November 2, 2017

Susan Rice Shares Her Insights on U.S.-China Relations at the 11th Annual CHINA Town Hall

The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations (NCUSCR), a New York, N.Y.-based 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote understanding and cooperation between the United States and Greater China in the belief that sound and productive Sino-American relations serve vital American and world interests. The NCUSCR also organizes the CHINA Town Hall, which serves as a national conversation about China that provides Americans across the U.S. and beyond the opportunity to discuss issues in the relationship with leading experts.

The eleventh annual CHINA Town Hall took place on October 24, 2017 at 86 venues across the U.S. and Greater China and featured Ambassador Susan E. Rice, former national security advisor and U.S. ambassador to the UN, as the national webcast speaker. I had the opportunity to attend the CHINA Town Hall hosted at the Seattle office of Dorsey & Whitney.

Answering questions from Stephen Orlins, president of the NCUSCR, as well as questions emailed and tweeted by the national audience, Amb. Rice's addressed a range critical issues in the U.S.-China relationship, from North Korea to the war on drugs. I agree with her recommendation that U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration should make their relationship with China a top priority. "The U.S.-China relationship works best when there is a high degree of communication and maximize mutual understanding at the highest levels," Amb. Rice explained.

Susan E. Rice
Noting U.S. President Donald Trump's upcoming trip to Asia including a state visit to China, Mr. Orlins asked: "What constitutes a success for a presidential visit [to China]?" Amb. Rice replied that "success is best judged by the quality of the outcomes." There are numerous issues that need to be addressed by the U.S. including the denuclearization of North Korea, resolving the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and cybersecurity threats. In addition, Amb. Rice noted: "There are [economic] issues that are very frustrating to the U.S. side. We need to manage them and we need to play hardball, but we can't make empty threats that we may not be willing to back up."

Amb. Rice also discussed her op-ed, "It's Not Too Late on North Korea," published by The New York Times on Aug. 10, 2017. "North Korea's substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security," Amb. Rice wrote. "But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully."

Regarding China's role in halting North Korea's nuclear aggression, the U.S. "must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal."

During the CHINA Town Hall, Amb. Rice said President Trump's decision for the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020 was a mistake. She correctly noted the accord was the product of U.S.-China cooperation.

Having served as Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1997-2001, Amb. Rice talked about Africa in context of the U.S.-China relationship. "We actually worked with China on a number of issues related to African security rather effectively." These issues included conflict resolution in South Sudan or building healthcare infrastructure including combating outbreaks of the Ebola virus disease.

While the U.S. and China were able to collaborate on these important issues in Africa, the latter's "involvement in Africa economically is extractive [of natural resources without provision for their renewal] and not tied to values whether they be human rights and democracy or rule of law and anti-corruption. And its has the potential to only undermine the aspirations of civil society in these African countries, but they rarely employ sufficient African labor. They bring Chinese labor into Africa displacing local labor."

Responding to a question about what can American citizens do to encourage better Sino-American relations, Amb. Rice said American can educate ourselves about China, study the Chinese language, and travel and study in China in order to get to know the country "much more intimately than most Americans do."

The recorded webcast of Amb. Rice's remarks may be viewed in the embedded video below or through this link.

Following Amb. Rice's webcast, Graham Webster, a senior research scholar, lecturer, and senior fellow of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, where he specializes in U.S.-China diplomatic, security, and economic relations through research and Track II dialogues, provided some comments to the audience gathered in Seattle. Based in Oakland, Calif., Mr. Webster is also a fellow for China and East Asia with the EastWest Institute.

While he led a good discussion on the overall trends in U.S.-China relations and China's cyberspace policy developments, I want to bring attention to an article, "Beyond the Worst-Case Assumptions on China's Cybersecurity Law," Mr. Webster co-authored with Samm Sacks and Paul Triolo on Oct. 13, 2017 about China's new Cybersecurity Law that went into effect on June 1, 2017:
Before and since there has been intense discussion in international business circles and governments about what that means in practice. In the United States especially, there has been a tendency toward reading the law and related documents in “worst case scenario,” fueling concerns that China’s emerging digital governance regime will systematically disadvantage outside firms and champion domestic tech giants. For example, a September 25 filing by the U.S. Government with a World Trade Organization body reflected a dire interpretation of some of China’s ambiguous language.
However, a close look at what Chinese officials are actually saying suggests healthy debate within the Chinese system. While business groups have been lobbying intensely on specific provisions, often responding to early drafts, the Chinese government is still in the process of developing and issuing the regulations, standards, measures, and guidelines that operationalize the new law’s requirements. Not only is that process subject to international pressure (U.S., European, and other international interests continue to seek delays or even the scrapping of some particularly controversial provisions), it is increasingly clear that there remains a keen debate among Chinese interests on these issues. An important government office said as much late last month. Following the U.S. filing at the WTO, China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) Third Research Institute, which researches cybersecurity technologies and policies, issued both a Chinese translation of the U.S. letter and a short response in a WeChat post.

This response should not be taken lightly. It sends a clear message that while some interests and voices in China's policy discussion favor uncompromising interpretations of China’s data protection measures that would significantly disadvantage global firms, other voices, especially those concerned with Chinese companies' global expansion plans, see downsides in heavy restrictions on cross-border data transfers. 
The article, published by New America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, continues to explore "some of the nuances of the ongoing discussion with particular reference to what Chinese policy makers and thinkers are saying about it."

What are your thoughts about Amb. Rice's remarks or the article Mr. Webster co-authored?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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