U.S.-China summit: New jobs, human rights, state dinner

Jan 19, 2011

Daniel Kliman, a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security and contributor to the Asia-Pacific Security Program, will be online Wednesday, Jan. 19, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, growing investment by Chinese companies in the U.S. creating more jobs for Americans, human rights issues, compliance on Iran sanctions and more.

Hi, I'm Dan Kliman from the Center for a New American Security doing a Q&A on the Hu visit and U.S.-China relations more broadly. Looking forward to your questions!

Apologies for the delay - I'm back on now.

What will be the key take-aways of the visit for the U.S. and China? Is there any common ground for both countries?

Let's start with China. Hu Jintao came to Washington looking for an affirmation of China's rising power and influence in the world. The pomp and ceremony accorded to Hu during his visit will convey this to China. Another Chinese takeaway will be the Obama administration’s hardening attitude. This was already evident in 2010 when the Obama administration pressed China on issues ranging from its behavior in the South China Sea to currency reevaluation. President Obama’s forthrightness on human rights and willingness to push back on security issues will convey that this new attitude is here to stay.

The news reports keep saying China has given the U.S. a $45 billion gift by buying a bunch of Boeing jets. But it sounds to me like it's Boeing that's getting the gift. I'm sure it will mean more jobs, but still just at one company.

China has pledged to make $45 billion in purchases from the United States. This includes a large order from Boeing, and will undoubtedly generate jobs in this country. But it's important to keep the $45 billion in perspective - the U.S.-China trade deficit is currently 273 billion (2010 figure). So expect trade tensions to continue.

Both administrations have made investments in alternative energy a priority. Could today's talks involve a future joint venture in this field by both of our countries?

Both the United States and China have large and growing clean energy industries. And with the United States and China the two largest emitters of CO2, it is important that both collaborate on green technology. But collaboration is a two edged sword. China seeks to become a world leader in clean energy technology, and this may come at the expense of the United States. Today's talks will focus on clean energy competition and not just collaboration - for example, the Obama administration will press China to reduce subsidies to clean energy exports. Bottom line - like most areas of the U.S.-China relationship, clean energy features a mix of cooperation and competition.

 

China is a major investor in Sudan - particularly in the country's oil industry. Because China has such a large stake in the area, do you think it would be possible for China to take a key role in future negotiations and peace talks between north and south? It seems like it would be in China's best interest to help establish a sustained stability in the region. No?

China has become a major supporter of the regime in Khartoum because of Sudan's oil resources. I agree with your main point - stability in the oil rich parts of Sudan is essential to China, so China should have an incentive to facilitate peaceful interactions between North and South. To expand on this point, Chinese investment in resource-rich, troubled parts of the world may have some positive side effects, namely, China will have a greater stake in averting local conflicts.

Why don't they have simultaneous translation for the news conference that's going on now? (They spoke of some kind of technical trouble.) It's taking too long to state a question, wait for him to answer in Chinese, wait for the translator to recite it back. Seems poorly planned out.

No matter how diligent the preparation, technology always seems to break down. Simultaneous translation would be problematic on several grounds. First, in public, Hu will want to speak in his own voice rather than be drowned out by an English language interpreter. Second, sequential translation cuts down on the amount of question time, something probably desireable from the Chinese side's perspective. At home, Hu does not face unscripted press conferences, so this can't be fun for him.

There was speculation that when Gates visited China recently the simultaneous test of China's stealth fighter might have been a disconnect between Chinese political and military leaders. What is your take on this, and do you think the test flight was meant as an intentional statement or it was just coincidental?

It's difficult to believe that the test of China's stealth fighter accidentally coincided with Gates visit. China's civilian leadership appears to have been taken by surprise as well. Civil-military relations in China are murky at best. It's possible the civilian leadership authorized the test but was unaware of when it would occur, and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) wanted to send a signal to the United States. That said, the overall tenor of China's foreign policy - increasingly assertive - likely reflects a unified view of the civilian and military leadership.

What do you feel would be the best possible outcome from this visit, e.g., giving both the U.S. and China most of what they want from it.

It is doubtful that the visit will result in  breakthroughs on major issues of contentions like human rights, China's currency, North Korea, maritime law, military transparency, etc. The United States and China either have different interests on these issues or agree on end states but not on how to achieve them. A denuclearized North Korea is a case in point. Good outcomes from the summit would include:

1. China recognizes that despite the global financial crisis the United States remains the world's preeminent power and that China's recent assertiveness is counterproductive

2. The United States achieves some limited Chinese deliverables like the $45 billion commercial package

3. The two countries become more accustomed to coexisting despite enduring mistrust

Do you believe that our current relationship with China could be a prelude to a situation similar to the one we had with Japan in the eighties and early nineties? One of China taking advantage of an economic juxtaposition, gaining control of a market base such as manufacturing?

There are some parallels between China currently and Japan during the 1980s and early 1990s. Like Japan then, China employs mercantilist economic practices. China's artificially cheap currency and export subsidies give its firms an unfair advantage. And China has made it increasingly difficult for foreign firms operating in its domestic market.

But the economic challenge posed by China is based on more than mercantilist policies. China has invested in its roads, ports, and rails, greatly improved the quality of its educational system, and ramped up R&D spending. In other words, China is becoming more economically competitive by legitimate means. The United States and China are not destined to become strategic rivals, but competition for the commanding heights of the global economy is probably inevitable.

Why on earth would China be building a new manned fighter, when unmanned aircraft are the future? In 20 years, no manned fighter will have a chance against the unmanned aircraft. Is China building the new stealth fighter for political purposes instead of military ones.

At this point the jury is out on the future of manned aircraft. Although UAVs can undertake missions piloted aircraft cannot, they are not a replacement for piloted fighter jets just yet. Moreover, a sophisticated UAV would be useless without connectitvity to an operator - not something to be taken for granted as cyber threats increase. So China, like the United States, is not ready to go unmanned yet.

 

There may also be a political dimension to China's stealth fighter. Such aircraft are symbolic of U.S. military power. China may want stealth fighters as a symbol of its own military strength, and not just for the military utility.

Isn't Sudan a questionable country to get involved with, with all the human rights, war crimes and elections violations they're accused of? Isn't this what actor/activist George Clooney talks about all the time? What is the U.S. reaction to China's relationship with Sudan in light of the well-known charges mentioned above?

The United States is troubled by China's relationship with Sudan. As you noted, Sudan has a terrible human rights record. From China's perspective, however, this is unimportant. China requires resources to keep its economy growing, a prerequesite for domestic stability. Sudan has oil, so China has forged good relations with the regime in Khartoum and generally acted as its international protector. Unfortunately, aside from naming and shaming, U.S. options to pressure China on Sudan are relatively limited.

Excellent questions on the Hu visit. As these questions demonstrated, the U.S.-China relationship is complex, characterized by a sometimes uneasy mix of cooperation and competition. Thanks for joining this conversation.

In This Chat
Daniel Kliman
Daniel Kliman is a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He contributes to the Asia-Pacific Security Program and other initiatives, and has authored one report, Renewal: Revitalizing the U.S.-Japan Alliance.
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