Presidents Trump and Xi Jingping at Mar-a-Lago, April 6, 2017 (Photo courtesy of JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
To say that the U.S. air strike on Syria overshadowed the Trump-Xi summit last week would be an understatement. The event basically eclipsed the two day conference, pushing the meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies to second page news.
But even without the Syrian air strike, the summit would not have created much news. In fact, in the way Trump and Xi each described the outcome of the meeting – deepening their friendship and making progress in their relationship – it seemed more reminiscent of a marriage proposal in Elizabethan England than a discussion between two powerful countries that have been having a difficult relationship.
But did anything substantive come out of the summit? The South China Morning Post has a great review of the issues discussed – and not discussed – at last week’s summit. But here are some highlights:
At Mar-a-Lago last week (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Trump did raise the issue of trade and, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump “underscored the need for China to take concrete steps to level the playing field for American workers, stressing repeatedly the need for reciprocal market access.” But it is unclear if the statement resonated with the Chinese delegation. And, contrary to some pundits’ expectations, Xi did not come to Mar-a-Lago with a peace offering, namely proposing job-creating investments in the United States.
Instead, the two sides announced the 100-Day Plan, a policy to completely overhaul their trade relationship within 100 days. While most countries take years to rebalance a trade relationship, Trump and Xi are going to do it in a mere 100 days. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross correctly noted that this approach would be a “very big sea change” but offered no explanation exactly how all of this can occur in a matter of three-and-a-half months or even why it should; why such a rush to recalibrate the most important trade relationship in the world is a good idea.
While both countries acknowledged North Korea as a growing nuclear threat, no middle ground was met. It appears that Trump continued to warn China that if it did not do more, the U.S. would follow its own course of action, and with the Syrian attack in the backdrop, one can only imagine what Xi was thinking in all this. China’s foreign minister however noted that if North Korea ceases its nuclear program, then military action in the region should also cease. Interestingly, this was the suggestion that Beijing made last month: to halt the joint U.S.-South Korea military drills to induce North Korea to coming back to the negotiating table. The U.S. did not listen and instead continued with the drills.
Just say no to human rights
Neither side mentioned whether human rights was raised during the summit and, given the agendas of these two men, it likely was not. But in a White House-approved statement after the summit, Tillerson again used the vocabulary of the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) to describe the U.S.-China relationship: one of “mutual interest.” For the Chinese, this is not rhetoric but words that come with baggage. Mutual interest is often used by China to scold other countries when those countries question China’s domestic policies. Usually used in relation to China’s interest in Tibet and Taiwan, it can also be used in defense of foreign criticism of policies that seek to viciously stamp out civil society. So expect human rights to play a low role in Trump’s policy toward China.
State Visit & U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue
Trump – already big in China
Xi invited Trump to a state visit in China this year and Trump said yes. But more importantly, the U.S. and China established a framework by which to hold high-level talks, the U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue. Make no mistake, this is not a new idea. Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. and China would periodically host the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Human Rights Dialogue and on occasion, the Legal Experts Dialogue. It appears that Trump and Xi are going to replace these dialogues with the U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue (date yet to be announced) which will have four tracks: a diplomatic and security dialogue; a comprehensive economic dialogue; a law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue; and a social and cultures issues dialogue. Again, human rights was not named as a specific issue and if it is unclear if this issue will merely be squished into the social and cultural issue dialogue.
So in the end, not many outcomes from the Trump-Xi summit. Perhaps what is more telling though is what was not said at the summit. No mention of Taiwan, no mention of human rights and no mention of increased Chinese investment in the U.S. to create jobs. But check back in 100 days.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump will host Chinese President Xi Jinping at his resort in Mar-a-Lago for their first summit meeting. While it is not clear what will come out of this two-day meeting, what will certainly be on the agenda is North Korea. But is Trump and his administration ready?
Trump has barely staffed up the upper echelons of the State Department or the Department of Defense and on Sunday, in an interview with the Financial Times, Trump yet again claimed that “China has great influence over North Korea.”
But, as North Korea expert Jenny Town made clear in an interview with China Law & Policy, China does not have the influence over North Korea that Trump thinks it has. “China’s current relationship with North Korea is not very good either, especially compared to past years” Town told China Law & Policy. “I think that there’s a lot of problems with the way that people think about China’s influence on North Korea, and I think they really over estimate that influence.”
Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the US-Korea Institute
And in a way, Trump underestimates the influence that the U.S.’ rhetoric has on North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. “I think some of [North Korea’s] antagonism with China is maybe also somewhat triggered by all this U.S. talk of ‘if we just push China enough, China will take care of this problem'” Town told China Law & Policy.
In his interview with the Financial Times, Trump also stated that if China won’t exert its influence – which, in reality, may not be that strong right now – the U.S. will go it alone. But will it really? Any actions the U.S. takes with North Korea will have a strong impact on South Korea and Japan, important strategic allies in the region with populations that will unfairly bear the brunt of the U.S.’ bellicose engagement with North Korea. In terms of a preventive strike on North Korea (preemptive strike is in fact a misnomer in this situation according to Town), “North Korea is almost guaranteed to have some kind of response. The response might not even be directly on the U.S., but again our allies in the region” stated Town.
Now if the Trump Administration’s idea of going it alone is one-on-one dialogue with North Korea, that could actually be game-changing. According to Town, the Obama Administration’s policy of
North Korea leader Kim Jong-un (Photo courtesy of CNN)
“strategic patience” – where it ignored diplomatic relations with North Korea and instead doubled-down on sanctions – was a failure, allowing North Korea to rapidly advance its missile technology. The Trump Administration has stated that it rejects the policy of strategic patience. But in her interview, Town questions if that is true, especially if the Trump Administration is just looking to issue more sanctions: “[W]hen [Secretary of State] Tillerson said strategic patience is over, we all look at the things that he talks about after that. Those are really just tenets of strategic patience. So again without negotiation you’re still just doubling down on the same tactic and hoping for a different result. Even if you’re making them harder-edged, it’s still not a new tactic. Again, if it’s been ineffective now for eight years, what makes you think just pushing a little harder is going to help?”
To listen to the full podcast of China Law & Policy‘s exclusive interview with Jenny Town of the John Hopkins’ US-Korea Institute, click the media player below (total time – 37:08). To read the full transcript, click here.
Yesterday, China Law & Policy published Part 1 of its exclusive interview with Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the U.S.-Korea Institute and noted expert on North Korea. While Part 1 of the interview focused on North Korea’s military build-up and the U.S.’ prior policy toward North Korea, in Part 2, Ms. Town discusses Secretary Tillerson’s announcement that no options are off the table, the precarious future of U.S-North Korea relations, and what role can China play in all of this. Is it really that “China has done little to help” as President Trump tweeted a few weeks ago?
Read the transcript below for Part 2 of this two-part interview where Ms. Town explains the role of China on the Korean peninsula. Or click on the media player below to listen to the interview (total time – 20:38)
Secretary Tillerson at the DMZ, March 2017 (Photo courtesy of CNN)
CL&P: I guess in that regard, I mean when Tillerson was over there this past month, he stated that he was going to leave all options on the table. What exactly do you think he meant by that, and is this harsher stance? I mean it sounds like it’s a harsher stance than strategic patience. Is it good or bad for peace on the Korean peninsula?
JT: I think it’s a little bit out of context. I think that the reality is Tillerson is not a seasoned diplomat, and so when he says certain things, he says certain things in ways that a seasoned diplomat wouldn’t. The reality is right now the [U.S.] government is going through a policy review. And as part of the policy review of course, they’re reviewing all options, including military options, including negotiations, and so they haven’t necessarily come out with their policy yet. So part of what he was saying is that yes, all options are still on the table, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing in the future.
President Xi Jinping (Photo courtesy of Time)
The [U.S.] government is expected to be done with their policy review in the next couple of weeks, especially before the visit by Xi Jinping to be able to have some level of strategic discussion with Xi Jinping. But, you know, it isn’t helpful for him to have said it either, again without those qualifiers, because it does come across more aggressive and more belligerent at a time when tensions are already very high. This kind of talk is very dangerous especially if that isn’t the direction which we end up going because it already put the thought out there, and it’s already sort of antagonizing the situation more than it needs to be.
CL&P: I think that’s true, because I think of lot of the press already have interpreted that statement as also equating it with preemptive strike. How serious of a possibility do you think right now in diplomatic circles down in D.C. people are talking about preemptive strike against North Korea?
JT: I would say people are talking about it, and they’re talking about it a lot. But most of the discussion about that’s happening right now is why it’s a really, really bad idea because all of the things that could go wrong in the process. Here’s the problem. It’s not even preemptive strikes. It’s not like we’re watching them load up an ICBM that we know is coming to the U.S. which would give us the right to defend ourselves from an attack. That’s what preemptive means.
What people are talking about now is more preventive strikes or surgical strikes. So basically preventing them from having the technology by trying to disrupt their systems; preventive strikes on say missile bases or missile arsenals, things like that. But, I think there’s a huge miscalculation if people think that North Korea wouldn’t retaliate. If the U.S. were to do something, North Korea is almost guaranteed to have some kind of response. The response might not even be directly on the U.S., but again our allies in the region. It makes it very dangerous. It’s a very dangerous proposition, one that could easily escalate into war.
CL&P:You had mentioned the new Trump administration figuring out a more precise North Korea policy before Xi Jinping comes to visit Trump, and I think that’s interesting. Because in President Trump’s Tweet a couple weeks ago about the North Korean situation, in addition to saying that they were behaving badly, he also brought up China, and stating that China has done little to help. I guess just to start us off if you can explain a little bit more what exactly is China’s current relationship with North Korea.
Better times. Prior N.Korea lead Kim Jong-il meeting with prior Chinese President Hu Jintao (Photo courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)
JT: China’s current relationship with North Korea is not very good either, especially compared to past years. Under Kim Jong-il China had a good understanding of North Korea and had a relationship with Kim Jong-il and could signal to him when he’s gone too far. They had a personal relationship with him and knew how he would react to certain things. Since Kin Jong-un has come to power, Kim Jong-un does not have a relationship with Xi Jinping. He hasn’t been to Beijing. They don’t know what to expect from him. They don’t know him. Everything that anyone is doing that’s trying to send signals to North Korea, we don’t exactly know how he will react.
We knew how Kim Jong-il would react because Kim Jong-il had been there for 20 years. He had been apprenticed under Kim Il-sung for 16 years before that. Kim Jong-un only came to the scene a year before his father died. We never got to know him as the successor before he took over, and now that he’s in power there’s a lot of times where people say he’s unpredictable. Well, of course he’s unpredictable to us because we don’t know him and we don’t have a relationship with him. And we don’t know how he’s going to react. Too many people assume that he will react like Kim Jung-il did, but he’s proven he’s not his father.
The question is now when are people finally going to take the time to accept that notion – he’s not his father – and try and build a relationship with him. To try and get to know him and better understand how he’s thinking and how he’s going to react to things.
Kim Jong-un’s half brother, murdered in Malaysia. (Photo courtesy of the South China Morning Post)
CL&P: I mean I guess also in that regards with Kin Jong-un taking over leadership and the relationship with China, it’s been mentioned a number of times that he hasn’t visited Beijing. Also, my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong, is that the execution of his uncle. His uncle was close to Beijing, and then also the half brother was protected by Beijing. Are any of these things being done to sever even further the relationship with Beijing or to prove something to Beijing, or do we just not know?
JT: It clearly has had a damaging effect on an already frustrated Beijing. I think that there’s a lot of problems with the way that people think about China’s influence on North Korea, and I think they really over estimate that influence. Again, under Kim Jong-il, I think it might have had a little bit more credence just because, again, they had a legacy of working together. With Kim Jong-un, it’s a much different relationship. It’s one of those things where Beijing does not want North Korea to have nuclear weapons either. But it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they [China] have this secret formula where if they just did certain things, North Korea would fall in line and that they just choose not to do it.
China’s Wu Dawei (center) visits North Korea
I think this is how a lot of Americans think about China policy towards North Korea. In the meantime, I think China has done a lot to try and address the issue, but has limitations on the influence that they have. They say this to us all the time. It’s not like China has a China-North Korea joint army like the U.S. and South Korea does. They don’t have a presence in North Korea. They can certainly send messages and send signals, but even the fact that back in 2015. Was that it? No, in 2016, even when Wu Dawei had gone to Pyongyang to talk to the North Koreans about settling things down. The fact that they announced that they were going to do another SLV launch on the day that he landed, I think shows a lot about how Kim Jong-un thinks about Beijing right now.
And I think a lot of it is the relationship has been damaged as Kim Jong-un is trying to show he can’t be pushed around. I think some of this antagonism with China is maybe also somewhat triggered by all this U.S. talk of ‘if we just push China enough, China will take care of this problem.’ I think it puts the Chinese in a very awkward position, but the Chinese always come back to us and say ‘hey look we’re doing what we can, but the U.S. should be doing more, too.’ And the doing more part has to do with direct bi-lateral diplomacy as well. So without that factor, all we’re doing is kind of skirting around the issue and just putting more pressure on an already boiling pot.
The border between China and North Korea
CL&P: I guess in that regards, with the situation today in the relationship between China and North Korea now, then how instrumental is China in easing the tensions on the Korean peninsula?
JT: I think China definitely plays a big role, but it doesn’t play the only role. It’s not something where if we just use China enough that China can scold North Korea and North Korea’s going to come to the table. The other problem too is that even if China – and here’s always sort of these clash of tensions – is that China’s national interest is to prevent instability in the region because instability is good for no one. The U.S., part of strategic patience, they’re kind of hoping that North Korea will collapse and that if we put enough pressure on the situation, we can get the regime to change which is sort of the path of most resistance and the most danger.
I think there is a certain degree to where China also recognizes that the more pressure it puts by cutting off,. . .Implementing sanctions is one thing, but a lot of people think ‘well if China just cuts of North Korea and all trade and all oil and all goods, that North Korea again will just bend over, and will come running back and beg for forgiveness kind of thing,’ but I think the problem is that that scenario is very unlikely. Even if China does that, North Korea’s more likely to be more belligerent. Belligerent could be belligerent towards China as well, so you never know. We talk about this a lot these days: be careful what you wish for. Getting China to cut off North Korea could go one way in a positive way. It could go really bad as well.
Xi to meet Trump next week at his Florida resort, Mar-a-lago
CL&P: When Xi Jinping meets with President Trump, what do you think he’ll be asking the U.S. to do with North Korea? What do you think his request will be?
JT: I’m almost positive he’s going to tell the U.S. that negotiations have to be part of any new policy. For instance if you look at the U.N. Security Council resolutions, when the U.S. talks about the U.N. SPR 2270 or 1718 or 2048, all the different resolutions now, they always talk about the sanctions resolution. In the last round, in the 2270 resolutions for instance, in those negotiations, I think people came away thinking ‘wow China really agreed to some tougher measures.’ We’re kind of impressed that China agreed to these tougher measures definitely sending signals to Pyongyang that they were unhappy with Pyongyang’s behavior.
When the Chinese talk about 2270, they talk about resolution 2270, not the 2270 sanctions. The big difference is that in that resolution, there’s also a mandate for negotiations. So when the Chinese talk about these things, and in response to pressure or criticism that they’re not doing enough, they always come back with ‘but you’re not fulfilling your end of the portion either.’
U.N. Security Council
CL&P: So basically the 2270 called for not just sanctions, but also going back to the table, and that hasn’t happened?
CL&P: Okay. So what they’re looking for, Beijing, is reverting back to the six party talks?
JT: Not necessarily. But at least getting some level of negotiations going and some level of engagement going because we’re not going to break this cycle of provocation and response until there’s some kind of diplomatic offer.
CL&P: In terms of getting negotiations going again, do you think that’s even possible given the current regime in North Korea and what’s been happening and also the language that’s been being used by the Trump administration, even if Tillerson misspoke. Do you see that given the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea right now, negotiations are a possibility?
Trying to get all parties to the negotiation table
JT: I think if it was up to the North Koreans, yes negotiations are possible. If it’s up to the Trump administration, I have increasing skepticism that we’re going to get anywhere. This is going back to your question of when Tillerson said strategic patience is over, we all look at the things that he talks about after that. Those are really just tenets of strategic patience. So again without negotiation you’re still just doubling down on the same tactic and hoping for a different result. Even if you’re making them harder-edged, it’s still not a new tactic. Again, if it’s been ineffective now for eight years, what makes you think just pushing a little harder is going to help?
CL&P: I know the new administration’s still getting together their policy team. Do they have anybody in the administration that specializes in North Korea to advise them on some of these issues?
JT: Well, in the State Department, there is a U.S. representative for North Korea policy, Joe Yun, Ambassador Yun. But it’s unclear to us who else is working on these issues at this moment because there still hasn’t been an effort to staff up the State Department or senior leadership in the DOD [Department of Defense]. There’s still a lot of questions even here in D.C. that we just don’t have answers for.
North Korean soldiers. Looking for the six party talks? (Photo courtesy of Int’l Crisis Group)
CL&P: If you had the opportunity to advise the current administration, assuming that it’s goal is to avoid war on the Korean peninsula, what would your advice be?
JT: My advice has been pretty consistent. The fact that yes, you can double down on sanctions and bolster defenses, but without the diplomatic track, the situation is going to get worse. The longer it takes to try and actually try to have talks about talks and see what’s even possible any more, the higher the stakes are going to be in the process and the more leverage that North Korea builds over time as it continues to grow its strategic arsenal. So if we really want to make a difference, then create a different relationship and one that serves our national interest, they’re going to need to have some kind of diplomatic track and need to be able to shoulder the criticism that’s going to come along with that from all the skeptics.
CL&P: The criticisms within the United States?
JT: Yes. There’s always the arguments of ‘well we’ve tried negotiations before, but they didn’t work,’ or ‘North Korea always cheats.’ Well just because we tried it before, does that mean … Diplomacy is not a one-off, and it’s not a linear path, and national security is not a linear path. If you don’t have at least talks about talks to figure out what’s even possible within the negotiating framework, you’re losing the battle. You’re limiting yourself as to what you can do. But these days there’s so much criticism because we’ve gotten so far off track. Whichever president decides that the situation’s gotten dire enough where we need to suck it up whether we like it or not and try some level of diplomacy, it’s going to come with criticism, and they need to be able to deal with that.
CL&P: I guess if you’re leaving all options on the table, why would you take diplomacy off the table?
CL&P: We talked about China, and we talked about the United States. I guess Japan and South Korea, I mean I would assume their interest is for more negotiations, or …/
JT: Not necessarily. You have a pretty hard-line government in Japan these days. They want to build up more missile defenses. They’ve even talked about missile interception and they sort of take the lead from the U.S. as far as that goes. With South Korea, it’s different. South Korea, it’s hard to tell what they will do next because it really will be dependent on who the next president is. Their policy could change drastically towards North Korea. It could be at odds with what the U.S. decides to do as well. Then that is going to really put pressure on the U.S.-Korea alliance.
Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the US-Korea Institute
CL&P: Well, this is a very interesting interview. It doesn’t sound like there’s any solution any time soon. I want to thank you again for spending time talking to China Law & Policy. Hopefully, people will listen to this interview, and conflict can be avoided.
Jenny Town, Assistant Director of the US-Korea Institute
Since January, the situation on the Korean peninsula has become increasingly tense with North Korea test firing missiles, using toxic nerve agents to assassinate Kim Jong-un’s half brother, and announcing that it has the capability for its missiles to reach the West Coast of the United States. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has responded to North Korea equally bellicose and frightening with threats noting that no options are off the table in dealing with North Korea including possibly preemptive strike.
Are we on a collision course for nuclear war, and what role does China play in all of this? To answer those questions and more is noted North Korea expert Jenny Town. Ms. Town is the Assistant Director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and is the managing editor and producer of 38 North, a web journal and vital resource on all things North Korea.
Read the transcript below for Part I of this two-part interview, where Ms. Town discusses shifting U.S.-North Korea relations. Or click the media player below to listen (total time – 16:26).
CL&P:Thank you for joining us today, Ms. Town. Before we get into the current situation on the Korean peninsula, I wanted to give our listeners a little bit more background on North Korea. In the western press, North Korea is often portrayed as a hermit impoverished kingdom run by a dictatorial mad man, but is that perception true? Is that how we should view North Korea?
Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) (Photo courtesy of CNN)
JT: Thank you. It’s great to be here. I’m happy to be a part of this podcast. I think you’re asking all the right questions. The problem is that the more we treat North Korea as a caricature and we don’t take it seriously, the harder the problem becomes in the long run. A few years ago my colleague and I, we did write an article that talked about these myths about North Korea. It’s not a hermit kingdom. I think at some point we’re more isolated from it than it is from the rest of the world. There certainly are restrictions on information access and travel and movement, but there is a lot of contact with the outside world. There’s a lot of trade that goes on. There’s a lot of businesses, a lot of tourism. There’s a lot of NGO workers and diplomats, and so they do have access to the outside world. Not the same level that other countries have, but it’s not completely isolated.
The idea that Kim Jong-un is a mad man is also a dangerous characterization because he’s actually very calculating. The North Korean regime, even when Kim Jong-il was there, people liked to make fun of his sort of eccentricities. But when it came to state security, the decisions that he made were very rational. Sometimes miscalculated, but he’s the ultimate realist. They’re a country that perceives to have many enemies, and in the process will make decision on how to protect itself and how to protect the regime.
North Korea’s missiles in a military parade. (Photo courtesy of BBC)
CL&P: So in essence, we should see their movements as something that is rational if your goal is to protect the current regime?
JT: Yes, and we should take them seriously for what they’re doing because discounting them is not serving anyone’s good.
CL&P: Agreed. Recently there seems to be a lot of bellicose activity from North Korea. In the middle of February it test fired a medium long range ballistic missile, and then it used, I guess, what’s known as an illegal nerve agent to assassinate Kim Jong-un’s half brother at an airport in Malaysia. Then two weeks ago, it announced a successful test of a high thrust rocket engine. Then this week they had two failed missile attempts.
Why are we seeing such activity, so much activity that seems warlike in the past month or two? Why now? What’s going on?
US-South Korea joint military drills (Photo courtesy of The Sunrise)
JT: Well, some of this is a little bit expected. This is a time when the U.S. and ROK [South Korea] are running their joint military exercises in South Korea. Over the past year, especially the last year and this year, the nature of those exercises has expanded. It’s become more belligerent and it’s also included such things as decapitation drills and strategic over flights. These kinds of things always spark some kind of response and a strong response from North Korea because again, they do see it as more than just business as usual; but as a more provocative, more aggressive signaling to North Korea. Over the past couple of months, though, we’ve really seen an acceleration of testing and demonstration of capabilities over the past year.
At the end of the Obama administration, when it was clear that the nature of U.S.-DPRK [North Korea] relations was not going to change under the Obama administration, we saw a lot of demonstrations. In the past, there might have been missile tests, but they [North Korea] didn’t send out pictures of it, for instance. They didn’t send out pictures of Kim Jong-un celebrating different successes. I think now they’re clearly trying to prove capacity to the outside world. I think it was actually though very quiet from elections until inauguration and for a short time after inauguration as they [North Korea] were trying to figure out what to expect from America and if there was room for changing the nature of our relationship.
CL&P: Just to go back, when you were talking about the exercises that the U.S. and South Korea are doing, you’re saying because those have become stronger and more belligerent, North Korea is taking it more serious?
US and South Korean soldiers at the DMZ
JT: Yes. The exercises have been going on for decades and part of the function of the exercise is also signaling as to how the nature of the relationship with North Korea. There are times when they’re much more kind of routine standard operations and drills, but over the past couple of years, they’ve been adding drills and expanding it. And on top of that, the messaging coming out to the media about the [U.S.-ROK] drills and to the public about the drills has really emphasized certain things like decapitation strikes and strikes on Pyongyang and things like that. So it’s really become a much more antagonistic venture.
CL&P: Then [what about] the recent U.S. response to North Korea’s actions the past couple months, especially with the new administration. So Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, when he was visiting South Korea this past month, announced that the U.S. policy of what he called strategic patience has ended. I guess can you first explain a little bit more what this policy of strategic patience is or was?
U.S. Secretary of State Re Tillerson visit South Korea, March 2017 (Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News)
JT: Sure. So strategic patience was the Obama policy. Basically it was a supposedly principled approach that negotiations were only under certain conditions, and that in the meantime it was kind of doubling down on pressure on the regime to change it’s strategic calculus using such tactics as mostly sanctions. And then also trying to bolster defenses in the region, so in South Korea and Japan as well. But it was largely dependent on this whole intimidation, kind of pressure and intimidation factor to try and get North Korea to change its mind about how it wants to move forward.
CL&P: Under strategic patience, I assume that the policy, whether or not it was a failure, was put in place to try to limit North Korea’s ability to develop its nuclear weaponry. Was it successful with that at all?
JT: Absolutely not. It was a complete failure. If the goal of strategic patience really was to deter
President Barack Obama implements Strategic Patience
North Korea from developing it’s weapons programs, it’s WMD programs, it’s a complete failure because they have completely accelerated their programs during the Obama administration. In 2013, for instance, they restarted their five megawatt reactor to help produce more plutonium for nuclear weapons. In 2010, they had revealed that they had a uranium enrichment program, and in 2013, we saw that the main facility that they had shown to U.S. inspectors before had doubled in size. The centrifuge hall has doubled in size, potentially doubling it’s capacity to create weapons-grade uranium or highly enriched uranium.
We’ve seen several demonstrations of tests. Last year alone, we had two nuclear tests and over 20 missile tests. During the Obama administration, there’s been four nuclear tests. So, if the goal of strategic patience was to deter North Korea from moving forward and making the cost of nuclear weapons programs and WMD programs so untenable that it had to come back to the table, then of course it completely failed.
CL&P: So then they’re not going to come back to the table?
JT: Well, I wouldn’t draw that conclusion that they’re not going to come back to the table. What I’m saying is that the policy is not compelling the right response.
CL&P: In terms of all this development, I mean I guess this goes back to the first question, and your answer to the first question about not perceiving North Korea as this shut in country, where do they get the ability to develop this technology? How do they have the knowledge to develop this technology for nuclear weapons?
JT: They’ve been working on this program for a very long time, for decades. They have scientists in country. We know there has been cooperation with other states. They’ve gotten information from Pakistan and Syria and Russia in the past. There’s definitely plenty of people that they’ve worked with over the years to get to a point where some of it’s indigenous, some of it’s reverse engineering of designs that they’ve gotten from other countries. They’re a very resourceful people, and I would go back to again your first question and tying this all together, too. I think the underlying premise of strategic patience was this idea that Kim Jong-un would never be able to consolidate power under a third generation of the Kim family and that all we had to do was wait them out, and that eventually the state would collapse and then we could deal with someone else. That’s just simply not the case.
CL&P: No, it doesn’t look that way. I guess since the Obama administration’s policy of strategic patience allowed North Korea to develop it’s weapon technology, and it had all these tests and it’s really advanced, just to put it in more perspective, where exactly is North Korea as a likely nuclear threat? What can it do right now to its neighbors in Asia, and is it really true that they could potentially in very near future have something hit at the West Coast of the United States?
JT: We did a series of reports last year that was a technical assessment of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. And based on what we know or what we estimate to be their capacity to make fissile materials or to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, we estimate the baseline for their nuclear weapons arsenal to be somewhere between 12 to 15 nuclear weapons. They would have enough material to be able to make at least 12 to 15 nuclear weapons now. Given the capacity that they have to produce more – their five megawatt plutonium reactor, their uranium enrichment facility – we did projections that with the worst conditions for North Korea, making it most difficult for them for instance, that even by 2020 they could double the size of their arsenal.
By 2020 under mid-range with a little better conditions and getting their experimental light water reactor partially militarized as well, so they’d have more fissile materials, they would be able to produce maybe 50 nuclear weapons by 2020. Under the best conditions for them, if they have ample procurement, international procurement, and they have everything running in tip-top shape, at the high end we estimated they would have the potential to make about 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.
We see them really now in those ranges under those conditions that are laid out in the report. They’re somewhere on that mid to high range track. Then you add in the ballistic missile programs, and the fear is always for the how soon are they going to get an ICBM, an intercontinental ballistic missile. With the new engines that they tested last year and this year, [engines] that would be suitable for missiles and not rockets, space rockets, we’re talking that once they have an operational capacity, that they would be able actually to hit the East Coast of the United States, not just the West Coast. What we see that is probably given the designs that we’ve seen in the prototypes that they’ve displayed to us, we would suggest somewhere around 2020, somewhere in that range. Some estimates have that a little bit earlier. It really just depends.
But the reality is that they don’t need ICBMs to be a strategic threat because our strategic partners and strategic alliance partners are in Asia, so it’s South Korea and Japan. They definitely have missiles that can reach South Korea and Japan already. The big question is whether or not they have miniaturization capabilities. A lot of experts do believe they have the capability even if they haven’t been able to demonstrate it. Given the number of partners that they’ve worked with and the programs that those partners have as well and how long that they’ve been working on it. We do believe they do have the capability. It’s a huge threat, and it’s a growing threat the longer it takes to be able to have a real strategic dialogue with them.
Is anyone else confused as to why the position of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs remains empty? Especially as North Korea all but prepares for war? Two months after its former occupant – Kurt Campbell – stepped down on February 8, 2013, Secretary Kerry – who was sworn in on February 1 – has yet to fill the position. True former Deputy Assistant Secretary Joseph Yun has capably stepped in, but the question remains – what signal are you giving to the region, especially North Korea, when you don’t officially fill the position?
Hopefully Secretary Kerry is feeling the pressure. But who will fill the spot? Here are some names that have been mentioned by others:
Joseph Yun – the current Acting secretary and former Deputy Assistant Secretary, of Korean descent and familiar with the issues on the Korean peninsula.
Daniel Russel – currently the National Security Council (NSC) Director for Asian Affairs. While he started his career as a Japan guy, arguably you can’t be NSC Director for Asian Affairs without knowing alot about the Korean peninsula and problems with China.
Frank Jannuzi – currently head of Amnesty International’s Washington office, but has decades of experience in DC policy circles, serving close to ten years in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and then 15 years as the policy director of East Asia and Pacific Affairs on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Out of these three names, Jannuzi would likely be the best pick. And not just because China Law & Policy is partial to policy makers who are China hands (and speak Mandarin). China will always be the big issue in the region, and Jannuzi likely has the most intimate knowledge of the country. But he has also long served as an important and knowledgeable resource on North Korea. Not to mention, that he served as a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Kerry was a Senator on the Committee (and eventually Ranking member). To the extent that Kerry is looking for someone he already knows and can trust, that would be Jannuzi.
Jannuzi would be also be an exciting pick because of what the choice would signal to China’s new leadership. Jannuzi would come back to government after serving at Amnesty International, a very active human rights group that has long been a thorn in China’s side. Such a choice would subtly indicate to China that human rights will continue to be on the agenda.
But in looking at the possible nominees and the current senior officials of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, a truly inspiring pick would be a woman. Out of the eleven senior officials listed on the Bureau’s website, only one currently is a woman.
Prof. Susan Shirk
And that’s why we think there is a good possibility that Susan Shirk – even though she is in academia – is in the running. Shirk is a professor of political science out at UC-San Diego. She has also long been an influential thinker on China. China: Fragile Superpower altered the way that many policymakers viewed China. Similar to Jannuzi, her knowledge of China comes from a longstanding relationship with the country and its people. She has had an important part in US-North Korea relations – she all but founded and continues to lead the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a high-level official dialogue between the two countries. Finally, she has experience at State, serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and in seeing her speak on multiple occasions, she has command of a room that is astounding. The question is – will she want to leave beautiful San Diego for DC?
The one person we are not putting our money on – Dennis Rodman. His trip in March to North Korea was just plain bizarre. Hanging out with Kim Jong Un without even acknowledge the suffering of millions of North Koreans at the regime’s hands was also extremely offensive. That alone would put Rodman out of the running. But more than anything, do we really want an Assistant Secretary that can’t win at Celebrity Apprentice for a second time?
State visits never produced tangible results, and last Wednesday’s visit of President Hu Jintao to Washington, D.C. was no exception. True a series of business contracts and joint ventures were announced, but not much else. Really though, that’s not why we watch state visits – especially ones involving leaders of the two largest economies in the world.
We watch them more because they are a reality show of sorts – watching two world leaders from vastly different cultures walk the fine line between appearing strong for one’s own country’s interests but at the same time, not completely trampling the other country’s interests. But unlike the Jersey Shore where one might just be sent home from the beach for misbehaving (think Angelina Season 1 AND Season 2), the consequences are much more serious when you are dealing with two countries whose future relationship can easily determine the fate of the world.
Fortunately, this State visit proved a lot more peaceful and face-saving than anything being shown on the Jersey Shore these days. While there were some surprises, especially on the Chinese side, there were no fist-a-cuffs. Overall, the visit seemed to show an improved relationship, at least rhetoric-wise, between the United States and China.
But this is a Jersey Shore analysis so enough of the feel goodness; the question still remains – who won? Below is a point-by-point analysis of President Hu Jinato’s State visit.
Point for China – Hu Finally Gets a State Visit
The fact that there was a State visit at all was a huge point for China. It’s been 13 years since a sitting Chinese president
Ceremony on the South Lawn, Jan. 19, 2011
was invited for a State visit and President Hu’s last visit to Washington in 2006 consisted of a lunch with President George W. Bush. Could anything be more embarrassing for a world leader than to just be offered the lunch menu at the White House?
Unfortunately, yes. Hu’s 2006 “official” (not state) visit was marred with embarrassing moments for the Chinese. First, China was introduced as the Republic of China – the official name for Taiwan – sort of a huge gaffe in U.S.-China relations. Second, a Falun Gong practitioner, a religious order that the Chinese government considers a threat to its rule, was able to obtain press credentials for Hu’s 2006 visit and protest at the event.
But for this visit, the Obama Administration pulled out all of the stops, making it a State visit to outdo all other State visits. President Hu was greeted at the airport by Vice President Joe Biden and quickly ushered to the White House for an intimate dinner with President Obama. At all times, China was introduced by its correct name and there were no protests on the South Lawn.
Michelle Obama at the State Dinner for President Hu Jintao
Culminating the event was Wednesday night’s State dinner, perhaps the most anticipated affair this winter. In addition to a fun and interesting guest list, Michelle Obama chose an amazing dress in homage to one of fashion’s favorite designers – the late Alexander McQueen – making the event the talk of the town of both politicos and fashionistas.
Point for the U.S. – China Gets (a little bit) Tougher on North Korea
North Korea is proving to be a particularly troubling aspect of U.S.-China relations. No one – including China – particularly cares for North Korea and its saber-rattling as Kim Jung-il’s son takes the rein of perhaps the world’s worst dictatorship. North Korea’s bellicose activities interfere with China’s economic relations with its Asian neighbors. But China has yet to take a strong stance against North Korea’s actions even though such actions upset the stability that China needs to continue its rise. China’s hesitance comes from the fact that it fears a collapsed North Korea; not only would there be the demise of another communist ally, but a collapsed North Korea would mean an influx of starving Korean refugees into China as well as sharing a border with the democratic and U.S.-military-backed South Korea.
For its part, the United States has begun to see North Korea as an increasingly real threat against its allies and itself. As a result, at Tuesday night’s intimate dinner between the two leaders, President Obama explained to President Hu that unless China takes a stronger stance against North Korea, the U.S. will be left with no choice but to rebuild a stronger military presence on the Korean peninsula.
That argument eventually carried the day. In the Joint Statement issued on Wednesday, China, for the first time,
Kim Jong-il, Beijing's friend or foe?
“expressed concern” regarding North Korea’s nuclear build-up. Additionally, while China has urged the resumption of “six party talks” with North Korea, the U.S. has hesitated, seeing it as a reward for North Korea’s bad behavior. Evidently China and the U.S. were able to reach a compromise: before any six-party talks resume, the two Koreas must first resume their dialogue (see paragraph 18 of the Joint Statement). On Thursday, South Korea agreed to low-level talks with the North.
Half a Point for the U.S. –Human Rights Makes the Agenda but an Odd Assortment of “Human Rights Advocates” Advise President Obama
Human rights loomed large during Hu’s State visit. After meekly raising the issue during his State visit to China in November 2009, President Obama was having no criticism of his commitment to human rights. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made that apparent in her speech on January 14, 2011 when she not just raised the issue of human rights but also mentioned specific human rights advocates that the U.S. believed were been unlawfully detained.
President Obama continued to publicly press the issue of human rights. President Obama publicly declared the universality of certain human rights as well as the need for the Chinese leadership to meet with the Dalai Lama. Perhaps the most surprising of all was when President Hu admitted that China still had a ways to go in better protecting human rights (see the Q&A portion of the Joint Press Conference).
Normally, this should receive a full point. But the U.S. loses a half a point because of form. Prior to President’s Hu’s visit, President Obama met with five China human rights advocates. These “advocates” included Prof. Andrew Nathan of Columbia University; Prof. Paul Gewirtz of the Yale China Law Center; author Zha Jianying; the wife of former Ambassador Winston Lord, Bette Bao Lord; and research scholar at the University of Maryland, Li Xiaorong.
While these five are likely well-informed on issues of human rights, there seems to be some missing names from the list of “human rights advocates.” Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China has dedicated her life – and at times has risked her safety – to advocate for greater human rights protection; one can’t think of anyone else more qualified. And if one wants to stick with academics (three of the five study human rights), it is questionable why Prof. Jerome Cohen of NYU School of Law was not in attendance. Prof. Cohen continues to lambast China on its human rights record on an almost bi-weekly basis in his South China Morning Post articles and actively supports many human rights attorneys in China.
But most of all, why weren’t the Chinese human rights activists themselves invited? Currently, the wife of missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is in the United States as is the wife of imprisoned human rights lawyer Guo Feixiong. Why not invite either of them to speak with the President of the current human rights situation in China? Or exiled dissident Yang Jianli currently residing in the U.S.? Or better yet – why not have a Skype chat with any of the human rights lawyers presently in China (Teng Biao, Mo Shaoping, Tang Jitian, Liu Wei)? The latter might be a bit too much to ask, but the list of human rights advocates invited to speak with President Obama should have been longer.
Point for China – U.S. Promises to Rein in Spending
As the largest holder of U.S. debt, China is very concerned about the U.S.’ spending habits. The Federal Reserve’s announcement of injecting more cash into the U.S. economy through “quantitative easing” only worsened China’s fear that its U.S. dollar reserves would lessen in value. So when President Obama, in response to a reporter’s question during the joint press conference, stated that the U.S. must take greater responsibility in saving and cutting the U.S. deficit, China was very happy.
Half a Point for the U.S. – Government Procurement
China’s closed government procurement market and its indigenous innovation policy has been a issue for U.S. businesses. China is not a member of the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (“GPA”) and as a result is not required to have an “open” government procurement market. China has submitted two bids in the past few years to be a member of the GPA, most recently this past summer. However, both applications have fallen far short and as a result, China remains outside of the GPA.
But surprisingly, in the U.S.-China Joint Statement (paragraph 27), China agreed to resubmit an application to the GPA by the end of 2011 and include sub-central government entities as subject to its proposal. Such an agreement was unexpected and likely a welcome development to the U.S. business community.
So why half the point? Seeing is believing in this case. It’s not completely in China’s self-interest to be a member of the GPA at this stage so anticipate that its renewed application will still fall short of GPA requirements. And even if it becomes a member, it’s questionable if China will enforce laws to promote an equitable government procurement market.
Point for U.S., Point for China – 100,000 Strong Initiative Articulated
Study Abroad in China!
During President Hu’s visit, Michelle Obama, in a speech before a thousand DC-area students, reaffirmed the Administrations’ commitment to sending 100,000 U.S. students to China on various study abroad programs (the “100,000 Strong Initiative”). In 2008, less than 15,000 U.S. students (on both the college and high school levels) studied abroad in China. The U.S. has a long way to go before we reach 100,000 students but its commitment to achieving that goal is a win-win for both China and the U.S.
Americans’ knowledge of China is abysmally low; as China rises, our lack of our understanding its history, culture or language becomes dangerous. Study abroad programs can help bridge that gap. While very few U.S. students will continue on their China path after their study abroad program, just being exposed to the culture and the difficulties that the nation faces is important. But there will also be some students that will continue on that path, providing an invaluable resource to the American government as China continues its rise as a global power.
The “strong” in the 100,000 Strong Initiative is more about strengthening the cultural ties and understanding between our two nations. While China sends 10 times the number of students to the Untied States, it is important that U.S. students go to China for those Chinese who will never come to America. What’s even more important is that the 100,000 Strong Initiative reaches out to community colleges and historically black colleges and universities, both of which have been underrepresented in China study abroad programs. It is important that the students the U.S. sends to China reflect our great diversity.
Sec. Gates, not a happy camper on US-China military ties
No Points for Anyone – Military-to-Military Ties Remain the Same
There doesn’t seem to be a change in military-to-military ties. After the U.S. sold arms to Taiwan last January, China broke off military ties and the relationship has barely warmed. When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Beijing a few weeks ago, a stealth jet fighter was flown unbeknown to even President Hu Jintao.
The Joint Statement (paragraph 9) includes language on improving and deepening communication between the two militaries. But it appears to be boilerplate language similar to the language found in the Joint Statement issued after President Obama’s visit to China in November 2009. The fact that China’s military remains non-transparent, secretive and slightly threatening is a serious issue. The fact that President Hu did not seem to have control of the military, even though he is the nominal Chairman of the Central Military Commission, is even more troubling, for both the U.S. and China.
The U.S. military is stationed through out China and patrols many international waters. The Chinese military is becoming increasingly assertive at times. Small incidents have occurred in the past. But without good communications between the two militaries, it is easy for any small incident to become an international one that could upset the stability in the Pacific. Hopefully the promised high-level military visits between the two countries will soon produce results. Then both the Chinese and American people will find it easier to sleep at night.
It’s a tie. As far as State visits go, this was a pretty good one. Everyone got something they wanted and can bring back positive results to their respective people. Aside from military relations, U.S.-China rhetoric seems to be improving. Hopefully this trend can continue.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers the Richard Holbrooke Inaugural Lecture
The Obama Administration has a new China policy, or at the very least has gotten better at articulating it. In preparation for President Hu Jintao’s January 19 State visit, key officials in the Obama Administration outlined their goals for the U.S.-China relationship through a series of speeches last week.
While Secretaries Tim Geithner and Gary Locke each focused on specifics (currency, market access, intellectual property), Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s speech on Friday (click here for speech transcript) provided a new framework by which to view the U.S.-China relationship. Rest assured this isn’t the same soft China policy that accompanied President Obama on his visit to China in November 2009.
In her speech, Clinton acknowledged the importance of the U.S.-China relationship to each country and the world at large. But while it values its relationship with China, the United States still has choices and the U.S. would “firmly and decisively” address its differences with China. Friday’s speech, which was also the inaugural Richard C. Holbrooke Annual Lecture, in honor of former State Department official and an important peace envoy (key player in the Dayton Peace Accords and envoy to Afghanistan), has already received criticism from China’s leadership.
Clinton Announces a New Paradigm By Which to View China’s Rise
Perhaps the greatest obstacles in the relationship – at least for the U.S. – have been China’s currency manipulation and China’s protection of domestic industries at the expense of international trade rules and norms. What the U.S. asks of China – to stop pegging its currency to the U.S. dollar and to open its markets to foreign competition in accordance with international standards – inevitably means that in the short-term, Chinese domestic companies will suffer. By allowing its currency to float, Chinese exports will become more expensive, hurting the manufacturing backbone of its economy. Opening its markets to more competition from foreign companies and products – particularly the government procurement market – could impair the development of many of China’s nascent industries.
Needless to say, it has been difficult to find a convincing argument to make Chian’s leaders willing suffer short-term hurt. In the past, U.S. officials have repeatedly discussed how in the long-run these changes will eventually better promote China’s economic growth and power. But this appear disingenuous since in the short-term, it is the U.S. that will most greatly benefit from changes to Beijing’s current policies. Additionally, telling Beijing what’s good for it in the long-run is sort of like parents telling their kids what is best.
But Clinton’s speech took on a decidedly different approach and offers a more convincing, even slightly threatening argument. Clinton did not bother with a “what is best for China” argument to try to convince the Chinese government; instead Clinton provided an entire new way by which to view China’s rise. Clinton acknowledged the hard work of China’s people and the far-sightedness of its leaders in creating the world’s second largest economy in just over 30 years. But Clinton also stressed the important role the United States played in China’s rise; without the United States, which guaranteed military security in Asia and equitable rules to govern the global economy, China’s current success would have been impossible.
By tying China’s rise to the stability the United States provided in the region for the past 30 years, Clinton makes a much stronger argument as to why China’s leaders should make some changes on currency and market access – basically, these are the rules of the game that allowed you to succeed and now you think you can just change them?
No rest for Robert Gates
The United States Will Remain a Pacific Power
But if logic isn’t enough to better protect U.S.’ interests, Clinton put China on warning that it is not the only fish in the sea. Repudiating any notion of a G-2 relationship, Clinton gave a shout out to the other countries in the region, stating that the United States intends to remain a Pacific military power, strengthen its bonds with its allies in the region (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Philippines) and deepen its ties with developing Asian countries (e.g. India, Vietnam, Indonesia).
On some level, this should not come as a surprise to China. This past summer, the United States involved itself in a long-running dispute between China and Vietnam over the control of a group of rock islands, stating that the U.S. has a national interest in mediating the dispute. Additionally, recent bellicose developments on the Korean peninsula and China’s ambivalent response to the North’s unprovoked attack on South Korea, makes it apparent that the United States must maintain a strong military presence in the region. China’s response shows that it is not yet ready to take on the responsibility of maintaining peace in the Pacific region since its loyalties to North Korea still dominate.
Finally, Clinton noted that China’s non-transparent military build-up leaves one wondering what exactly are China’s intentions. Military-to-military ties between the
China launches its Stealth fighter jet during Robert Gates visit to Beijing
United States and China are at all-time low, mostly at the fault of China. China’s military continues to shroud itself in secrecy and the recent visit of Secretary Robert Gates to China was a complete debacle. While Gates visited with President Hu Jintao in Beijing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tested – in a very public way – its own stealth fighter jet. Hu’s admission that he was unaware of the PLA’s planned test fight, is not particularly reassuring. Not only does the PLA continue its secrative military build-up, but it’s even a secret to China’s own President, making one wonder, what power does Hu still have? If history is a guide, whoever is in charge of the Chinese military is in charge of China. If not Hu, then who?
Getting Serious About Human Rights
Clinton was surprisingly blunt when it came to China’s human rights record and didn’t just portray human rights as a peculiar aspect of the American culture (see President Obama’s talk to Shanghai students in November 2009 for this approach). Instead, Clinton emphasized the universality of certain human rights and highlighted the fact that China is a signatory to many United Nations human rights treaties. The United States is not interfering with China’s domestic politics; instead the United States is merely requesting that China fulfill its human rights obligations, obligations it voluntary agreed to.
But Clinton went further and mentioned specific dissidents, including the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo who is currently languishing in a Chinese prison; rights defending attorney Chen Guangcheng who since his release from prison has been subject to repeat police harassment; and missing rights defending attorney Gao Zhisheng. Clinton stressed that as long as people like these three continue to advocate peacefully within the confines of the law, China should not persecute them. Clinton poetically commented that the empty seat for Liu Xiaobo at last month’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony symbolizes China’s unrealized potential. Clinton stressed that these human rights are necessary to China’s success; freedom of speech is essential to fostering free thought that leads to technological and scientific advancement and a vibrant civil society addresses social-economic problems that are currently one the regime’s biggest fears.
The Obama Administration has a new policy on China – it’s tougher, more logical and stresses the importance of human rights. The Chinese government has already responded. President Hu Jintao, in an interview with the Washington Post, commented that the United States should not interfere with the internal affairs of China.
Wednesday’s meeting between Presidents Hu and Obama should prove to be perhaps some of the most important conversations in the U.S.-China relationship since Kissinger secretly visited Beijing in 1971 in preparation for President Nixon’s visit.
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.
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.
Like every other country outside of the United States, China is a soccer-crazed nation and with the 2010 World Cup, employers fear a loss of productivity of their workers. With China six hours ahead of South Africa, the matches begin at 7 pm local time, with the last match starting at 2:30 AM., giving most Chinese the opportunity to watch the matches with their friends into the wee hours of the morning. And it appears that many are taking advantage of this time difference even without a hometown team to root for.
Given China’s dominance in recent Olympics as well as its people’s love for soccer, it’s weird not to see a Chinese team at the World Cup. Especially since even its neighbor – poor and ideologically-suffocating North Korea – made the cut. China was able to build up its curling prowess to win a bronze in women’s curling in Vancouver – a sport most Chinese, actually most people outside of Canada, have never heard of. Surely it can train a World Cup-worthy soccer team. So what gives?
China - Economic superpower but not a soccer one
A recent article in the L.A. Times essential blames China’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” While China’s state-controlled capitalism – where the state programs and controls much of the “free market” – has allowed for success in the economic sphere, it’s destroyed any hopes for soccer dominance. China’s various professional soccer leagues are managed by the Chinese Football Association, a commercial entity that is overseen by the General Administration of Sport, a government body. With dueling ideologies, the result is confusion and lack of coordination. Additionally, China’s professional leagues have been plagued by high-level corruption, gambling scandals, and match-fixing, rotting the sport to its core. While a recent clean-up of the corruption might have short-term impact, without better checks and balances, expect corruption to return to Chinese soccer and stymie any hope of creating a World Cup-worthy team.
Vuvuzela - Made in China
Although there is no China presence on the field, there is plenty of China presence in the stands. Those annoyingly loud vuvuzelas that drown out referee whistles and any sounds from the field are mostly made in China. And China’s wig production saw a huge uptick in demand for wigs dyed the national colors of various nations.
But what has received the most attention is ESPN’s Martin Tyler’s on-air comment that the North Korean fans are in fact paid Chinese actors, an allegation that was also made last month in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. As a team playing in the World Cup, North Korea is given a large number of tickets to give or sell to its people. But for most North Koreans, a flight to South Africa would cost too much, leaving many of the North Korean-designated seats empty. But supposedly, these tickets have been transferred to China, who is sending 1,000 actors to cheer on its neighbor.
Both China and North Korea remain mum in regards to the nature of the North Korean fans and have neither denied nor confirmed the rumors. But China has hired “professional” fans in the past. Most notably the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In order to fill empty seats, the Chinese government sent groups of enthusiastic Chinese volunteers, wearing yellow shirts and armed with thundersticks, into the stands to cheer for both teams playing. That’s right – the Chinese sent volunteers to cheer not just for their own team, but for whichever teams were playing. Essentially, the Chinese Olympic officials wanted to guarantee an enthusiastic crowd for the teams playing.
During the 2008 Olympics and now for the North Korea matches in the World Cup, the Chinese received criticism for
Fans cheer on North Korea at the 2010 World Cup
this “manufactured” support. But I sort of think this type of magnanimity is cute and I kind of like it. Imagine if you are the beach volleyball team from Luxemburg – you don’t even have beaches in your country let alone fans of beach volleyball that are going to watch you at the Olympics. So how inspiring must it be to play in the Olympics and have a cheering section. Sure it might be manufactured, but sometimes it’s just the cheers that matter for the team. And for the other people in the stands, having a section that starts to get into the match, makes watching an otherwise boring event fun. People don’t do the wave during the ninth inning of a tied Yankees-Red Sox game. No. They do the wave when they are bored, when the defeat is so obvious that you need a little entertainment to keep you involved.
So Monday morning, when North Korea takes on Portugal, I hope the fans – be Chinese or North Korean – are there wildly rooting for the North Korean team. China should look to market this thing – a cheering section for hire and an enthusiastic one to boot? There are a lot of politicians and disgraced corporate executives in the U.S. right now that might be interested.
Only a handful of the 200 U..S. officials at today's Strategic & Economic Dialogue in Beijing
The second U.S-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED) is off to an interesting start in Beijing. The U.S.’ agenda for the talks – agreement on Iran sanctions, change in China’s currency policy, and greater openness of China’s procurement market for foreign companies – was largely overshadowed this morning by South Korea’s announcement that it will hold North Korea responsible for the torpedo attack on a South Korean war ship, the Cheonan, in March 2010 which resulted in the death of 46 sailors.
As the S&ED was set to open in Beijing, South Korea’s president, Lee
Chinese President Hu Jintao greets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Monday's opening of the S&ED
Myung-Bok, issued the strongest statement against North Korea in decades and announced that all trade between the Koreas would be suspended, investment would be stopped, and North Koreans would not be permitted to visit South Korea. Additionally, South Korea will also reinstall megaphones at the border between the two countries and resume anti-North Korean broadcasting, a practiced it stopped in 2004 when tensions were easing between the two Koreas. Previously, North Korea stated that any retaliation by South Korea in response to the Cheonam incident would be seen as an act of war; today it announced planned attacks on any South Korean megaphones at the border.
In her remarks during the S&ED’s opening ceremony, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is accompanied by 200 U.S. officials on this trip, brought up the issue of North Korea’s increasing “belligerent” actions and the need for the U.S. and China to work together in regards to North Korea. Chinese President Hu Jintao did not mention North Korea in his speech.
But President Hu did bring up the currency issue in his remarks, to the surprise of most. In his speech, President Hu promised that China would continue to reform its currency policy, but noted it would be on China’s terms and such reform would be gradual.
With the delay of the Treasury Department’s report on China’s currency policy and recent op-eds in the state-controlled Chinese press regarding the need to give more flexibility to China’s currency — the yuan — it appeared that China would make some sort of concession on the currency issue. However, the recent crisis in Greece and the European Union, which has resulted in a 20% drop in the value of the Euro against the dollar, changed that opinion. By effectively tying the yuan to the dollar, as the dollar gets stronger against the Euro, Chinese goods become more expensive in the European Union, China’s largest export market. So President Hu’s promise to do something about China’s currency policy was a bit of a surprise. And the public nature of the comment was even more surprising since the revaluation of the yuan is a hot-button issue for the Chinese domestically: Beijing does not want to appear to be placating to U.S. demands.
But what remains to be seen is when: when will China adjust its currency policy. Don’t expect that question to be answered at the S&ED which concludes Tuesday afternoon.