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July 27, 2009
He SED, she SED: This week’s dialogue with China

Photo: Department of State

Believe it or not, in the upcoming “Strategic & Economic Dialogue” with China, the “&” signals a key process and policy shift for the United States.

China policy under the Bush administration was a rare showcase of foreign policy competence and moderation — after a rocky beginning during which Cold War hawks gained the upper hand — in part because it developed into a twice-yearly negotiating session with the Chinese called the Strategic Economic Dialogue, led by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Useful as that forum was, however, it always seemed misguided to have the Treasury Department coordinating the nation’s China policy given the weighty security issues on the bilateral plate, among them avian flu and North Korea’s nuclear program.

So when Hillary Clinton took the reins at the Department of State, her promise of a more comprehensive approach to China was welcome. The “&” soon followed. Today she will co-chair the first S&ED along with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and their Chinese counterparts State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice Premier Wang Qishan.

With that change and others, the Obama administration is getting off to a promising start on China policy. Even so, differences between Washington and Beijing in approaches to global challenges will be very difficult to overcome.

All Clinton and Geithner, Dai and Wang will attend the first half-day of meetings, which will address issues such as climate and clean energy that touch both security and economic concerns—an unusual effort to tackle a cross-cutting issue using a cross-cutting format. Then the two sets of wonks will go their separate ways and get more into the weeds on issues such as, for the Treasury side, economic stimulus and currency and, for State, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Myanmar and Iran. Other cabinet officials, among them Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, will join for their particular topics.

The Obama administration has slightly shifted the frame of the bilateral relationship toward one where two big powers, not equal, but both very consequential, will together tackle shared challenges. While the United States and China will continue to discuss and grapple with contentious bilateral issues—human rights, the trade imbalance, industrial espionage, a lack of military transparency, and Taiwan, among others—a collaborative approach to shared global problems is a new focus. Such a frame could encourage China to make more responsible choices because the most important bilateral relationship Beijing has will be shining a spotlight on global problem-solving.

Progress down this path will be very slow, and the ratio of negotiating to breakthroughs frustratingly high. The United States and China share top-level goals on the most dire transnational threats—preventing new nuclear states, halting climate change, fixing the economic crisis, and halting the spread of deadly viruses—but the differences in strategies, priorities, and perceptions that inform those aspirations are always very difficult to bridge.

Sino-American collaboration over North Korea’s nuclear program reeks of this duality. More than on any other national security threat the United States cares about, Beijing has stepped up to the plate, hosting the Six Party Talks, drafting documents, and even —in a real break from its typical opposition to such invasive measures—voting twice in favor of tough sanctions against Pyongyang at the United Nations. Yet when push comes to shove, China prefers a nuclear North Korea to a collapsed one, or so it seems, whereas America prefers the opposite.

The good news is there is a healthy debate in China right now about whether to turn the screws on its northern neighbor. Maybe that second nuclear test was really straw that broke the camel’s back for Beijing.

Climate is similarly fraught and has the makings of a full-on political maelstrom. China is a Blue-Dog Democrat when it comes to climate. Unlike many right-wing politicians, Beijing’s rulers — many of them engineers — believe the science of global warming. They understand the earth is heating up because of human activity and that the consequences of those trends could be devastating to China.

Nevertheless, because the West grew rich spewing carbon, because much of its own population remains very poor with low per-capita energy use, and because the regime must, for its own preservation, keep economic growth going, greenhouse gases or not, Beijing wants someone else—the United States and Europe—to pay the price. Beijing has thus called on the West to commit to targets that everyone knows are ridiculous and impossible.

In contrast, some Blue Dogs in the U.S. Congress are inclined to ensure that the United States isn’t shouldering an unfair burden by placing tariffs on Chinese goods if China doesn’t accept binding limits on its emissions during the global climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December. This could add fuel to an already firey trade relationship.

Yet many “clean-energy” collaborations with China are in the works. And perhaps China’s current posturing is just that—knowing that the future of the planet is on the line, it will make key concessions in December.

While the “&” marks an improvement in process, we can’t expect any big announcements when this week’s S&ED concludes. Later this year Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao will meet twice, once in New York and once in Beijing. Hopefully they will have more to reveal.

– Nina Hachigian

This post originally appeared on the Center for American Progress.

July 23, 2009
Who’s watching President Obama?

Who’s watching President Obama?

This is a really interesting set of maps detailing where in the world some of the president’s speeches are most popular.

And if you weren’t one of the 8 million first people to watch that Ellen episode where he dances, that link is there too.

– Nina Hachigian

July 23, 2009
Great power overdrive, from Beijing to Moscow to Delhi

Secretary of Clinton rounded out the emerging power circuit with a trip to India this week.

The Obama administration has been in overdrive building America’s pivotal power relationships with China, Russia and now India. For reasons Mona Sutphen and I describe in our book, this is the right approach to big powers in the current era. A central rationale is that “strategic collaboration” will focus major power assets on transnational threats, which America cannot successfully battle alone.

A lot of legwork goes into building a working relationship, Obama officials have wasted no time. Presidents Hu and Obama have met twice, and every week seems to find another high level U.S. official in Beijing. Secretary of State Clinton was the first in history to go to China before Europe. Next week, the first Strategic & Economic Dialogue, an intense two-day conference co-chaired by Secretary Clinton and Secretary of Treasury Geitner and their Chinese counterparts, will be held in D.C.

President Obama and presidents Medvedev met and issued a comprehensive joint statement not even three months into his term, after Secretary of State Clinton had already hit the “reset” button with her counterpart.   Next came a full fledged summit in Moscow two weeks ago at which the U.S. and Russia agreed to resume arms control talks and to reinvigorate the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

Secretary of Clinton rounded out the emerging power circuit with a trip to India this week. She inaugurated a “strategic dialogue,” with Delhi and blessed deepening civilian nuclear cooperation. But she came away empty handed on climate, as Delhi refused to commit to any binding targets under a new climate treaty.

It’s one thing to build these working relationships. And it is another for them to work. While we’ve realized some important gains from these rising power relationships already, many others are elusive. The coming years will be filled with frustration as our officials invest countless hours consulting and negotiating — yet we don’t get the kind of help we want from China on North Korea or climate, from Russia on Iran, and from India on Pakistan, to name a few. But at least we will increasingly understand their perspectives, and that will lead to either more policy success or more realistic expectations.

– Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user u.s. department of state under a Creative Commons license.

July 21, 2009
It’s the little things…

A small victory in the ongoing battle against defense bloat.  This just in from the NY Times:

Senate Votes to Strip $1.75 Billion for F-22s From Defense Bill

The Senate voted 58-40 to delete financing for seven more F-22 warplanes from a defense spending bill, handing President Obama a significant victory in his efforts to reshape the military’s priorities. Mr. Obama repeatedly threatened to veto the $679.8 billion spending bill if it included any money for the planes, which had become a flashpoint in a larger battle over the administration’s push to shift more of the Pentagon’s resources from conventional warfare to fighting insurgencies.

– Nina Hachigian

July 17, 2009
Healthcare is a national security issue in more ways than one

Is pandemic disease a national security threat?

Stephen Walt’s recent post describes one of the connections between healthcare and national security. He argues that our increasingly bleak fiscal situation, combined with the aging of the baby boomer generation, may put more pressure on dollars going to defense. He suggests that actors like the AARP might start to care just how many extra F-22s Congress will insist on purchasing above and beyond what the Pentagon says it wants and needs.

There are at least two other health and national security connections, and I’ve called healthcare a “formestic” issue for this reason. First, pandemic disease, such as influenza, is one of only two outside threats (the other being a nuclear attack by terrorists) that could strike the U.S. at any time and that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. It, plainly, is a national security threat. If a pandemic ever really blew up in this country, we would be much better off if everyone had health insurance. Global cooperation and the World Health Organization are critical to protecting us from this threat.

Another linkage has to do with America’s place in the world vis-a-vis rising powers. The fact is that one of the main reasons cited by businesses that decide to offshore jobs to places like China and India is the rising costs of healthcare in this country.

Moreover, an absolutely critical driver of U.S. success — particularly in a globalized economy — is our ability to innovate. I haven’t seen any real statistics, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there to suggest that some would-be entrepreneurs opt to stay in corporate jobs because they cant give up their health insurance. We are crazy to hobble ourselves like this.

– Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user hitthatswitch under a Creative Commons license.

July 13, 2009
Better than expected from the G-8

Despite all the chaos (see my previous post), the G-8 summit in Italy ended up producing more deliverables than I thought. I made this point on CNBC on Friday to an unimpressed anchor:

The G-8 pledged $20 billion for food and farming aid. They came out with a strong statement on Iran which even Russia signed onto. And the G-8 agreed to cut their emissions by 80 percent by 2050 (although the developing economies did not go along with a set goal).

Another interesting development is that the G-8 tried to address its accountability problem. It issued its first report, prepared by experts, that tracked progress compared to pledges at the last summit. Food aid was quite behind schedule (except for you, Canada — kudos), as you can see comparing these two charts in the report:

I hope they do better on this year’s pledges.

Building in accountability mechanism is key for whatever G group emerges over the next year. This was a welcome start.

– Nina Hachigian

July 8, 2009
The three-ring G-8 summit

U.S. President Barack Obama joins other world leaders at the G-8 summit in Italy. Official photo: Maurizio Brambatti

By all accounts, planning for the upcoming Group of 8 Summit-polooza in Italy has been disastrous. Complex logistics are one problem. Ever since Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi decided to allow PR considerations to trump sanity and move the location of the summit to earthquake-stricken L’Aquila, tremor measurements and evacuation plans have dominated the news coverage.

Another cloud is Berlusconi the man, who has been plagued by multiple scandals, the most recent involving very young women with very few clothes. But the underlying trouble is the G-8 itself. The world simply needs a different set of countries at the high table of global governance to tackle today’s challenges.

Inertia is the mother of this G-8 summit. It is occurring because the member countries—the United States, Germany, Japan, France, Great Britain, Canada, Russia, and Italy—agreed a number of years ago that it would. Over the years, though, the G-8 has lost credibility because it does not reflect the realities of power, influence, and capacity in the world today. For that and other reasons, the G-8 has not been able to effectively address today’s global problems.

Yet the G-8 is the only leaders forum the world has had. So the staged meetings, the scripted communiqués, and the photo-ops have carried on, with only the occasional deliverable to interrupt the flow.

That changed in late 2008, when President George W. Bush brought the Group of 20 to life at the leaders’ level, recognizing that China, India, Brazil, and other major economies needed to be at the table to plan a coordinated response to the global economic crisis. In response, Italy this year decided that instead of giving up the G-8 host prerogative—the political equivalent of a cheetah giving up its prey—it announced it would also invite the G-20 countries to meet alongside the G-8. That idea was later pushed aside and the three-day summit now includes meetings of the G-8, the G-8 plus emerging economies, the Major Economies Forum (17 countries), and the G-8 plus emerging economies plus leaders from select African countries. That’s a lot of Gs.

The most valuable commodity in international politics—leaders’ time, especially President Barak Obama’s time—is being lavished on all these meetings. I truly hope breakthroughs result because the issues on the table could not be more serious—the economic crisis, development, and climate change, among others.

There is some cause for hope. A draft communiqué suggests that the one area where a group of rich countries such as the G-8 can add value—allocating funds to alleviate poverty—will be approached in a new and sensible way. Instead of offering food to developing countries, the G-8 may instead pledge billions for agricultural development. While that will anger U.S. farmers, it promises to be more effective at actually feeding hungry people over the long term.

There is also the possibility of an agreement to conclude the stalled Doha round of trade talks in 2010. Further, the Major Economies Forum is set to debate on an agreement to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times and solidify last year’s “vision” of halving global carbon emissions by 2050.

Outcomes like these would be terrific. But at some point fairly soon, these G groupings need to be rationalized. Aside from all the leaders time, the separate meetings of the G-8 before the emerging economies (traditionally called the G-8+5, or the “Outreach 5”) create divisions among the countries that are now playing out in the worldwide media about whether or not a new global currency is part of the summit agenda. And with the invitees constantly shifting, officials spend their time deciding who is in the room instead of solving the pressing matters of the day.

Building a better G-Pick Your Number will not be easy. Hell hath known no fury like a politician uninvited to a leaders forum. To add to the challenges, Europe is overrepresented in every of these groups and yet the most enthusiastic about them. Yet all this fluidity in the Gs does means the window for forging a new forum is open, but who knows for how long.

What should the new G look like? My colleagues and I have suggested that the new leaders forum be the G-20, but a G-20 whose membership is mandated to evolve over time as the major economies of the world change and that has only 20 seats at the table, not the 27 it has already grown to include.

Grumbling about Italy has reached a point where some European diplomats have suggested replacing Italy with Spain in the G-8. It would be better if they just replaced the entire G-8 with a leaders group for the 21st century.

– Nina Hachigian

This post originally appeared at the Center for American Progress.

July 7, 2009
From Russia — not with love, but with results

Overall, I have given the Bush administration higher marks on emerging power relations than on most other aspects of U.S. foreign policy. Relations with China were broadened, the U.S.-Japan alliance deepened, the friendship with India solidified.

But on Russia, we saw a more classic Bush administration national security model, where divisions within the administration resulted in a roller-coaster ride of policy, from the highs of President Bush’s soul-gazing to official rhetoric that recalled the Cold War. (Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’ moments of sobriety on these issues were always welcome).

So it is good to see the Obama administration, in its rational, systematic way, putting the relationship to rights again. (I would expect no less of the excellent National Security Council types who are in charge — Mike McFaul and Gary Samore). Morality has nothing to do with this — a stable, working relationship with Russia will best further U.S. interests, period. What are those interests? My colleague Sam Charap from the Center for American Progress outlines them well in a new report. But in my mind, there is one that trumps the rest, and that is non-proliferation.

Russia is key to this issue in three ways. First, it has the largest stockpile of poorly-guarded fissile material in the world. If we want to prevent it from falling into terrorists’ hands, we need to work with Moscow on locking it down.

Second, Moscow has shown useful leadership on non-proliferation. George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced the “Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism” at the 2006 G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg. Among other things, the countries that have signed up to this pledged to “take a number of actions to fight nuclear terrorism by committing to improve accounting and security of radioactive and nuclear materials, enhance security at civilian nuclear facilities, and to improve detection of nuclear and radioactive materials to prevent illicit trafficking.”

More recently, in a joint statement they released on April 1, 2009, Presidents Obama and Medvedev said that their two countries “will seek to further promote the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which now unites 75 countries.” The partner countries have now met 5 times, most recently at the Hague in early June.

The Initiative appears to be high on the Obama administration’s agenda. In his speech in Prague in April 2009, President Obama said that he wished to turn non-proliferation initiatives like the Global Initiative to Combat Terrorism “into durable international institutions.”

Finally, Moscow is key to rolling back nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, first because it has relationships with those countries, and second because Russia and the U.S., as the gorillas of the nuclear world, have to show leadership in order to have leverage in the non-proliferation framework. The bargain in the non-proliferation treaty — which, despite its flaws, has succeeded in limiting the number of nuclear countries in the world — is that nuclear countries will gradually reduce and eventually eliminate their weapons and that, in return, non-nuclear countries will stay that way. But the U.S. will not disarm unilaterally.

It’s not going to be an easy or smooth road with Moscow. We aren’t going to be chummy, let’s face it — and we disagree on some key questions, like the importance of a free press and the status of Georgia. But the agreement Presidents Obama and Medvedev reached yesterday to reduce their arsenals is a commitment we didn’t have the day before.

– Nina Hachigian

July 1, 2009
China goes too “dam” far

China’s Green Dam project has been postponed.

It has been a long time since I followed the story of the Internet in China closely. I wrote an early Foreign Affairs article that outlined what I thought were the main dynamics, but eventually stopped monitoring the daily goings-on.

But this Green Dam episode is very interesting. Recall that Beijing suddenly announced on May 19 that all PCs sold in China had to ship with a specific filtering software that was designed to block porn. That China’s Internet officials would try to reach right into netizens’ computers is no surprise. While they rely heavily on self-censorship and on monitoring, having that kind of technical access could really come in handy when targeting a particular individual.

The rollout, however, has not gone smoothly. In a show of opposition and solidarity largely absent from its dealings with China, the world’s largest technology companies lodged a complaint in a personal letter to Wen Jiabao, saying that “The Green Dam mandate raises significant questions of security, privacy, system reliability, the free flow of information and user choice.”

The U.S. trade rep, Ron Kirk, also suggested that these restrictions would go against China’s World Trade Organization commitments. China is the world’s second-biggest PC market after the U.S., so this is a big deal.

A University of Michigan-based group also found that the software contains vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit to gain access to anyone’s PC, even after those problems were supposedly fixed.

The Chinese authorities have now announced that the Green Dam program is being delayed. But Green Dam is just part of a recent crackdown chronicled well by Rebecca MacKinnon. Chinese Internet users are seething, and interest in learning how to circumvent the government blocks is growing. What I want to know is whether the government’s backing down on the Dam will halt one group’s plan for revenge today, July 1. They wrote in an anonymous letter:

For the freedom of the Internet, for the advancement of Internetization, and for our rights, we are going to acquaint your censorship machine with systematic sabotage and show you just how weak the claws of your censorship really are. We are going to mark you as the First Enemy of the Internet. This is not a single battle; it is but the beginning of a war…… NOBODY wants to topple your regime. We take no interest whatsoever in your archaic view of state power and your stale ideological teachings. You do not understand how your grand narrative dissipated in the face of Internetization. You do not understand why appealing to statism and nationalism no longer works. You cannot break free from your own ignorance of the Internet. Your regime is not our enemy. We are not affiliated in any way with any country or organization, and we are not waging this war on any country or organization, not even on you. YOU are waging this war on yourself. YOU are digging your own grave through corruption and antagonization. We are not interested in you, destined for the sewage of history. You cannot stop the Internetization of the human race. In fact, we won’t bat an eyelid even if you decide to sever the transpacific information cables in order to obtain the total control you wanted. The harder you try to roll back history, the more you strain the already taut strings, and the more destructive their final release. You are accelerating your own fall. The sun of tomorrow does not shine on those who are fearing tomorrow itself……

We are the Anonymous Netizens.

If I were a Chinese government official, I’d be a little worried.

I think Rebecca puts the ultimate lesson here well:

Yesterday after the news broke I told the Financial Times: “There’s been this impression in the internet industry that when the Chinese government makes a demand, they have to roll over and play dead. The lesson here is that’s not necessarily the case.” I’ll put it more strongly here: The Green Dam episode proves yet again that when companies respond to critics by saying things like: “It’s beyond our control if we want to do business in China” or “there’s nothing we can do or we will get kicked out,” that is a huge pile of, well, equine excrement. […]

Industry should give the Chinese government as little excuse as possible to use child protection as an excuse to accomplish other goals that have much less public support and which are contrary to globally recognized human rights norms. Industry should perhaps encourage and maybe even fund in China a set of public forums and independent research efforts and so forth to examine how can industry work together with China’s parents, teachers, and government to protect China’s children. Initiate efforts to work with Chinese experts to develop strong culturally appropriate Chinese-language parental control software that puts control in the hands of end users. China is a potential R&D test-bed to innovate on genuine best practices in child-protection technologies…

– Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user *lj* under a Creative Commons license.

June 30, 2009
Side-stepping catastrophe with China over climate, currency

The real test for China may be if the country can commit to hard targets under a new Copenhagen climate treaty.

I was once concerned that Congressional fury over China’s undervalued currency and our huge bilateral trade deficit would combine with resentment over the costs of climate change legislation, and over China not doing enough to curb its emissions.

Climate and energy — far from becoming a new area of cooperation between the U.S. and China, as I have advocated — would instead become a new irritant in the relationship, and climate negotiations would devolve into even more bitter fingerpointing across the Pacific, delaying progress on the fight against global warming. Most recently, Paul Krugman explains why we don’t have any time to waste.

So far, at least, this train wreck has not come to pass. China has taken impressive steps on energy conservation, as this report from my colleagues at the Center for American Progress details. Beijing may even reject the Hummer deal on environmental grounds — how very sane.

The real test, though, is whether China will commit itself to hard targets under a new Copenhagen climate treaty. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Waxman-Markey legislation, which creates a cap and trade system for carbon, just passed the House. It would slap tariffs onto goods from countries that do not accept limits on global warming emissions, but only after a whole bunch of criteria are met and other remedies tried first. Given the politics, that showed real restraint. Overall the bill is far from ideal. It is, nevertheless, something.

President Obama has gone farther to head a trade/climate collision off at the pass by announcing Sunday that he didn’t support the trade sanctions in the cap and trade legislation. He gets a two-fer for this, in typical Obama Administration fashion. First, he is showing leadership on international trade. Protectionist measures are being enacted all over the world despite promises to the contrary, and in the lead up to the G-8 and G-20 meetings in Italy next week, this shows wise economic leadership on a tough issue that does threaten to exacerbate the current crisis, according to most experts.

His statements also serve the U.S. from a climate negotiation point of view. They signal to countries, particularly China, that the Administration will negotiate in good faith and hold off on trade punishments if they are forthcoming at Copenhagen — if.  Let us hope they are.

– Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user PeacePlusOne under a Creative Commons license.

Nina Hachigian is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the co-author of "The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise." She has worked on the staff of the National Security Council in the White House and been a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. She specializes in U.S.-China relations and great power relationships, multilateral institutions and U.S. foreign policy.

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