Susan Rice

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Controlling the sea, a hot spot on the agenda

While being on a three day visit to China, (aimed at preparing Barack Obama’s visit to the country in November this year[1]), U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice seems to have made a point out of underlining the fact that China should not proliferate a practice of “dangerous intercepts.”[2] This declaration, made on September 8, is a reference to China’s interception of a P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine and reconnaissance plane by a PLA jet fighter displaying an aggressive attitude. The declaration tried to underline the fact that such behavior will in no way be tolerated by the United States.

As a response, General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission stated that the U.S. should “reduce and ultimately cease naval and aerial reconnaissance activities near China.”[3] Beijing appears to have had an aggressive reaction because it felt threatened by the presence of the reconnaissance plane flying just 135 miles from Hainan “which is home to naval airfields and a highly sensitive submarine base.”[4] It was a breech in what the Chinese call the “200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone.”[5] This is a clear indicator of the fact that the Chinese interception was not accidental. China is quite serious when it comes to its costal protection and has linked its power boosting policy to multiple modernization programs aiming at augmenting warfare capabilities among its naval structures. This policy has lead, among other things, to an “increasingly assertive posture in the South China and East China seas, the cause of several territorial disputes between China and U.S. allies including Japan and the Philippines.”[6] The standoff between the U.S. and China officials in this regard did not produce a consensus at this point, since multiple online sources observed that China “will continue responding to U.S. surveillance flights off its coast.”[7]

Discussions on terrorism

According to one official quoted by the Wall Street Journal, it seems that “the U.S. has asked China to support President Barack Obama's efforts to form a coalition of countries combating extremist group Islamic State.”[8] It will be interesting to see what China does in response. One might speculate that China might just be interested, because Beijing has what it usually calls ‘a Uighur terrorist problem’, in the Xinjiang region. Over the years, Beijing has tried to link the Uighurs (a Turkish descendant population with a secessionist agenda aiming at establishing East Turkestan) with al-Qaeda, in an effort of treating them as terrorist structure. Some allegations regarding violations of human rights have been formulated in this regard as Chinese crackdowns on terrorism seem to be, at times, exaggerated.[9] It seems that some Beijing officials have actually stated that Chinese citizens from Xinjiang may be fitting in Iraq and Syria with ISIS/ISIL forces. All these elements tend to prove, we think, that China might use a possible coalition argument in order to boost its credibility in tackling the Uighur problem at home. An official that took part in the Susan Rice’s meetings stated that “the Chinese expressed an interest in our proposal. Their concerns about terrorism at home and abroad are rising. We're interested in exploring what the opportunities are in ways that are consistent with American interests and values.”[10] Only time will tell if Beijing sees this as being in its best interest and what leverage it might have in negotiations with the United States on the issue, since China is notorious for not interfering in international politics unless it very well serves its own interests.

Russia and Hong Kong

Beside discussions surrounding the surveillance issue, Susan Rice spoke with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, about an array of international issues in the field of military relations, counter-terrorism, the Middle East, North Korea, South Sudan, Iran and “other topics of mutual concern.”[11] Sanctions against Russia seem to have been discussed, but as imagined, “in Ms. Rice's meetings with President Xi and senior Chinese officials, the U.S. administration official said there was no sign of China being willing to join Western nations in putting pressure on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine.”[12] There seem to have also been discussions regarding the situation in Hong Kong.[13] Open sources noted that “on the prickly issue of democratic elections in Hong Kong, the U.S. officials were cautious in how they characterized Rice’s discussion. In recent days, China’s legislature ruled that residents could vote in an upcoming election but severely restricted their choice of candidates — a move many Hong Kong residents decried as tantamount to holding sham elections.”[14]

Cyber security possibly left aside. For a while

Open sources fail to specify if any of the meetings regarded discussions about sensitive cyber espionage allegations that the U.S. has linked to Chinese PLA military units. In May, 5 officers of PLA Unit 61398[15] have been charged with cyber espionage.[16] China and the United States have been at odds in regard to supposedly increasing espionage activities proliferated by Beijing via cyber space in the fields of industry, economy, military technology, etc. It is possible that such sensitive topics might have deliberately been left aside for now, in an effort aimed at preparing a ‘smooth’ (as much as possible) meeting of the two heads of state later this year.

 

[1] “National Security Adviser Susan Rice in China at fraught point in relationship”, Fox News, 08.09.2014, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/09/08/national-security-adviser-susan-rice-in-china-at-fraught-point-in-relationship/, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[2] Meghda Rajagopalan, “U.S., China security leaders trade barbs over jet maneuvers”, Reuters, 09.09.2014, http://news.yahoo.com/u-china-security-leaders-trade-barbs-over-jet-123648015--finance.html, consulted on 09.09.2014

[3] Ibidem

[4] “National Security Adviser Susan Rice in China at fraught point in relationship”, Fox News, 08.09.2014, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/09/08/national-security-adviser-susan-rice-in-china-at-fraught-point-in-relationship/, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[5] Jeremy Page, “U.S. Seeks China’s Backing for Coalition against Islamic State”, The Wall Street Journal, 09.09.2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-seeks-chinas-backing-for-coalition-against-islamic-state-1410271284, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[6] Meghda Rajagopalan, “U.S., China security leaders trade barbs over jet maneuvers”, Reuters, 09.09.2014, http://news.yahoo.com/u-china-security-leaders-trade-barbs-over-jet-123648015--finance.html, consulted on 09.09.2014

[7] “National Security Adviser Susan Rice in China at fraught point in relationship”, Fox News, 08.09.2014, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/09/08/national-security-adviser-susan-rice-in-china-at-fraught-point-in-relationship/, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[8] Jeremy Page, “U.S. Seeks China’s Backing for Coalition against Islamic State”, The Wall Street Journal, 09.09.2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-seeks-chinas-backing-for-coalition-against-islamic-state-1410271284, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[9] Gillian Wong, “Use of deadly force up amid Uighur crackdown”, The Japan Times,08.09.2014, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/09/08/asia-pacific/use-of-deadly-force-up-amid-uighur-crackdown/#.VA85zlexAuc, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[10] Jeremy Page, “U.S. Seeks China’s Backing for Coalition against Islamic State”, The Wall Street Journal, 09.09.2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-seeks-chinas-backing-for-coalition-against-islamic-state-1410271284, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[11] Ibidem

[12] Ibidem

[13] William Wan, “U.S. urges China to help with Islamic State in Iraq”, The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-urges-china-to-help-with-islamic-state-in-iraq/2014/09/09/4f73ac90-3823-11e4-9c9f-ebb47272e40e_story.html, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[14] Ibidem

[15] The unit has been accused by private cyber security contractors of intensive Cyber Espionage activities aiming at several English speaking countries, mainly the U.S. For more information see Mandiant ”Exposing one of China’s Cyber Espionage Units”, http://intelreport.mandiant.com/Mandiant_APT1_Report.pdf, consulted on 09.09.2014.

[16] Ellen Nakashima, William Wan, “U.S. announces first charges against foreign country in connection with cyber spying”, The Washington Post, 19.05.2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-to-announce-first-criminal-charges-against-foreign-country-for-cyberspying/2014/05/19/586c9992-df45-11e3-810f-764fe508b82d_story.html, consulted on 09.09.2014.

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