A desert meet­ing sets the stage

Sun­ny­lands is where US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping met and set the agenda in 2013 for healthy bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, but it takes time and ef­fort to get there, Chen Weihua re­ports from Wash­ing­ton.

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

IDis­mal start

But tur­bu­lence, as wit­nessed in the past 40 years, con­tin­ued, only this time the shout from Wash­ing­ton was not to la­bel China a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor, but a hacker against the US gov­ern­ment and in­dus­tries.

The ac­cu­sa­tion gained steam af­ter Man­di­ant, a US In­ter­net se­cu­rity firm, re­leased its re­port in Fe­bru­ary, al­legedly trac­ing China’s cy­ber es­pi­onage to a Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) unit in Shang­hai’s Pudong area.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary de­nied the charge and in­stead claimed to be a ma­jor vic­tim of cy­ber at­tacks, many of which orig­i­nated from the US.

To most Amer­i­can pun­dits at that time, cy­ber se­cu­rity seemed to be the dom­i­nant is­sue for the two new gov­ern­ments in 2013 and be­yond.

Such a con­cern was also ex­pressed ex­plic­itly when new US Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Jack Lew vis­ited China in March, less than a week af­ter Xi took of­fice as pres­i­dent. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Chair­man of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey also raised the is­sue promi­nently dur­ing their visit to China in April, al­though their pri­mary rea­son for the trip was the ten­sion on the Korean penin­sula af­ter the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea con­ducted its third nu­clear test in late Fe­bru­ary.

De­spite the vis­its to China by sev­eral se­nior US of­fi­cials, many won­dered if Xi and Obama would meet sooner than the G20 sum­mit in St Peters­burg, Rus­sia, in early Septem­ber. And then came the sur­prise an­nounce­ment of the Sun­ny­lands sum­mit.

Ruan Zongze, deputy di­rec­tor of Bei­jing­based t started with a mixed mood about the grow­ing co­op­er­a­tion and com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the ex­ist­ing power and the ris­ing power. At the end of 2013, the sin­gle most im­por­tant high­light of the year in re­la­tions be­tween the United States and China came from a meet­ing at a 200-acre desert es­tate in Cal­i­for­nia — Sun­ny­lands.

The mes­sage com­ing out of Sun­ny­lands was an over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive and a co­op­er­a­tive one. The two lead­ers vowed to build a new type of ma­jor-power re­la­tion­ship to defy the hos­tile rivalry that de­fined most of the ex­ist­ing pow­ers and ris­ing pow­ers in his­tory.

“The two pres­i­dents agreed to es­tab­lish a new model of ma­jor-power re­la­tions and talked in-depth about a broad range of do­mes­tic, re­gional and global is­sues,” said Bon­nie Glaser, se­nior ad­viser for Asia at the Center for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

By all ac­counts, it was quite a sur­prise when the an­nounce­ment was made in late May that Pres­i­dents Xi Jin­ping and Barack Obama would meet for an in­for­mal sum­mit at the his­toric An­nen­berg es­tate in Ran­cho Mi­rage, Cal­i­for­nia, on June 7-8. Top Chi­nese and US lead­ers had not met in such an in­for­mal set­ting since 2002 when Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Jiang Zemin met Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush at his ranch in Craw­ford, Texas. White House of­fi­cials said they were very pleased that Xi had agreed to at­tend such a shirt-sleeves sum­mit.

Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross di­rec­tor of the Center on US-China Re­la­tions at the Asia So­ci­ety, agreed that Sun­ny­lands was the high­light in US-China re­la­tions in 2013.

“I think one im­por­tant ad­vance is that, de­spite many dis­agree­ments, both sides have agreed that this is a re­la­tion­ship on which both sides must ex­pend spe­cial care and at­ten­tion if it is go­ing to work, much less im­prove,” he said. “And both sides seem ded­i­cated to this long-term un­der­tak­ing,” Schell said.

Prior to Sun­ny­lands, the world’s two largest economies were both fac­ing lead­er­ship change. Obama started his sec­ond term with much of his cab­i­net to be reshuf­fled, while Xi, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party of China, was head­ing a new Polit­buro. He would be­come the coun­try’s pres­i­dent in March, be­gin­ning his likely 10-year lead­er­ship.

Re­al­iz­ing the change would oc­cur, the US had tried to fos­ter a close re­la­tion­ship with Xi early on, invit­ing him to visit the US in Fe­bru­ary 2012 as China’s vice-pres­i­dent. The trip, which took him to Wash­ing­ton, Los An­ge­les and Mus­ca­tine, Iowa, where he stayed for two nights in 1985 as a county leader from He­bei prov­ince, in­tro­duced Xi to Amer­i­cans. US Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den got well ac­quainted with Xi af­ter ac­com­pa­ny­ing him on the tour. Bi­den also spent time with Xi when he toured China in Au­gust 2011.

Af­ter be­com­ing CPC gen­eral sec­re­tary in Novem­ber 2012, Xi re­peat­edly ex­pressed his hope to in­ject “pos­i­tive en­ergy” into the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

I think one im­por­tant ad­vance is that, de­spite many dis­agree­ments, both side have agreed that this is a re­la­tion­ship on which both sides must ex­pend spe­cial care and at­ten­tion if it is go­ing to work, much less im­prove.” ORVILLE SCHELL THE ARTHUR ROSS DI­REC­TOR OF THE CENTER ON US-CHINA RE­LA­TIONS AT THE ASIA SO­CI­ETY

China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, de­scribed the Sun­ny­lands meet­ing as a pi­o­neer­ing ef­fort by China and the US.

“The point is China and the US are so dif­fer­ent. We have nu­mer­ous dif­fer­ences. But at the same time we share a tremen­dous amount of grow­ing con­ver­gence of in­ter­ests. And this is grow­ing busi­ness,” he said. “So both sides can­not af­ford to en­gage in a con­fronta­tional man­ner.”

Richard Bush, a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, said it’s a good thing that China and the US un­der­stand how de­struc­tive the old pat­tern of great power rivalry is to world peace. He said both coun­tries should work to en­rich such a con­cept. Win-win

For the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, the essence of such a new type of re­la­tion­ship should be to seek no con­flict and no con­fronta­tion but mu­tual re­spect and win-win. To some US of­fi­cials, they hope this does not mean that China should be free to do what­ever it wants even when the US dis­agrees, such as the an­nounce­ment of the East China Sea Air De­fense Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Zone and the near naval ves­sel en­counter in that area in De­cem­ber.

The US has re­peat­edly said it does not rec­og­nize China’s ADIZ, al­though it has rec­om­mended that US air­lines file their flight plans to Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties.

Both Chi­nese and US of­fi­cials have quickly em­braced the spirit of Sun­ny­lands aimed to max­i­mize co­op­er­a­tion and ef­fec­tively man­age dif­fer­ences be­tween the two coun­tries.

To re­flect that spirit, the 5th round of Chi­naUS Strate­gic and Eco­nomic Di­a­logue (S&ED) that was held in Wash­ing­ton in early July, a month af­ter the Sun­ny­lands, con­cluded with a much longer list of ar­eas for co­op­er­a­tion than pre­vi­ous meet­ings. It was also the first time in years that new faces were in charge: Sec­re­taries Kerry and Lew on the US side and State Coun­cilor Yang Jiechi and Vice-Pre­mier Wang Yang on the Chi­nese side.

The S&ED reaf­firmed to strengthen high­level vis­its and mil­i­tary ex­changes. The two sides agreed to start sub­stan­tive talks on a bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment treaty (BIT) and de­cided to ac­tively ex­plore a no­ti­fi­ca­tion mech­a­nism for ma­jor mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties and to con­tinue dis­cus­sions on the rules of be­hav­ior for mil­i­tary air and mar­itime ac­tiv­i­ties.

The S&ED this year also wit­nessed the first meet­ing of a bi­lat­eral cy­ber work­ing group, which re­port­edly has en­gaged in can­did, indepth and con­struc­tive di­a­logue. Snow­den’s claims

How­ever, rev­e­la­tions in early June by for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den that the US has been en­gag­ing in ex­ten­sive spy­ing all over the world has put the US gov­ern­ment on the de­fen­sive. The NSA spy­ing, such as on Chi­nese tele­com firms and uni­ver­si­ties, US al­lies and world lead­ers, has “hurt the US global stand­ing” ac­cord­ing to Anne-Marie Slaugh­ter, pres­i­dent and CEO of the New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion and a for­mer se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial.

The US also failed to pres­sure China — or the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion gov­ern­ment to be ex­act — to hand over Snow­den be­fore he fled to Rus­sia.

Some US of­fi­cials and pun­dits have stated that the con­tin­u­ous Snow­den rev­e­la­tions have caused the US to lose much of the moral high ground in ac­cus­ing other coun­tries of cy­ber es­pi­onage.

Mean­while, the two coun­tries saw a dra­matic in­crease of high-level vis­its in 2013.

In Au­gust, China’s new De­fense Min­is­ter Chang Wan­quan paid a four-day visit to the US, see­ing the US Pa­cific Com­mand in Hawaii and the North­ern Com­mand in Colorado and then hold­ing a meet­ing at the Pen­tagon with his US coun­ter­part, Chuck Hagel.

That trip was fol­lowed by a visit to the US in early Septem­ber by Wu Shengli, com­man­der-in-chief of the PLA Navy, who vis­ited the Third Fleet in San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, and met his US coun­ter­part, Chief of US Naval Op­er­a­tions Jon Green­ert. The visit co­in­cided with a joint search-and-res­cue ex­er­cise off Hawaii in which three Chi­nese naval ships took part.

In early Novem­ber, Chi­nese naval ships ar­rived in Hawaii again to par­tic­i­pate in the joint hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and dis­as­ter relief drill. Sa­muel Lock­lear, com­man­der of the US Pa­cific Com­mand, said that the Hawaii drills will help fos­ter trust.

The Chi­nese navy has al­ready ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion to par­tic­i­pate for the first time in the Rim of the Pa­cific Ex­er­cise (RIMPAC) in 2014. China had per­vi­ously only sent ob­servers to the largest naval ex­er­cise in the world at­tended by some 20 na­tions.

Mean­while, US Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh III and other Air Force lead­ers also vis­ited China in late Septem­ber. De­fense Sec­re­tary Hagel is ex­pected to go to China in 2014 as stated by the out­come doc­u­ment of the S&ED.

Mili­raty ties

For years, bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary ties have lagged far be­hind other di­men­sions such as trade and in­vest­ment. Now, many of­fi­cials and ex­perts in both na­tions have seen such fre­quent mil­i­taryto-mil­i­tary ex­change this year as fresh hope for the two na­tions to fill the trust deficit.

How­ever, in early De­cem­ber, the USS Cow­pens, a guided mis­sile cruiser, and a Chi­nese naval ves­sel, ac­com­pa­ny­ing the coun­try’s first and only air­craft car­rier Liaon­ing, had a “nearmiss” in the South China Sea. While point­ing fin­gers at one another for the first few days, both mil­i­taries later played down the in­ci­dent, stress­ing it would not neg­a­tively af­fect the grow­ing bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary ex­changes.

“Mil­i­tary ex­changes, in­clud­ing joint ex­er­cises, have de­vel­oped in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion. Nev­er­the­less, there has not yet been agree­ment on rules of the road at sea or in the air, so ac­ci­dents are still pos­si­ble,” said Glaser of CSIS.

She said the in­ci­dent be­tween the Cow­pens and the Chi­nese ves­sel demon­strates the po­ten­tial risk and high­lights the need for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing on op­er­a­tional safety.

Tack­ling the lack of strate­gic trust that has long haunted the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions seems by no means easy.

China re­mains deeply sus­pi­cious of the US strat­egy of re­bal­anc­ing to the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, re­gard­ing it as a US scheme to dom­i­nate the re­gion by cur­tail­ing China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence.

Sta­ple­ton Roy, for­mer US am­bas­sador to China and now a dis­tin­guished scholar at the Kissinger In­sti­tute on China and the United States at the Wil­son Center, has ex­pressed his deep con­cern about the strate­gic rivalry be­tween the two coun­tries, re­flected in the Chi­nese mil­i­tary’s anti-ac­cess/area de­nial strat­egy and US Air Sea Bat­tle con­cept, which aims to take out key mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties on the Chi­nese main­land.

The two coun­tries still face the risk of a mil­i­tary col­li­sion if the dis­pute be­tween China and Ja­pan over the Diaoyu Is­lands, which Ja­pan calls Senkaku, gets out of con­trol. The US feels caught in a dilemma. It wants to avoid a di­rect mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion with China which could be calami­tous to the two na­tions, the eco­nomic vi­brant re­gion and the world. At the same time, it wants to re­as­sure Ja­pan that the al­liance treaty, which re­quires the US to de­fend Ja­pan, is still valid.

This seems par­tic­u­larly true af­ter some coun­tries in the re­gion ques­tioned the US com­mit­ment to the area af­ter Obama can­celed his trip to East Asia in early Oc­to­ber dur­ing the par­tial shut­down of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

To make up for that, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Su­san Rice made a speech on US pol­icy in Asia at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity on Nov 20, while Vice-Pres­i­dent Bi­den and Sec­re­tary of State Kerry trav­eled to the re­gion in De­cem­ber to show the US com­mit­ment to its re­bal­anc­ing strat­egy. Co­op­er­a­tion and com­pe­ti­tion

Un­like the Cold War be­tween the US and the Soviet Union, the strate­gic dis­trust be­tween China and the US ex­ists as the two largest economies be­come ever more in­ter­twined. Bi­lat­eral trade has ap­proached $500 bil­lion and mu­tual in­vest­ment has ex­ceeded $80 bil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the China-US Ex­change Foun­da­tion, the two na­tions will be­come each other’s top trad­ing part­ner by 2022. By then, the US will ex­port $450 bil­lion to China ev­ery year, sup­port­ing 2.5 mil­lion Amer­i­can jobs. Mean­while, about 10 mil­lion Chi­nese tourists will visit the US each year, from the 1.2 mil­lion in 2012.

Amer­i­cans have shown an enor­mous in­ter­est this year when the Third Plenum of the 18th CPC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee was held in Bei­jing in Novem­ber to roll out eco­nomic re­form mea­sures, which prom­ise op­por­tu­ni­ties for for­eign com­pa­nies.

“I used to have a prob­lem con­vinc­ing peo­ple that Chi­nese Party pol­i­tics is re­ally cool. Not this year, ev­ery­one wants to know how it works,” said Me­lanie Hart, a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Center for Amer­i­can Progress.

On the other hand, the US-China Se­cu­rity Project con­ducted by the Pew Center in col­lab­o­ra­tion with think tanks in both Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing found early this month that there is a low level of strate­gic trust be­tween the US and China, which could make bi­lat­eral re­la­tions more tur­bu­lent.

De­spite the lack of mu­tual trust, only small mi­nori­ties of all re­spon­dents in both coun­tries saw the other coun­try as an enemy. Most elite and pub­lic view the other coun­try as a com­peti­tor, while sub­stan­tial mi­nori­ties of all re­spon­dents saw the other na­tion as a part­ner, ac­cord­ing to the study.

Shen Dingli, as­so­ci­ate dean of the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai, said he is al­ways op­ti­mistic about the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in the long term be­cause both will change to suit their best com­mon in­ter­est. “But in the short term, the re­la­tion­ship can get worse,” said Shen, ex­press­ing his con­cern for China’s push of the ADIZ.

“I am op­ti­mistic about the over­all com­mit­ment of both sides to co­op­er­ate more closely to­gether to make the re­la­tions “work,” said Schell of the Asia So­ci­ety. But he said he is far less op­ti­mistic about the two coun­tries’ abil­ity to ac­tu­ally man­age, much less re­solve, some of the prob­lems re­lat­ing to China’s rise. Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com


Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China and US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama are shown at the An­nen­berg re­treat at Sun­ny­lands in Ran­cho Mi­rage, Cal­i­for­nia, where they met June 7-8.


A view of the Sun­ny­lands main house across one of the lakes on the golf course. US pres­i­dents, roy­alty and Hol­ly­wood stars have stayed at the 200-acre es­tate.

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