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What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California Summit?

A ChinaFile Conversation

Susan Shirk:

It’s an excellent idea for President Obama and President Xi to spend two days of quality time together at a private retreat in Southern California. Past meetings between Chinese and American presidents have been too short, formal and scripted for them to develop a genuine personal relationship and understand one another’s real intentions. Vice President Joe Biden and then-Vice-President Xi connected well when they spent almost two weeks traveling together and meeting the public first in China and then in the U.S.

Now Obama and Xi will have the same opportunity to develop the rapport that can help them solve problems and manage crises during their terms. Especially in a non-democratic country like China, the leader’s personal investment in good relations with the U.S. is one of the greatest diplomatic assets we can have.

We shouldn’t expect any major agreements or other “deliverables” to result from this meeting. The goal of the encounter is to establish the personal relationship between the two leaders and explore ways to dispel—or at least better manage—the mutual suspicions that have recently been dragging down the relationship. Both leaders are seeking to reassure one another that their intentions are not hostile.

Identifying and discussing common concerns like climate change, terrorism, and unstable regions like the Middle East are a better start than arm wrestling over contentious bilateral issues. The presidents should also be able to find common ground in their frustrations toward the provocative behavior of North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. But the presidents shouldn’t shy away from the tough issues. The value of the meeting will be increased if they can explain to one another why certain actions by the other country—for example, Chinese cyberattacks on American firms and American surveillance activities in Chinese coastal waters—are considered highly offensive.

Obama and Xi also can build empathy by discussing the daunting problems they both face at home. Obama will want to ask Xi what he expects to accomplish in the new round of economic reforms that are being drafted right now. And Xi will want to ask Obama whether he expects to ever get a budget agreement with the Congress. In explaining the political hurdles they face in their domestic initiatives, they can teach one another about the domestic political context in which they operate better than any book or intel briefing can ever do.

Responses

The reason why so many Americans and Chinese alike look back on the 1972 Nixon/Kissinger visit to China and their interchange with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai with such nostalgia is that it was the last time that U.S.-China relations were visited by a breakthrough that truly transformed the nature of the bilateral relationship. Ever since, we have kept yearning that current leaders would again find a way to transcend existing differences, recognize the myriad number of growing common interests and begin to collaborate in a new and more active way. 

But alas, even as our two economies have become ever more intertwined, because of our our very complex history, very different political systems, opposing ideologies and the deep funds of mutual suspicion about the motives of the other that exists on both sides of the divide, Washington and Beijing have been able to do little more than maintain a reasonably functional level of mutual tolerance.  Yet still we dream on, entertaining hopes that somehow, someday, some leader will be able to find the magic key, manage to turn it in the lock and open a new enchanting doorway to a more collaborative relationship.

Now Presidents Obama and Xi have very hopefully decided to grab a few, last minute, informal days together at Walter Annenberg’s former estate, Sunnylands, in Palm Springs, California, as Xi returns home from the Carribbean and Mexico. Once again fantasies of a breakthrough between our two increasingly seminal countries are arising. But, at such a moment it is important to remind ourselves that electrifying breakthroughs – such as the ones effected by Nixon and Kissinger in 1972 or Richard Holbrooke with Slobodan Milosevic in 1998 – are not usually the way history progresses. It tends to progress haltingly in grudging increments, not in great leaps forward. As Susan Shirk correctly predicts, the best that can be hoped for is probably that the two leaders “can explain to one another why certain actions by the other country… are considered offensive.”

I think her rather modest hopes for the summit are prudent, if not correct. This does not mean, however, that the meeting will be worthless. If anything of consequence is ever to be accomplished by way of recalibrating how our two countries relate to each other, it will only be after a certain modicum of trust is established between the men at the top. And, this is a process that will not only take time, but special circumstances, namely, some quality time together, a commodity which is very hard to gain in our fast-paced modern world.

It is also worth remembering that Xi Jinping is a very different person than his predecessor, Hu Jintao, someone who remained quite elusive to American leaders to the end. (In a decade at China’s helm, he never gave a single interview to a foreign correspondent!). Xi, on the other hand, is someone whose measure we have not yet had a chance to take. And, stripped of the protective armor of protocol, state banquets, 21 gun salutes and motorcades, the two-day experience at Sunnylands may yet reveal him to be someone of a more approachable and direct nature. Indeed, the fact the Xi is not now seeking the pomp and circumstance of a Washington state visit may suggest someone who is more self-confident, practical and down-to-earth, someone who does not need to have his ego curried by the niceties of a full-fledged state visit.

In any event, if there is a re-set button to be found, it will doubtless reveal itself more readily at an informal setting like Sunnylands, where the two leaders will be sequestered without neckties and suits, or armies of security and functionaries. There they will have a chance to spend two whole days together in a congenial atmosphere in what will be an interesting litmus test for China’s new leader. Just by accepting such a venue for his first official meeting with President Obama, President Xi reveals himself as someone who is at least willing to dispense with the trappings and niceties of protocol and – we may hope – someone willing also to roll up his sleeves in a more informal way to see if he can forge a new and pragmatic kind of partnership with his American counterpart.

Orville is right that the smart money bets against an “electrifying breakthrough” at meetings like these. After all, both President Obama and – to a lesser extent – President Xi must consider the need to sell any policy pivots to constituencies within their home countries. 

That said, the Obama-Xi tête-à-tête is immensely important. For the globetrotting leaders of the world’s most powerful countries, something approaching two days of dedicated interaction is a long time, and will surely provide ample chance for the building of a real personal relationship.  If nothing else, personal affinity between the two would erect an important bulwark against potentially catastrophic misunderstanding. 

Charisma plays a role, albeit one too often discounted by foreign policy hands. Grassroots chatter suggests Chinese like the cut of Xi Jinping’s jib quite a bit more than his seemingly aloof predecessor. President Obama probably agrees.

With a breakthrough unlikely, the next-best outcome is the beginnings of a shared vision for what U.S.-China relations should look like in the coming decade. Xi has made noise about a “new type of great power relationship.” But that could mean anything; it’s up to these two men to fill in the blanks, before someone else does.

There are lots of reasons to look with favor on the Xi-Obama meeting at Sunnylands, the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage, CA.

Let me offer a quirky first reason: the staffs are going to like it.  As one who has seen at close range the grinding, soul-destroying battles over symbolic gestures, over choreography, over head table seating, over press release fine tuning, over state-visit ceremonial niceties, etc., I can almost hear the sighs of relief from both sides at the idea of a low-profile, low-ceremony meeting of two mature adults in a quiet place.  And that staff uplift is likely to be a big plus, during and after the meeting. Ultimately, the worker-bees need to get along smoothly and communicate well if this U.S.-China relationship is to survive and prosper.

Next, of course, desert California is far from Capitol Hill (though one of California’s most sensible Congressmen on China issues for many years, Rep. David Dreier, former Chair of the House Rules Committee, is now chairing the Annenberg-Dreier Commission on the Greater Pacific; his appointment was announced at Sunnylands in February, and we may presume he will be near at hand during the Xi-Obama visit).  China has been, and remains, a subject not only of serious concern on and near Capitol Hill but of frequent, opportunistic publicity-hunting, and it is well that, at a time of great sensitivity, the engagement of the two Presidents not be made an occasion for explosive comedy, high or low.  Again, I have seen at close range the magnetism, for people and groups with all manner of agendas and “messages,” of a high-profile, heavily media-driven event in a large American city, let along Washington, D.C. itself.  Rancho Mirage will not offer that same magnetic field.

On the issues, of course, there is much to discuss: Susan Shirk has already put her finger on many of them, and indeed they are no secret.  Whether or not we swallow whole the “most important bilateral relationship” mantra (how recently it was applied to U.S.-Japan relations, followed, in former Ambassador Mike Mansfield’s memorable phrasing, by the two words “bar none”), the numbers speak for themselves, e.g. on which two nations are responsible for the biggest share of greenhouse gases. I’m comfortable with the general formulation that the U.S. and China, working together, may not be able to solve the great problems facing humanity, but it is certain that such problems cannot be addressed unless the U.S. and China work together.

It’s always easy to write faux “policy memos” to top government leaders when they are preparing to assume their offices, or, as in this case, when they are preparing to sit down with one another, and seen from the inside such exercises usually seem superfluous.  So I won’t pretend to be telling Messrs. Obama and Xi what they ought to do, think, or say when they meet.

I would just offer a couple of observations for American observers.

Remember “Ron and Yasu”?  That was the chummy formulation that emanated (on the U.S. side) from some meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Japan’s Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro.  It resonated with lots of Americans, including the media, for whom the hint of instant intimacy seemed to portend an easy resolution of tough bilateral issues. It didn’t, and I am pretty sure President Obama and his team will not indulge in any “Barack and Jinping” nonsense. Americans should expect none of that—in fact, we must hope for none of that. Running China, and trying to govern the U.S., is serious business.  These two men are, moreover, essentially, strangers.  Instant intimacy is out of the question, and any pretensions to it would be counterproductive in raising unrealistic popular expectations (and new opportunities for political satire).

What ARE we to expect, then?  Let’s say “hope for” instead.   I’d say, if we’re  lucky, a cordial press release indicating that these two leaders have personally dedicated themselves to a sustained effort at building on the positive dimensions of the U.S.-China relationship and working patiently at the many negative elements in it.  That’s one thing.

Next, possibly an announcement of one or more agreements to cooperate, at the presidential level, in ways that do not require heavy political lifting by the U.S. president.  We are stuck in the partisan mud.  Who among us would believe today that partisanship stops “at the water’s edge”?  Nothing friendly that the U.S. president might agree to with his Chinese counterpart, at this moment, is likely to go anywhere if it requires Congressional signoff; we know that without my having to say it.  So Mr. Obama’s staff is likely to be pondering what initiatives their boss can commit to, within his statutory authority, that don’t require anything of Congress.  Hopefully, in the usual staff-to-staff work that precedes any summit meeting between any two leaders, both sides are working on shared possibilities.

But, just to wrap this up, I would say that the best results of this meeting might turn out to be unannounced altogether.

The two countries, and their leaders, operate under the harsh glare of publicity and domestic politics.  Next, perhaps, to whacking the IRS, China has been a top hot-button issue in US politics since the 1940s, in different circumstances, and particularly since 1989 (think of candidate Bill Clinton’s barbed pledge, aimed at President G. H. W. Bush, of “an America that will not coddle dictators, from Baghdad to Beijing,” and the furious assaults on President Clinton over China throughout his presidency).  The growth of Chinese economic and military power in the past decade has given rise to periodic storms in American politics, as shown most recently in the 2012 presidential campaign (as crassly opportunistic, and ineffective,  as those anti-China ads were).  And in China, vast numbers of netizens— and plenty of commentators in mass publications—daily lash the United States for allegedly conspiring to block China’s legitimate goals of “National Rejuvenation” and expanding global influence.  Stock-phrase rhetoric about hostile “Western Forces” pollutes the public opinion universe in China, seemingly tolerated, if not encouraged, by the highest political authorities.

What we should hope for, then, is actually more invisible progress:  a quiet diminution of the constant stoking of hostile opinion, unannounced reductions in various kinds of dangerous and inflammatory behavior (cyber behavior is another obvious starting place), and the gradual use of “reciprocal unilateralism” — each country’s unilateral build-down from the current heights of angry tension without the slightest acknowledgment that the other side has compelled it to act—to cool current fires and establish the clear fact that finding accommodation is very, very high on each leader’s agenda.  It will be interesting, for example, in the wake of Rancho Mirage, to see whether the endless derisory or insulting phrase-making about the U.S., in officially authorized media in China, diminishes; that would be a welcome signal.

Neither China nor the U.S. is ever going to take an action demanded by the other side and then say, “We did it because you told us to.” People who entertain such dreams are living in a dangerous fantasyland.  What we can hope for out of this rare private meeting is that two sophisticated leaders of huge and powerful nations, each with a very full agenda of domestic  challenges and limited time to sit down together as they will do at Rancho Mirage, can dedicate themselves to reinforcing the positive foundations of their countries’ bilateral relations and acknowledge, however privately, that keeping the spirit of cooperation alive between Washington and Beijing is in the best interests of both nations, whether it makes headlines or not.

Let me chime in briefly. I think that one of the most important things that could come out of the Xi-Obama meeting would be for both presidents to stand up and speak in concrete terms about how and why the U.S.-China relationship benefits the people of each country. Neither president has made the case effectively to date. In the economic realm, for example, Xi Jinping could talk about the importance of U.S. investment, trade, and technology transfer to China’s economic development over the past thirty years, the role of U.S. NGOs in promoting civil society development, and the importance of the United States in securing trade routes for Chinese goods.  President Obama could speak to the Chinese purchase of treasury bonds, the potential of Chinese investment in the U.S. economy to bring real jobs, and the role of Chinese-manufactured goods in keeping prices down for American consumers.  If there is any reality to an impending partnership on climate change—one has been rumored around the issue of promoting energy efficient buildings—this would be the time for the two leaders to talk about it.

It doesn’t do any good to inflate the relationship beyond where it really is or is likely to go in the near future. At the same time, it isn’t healthy to focus solely on the ever-increasing number of frictions between the two countries. If the U.S.-China relationship is ever going to improve, Presidents Xi and Obama will have to dig deep to find areas where each country has contributed to the prosperity or social well-being of the other and begin to lay the foundation for the “new type of relations between major powers” for which everyone seems to be clamoring.

I hope our president avoids signing on to “a new type of great power relationship.” This is Chinese code for the U.S. preemptively yielding to what China views as its legitimate security interests. These interests are quite expansive—acceptance of the Chinese regime as it is, human rights violations and all; acceptance of China’s territorial demands in the East and South China Seas; deference to China’s views on the rules governing international trade, currency, climate change, humanitarian intervention, and so on.  In the eyes of Chinese policy makers, the U.S. engages in “old type” great power politics—Cold War politics—when it supports pro-democracy groups, promotes Internet freedom, conducts “Freedom of Navigation operations” in the South China Sea, and sells weapons to Taiwan.  I’m all in favor of accommodating China’s rise in a way that also preserves the security of the U.S. and its friends and allies. But I think a new equilibrium between American and Chinese interests will have to be achieved by painstaking work on concrete issues over a long period of time, often in a contentious environment. We will not advance matters by agreeing to a fine-sounding principle that will itself become a source of misunderstanding and disagreement.

I don’t know what Xi means, but I suspect Andy is right.

We have seen a foreshadowing in the Chinese elaboration of “core interests” since 2009. One can confidently add themes like non- interference, state sovereignty etc.

I am in favor, of course, of this shirtsleeve, private, remote location meeting—indeed I proposed exactly this scenario in a speech I delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center in April. Obama should ask Xi what he means about this; clearly it would be good to avoid the “Thucydides” Trap” of rising and established powers—in history war leads peace 12 to 3. He should also ask about the meaning of “the Renaissance of the Chinese nation/dream.” Xi should ask Obama about our Asia policy and how we really feel about China’s rise. 

As for what to do in the  context of these strategic exchanges, the issue of trust, how to manage the relationship, priorities etc., my views, as expressed in my speech, generally track with the comments that have been submitted.

To circle back to Andy’s comment, it is crucial to avoid further misunderstandings as well as to seek progress. Obama should therefore be wary, but also open- minded, candid, sincere, and not prematurely cynical.

Susan L. Shirk is the chair of the 21st Century China Program and Ho Miu Lam Professor of China and Pacific Relations at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at UC San...
Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate...
David Wertime is the co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation, an English-language web site that analyzes Chinese media. Founded in December 2011, Tea Leaf Nation was acquired in September 2013 by the...
Robert Kapp began his working career as an historian of twentieth century China at Rice University and the University of Washington. However, his main career contributions have been to the building...
Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s...
Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He is also chair of the steering committee of the Center for the Study of Human Rights and chair of the...
Winston Lord was U.S. Ambassador to China from 1985 to 1989. He was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in 1993. Before assuming his duties, Ambassador Lord...
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08.21.13

Is Xi Jinping Redder Than Bo Xilai Or Vice Versa?

MICHAEL ANTI & SHAI OSTER

Michael Anti:Competing for Redness: The Scarlet Bo vs the Vermilion Xi?Bo Xilai, the fallen Chinese princeling famous for leading a “Red Songs” communist campaign in southwest China's megacity Chongqing, is on trial today, live-Twittered from Jinan in Shandong province, east...

Blog

08.15.13

What Should China Do to Reverse its Tourism Deficit?

THE EDITORS, LEAH THOMPSON & others

The Editors: Recent news stories and industry studies show that fewer international visitors are choosing China as their destination. January-June arrivals in Beijing are down 15% from the same period in 2012 and more Chinese than ever before are spending their money to travel...

Blog

08.07.13

What Will Come out of the Communist Party’s Polling...

DAVID WERTIME, DUNCAN CLARK & others

David Wertime:Simon Denyer’s recent article (“In China, Communist Party Takes Unprecedented Step: It Is Listening,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2013) provides a valuable look at some of the ways that Chinese authority mines domestic micro-blogging platforms like Weibo...

Blog

08.01.13

How Dangerous Are Sino-Japanese Tensions?

JEROME A. COHEN

Sino-Japanese relations do not look promising at the moment. Obviously, the Diaoyu-Senkaku dispute is not the only factor in play but it does focus nationalist passions on both sides. Yet both countries are capable of wiser conduct if their leaders can manage to rise above the...

Blog

07.30.13

Is Business in China Getting Riskier, Or Are...

ARTHUR R. KROEBER , DAVID SCHLESINGER & others

Arthur Kroeber:The environment for foreign companies in China has been getting steadily tougher since 2006, when the nation came to the end of a five-year schedule of market-opening measures it pledged as the price of admission to the World Trade Organization. Soon after the WTO-...

Blog

07.25.13

The Bo Xilai Trial: What’s It Really About?

THE EDITORS, JEROME A. COHEN & others

The Editors:China has charged disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai with bribery, abuse of power and corruption, paving the way for a potentially divisive trial. But what’s at stake goes beyond the fate of one allegedly corrupt official: Is it really a fight between factions in...

Blog

07.23.13

What Would a Hard Landing in China Mean for the World?

BARRY NAUGHTON, JAMES MCGREGOR & others

Barry Naughton:Paul Krugman in a recent post (“How Much Should We Worry About a China Shock?” The New York Times, July 20, 2013) tells us NOT to worry about the impact of a slowing China on global exports, but to be worried, very worried about the indirect and unanticipated...

Blog

07.18.13

Xu Zhiyong Arrested: How Serious Can Beijing Be About...

DONALD CLARKE, ANDREW J. NATHAN & others

Donald Clarke:When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka Seltzer to settle an upset constitution. I searched the web site of The New...

Blog

07.16.13

What’s the Senate’s Beef with China’s Play for...

THE EDITORS, ARTHUR R. KROEBER & others

The Editors:Last week the U.S. Senate held hearings to question the CEO of meat-producer Smithfield Farms, about the proposed $4.7 billion sale of the Virginia-based company to Shuanghui International, China’s largest pork producer. The sale is under review by the Committee on...

Blog

07.09.13

What Is the “Chinese Dream” Really All About?

STEIN RINGEN, JEREMY GOLDKORN & others

Stein Ringen:I’m coming to the view that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is a signal from the leadership of great import that has much to say about the nature of the Chinese state. It is striking, in my opinion, how effectively and rapidly the system swung into action to interpret and...

Blog

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

THE EDITORS, FEI WANG & others

The Editors: Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the core provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act is not only “a stride toward greater equality in the United States, but also a shift that will reverberate far beyond our shores,” wrote novelist and...

Blog

06.27.13

Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR, WINSTON LORD & others

Roderick MacFarquhar:Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader.  Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn't...

Blog

06.25.13

How Badly Have Snowden’s Leaks Hurt U.S.-China...

MATT SCHIAVENZA

Matt Schiavenza:In the understatement of the day, the United States is unhappy with the recent developments of the Edward Snowden situation. Just three days ago, Washington was in negotiations with Hong Kong to file a warrant for Snowden's arrest, a process which the U.S. hoped...

Blog

06.21.13

How Should the World Prepare for a Slower China?

ARTHUR R. KROEBER & PATRICK CHOVANEC

Get Ready for a Slower ChinaThe recent gyrations on the Chinese interbank market underscore that the chief risk to global growth now comes from China. Make no mistake: credit policy will tighten substantially in the coming months, as the government tries to push loan growth from...

Blog

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on...

THE EDITORS, SHAI OSTER & others

The Editors: For today’s ChinaFile Conversation we asked contributors to react to the following excerpt from an op-ed published on Monday June 17 in the Global Times about Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old American contract intelligence analyst who last week in Hong Kong...

Blog

06.13.13

Who’d You Rather Be Watched By: China or the U.S.?

THE EDITORS, TAI MING CHEUNG & others

Editor’s note:Reports of U.S. gathering data on emails and phone calls have stoked fears of an over-reaching government spying on its citizens. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei worries that China will use the U.S. as an example to bolster its argument for surveillance on dissidents....

Blog

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U....

NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, SHARON HOM & others

Nicholas Bequelin:The best way to advance human rights in the U.S.-China relationship is first and foremost to recognize that the engine of human rights progress in China today is the Chinese citizenry itself. Such progress is neither the product of a gradual enlightenment of the...

Blog

06.06.13

What Would the Best U.S.-China Joint Statement Say?

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & others

As we approach the June 7-8 meeting in California of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping we are holding a small contest. We have asked ChinaFile Conversation regulars and a few guests to envision their ideal Sunnylands summit and then write the joint...

Blog

06.04.13

How Would Facing Its Past Change China’s Future?

DAVID WERTIME, ISABEL HILTON & others

David Wertime:The memory of the 1989 massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square remains neither alive nor dead, neither reckoned nor obliterated. Instead, it hangs spectre-like in the background, a muted but latently powerful symbol of resistance.There’s no question that an...

Blog

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations...

MICHAEL KULMA, MARK FRAZIER & others

Mike Kulma:Earlier this week at an Asia Society forum on U.S.-China economic relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger remarked that when the U.S. first started down the path of normalizing relations with China in the early 1970s, the economic relationship and trade between the two...

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05.21.13

U.S.-China Economic Relations—What Will the Next...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

On Monday, within hours of the announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on a visit to California on June 7-8, Tung Chee-hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, introduced former U.S....

Blog

05.16.13

China: What’s Going Right?

MICHAEL ZHAO, JAMES FALLOWS & others

Michael Zhao:On a recent trip to China, meeting mostly with former colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I got a dose of optimism and hope for one aspect of the motherland. In terms of science, or laying down a solid foundation for better science to come, things are...

Blog

05.14.13

Why Can’t China Make Its Food Safe?—Or Can It?

ALEX WANG, JOHN C. BALZANO & others

The month my wife and I moved to Beijing in 2004, I saw a bag of oatmeal at our local grocery store prominently labeled: “NOT POLLUTED!” How funny that this would be a selling point, we thought.But 7 years later as we prepared to return to the US, what was once a joke had...

Blog

05.10.13

What’s China’s Game in the Middle East?

RACHEL BEITARIE, MASSOUD HAYOUN & others

Rachel Beitarie:Xi Jinping’s four point proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is interesting not so much for its content, as for its source. While China has maintained the appearance of being involved in Middle East politics for years, its top leaders, so far,...

Blog

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese...

RACHEL LU, ANDREW J. NATHAN & others

With a population base of 1.3 billion people, China has no shortage of strange and gruesome crimes, but the attempted murder of Zhu Ling by thallium poisoning in 1995 is burning up China’s social media long after the trails have gone cold. Zhu, a brilliant and beautiful...

Blog

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm...

THE EDITORS, STEPHANIE T. KLEINE-AHLBRANDT & others

On April 30, as tensions around China’s claims to territories in the South- and East China Seas continued to simmer, we began what proved to be a popular ChinaFile Conversation, asking the question, What's Really at the Core of China’s ‘Core Interests’? The participants...

Blog

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core...

SHAI OSTER, ANDREW J. NATHAN & others

Shai Oster:It’s Pilates diplomacy—work on your core. China’s diplomats keep talking about China’s core interests and it’s a growing list. In 2011, China included its political system and social stability as core interests. This year, it has added a vast chunk of the...

Blog

04.25.13

Hollywood in China—What’s the Price of Admission?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, YING ZHU & others

Last week, DreamWorks Animation (DWA), the Hollywood studio behind the worldwide blockbuster Kung Fu Panda films, announced that it will cooperate with the China Film Group (CFG) on an animated feature called Tibet Code, an adventure story based on a series of recent Chinese...

Blog

04.23.13

How Would You Spend (the Next) $300 Million on U.S.-...

ORVILLE SCHELL & MICHAEL KULMA

Orville Schell:When Stephen A. Schwarzman announced his new $300 million program aimed at sending foreign scholars to Tsinghua University in Beijing the way Rhodes Scholarship, set up by the businessman and statesman Cecil Rhodes in 1902 began sending American scholars to Oxford...

Blog

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, BARRY NAUGHTON & others

Slower Chinese GDP growth is not a bad thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. But it’s not happening for the right reasons.Instead of reining in credit to try to curb over-investment, Chinese authorities have allowed a renewed explosion in credit in an effort to fuel...

Blog

04.16.13

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press?

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & others

To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.  In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda Department.  That’s the first...

Blog

04.11.13

Why Is Chinese Soft Power Such a Hard Sell?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, DONALD CLARKE & others

Jeremy Goldkorn:Chairman Mao Zedong said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and he knew a thing or two about power, both hard and soft. If you have enough guns, you have respect. Money is the same: if you have enough cash, you can buy guns, and respect.Israel and Saudi...

Blog

04.03.13

Bird Flu Fears: Should We Trust Beijing This Time?

DAVID WERTIME, YANZHONG HUANG & others

David Wertime:A new strain of avian flu called H7N9 has infected at least seven humans and killed three in provinces near the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai, with the first death occurring on March 4. Meanwhile, in the last month, about 16,000 pigs, 1,000 ducks, and a few swans...

Blog

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What...

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & others

Jeremy Goldkorn:On March 22, before the foreign media or Apple themselves seemed to have grasped the seriousness of the CCTV attacks on the Californian behemoth, I wrote a post on Danwei.com that concluded:“The signs are clear that regulators and establishment media would both...

Blog

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, DAMIEN MA & others

Patrick Chovanec:This week’s news that Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement gave a renewed boost to excited chatter over the rising influence of China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB). The belief, in many quarters, is that the renminbi is well on...

Blog

03.26.13

Can China Transform Africa?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & others

Jeremy Goldkorn:The question is all wrong. China is already transforming Africa, the question is how China is transforming Africa, not whether it can. From the “China shops”—small stores selling cheap clothing, bags, and kitchenware—that have become ubiquitous in Southern...

Blog

03.19.13

China’s New Leaders Say They Want to Fight Corruption...

ANDREW J. NATHAN & OUYANG BIN

In his first press conference after taking office as China's new premier, Li Keqiang declared that one of his top priorities would be to fight corruption, because “Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and water.” This put Li on message...

Blog

03.15.13

Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure...

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ALEXA OLESEN & others

Dorinda Elliott:China’s recent decision to phase out the agency that oversees the one-child policy has raised questions about whether the policy itself will be dropped—and whether it was a success or a failure.Aside from the burdens only children feel when it comes...

Blog

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All...

SUN YUNFAN, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

This week, the ChinaFile Conversation is a call for reactions to an article about China's current generation gap, written by James Palmer, a Beijing-based historian, author, and Global Times editor. The article, first published by Aeon in the U.K., “The Balinghou: Chinese...

Blog

03.08.13

Will China’s Property Market Crash, and So What If It...

DORINDA ELLIOTT & BILL BISHOP

Dorinda Elliott:At this week’s National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed that the government kept housing prices from rising too fast. Really? I wonder what my 28-year-old Shanghainese friend Robert thinks about that. He and his fiancée could never...

Blog

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign...

ORVILLE SCHELL, SUSAN SHIRK & others

Orville Schell:What may end up being most significant about the new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea, which China seems willing to sign, may not be what it amounts to in terms of denuclearizing the DPRK, but what it...

Blog

03.01.13

Is America’s Door Really Open to China’s Investment...

DANIEL H. ROSEN, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

Daniel Rosen:There have not been many new topics in U.S.-China economic relations over the past decade: the trade balance, offshoring of jobs, Chinese holding of U.S. government debt, whether China’s currency is undervalued and intellectual property protection problems have...

Blog

02.27.13

How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

ELIZABETH ECONOMY, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

Elizabeth Economy:The environment is center stage once again in China. A Chinese lawyer has requested the findings of a national survey on soil pollution from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and been denied on the grounds that the information is a state secret. (The...

Blog

02.22.13

Will Investment in China Grow or Shrink?

DONALD CLARKE & DAVID SCHLESINGER

Donald Clarke:I don’t have the answer as to whether investment in China will grow or shrink, but I do have a few suggestions for how to think about the question. First, we have to clarify why we want to know the answer to this question: what do we think it will tell us? This...

Blog

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, JAMES FALLOWS & others

Jonathan Landreth:With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor Elizabeth Economy on the road, I turned to her colleague Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Segal said that “the time for naming and...

Blog

02.15.13

U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do?

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ELIZABETH ECONOMY & others

Dorinda Elliott:On a recent trip to China, I heard a lot of scary talk of potential war over the disputed Diaoyu Islands—this from both senior intellectual types and also just regular people, from an elderly calligraphy expert to a middle-aged history professor. People seemed...

Blog

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How...

WINSTON LORD, TAI MING CHEUNG & others

China is increasingly frustrated with North Korea and may even see more clearly that its actions only serve to increase allied unity, stimulate Japanese militarism and accelerate missile defense. For all these reasons the U.S. should lean on Beijing to—at last—not only help...

Blog

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to...

ANDREW J. NATHAN, SUSAN SHIRK & others

Andrew Nathan:The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping seems to be making some bold opening moves with its attacks on corruption and the announcement on February 5 of plans to reduce the polarization of incomes.  Does this mean Xi is leading China in new directions? ...

Blog

02.06.13

Airpocalypse Now: China’s Tipping Point?

ALEX WANG, ORVILLE SCHELL & others

The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in airport smoking lounges. At its worst, Beijing air quality has approached levels only seen in the United States during wildfires.All of the comparisons to London, Los Angeles, and New...

Blog

02.01.13

China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost?

JAMES FALLOWS, DONALD CLARKE & others

James Fallows: Here are some initial reactions on the latest hacking news.We call this the “latest” news because I don’t think anyone, in China or outside, is actually surprised. In my own experience in China, which is limited compared with many of yours, I’ve seen the...

Blog

01.30.13

China, Japan and the Islands: What Do the Tensions Mean...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & others

How did the Diaoyu, Spratly, and Paracel islands come to replace Taiwan as the main source of tension for maritime Asia? And how are we to explain the fact that China’s foreign policy toward its Asian neighbors has now morphed from such slogans as: “Keep our heads down, and...

DISCUSSION

The Popularity of Chinese Patriotism

MARTIN BERNAL

Fundamentally China is a sellers’ market. The first half of this century, when there was a glut of books, seems to have been the exception. Since 1949 a veil has once more been drawn over the center of the mysterious east, and the situation has reverted to that of the...

Mao’s China

MARTIN BERNAL

To most Westerners China is not a part of the known world and Mao is not a figure of our time. The ignorant believe he is the leader of a host of martians whose sole occupation is plotting the destruction of civilization and the enslavement of mankind. The more sophisticated say...

Contradictions

MARTIN BERNAL

Professor Schurmann is not modest. Near the beginning of his book he writes: “translations from Chinese, Russian and Japanese are my own, and hundreds of articles had to be read in the original Chinese with precision and at the same time extensively. It was important to...