Posts tagged: U.S.

Biden Should Bring Back the China Fulbright Program

By , November 11, 2020

Originally published in SupChina.

It was 1999, and for the Fulbright program, Nickolas Zaller and I were pioneers. Never before had China hosted recently-graduated college students on the Fulbright program, and it only permitted five of us to come that August for a year-long fellowship. The following year, 26 U.S. students went to China on a Fulbright, and for the last 15 years, that number has hovered around 50 annually.

But earlier this year, on July 14, with neither explanation nor warning — and buried deep in an Executive Order addressing the legal status of Hong Kong under U.S. law — the Trump Administration terminated the China and Hong Kong Fulbright programs. . . .

To read more please click to the original SupChina article (free number of monthly articles, after that paywall).

The Politically Motivated Arrest of Kovrig & Spavor

The Chinese government makes it really hard to believe that its detention – and now arrest – of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor is anything but politically motivated. It adamantly protests the charge that Kovrig and Spavor’s detention is somehow related to the troubles Huawei Technologies is facing in North America; it denies that this is tit-for-tat diplomacy.

But it’s actions reflect otherwise.  The initial detention of Kovrig and Spavor on December 10, 2018, came only days after Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer and the founder’s daughter, was arrested by Canadian authorities in preparation for extradition to the United States. And now, the formal arrest of the two Canadians – after 5 months in detention without access to a lawyer – came only hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting U.S. telecom companies from purchasing foreign equipment from companies deemed a national security threat and the United States Commerce Department officially listing Huawei as such a threat.  Not only does this lock Huawei out of the U.S. market, by being listed as a security threat, Huawei will also no longer be able to purchase key component parts from U.S. tech companies such as Intel, Qualcom, Broadcom and Google; parts that are integral to the future success of its business.

Canadians Michael Kovrig (L) and Michael Spavor (R)

On Thursday morning, less than 12 hours after the U.S. government issued its announcements, the Chinese government announced that Kovrig and Spavor had been formally arrested on charges of stealing state secrets, Article 111 under China’s Criminal Law (translation courtesy of China Law Translate). Kovrig is suspected of “gathering state secrets for transmission outside of China” and Spavor is suspect of “stealing and providing state secrets for transmission outside China.”  Although the prosecutors are required to issue an arrest warrant upon arrest, it is unclear if this was done or to whom it was given (see Article 93 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), Art. 93 –  translation courtesy of China Law Translate).  Professor Maggie Lewis does a great analysis of what the world can expect at this stage of the case.

Canadian Embassy in Beijing

But here is the rub that makes it increasingly hard to believe that the Chinese government’s actions against Kovrig and Spavor are not retaliation for what is happening to Huawei. The Chinese government decided to arrest Kovrig and Spavor one month earlier than they had to.  Because Kovrig and Spavor were being detained under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), under Chinese Criminal Procedure Law, the public security authorities had up to six months – or until around June 10, 2019 – before they had to request the official arrest of the two (CPL Art. 79). Once the prosecutors formally arrest the suspect, the time frame to investigate becomes much tighter.  As a result, it is a rare occurrence for China’s public security bureaus not to take full advantage of these six months. But it appears that announcing the arrest of these two only hours after the U.S. declared Huawei a threat to national security was more important.

This isn’t to say that the U.S. is innocent of gaming the Huawei situation as a way to gain leverage against China in the current trade battle. But what is different here is that Chinese government is dealing with two lives; two people who could end up in a prison for a very long time basically as pawns in this game.  Trade disputes can be settled.  But the criminal justice system is a body on to itself. And once it is engaged, especially in China, it’s hard to turn back. 

Ooo, So Awkward….Trump’s Upcoming Visit to China

By , November 3, 2017

Nov. 3, 2017 @ 12:00 pm – The Trump Administration has just announced that Trump will extend his stay in Asia to attend the East Asia Summit.  This post was written last night, prior to that announcement.  

It’s got to be awkward to go on a whirlwind tour of Asia, meeting with various world leaders, and at the same time knowing that back home senior officials from your campaign are being indicted and one is even pleading guilty.  But that is exactly where U.S. President Donald Trump will find himself on Sunday when he lands in Japan for a nine-day tour that will also include stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

It will be Trump’s two-day visit to Beijing – on November 8 and 9 –  that will likely be the most absurd, or at least the most absurd for Chinese President Xi Jinping; Trump will likely remain unaware about the asymmetry in their positions.  While he leads America’s retreat from global engagement and fails domestically to create a governing coalition that can successfully pass any of his major campaign promises, Xi’s star in the rise. With a celebrated speech before the world community in Davos, a successful One Belt, One Road conference that extends China’s influence and economic power  even beyond Asia, and a 19th Party Congress that further consolidated his power and control, Xi looks more and more like the reliable, senior statesman in the relationship.

But even in light of this imbalance, any meeting between the two most powerful leaders in the world leading the two largest economies will be a big deal.  And, even if Trump chooses to disengage Asia, America is still an important military presence in the region, so Trump’s visit, and what comes of it, will be important.  So what should we expect?

Expect the Continued Failure of Trump’s China Agenda

Xi & Trump, agreeing in Mar-a-Lago Photo Courtesy of CNN

On some level, Trump’s meeting with Xi at Mar-a-Lago in April was a success.  Not focusing so much on policy, Trump used the meeting to forge a personal relationship with Xi, a relationship that has proved beneficial in his dealings with China, in particular in regards to North Korea.  In August, China agreed to strong U.N. sanctions against North Korea including banning imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead.

But Trump still lacks a cohesive China policy and it is that shortfall that has become an Achilles heel for the United States, especially on the only other aspect of the relationship that is important to Trump: trade.  At the April Mar-a-Lago meeting, Xi and Trump announced the 100 Day Action plan to open Chinese markets to U.S. goods such as beef, liquefied natural gas and financial products.  But 100 days later, the only action achieved was the Chinese importation of U.S. beef, a deal that in fact had been brokered by the Obama Administration the year prior.  The July U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, an annual summit between the economic heavyweights in the U.S. and Chinese government, proved equally as futile: the Dialogue ended without any agreements on trade, the cancelation of the joint press conference and no joint statement.

Not much has changed since July in the Trump White House, at least vis-a-vis China.  The Administration is still dangerously short of China experts.  The State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs still lacks an appointed Assistant Secretary of State (although Susan Thornton, a noted China hand, is serving as the Acting Assistant Secretary).  Aside from Matthew Pottinger, a veteran China journalist who currently serves as Senior Director of Asian Affairs on the National Security Council, the inner White House largely lacks anyone with intimate knowledge of China.  And while Jeffrey Kessler, a trade attorney whose career has dealt specifically with China, was recently nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Enforcement and Compliance, his nomination comes too late to enable his expertise to serve a role in shaping Trump’s upcoming visit.

So for Trump’s November visit, expect a lot of bluster, promises to do more in the future, but don’t expect results.  And don’t expect Trump to raise the issue of human rights or the continued crackdown and disappearance of rights activist.  His Administration has barely focused on it.  Instead, at the September 2017 Social and Cultural Dialogue between the two countries, the only vague reference to any type of human rights issue was mention of China’s Foreign NGO Law, a law that has been used to break civil society in China.  However, the U.S. State Department issued a positive assessment of the law, noting that it has not impeded the “legal activities” of American NGOs.  Given the difficulty that many U.S. civil society NGOs have had in continuing their work in China since its passage, the State Department’s assessment seems to diverge significantly from reality.

Photo of the World Leaders at the 2011 East Asia Summit, the US’ first

Expect the Rest of Asia to Feel Abandoned and to Start Looking Elsewhere

Last month, the White House heralded Trump’s Asia trip as a way to “underscore his commitment to longstanding United States alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” But that commitment is belied by Trump’s decision to skip the East Asia Summit. [Editor’s Note: On Nov. 3, 2017 at around noon, the Trump Administration announced that Trump would extend his trip to attend the East Asia Summit]

The East Asia Summit brings together the leaders of 16 Asian countries plus, since 2011, the leaders of Russian and the United States.  At the two-day summit, the world leaders discuss the major issues confronting the region including those involving trade, politics and security and through the Summit, the leaders shape the future of the region.  During his two terms as president, Barack Obama attended every East Asia Summit except the 2013 Summit, when the U.S. government was shut down.

Someone who knows a little bit about being undermined. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to attend the 2017 East Asia Summit

This year’s East Asia Summit is scheduled for November 13 and 14 in the Philippines, the country Trump will be in on November 12, making it easy for Trump to stay for the meeting. And thus making his absence even more obvious.  Any positive outcomes from the prior days’ meetings will be undermined by Trump’s failure to essentially stay in the Philippines for an extra day and engage these other world leaders and help shape the future of the region.  If Asia was questioning Trump’s commitment to Asia with his withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership or his unilateral war of words with North Korea, it now has an answer with Trump’s absence at the East Asia Summit: the U.S. is withdrawing from the Asia.  But the region is one of the most economically dynamic in the world and China is looking to take the lead in the area.  Are we ready to just walk away?

Why So Secretive? US-China Legal Experts Dialogue

Who received the invitation to the Legal Experts Dialogue?

One would think that after a six-year hiatus, the resumption of the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue would receive a little more fanfare than a cursory four-sentence press release from the Department of State (“DOS”), issued on June 6, a mere two days before the big event.

For the past two years, almost every high-level discussion between the U.S. and China has raised the issue of the Legal Experts Dialogue (“LED”), with the goal of resuming the talks (last held in 2005).  When President Obama visited China in November 2009, the two countries’ Joint Statement directly stated that “[t]he United States and China decided to convene the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue at an early date.”  Ditto for the Joint Statement after President Hu’s visit to Washington, D.C. in January 2011.

It wasn’t until April 28, 2011, at the Human Rights Dialogue, that anyone provided somewhat more of a hard date.  At a press conference, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner announced that the U.S. and China finally agreed to convene the LED in “June 2011.”  This vague date was reiterated a few weeks later in the statement issued at the conclusion of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue.

So why the lame press release about the LED?  It’s been a priority item in the U.S.’s negotiations with China.  One would think that finally being able to achieve the goal of actually having the LED and especially of hosting it in the midst of the Chinese government’s crackdown on rights-defending lawyers, would be a feather in DOS’s cap; something that they would want the world to know about.

Why remain mum on who these “experts” are and what they will be discussing?  Instead, DOS only states that there will be “government and non-government experts” who will “explore key legal issues of mutual interest.”  Could DOS be more vague?

There are occasions when the U.S. might achieve more by pressuring China behind the scenes.  In the case of Xu Zhiyong in 2009, it looks like that approached worked.  But the LED is a completely different beast – the existence of the Dialogue has long been made public and given that there will be non-government experts, it does not appear that there will be high-level discussions here on par with Hu-Obama talks.  It sounds like it is one group of lawyers talking to another.  Given some of the issues that have sprung up in the past few months, including the assault on public interest lawyers, China’s indigenous innovation policy, various WTO cases, and the criminal trials of U.S. citizens, it would be interesting to know what is on the agenda.

But in general, I do not hold out hope that the LED will produce any earth-shattering results, if it produces results at all.  While DOS has stated that there will be “in-depth discussions and practical cooperation on the rule of law” (yeah, I don’t know what that means either), it’s basically two days of meetings among strangers with translators in between.  How much can really be achieved?

And maybe that’s why the U.S. hasn’t given the LED the credit one would think it is due.  Maybe even DOS realizes that bringing over a delegation of Chinese lawyers and legal experts for a mere two days is likely a waste of taxpayer’s money.

I do think that more open dialogue between the U.S. and China is a good thing.  But there are better ways to increase the lines of communication between the legal communities in the two nations and assist China with improving upon its commitment to a rule of law.  Identifying and inviting reform-minded Chinese lawyers to the United States for a longer period of time – anywhere between three months to a year – is a better use of money.  Through that experience, a Chinese lawyer can see how our legal system functions, see the good and the bad, interact with U.S. lawyers, and determine which aspects if any should be replicated in China.

These types of sustained contact are what can best assist China with implementing a rule of law.  A two-day conference likely cannot.  But unfortunately, we won’t really know because nothing about the LED is publicly available.

China, Iran & Sanctions: What’s a Rising Power to Do?

By , September 29, 2009

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

President Obama, with President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Friday, Sept 25 at the G-20 Summit

President Obama, with President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Friday, Sept 25 at the G-20 Summit

China remained noticeably mum on Friday as other member nations of the U.N. Security Council stood before the world and accused Iran of developing a secret nuclear enrichment site.  Flanked by Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the U.K. and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, President Obama promised to take strong action against Iran if the country did not fully disclose its nuclear ambitions and open all sites to international inspectors.   Such strong action would include crippling sanctions on all trade to and from Iran.  Even Russia appeared willing to consider sanctions if Iran failed to cooperate, breaking with Russia’s long opposition to such action.

China, on the other hand, prefers a different route.  Stressing the need for diplomacy and negotiations, China announced that “sanctions and pressure should not be an option” in dealing with Iran.  Although not completely ruling out sanctions, China desperately hopes that the upcoming talks with Iran scheduled to begin this Thursday satisfy the U.S. and obviate the need for sanctions.

Why is China so hesitant to support sanctions against a country that is secretly developing nuclear capabilities?  History, geo-politics and economic ties are what set China apart from its Security Council brethren in dealing with Iran.  But China’s growth as a world power has caused it to become a stakeholder in the current system.  With this new-found power, China has begun to realize its actions, or lack of action, does in fact shape the world’s future course and as a result, its own global prospects.

History, History, History

China has long been an outsider to the western world order.  Even after mainland China’s return to the U.N. Security Council in 1971, China was still largely considered a pariah state, a Communist country with severe human rights violations.  China’s violent crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen protests rolled back any international good will it was amassing and subjected China to crippling economic sanctions.  It has only been in the past few years that China has become a significant voice in the international arena and respected by Western powers.

But for China, its past is far from forgotten.  While it has significantly benefited from the current world order, China understands that other countries, either rightly or wrongly, are marginalized because of alleged human rights violations or nuclear development.  As a result, China has developed a philosophy of “non-interference” in other country’s domestic affairs and has largely stuck to that attitude in dealing with countries that the U.N. or the U.S. might consider rogue.  This is not to say that China condones such behavior; in fact China has been an ardent supporter of various global nuclear non-proliferation efforts and supported sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear development.  However, with its sense of history, China will be slow to agree to sanctions against Iran, even if sanctions are in its long-term self-interest.

Geo-strategic Considerations

Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at last week's U.N. Security Council

Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at last week's U.N. Security Council

Iran plays an important role in China’s aspiration to become a regional power.  With its rise, China has sought to create political alliances and economic ties with other countries in Asia and reduce the influence of the U.S. in the region.  One such effort is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).  China leads the organization which has created greater economic interdependence among Russia, China and the Central Asian states.  Iran, although not a member, currently holds observer status.  China, along with Russia, has used the SCO to reduce the U.S. military presence in Central Asia when in July 2005, its members signed an agreement to push the U.S. to set a deadline for troop withdrawal from the region (Library of Congress Report, p. 68).

The SCO is beginning to function as a multilateral alliance system allowing China to exert its influence in a region where western powers are largely absent.  To move too quickly in calling for sanctions against Iran, a country within the SCO’s domain, China could jeopardize its current leadership role in the region.

Economic Ties

China’s strongest reason to oppose sanctions against Iran lies with its current economic ties to the country.    In 2008, 12% of China’s crude oil imports were from Iran; the first five months of 2009 have seen an increase and China is on target to import 15% from Iran (Energy Information Administration Country Analysis Brief) .  Furthermore, Chinese oil companies have invested heavily in Iranian oil fields.  In December 2007, China’s Sinopec signed a $2 bn contract with Iran to develop the Yadavaran oil fields; in January 2009, CNPC, China’s largest oil and gas company signed a $1.7bn oil contract to develop the Azadegan oil fields.  Although these investments are large, many question whether the Chinese companies have in fact moved forward with developing these fields.  In the past, Chinese oil companies have signed deals with countries but have waited, even as much as ten years, for geopolitical issues to settle (According to the Brookings Institute, CNPC signed a contract with Iraq in 1997 but did not begin to the develop the oil fields until 2008, after threats of sanctions were over).

Similarly, China has looked to Iran for its large quantities of natural gas.  In March 2009, the L.A. Times reported that Iran and China signed a $3.2 bn deal for natural gas development. But like the oil contracts, it is unclear if China intends to follow through with this agreement given the current politically-sensitive climate.

More real though is Chinese oil companies’ sale of gasoline to Iran.  Although Iran has the second largest crude oil reserves in the world, it has little capacity to refine that oil and make it into usable gasoline.  In fact, Iran imports 40% of its gasoline, mostly from European countries but also from China.  Because of China’s increasing economic ties with Iran, sanctions that impact all trade with Iran could be particularly damaging to China.

China’s Countervailing Interests

On Sunday, it seemed as though everyone on the political talk shows called for China to join the U.S., France, Britain and Russia in condemning Iran and agreeing to join sanctions if need be.  But China has not wavered on its stance of trying diplomacy first.  At the same time, it has also not stated that it will oppose sanctions if the October 1 talks fail.  And while political pundits, the media and elected officials in the West are currently criticizing China for not throwing its weight behind sanctions, it is China’s current silence on the issue that gives the October 1 talks the best chance of success.  Without China’s commitment for or against sanctions, Iran is left guessing what its trading partner will do, and could acquiesce to U.S. demands to show blueprints of the new nuclear site and open its country to inspectors.

But if the October 1 talks fail, expect China to agree to sanctions, but likely not the ones that will be proposed by the U.S., France and Britain.  In December 2006 and March 2007, in response to Iran’s nuclear development, the U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to sanctions.  However, through China and Russia’s insistence, these sanctions were substantially watered down and merely limited the sale of nuclear equipment and technologies to Iran and froze the assets of key individuals involved in Iran’s nuclear development.

The Obama Administration has already realized that a total embargo on gasoline shipments is not in the cards.  Not only would Chinese companies be negatively impacted, but so would European oil companies that sell gasoline to Iran.  Many E.U. countries have already come out against a total embargo.

But other measures, such as eliminating investments in Iran, might have more traction with China and could be something it agrees to in this round of sanctions.  China has a lot to lose if Iran becomes a nuclear power or appears to be a nuclear power.  First, while 12% of China’s crude oil imports are from Iran, 20% are from Saudi Arabia, a country that has already reprimanded Iran for its nuclear aspirations.  Will China jeopardize that relationship by opposing sanctions?

Second, Israel’s response to an unchecked Iran could potentially lead to such instability in the region cutting off not only oil from the Middle East, but also key shipping lanes for China’s oil imports from other countries.  China cannot afford to be cut off from any oil shipments since currently it only has 25 days worth of oil reserves.

Third, a nuclear Iran threatens the Central Asian strategic alliances that China has worked hard to create through the SCO.  Arguably, the other Central Asian countries might begin to take their cues from Iran, dissipating China’s leadership role in the region.

Fourth, it remains unclear if China’s investments in Iranian gas and oil fields actually exist.  If not, then China could easily agree to stop its investments in Iran.  Even if China has already begun to develop these oil and gas fields, it is only at the start of these investments and under its contracts with Iran, China does not receive a return on the investment until development is completed.  Any of China’s current contracts have a long way to go before completion.

Finally, China does want to become a responsible world player.  It has actively sought membership in various international organizations and largely abides by their rules.  Last year, during the North Korean missile crisis, China was on board in issuing a harsh reprimand of Kim Jung-Il’s actions.

If the situation with Iran further disintegrates and sanctions become necessary, the Obama Administration should push China to agree to sanctions that include a cut-off of investments in Iran.  China might hesitate at first, but for the reasons stated above, they could agree to such measures.  Getting China to stop importing crude from Iran could prove harder.  Although interestingly enough, Iran’s largest importer of its crude is Japan, a strong U.S. ally, and Japan might actually be the strongest opponent of such measures.  Including an embargo on sales of gasoline to Iran would be impossible.  But asking China to join sanctions that limit investment in the region, is doable.

Panorama Theme by Themocracy