By James B. Steinberg & Michael E. O’Hanlon
(Brookings | April 7, 2017) President Xi Jinping’s upcoming meeting with President Trump is a crucially important opportunity to take stock of the state of U.S.-China relations. Prior to taking office, Trump advocated a tougher line on China, decrying China’s economic policies and, to a lesser extent, its actions ranging from military activities in the South China Sea to its support for North Korea. He even implied that absent progress, he might rethink the long-standing “One China” policy.
The president’s post-inauguration letter to Xi and the follow-up visit by Secretary Tillerson seem to have dispelled the prospect of a radical shift, but the concerns Trump has expressed mirror a view voiced by many politicians and China scholars—that China is pursuing a range of policies hostile to U.S. interests, and that a more assertive American approach is needed to reverse the deteriorating trend in U.S.-China relations.
But while many Americans are rightly worried about China’s expansionist tendencies in the South China Sea, assertive behavior towards Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, and theft of American intellectual property as well as problematic activities in cyberspace, there remains a real danger of a difficult summit—and a general downturn in U.S.-China relations more broadly—if we fail to address these concerns in proper perspective. With China now well established as the world’s number two military power, the consequences of a serious deterioration in the relationship could be worse than at any point since the Korean War.
We share many of the concerns about China’s actions in the South and East China Sea, its application of pressure on its neighbors to conform to its desired policies, and its failure to address economic policies, which are inconsistent with its avowed support for open and fair trade. These actions require a resolute and sustained U.S. response, an effort which began with President Obama’s “rebalance” policy and which must be reinforced by the new administration. Additionally, the Trump administration has a crucial need to sustain U.S. regional economic engagement in the wake of Washington’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
At the same time, it is important not to lose sight of the positive dimensions of Sino-U.S. relations, not only on cooperative endeavors such as climate change, but also in managing the areas of our considerable differences. There is a danger that in overstating the state of the “China threat” the new administration might be driven to adopt policies that would exacerbate, rather than stabilize, U.S.-China relations by skewing the country’s China policies too far towards confrontation. What is often seen as prudent “hedging” against future Chinese hostility could become instead a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The record over the past several years has been mixed. For example, in the South China Sea, there are serious questions about whether China is adhering (in spirit as well as letter) to the commitment that Xi Jinping made to President Obama not to militarize the disputed islands. At the same time, China has, at least thus far, taken a low-key response to the 2016 decision of the Law of the Sea arbitration panel (which rejected almost of all China’s positions) and avoided provocative acts, such as unilaterally declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone or interdicting shipping in waters it claims. It has also agreed to a protocol on naval safety at sea with the United States.
On cyber, a number of prominent U.S. experts reported significant declines in cyber economic espionage following the 2015 Obama-Xi “agreement,” while former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last year simply stated that the “jury is out” regarding China’s compliance. On North Korea, China supported new sanctions following North Korea’s missile launch and announced plans to halt coal imports, while at the same time engaging in economic reprisals against South Korea for its decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile system. On Taiwan, China appears to have taken some steps to pressure President Tsai Ing-wen to accept the 1992 consensus on cross-strait relations (reducing mainland tourists, blocking Taiwan’s participation in ICAO). But it has prudently reacted in rather low-key fashion to President Tsai’s famous phone call with president-elect Trump and her meetings with senior Republican leaders during her January stopover in the United States …
To read the full article, click here.
James B. Steinberg is an INSCT Distinguished Policy Advisor and University Professor, Social Science, International Affairs, and Law, Syracuse University. Michael E. O’Hanlon is Co-Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence.
Local national security expert weighs in on the attacks in Syria
(CNY Central | April 7, 2016) Right now, the United States is looking into whether Russia participated in the Syrian chemical weapons attack that provoked the airstrikes Thursday night.
It’s a revelation that could have dramatic implications.
One day after the attacks, CNYCentral is bringing in a new perspective with Vice Admiral Robert Murrett, a former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and a professor at Syracuse University.
CBS5’s Michael Benny asked Murrett some complex questions to give the community a better understanding of what exactly happened.
We started out asking why the Syrian government used a chemical gas attack on Syrians?
Murrett’s response: “There is no excuse for that, we have a responsibility to look after things like that in any country, when the leader of a nation goes after his own people with such a horrific type of weapon, then certainly the international community needs to respond and be aware of that.”
The next question we brought to the table was what is possibly going on in Syria that would cause such a thing to happen?
“The president of Syria is under a lot of pressure from the people, I think he was trying to send a message perhaps that he was still strong,” Murrett responded …
To read the whole story, click here.
Syrian Opposition Leader Hopes US Strike ‘Beginning Of The End’ Of Civil War
(KCBS (San Francisco) | April 7, 2017) A representative for the Syrian opposition says he hopes the cruise missile attack ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump against Syria helps bring about the end of a brutal six-year civil war.
“We see it as the beginning of the end of the Syrian war,” Najib Ghadbian told CBS San Francisco Friday. Ghadbian is the Syrian National Coalition’s U.S. representative and grew up in Syria before fleeing at the age of 19.
Ghadbian describes his job as a “troublemaker for the Syrian regime.”
The Syrian National Coalition was recognized by the U.S. and others in 2013. Ghadbian is also part of the United Nations High Negotiations Committee.
“Of course we welcome that,” Ghadbian said of the strikes carried out by the U.S. military Thursday (which was early Friday in Syria).
“It’s really the first response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” he said.
“Our hope is that it will not stop there … we hope it will progress into the protection of civilians … and lead to political transition without Assad,” Ghadbian said …
… Academics who have been watching the human rights abuses unfold in Syria for decades were fascinated by what appeared to be a lightning-fast foreign policy decision by the Trump administration …
… Dr. Corri Zoli with the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University told CBS San Francisco that most members of Congress who have been making public statements about the strike have supported the President, even Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who have been staunch critics of the Trump agenda. She said most U.S. allies have also come out in support of the U.S. missile attacks.
“At its best, this strike resets the international norm against use of Chemical Weapons which the Obama Administration let lapse, gives the beleaguered citizens of the Middle East hope that strong powers will not tolerate these outrageous human rights brutalities against poor civilians … At its worst, this strike could cause larger fights with Russia and Iran …” Zoli said …
To read the whole article, click here.
Syracuse Law Professor Endorses Legality of U.S. Missile Strikes Against Syria
(WAER | April 7, 2017) The chemical attack in Syria is being called a crime on humanity by a Syracuse University International law expert, who says from a moral aspect Bashar al-Assad needs to be stopped. Thursday night, President Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria as a response to the chemical weapon attack. Syracuse University Law Professor David Crane says from a legal perspective international law does allow the United States’ reprisal.
“From a practical, political point of view, the U.S. needed to be seen as a player in this part of the world. It had not been a player for many, many years particularly when President Obama had essentially pulled us out of the situation by drawing that line in the sand and then doing nothing when gas was last used against the Syrian people.”
Crane is also the founder of an international organization that operates out of Syracuse University called the Syrian Accountability Project. He says they have been monitoring war crimes there since 2011. Over 55 law students have been involved in creating a trial packet for a future international prosecutor, an effort recognized by the United Nations. Crane says they’re drafting indictments for all 13 warring parties, including an indictment against Assad.
“We have an indictment against President Assad which we modify over time and adjust based on the crimes he’s been committing, and certainly the incident that took place this week will be one of the center points in his indictment.”
Crane says the United States action could break the ice and force Russia and Iran to take action. On the other hand, now that the U.S. has proven to be a player in the region; they might have Russia, Iran, or Assad looking over their shoulders.
”There’s going to be consequences now and even though the U.N. paradigm says that we only use force as a last resort, we try to settle our disputes peacefully; at the end of the day, sometimes the use of force is required to cause another nation state to stop killing their own citizens” …
To read the whole story and listen to segments, click here.
Trump Syria Strikes Could Violate UN Laws, Constitution
(Bloomberg Radio | April 7, 2017) Michael Glennon, a professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and William Banks, Director or the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University Law School, discuss the constitutionality of President Trump’s attacks on a Syrian airbase, after Syrian forces used chemical weapons in an attack earlier in the week. They speak with Greg Stohr and Michael Best on Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Law.”
Panel discussion with:
- William C. Banks, Director, INSCT
- Robert B. Murrett, Deputy Director, INSCT
- James Steinberg, University Professor, Social Science, International Affairs, & Law
Alexander Golts is one of Russia’s leading military analysts. He is the deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian news and opinion website ej.ru (“Daily Journal“) and a columnist for The Moscow Times. He is currently a George F. Kennan Fellow at the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C. Previously, he was a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. He has written widely on the Russian military and Russian security policy.
Co-Sponsors: INSCT, Center for European Studies
David M. Crane speaks to The World at One, a news program broadcast on BBC Radio 4, in the wake of the alleged chemical attack against Syrian citizens in Idlib Province on April 4, 2017, a stronghold for rebels opposed to the Assad regime in Damascus.
Crane explains how accountability for this and other war crimes will work, that the process of accounting for these crimes might take years, that forms of justice mechanisms being considered include a Syrian-based system, and that some of the evidence a prosecutor may one day use comes from work he and his students are doing as part of the Syrian Accountability Project at Syracuse Law.
David Crane commentary starts at 15m 00s.
See also …
Photos by Frank E. Garrison