

The Obama Visit to China – What the U.S. Press Missed

By , November 23, 2009
DSC04715Originally Posted on the Huffington Post.
 

 

 Beijing, China – The U.S. press has not been kind to President Barack Obama and his recent visit to China.  Claiming that the U.S.’ tone has become conciliatory toward China, that the trip “yielded precious little” and even oddly comparing the Obama Administration’s behavior on the visit to a one-party, authoritarian regime, the U.S. press has all but designated the trip a failure.

But the trip was most certainly not a failure and in many ways fulfilled the U.S. press’ predictions – an event filled with a huge agenda covering a multitude of global issues, likely offering few deliverables, and probably playing down, at least publically, human rights.

So if the trip confirmed the press’ earlier predictions, then what’s got their panties all in a bunch?  Perhaps the one thing that upsets the press more than anything is a lack of access, and on this trip, the press certainly played second fiddle.  Questions were not taken from the press during last Tuesday’s press conference and very little other access was offered to the President.  But with only a day and a half in Beijing, this trip was not really about the press.

But in measuring President Obama’s trip based solely on their access, or lack of, the U.S. press has failed to report on some pretty substantial results of President Obama’s trip to China.  In what you likely will not find in other media outlets that are still licking their wounds from an alleged snub, below are some of the surprising deliverables from the visit.    

1.  Increased Military-to-Military Contact and High Level Military Exchanges

If the lack of communication between the U.S. and Chinese militaries does not keep you up at night, well it should.  The U.S. has a better relationship with Russia’s military than it does with China’s, but has more potential to cross paths with China’s because of the U.S.’ military presence in Asia.  Without proper channels of communication between the two militaries, a small skirmish can easily become a major crisis, as President Obama knows from his first months in office when Chinese navy ships circled and threatened a U.S. navy vessel in the South China Sea. 

Adding to the lack of communication is China’s broad interpretation of its “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ). A chinese-fleet-review-a-ch-008country’s EEZ extends 200 miles from the coast and gives the country sovereign rights over economic activities in those waters (usually the country uses its economic zone to search for natural resources).  By China’s broad definition, its sovereign rights in the EEZ expand outside of the economic realm, permitting it to interfere with other countries’ ships that enter its EEZ.  The U.S., as well as most other countries, perceives the EEZ as providing solely economic sovereignty for the coastal state, allowing other countries’ ships free access.  For the U.S., this also includes ships that are conducting military surveillance on the coastal state (for an excellent assessment of these different interpretations, see Margaret K. Lewis’ “An Analysis of State Responsibility for the Chinese-American Airplane Collision Incident”).  Needless to say, these different interpretations only add to the tensions between the two militaries. 

In the U.S.-China Joint Statement issued last week, much needed progress was made on the military front, especially in terms of communication.  High level exchanges between the U.S. and Chinese militaries will continue, with the Chief of the General Staff of the China’s People’s Liberation Army, General Chen Bingde, visiting the U.S. and both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen making a trip to China.

In regards to differing definitions of the EEZ, the Joint Statement alludes to this issue, showing that the two sides likely discussed and acknowledged the problem (From the Joint Statement: “The United States and China agreed to handle through existing channels…maritime issues in keeping with norms of international law and on the basis of respecting each other’s jurisdictions and interests”).  Granted they failed to reach a compromise, but this is not an issue that will be easily solved.  Just discussing this sensitive topic is progress. 

2.  Both Public and Private Discussion of Human Rights

Interestingly, a press that largely ignored this issue prior to President Obama’s trip is making a big deal of his “silence” on human rights violations in China.  Last I checked though, freedom of speech is usually regarded as one such right and President Obama discussed this issue rather bluntly and passionately at the Shanghai town hall.  While it is debatable as to whether focusing on freedom of expression on the internet is sufficient to assist China with a development of a civil society and a rule of law, it is difficult to argue that President Obama did not publically bring up the subject of human rights. 

Furthermore, in his letter written to China’s Southern Weekend newspaper, President Obama stressed the importance of a free press.  True, this letter was not permitted to be circulated to a wider audience, but it portrays the President’s continued emphasis, both publically and privately on human rights.

The Joint Statement also discusses human rights in general and calls for the next official human rights dialogue between the U.S. and China to be held by the end of February 2010 in Washington, D.C.  The Joint Statement also stressed the importance of rule of law in China and agreed to reconvene the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue (see the Dui Hua Foundation website for further background).  With the increasing push back by the Chinese government in the area of rule of law, especially as it pertains to civil rights and civil liberties, deepening cooperation is an important deliverable.

It is true that the Obama Administration has opted more for a strategy of quiet engagement on this issue.  Whether the approach is effective remains to be seen.  This past summer, the Administration was able to secure the release of public interest attorney Xu Zhiyong through behind the scenes pressure on the Chinese government.  However, almost immediately after President Obama left China, the Beijing police apprehended and beat public interest lawyer Jiang Tianyong (pronounce Geeang Tian-young) as he was walking his 7 year old daughter to school.  While Mr. Jiang has since been released, he is under very tight surveillance.  Perhaps if President Obama had mentioned the plight and importance of public interest attorneys in China, the arrest of Mr. Jiang might not have happened.  Or maybe it would have.

Either way, the U.S. press’ conclusion that President Obama “soft-peddled” human rights on his trip does not appear to ring true.  Human rights was certainly discussed, both publically and privately, it just appears that perhaps China was not listening. 

3.  Clean Energy and Climate Change

As expected, the U.S. and China entered into a series of cooperative agreements pertaining to clean energy and climate change technology.  While neither side agreed to emission targets, the level of detail provided for in the issued agreements was more than anticipated.  Most interestingly, the U.S.’ Environmental Protection Agency and China’s National Development Reform Commission signed a memorandum of cooperation to help China develop its capacity to measure its greenhouse gas inventories.  This is no small feat.  China’s does not currently have the capacity to accurately measure its greenhouse gas emissions and thus, if it was to agree to emission targets, would be unable to provide verifiable data.  China’s lack of capacity on this front has rightly been a sticking point for many in the U.S. Congress, preventing the passage of domestic climate change legislation that would be used to bind the U.S. internationally.

This memorandum of cooperation is the first step to enable China to agree to emission targets and for the rest of the world to believe them. 

President Obama’s visit to China was certainly not overly exciting but it was far from the failure that the U.S. press has made it out to be.  It also does not signify the U.S.’ decline as some alarmist media outlets have claimed.  Instead, the visit was a series of tough negotiations between two global powers.  Both had winning issues and losing ones.  And in the end, President Obama likely walked out with a little more than expected.  For me, that’s an accomplishment.

The Deliverables from Obama’s Trip – US-China Joint Statement

By , November 19, 2009

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 17, 2009

U.S.-China Joint Statement

November 17, 2009

Beijing, China

At the invitation of President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China, President Barack Obama of the United States of America is paying a state visit to China from November 15–18, 2009.  The Presidents held in-depth, productive and candid discussions on U.S.-China relations and other issues of mutual interest.  They highlighted the substantial progress in U.S.-China relations over the past 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, and they reached agreement to advance U.S.-China relations in the new era.  President Obama will have separate meetings with Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and Premier Wen Jiabao. President Obama also spoke with and answered questions from Chinese youth.

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