The following interview with Bonnie S. Glaser, [1] senior fellow Freeman Chair in China Studies and senior associate Pacific Forum CSIS was carried out on July 10, 2012 at the CSIS headquarters in Washington DC by Patrick Renz and Frauke Heidemann. The three main topics of the interview were the South China Sea, US pivot to Asia as well as the upcoming elections and change of leadership in both coun-tries. All footnotes are remarks by Patrick Renz and Frauke Heidemann, aimed at giving some additional background knowledge and especially giving the links to the cited documents so that the reader can follow up on these issues easily.


South China Sea

Our first question is quite a general one: Is there in your opinion any realistic solution to the ongoing border settlement issues in the South China Sea?

An actual resolution of the sovereignty issues is challenging and will take time. It is not impossible, but I don’t think that this should be the near-term objective in any case. I think that the focus really should be on establishing procedures, operation safety at sea agreements so that governments can actually set aside some of the sovereignty issues and find ways to jointly develop the resources. There are some models where countries have been working together to extract oil and gas jointly. And this is very difficult to do when the disputes are as raw as they are today. So I think that the focus this week in Cambodia [2] is really on a possible Code of Conduct or getting China and ASEAN to actually commit to begin negotiations on this Code of Conduct. The United States has recently made some statements officially that what we would like to see is a Code of Conduct. This is because we see that ASEAN is not united, it is often very cautious and when ASEAN cannot agree, China often exploits the differences among the members. I think we would like to firm up the resolution of the countries in ASEAN to finally draft a Code of Conduct that actually demands China to do things that in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of 2002 [3] were not included. It was not binding, it was voluntary. There was no mechanism to resolve disputes over fishing rights or disputes over surveys or exploitation of oil and gas but these issues right now are really more incendiary than they have been at any time in the recent past. For example: Beijing declared that they were opening up international bids for blocks that are in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and they actually overlap with the blocs that Vietnam has already opened up to other companies. Then we had this Scarborough Shoal incident. So I think that the focus right now is really on de-escalation, diffusing these issues, trying to come up with principles to guide conduct in the future. The focus is not so much on the resolution of sovereignty issues which is really quite difficult, especially when you have one country that is using a historical basis to substantiate its claims and other countries are bringing their claims more in accordance with international law. The Philippines has called for example for the Scarborough Shoal area to be taken to an international court. There are several options for that and China has refused to do so. That is one way how it could be resolved. Bilateral negotiations could also come to resolutions. China and Vietnam actually had negotiations many years ago on a small portion along the sea border of the two countries. In 1947 what is today that 9-dashed line was originally an 11-dashed line. Two of those dashes were eliminated because China was able to agree on the Beibu Gulf area with Vietnam. So you can’t exclude the possibility of bilateral resolution of some of these issues. There are few cases where there are more than two countries involved – which of course further complicates things. But I don’t think that this is very likely in the near term.

Do you see a role which the United States should or could play in helping to get to a Code of Conduct?

On the specific issue of the Code of Conduct it is quite difficult for the United States to play a role. After all, the Code of Conduct is not a regional agreement. It is a China-ASEAN agreement and Beijing basically tells the United States “You have no role”. The United States itself is not publically trying to intervene into this issue. You could look for example at what Secretary of Defense Panetta said at the Shangri-La Dialogue [4] – I was there – and when he gave his speech he said nothing about the Code of Conduct. In other words: it was not in his prepared remarks because this would have signaled that the United States was inserting itself in this issue. But when somebody asked a question that he could talk about the Code of Conduct in this response – he did that. And this was very deliberate, this was very well prepared. So he could answer a question and say, well, there should be a Code of Conduct, it should be binding and there should be a dispute mechanism in the Code of Conduct. This way, he was basically saying the United States has interests, we think that there should be these principles and we hope that ASEAN is going to be a little tougher and thick skinned and pushes the Chinese to do this. There was also – I understand – a discussion in Cambodia in the run-up to this ASEAN Regional Forum meeting where a US official also talked about with some of the members of ASEAN and tried to convince them to demand more of China on this issue. But we can only really work behind the scenes unless the Chinese want the US to be a mediator and unless the ASEAN countries would agree. But this is not going to happen and therefore there is very little role the US can play.

From your point of view, how important is it concerning this topic that the United States ratifies the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)? [5]

I think it is extremely important for several reasons. First of all, we are seen as hypocritical because we say this is the most important thing going forward but we haven’t ratified it. We have signed it, but we haven’t ratified it. If we hadn’t signed it, it would be even worse. The United States does abide by it even though it has not yet ratified it. But the other issue is that going forward I believe that there will have to be a consensus reached on some of the definitions in UNCLOS for example on where military activities can take place. I think this going to be resolved in the future and the United States don’t have a seat at the table for that conversation, unless they have ratified UNCLOS by then. Then there are of course lots of issues that pertain to our interests in the Arctic why we should ratify UNCLOS. I think this is really only a question of time. I have talked to senators and congress about it and they seem to be rather hopeful that after our elections – in our lame duck session in congress – it will be ratified.

China argues that its actions in the South China Sea are conforming to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Western experts on the Law of the Sea argue that this is not true. How do you see this?

Well, I am not a lawyer. There is a very interesting study that was put out by a friend of mine named Peter Dutton. He is at the Naval War College and he had a conference where Chinese and Americans published their articles. [6] Both have their perspectives on why their interpretation of the UNCLOS is right. It is really interesting to read the argumentation of Chinese lawyers on these questions because they really believe that they are right. And they cite the relevant chapter and verse and sentence of the article that supports their interpretation. And the American lawyers do the same.
I am not an international lawyer but I would say that China is not the only country in the world to have the interpretation that a coastal state has the right to require advance notification of military vessels sailing in its EEZ. But China seems to be the only country that seems to have acted to enforce it. India, Brazil and even Malaysia have a position that is somewhat similar to China’s. But they don’t send their ships out to expel countries that are operating military forces in their EEZ. China has done that. Going forward, the real problem in terms of the interpretation of the EEZ is between the US and China. This is not so much between China and other countries. The difference between the issue involving China and other countries when it comes to the EEZ is that you have countries like Vietnam and the Philippines that say everything within our 200 miles is ours and China says that you can find islands and reefs all over the world that are within another countries 200 mile EEZ but actually belong to someone else. So why is it that it is just geographically situated there that it is automatically yours. So, again, this is an international law conversation. Unless it is brought to an international dispute mechanism it is really hard to solve.

At the CSIS Conference on the South China Sea, [7] there was Dr. Wu Shicun [8] and he mentioned that you asked him at the Shangri-La Dialogue about the claims of China and mentioned that they were not clear. Did you find his response clarifying?

Well, if you read what the Chinese government has formally said – we’re talking about the foreign ministry’s statement – and if you listen to what he says, there are differences. The Chinese government has not clearly said that China’s claims are defined primarily by its land features and than the maritime area that extends from those land features. That is a statement that is more forward leaning. When we were at the Shangri-La Dialogue he summarized an article that he wrote which is publically available in which he talks about the different schools of thought in China about the definition of the 9-dashed line and he summarized each of those schools of thought. I think he did that at the CSIS Conference as well. There were four schools of thought and he basically said “I agree with the fourth one. It should be based on land features.” That’s not what the Chinese government has said. I understand though that this is what the Chinese government is evolving to. That will solve some things but it won’t solve everything. If you have a land feature and if everybody agrees that it doesn’t sustain life than you know that it doesn’t have an EEZ. So you have to agree on whether it generates 12 mile territorial waters and you have to agree on the continental shelf issues and we may have still lots of disagreements. Even if the Chinese say that they will stick to that historical claim issue. So there are all these different pieces of the problem that answering this question will only solve one piece but it will be a step in the right direction.


US pivot to Asia

Do you see the United States as a Pacific nation?

Absolutely. The United States has always been a Pacific nation. With Guam and Hawaii we have territory in the Pacific. So we think of ourselves as a Pacific nation and we believe that we have very important interests in the Pacific. I don’t see a debate in the US whether we should withdraw from the region. So maybe this will come some time in the indeterminate future. But I think that there is a common agreement in the US that we are a Pacific nation.

What do you think of the argument that even though the US is a Pacific nation as it has territory in the Pacific, it should not be involved in the Asia-Pacific region?

I guess my view is that there are many countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the vast majority of them want the United States to play a very active role. Nobody wants to see the US curtail its involvement in the region. In fact quite the opposite happened in recent years. There have been a number of major leaders and countries, not only our allies, but even lots of the small countries, including Vietnam, who have come to the US and said “We’d like you to get more involved militarily, economically and politically.” China really is in the minority in this issue. A few years ago, China had a notion that it would develop a more East Asia oriented grouping. And it had some potential support from other countries. There were discussions with former Japanese PM Hatoyama talking about an East Asia Community and the Chinese saw this as convergent with their objectives. But in the end of the day that has not been the choice of the nations in the region. Even though you see the East Asia Summit – not only East Asian nations are part of it. The United States and Russia have joined and this was very much welcomed by the region. So the Chinese have come around to understand that it is not in their interest to try and push the United States out of the region. In fact, they have gone out of their way to tell the US that this is not their objective. You can look, for example, at the November 2009 Joint Statement between President Obama and Hu Jintao [9] when President Obama visited China for the first time and he said they send this statement where the Chinese “welcome” the United States’ presence in the Asia-Pacific region and they repeatedly said this. At first it was said privately, then later on publicly and now in this Joint Statement. This was repeated now: when Xi Jinping was in the United States, he also said this. The Chinese don’t want to be seen as pushing the United States out of this region because they recognize that this would have very counterproductive consequences for Chinese interests. If they make the states of the region nervous that they are seeking to expel the US from the region, those states will probably embrace the United States ever closer, they will enforce coalitions among themselves to resist China. Therefore I don’t see how this really benefits Beijing. The Chinese are pretty pragmatic. I think they understand this.

Prof. W. Clemens from Boston University wrote an article about the new US defense strategy creating the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy [10]. Do you see the risk of a conflict between China and the United States?

I have no doubt that there are perhaps some unintended consequences in this new strategic guidance but at the end of the day I would argue that this rebalancing to Asia is necessary for a lot of reasons. The amount of trade that we have with the region is enormous. We have important alliances in the region and there have been some policies that China has been pursuing economically, politically and militarily that have been challenging to US interests. So the question is how do you respond to those challenges. I believe that if the US shows weakness to China, it will take advantage of that weakness. At the same time you don’t want to signal China that you now see it as a realistic adversary and that you are marshaling all of your resources against China. If China were to conclude that the US was seeking to contain its rise; to strategically encircle it, I think that the Chinese would probably revamp their entire foreign policy. The Chinese have not concluded that. Which is important. I’ve talked to the Chinese, the administration certainly talks to the Chinese. We have a very good understanding of how the Chinese are reacting to this. They realize we are trying to counterbalance China’s growing power. They do realize that we are trying to reassure countries of the region that are worried about some of the ways in which China is behaving. And this ultimately is not against China’s interest. It’s a good thing if we can reassure these countries and all of these countries in the region don’t want to choose between the United States and China, they want to have good relations with both. So what we are concerned about with China militarily is that China has been developing capabilities to make it potentially costly for the United States to operate in a conflict in waters that are close to China. They are developing what the United States calls anti-access/area-denial capabilities. This isn’t a Chinese term. The Chinese actually see this as very defensive. They call this “their near seas”. They just want to make sure that they are in control of what goes on in their near seas. In peace time it is not really a problem. It’s really only in a conflict that this would become a problem. And so the United States is to some extent moving capabilities into the region so that we don’t have to worry about access issues, we’ll already be there. But it’s also as a signal to China. A signal to the rest of the region that we are not going to be intimidated by China, we’re not going to raise the white flag and say “If China doesn’t want us operating in these waters we won’t be there”. And so we are constantly trying to stay 10 steps ahead of China in terms of our technology, in terms of our doctrines. You see, development of greater reliance on unmanned area vehicles so that if the Chinese are going to try and threaten our fighters at least we’ll be able to keep it at distance, we won’t have pilots in them. So there is a lot of things that we are doing technologically to stay ahead of China. But that is not part of a strategy to prevent China from reemerging as a great power and I think it’s really clear today that we’ve told China we want to cooperate and where our interests converge we should cooperate, we must cooperate. We can’t solve the world’s problems, regional problems, North Korea, Iran, whatever, when we don’t really cooperate. In other words, there are ways where we have a divergence of interests and we have to manage those differences.

But the US doesn’t see China as an enemy, I mean potentially, yes. The Chinese see us as a potential enemy. We have to hedge against the possibility that China actually challenges our interests, Western interests and seeks to undermine it in the global system. But so far China isn’t doing that and I think we want to give China as many incentives as we can to not do that but we don’t want to signal China American weakness. I think that’s really a danger. So the self-fulfilling prophecy idea isn’t really that convincing to me. I think that we don’t want to rely so much on the hedge and overwhelm any of the cooperation and let China conclude then that we are simply trying to prevent them from becoming a great country. That would be a mistake. So we have to try to hedge quietly. The reason why we are trying this rebalancing policy in my view is because there is great angst in the region about America’s staying power. People believe we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the commitment and we are going to be distracted by another Afghanistan and we will just pivot in the other direction when we have to. And it’s very difficult to reassure people that we won’t do that and so one of the ways of doing that is having our President go to Australia, make this very big speech about how we are committed to the region and have our Secretary of State follow that up and move around some Marines and some submarines. In the end, most of this is symbolism. It really is. And in addition to the military piece we have the economic piece. And the Chinese believe that we are trying to supplant their role of the major organizer for the regional economic integration. So the narrative is that we are very worried about the ASEAN + 3 and the + 3 FTA and so we want to have the Transatlantic Partnership. I think what this really is about is that the United States believes free trade agreements that are promoted by China are not high-quality free trade agreements and they are not really encouraging the liberalization of trade that we want to see. In fact, there are a lot of countries that agree with the US and ultimately if China chooses to abide by all of the preconditions that are necessary to become part of the TPP that is not an anti-China organization. It is up to China whether or not it is willing to choose a path to join – that is what it did with the WTO and the United States worked very hard to get China into the WTO. We encouraged them. We promoted it. Even though there was so much about it, so much disagreement in China. If we hadn’t really pushed them, who knows if it would have happened. It certainly wouldn’t have happened as quickly as it did. So when the Chinese tell me that the United States is trying to contain China I always say “Look at the things that we are doing that have helped your country grow stronger.” And joining the WTO is one of those examples. We could pursue a strategy of responding to China’s rise that really could convince China that we actually did see it as an enemy and that we were organizing the rest of the region and the world against China. That would be a major failure of American policy if we did that. I don’t think that this is what we are doing. I think that when Hu Jintao talks about – as he did at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue [11] this past May – about the possibility of creating a new type of major power relations – that is based on their assessment that this is still achievable. That the United States and China can have something that is different than what the United States had with the former Soviet Union. And the Chinese are still working on the assumption, that our two nations can get along and that we can co-exist. We want to continue to promote that.

There are some think tanks in the United States that argue that the United States should contain China or who write that the United States is already containing China. In how far do you agree or disagree with this statement?

There is no administration that has ever been in power in the US that had containment of China as a policy since the 1970s before Richard Nixon went to China. Yes, we tried to contain China in the 1950s but we are talking about our present day modern world. First, we have to define what containment is and if we go back and look at American history, at the policy that we had towards the Soviet Union, it doesn’t match up with what we are doing today with China. We have how much trade with China? [12] It’s enormous. We have how many students from China who study in the United States? Immigrants that come from China? These didn’t exist in the Soviet-US relationship. We didn’t want to have trade with the Soviet Union. We didn’t want any immigrants from the Soviet Union and we certainly didn’t have the kind of cooperative efforts with the Soviet Union. This is a completely different kind of relationship. It’s fair to say that we want to prevent China from emerging as a great power in a way that would be harmful to American and Western interest, to the interests of its neighbors and that it would be strong enough to change the international system in a way that would be negative for the rest of the world. But that’s not containment. Lots of people like the term of “shaping”. I can’t come up with a better term but I’m not sure I like it. We’re trying to influence China, absolutely. And in some ways I think we’ve been very successful. There was a time when China was selling military equipment to some countries, like intermediate range ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia, they don’t do that anymore. They used to sell nuclear technology. The Chinese are likely responsible for Pakistan developing a nuclear weapon because they gave them designs. That’s the last time that happened. The Chinese now have internalized the dangers of nuclear proliferation, created the laws and the enforcement systems so that they no longer proliferate nuclear technology. They may disagree with us on how to deal with an Iran going nuclear, but that’s a different story. So we just have to keep at it. The Chinese are not going to change their behavior for us. They have to be convinced that it severs their interest. Some times they agree, some times they don’t.

You also explained the United States’ answer to China’s anti-access/area-denial system and said that it’s technological advantage. Do you see the debt crisis of the United States as a problem for this approach of being technologically advanced as it means you have to invest a lot in R&D? [13]

You know there is an ongoing debate whether the United States really is in decline. There is an interesting article, which is from International Security and which basically argues that the US has a tremendous lead over China. [14] And if you look at areas like innovation there apparently the United States is just way above China. Debt is a problem for us though. We have to come up with how we are going to manage this problem. We did have large debt before president Clinton became to power and he eliminated this debt. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan really led to a ballooning of US debt. There has been an unwillingness to raise taxes. You can’t keep spending money and bringing in less – that’s pretty simple mathematics. So I think that our country has to come to terms with how we want to solve this issue. One could imagine a scenario in which we really don’t have the resources to sustain our presence around the world. I don’t think that this is an immediate danger. But down the road if we really continue to mismanage our finances it will certainly be a possibility.

How do you see the danger of a potential rise of nationalism in China affecting US-China relations?

I worry about nationalism in China. Largely because it is promoted. It is inculcated through education and through the media. If you’re in China and you watch TV you will see all sorts of anti-Japanese war films. It’s not just anti-American. When you have a political system in which the government is not elected, there is a perceived need to point the dissatisfaction of the people, to direct it in a way that is not at the government. Therefore you have to find other ways for people to vent their frustration and their anger. And I think that the Chinese do this. They try to control it, but it can get out of control. We saw this in 2005 with the anti-Japanese protests. In 1999 it was fascinating to observe how the Chinese government was trying to understand how angry the students were. And then they actually – this was after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade – they busted them over to the US embassy. They even let them throw rocks, which was illegal. But they felt they had to do that and then they wound down and took the students back. So they thought they could control this. But the more insecure the leadership is, the more worried I am about this phenomenon because the Chinese get to a point where they are very paranoid about the possibility that they could be overthrown. They see the black hand of the US everywhere, even if it doesn’t exist. You know we weren’t behind the Arab Spring. The Chinese, many of them, are convinced that we were. When our last ambassador Jon Huntsman was walking around Wangfuijing and the Arab Spring was just beginning – it was the Jasmine Revolution – and the Chinese just were convinced that the US government must have sent him there. And I can see how they really thought that ambassadors usually don’t go off and do things on their own. But you know in this case I really think he did. He knew he was going to run for president. He knew that this was a good way to ensure that he could not be criticized for his policies and thinking about China. So I think it just served his political interest. But there are so many instances where China blames the US. When Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace price the Chinese were convinced that it should have been given to somebody else but two weeks before that decision was announced they think that Hilary Clinton personally intervened and got the Norwegian peace price committee to change its mind. These things are hard to make up. It’s good fiction but it’s just not truth. So they’re paranoid and I think they’re very insecure about their stay in power. Because there are so many problems in China they have reason to be worried and with the slow down in their economic development they’re going to get even more paranoid.


If the next president were Mitt Romney, would this change the US-China relations?

I think there is a tremendous amount of continuity from one president to the next when it comes not only to US-China policy but to Asia policy. We stress our alliances and we obviously want to shape China’s behavior. There are differences, don’t get me wrong. But in the thirteen thousand foot level there is a lot of continuity. Historically, Chinese have liked Republicans. They prefer Republicans. This goes back to the opening of China by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. The Chinese have viewed Republicans as strong free traders and they’ve seen democrats as more protectionist and I think frankly, they don’t know what to make of Mitt Romney. He doesn’t seem like the traditional Republican that they came to know and love. Mitt Romney has been very critical of China’s trading practices in particular. I think that in fact most of this rhetoric will not be the basis of real policy. If Romney were elected, he may have said so many times that on the first day of being in office that he would label China a “currency-manipulator” that he might actually have to do that. In a democratic country you can not sort of say that you didn’t mean it when you really made it quite clear that this is what you are going to do. Of course that wouldn’t have any automatic results. That wouldn’t mean that the US would have to slap tariffs on China but it would get relations off on a sort of sour note. It would affect the political relationship, not irreparably but I do think that there would be some sort of early damage. In my view, this would make the Chinese work even harder to make sure that the relationship was in a good state. The Chinese get very worried when they believe that US-China relations could be unstable. Just before President Bush came to power there was discussion about China and the US being strategic competitors. The Chinese were really, really nervous about that but they came to know President Bush as one of the best presidents for the US-China relationship. After the EP-3 crisis and primarily from the Chinese perspective because of George W. Bush’s Taiwan policy they felt that the US under Bush was going to protect their most critical interest. We were able to work on North Korea and other issues quite well. Just the first couple of months were really rocky. That could happen again. The Obama administration came in with this notion that they would avoid the early, rocky period, that most new administrations have. They tried really, really hard to come up with a joint label for the relationship. That was the first time we ever had a shared description of the relationship. We have set up guidelines and things we wanted to do and although my friends in the administration would disagree with me, I believe that with the combination of the global financial crisis and the signaling from the Obama administration that we really wanted to work with China, that China was the most important relationship for us, that we had to have good relations with China to solve global warming and proliferation and the problems with the global economy, for the first time, China started saying “The US needs China more than China needs the US”. That was a remarkable shift and it let the Chinese to believe that they had leverage over the US. They started to test the US in ways that I think, they might not have otherwise. This led to a fairly rocky period subsequently so that the Obama administration stood up and the Chinese, to some extent, backed down. You should read the book – if you haven’t already – by Jeffrey Bader who was in the National Security Council. [15] When he left he wrote this book, very short, and he was only in for the first two years, but it’s a really great book to give you a sense as to what it’s like to be a foreign policy practitioner sitting in the National Security Council organ and what some of the differences where, when he took some of the positions that were accepted and when he took those that weren’t. It’s very well written but doesn’t admit that he did anything wrong. Everything that he suggested was right. It’s hard when you’re inside and part of the process to see that you were wrong. He blames the media for an enormous number of things that didn’t go well. It wasn’t the fault of President Obama when he went to China and tried to have this town hall meeting it’s just that the press didn’t understand. Anyway, it was funny. But it’s hard to really know what kind of policies Governor Romney would actually pursue if he were elected. We are very much in campaign season and candidates don’t care about policy when they are running. Some of my colleagues could easily be important officials under the Romney administration. They briefed him and I’m told he doesn’t really care about policy yet. He’s got to get elected first. And China is just an easy target. No interest group in this country is going to stand up and defend China. Even the business community is much more ambivalent about China than it was five years ago. So it’s just easy to criticize the Chinese because Americans are unemployed and they think the Chinese have stolen their jobs. So why not just bash the Chinese. It’s just easy but I don’t think it really tells us anything about policy. Anyone who is president in this country is going to understand that we better get along with China. We’ve got to work along with them. The balance might change a little bit between the hard stuff and the soft stuff but the general trajectory of our policy will be continued whether Obama will be elected for a second term or if Romney is elected. There is a shared sense in both camps: We must have strong credibility in the Asia-Pacific region. If countries in the region do not perceive that the US is a credible power, that we have sustainability and stay in power, our interests will be severely damaged. They will be compelled to accommodate to China because they have no choice. In the end that would have a negative impact on us as well.

Do you think the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping will bring any kind of change to US-China relations?

When a new leader comes to power in China, very little is known about that person either in China or outside of China. A person comes to power in China because they are part of a collective culture, a collective system, they are products of the party. Anybody who really stands out is not going to be elected to this position. I think what happened to Bo Xilai is evidence of that. The system doesn’t want somebody who is the nail that sticks out. In the past of course you had leaders in China who were all powerful. That is no longer the case. Certainly, Hu Jintao is a member of a collective leadership, Xi Jinping will also be a member of a collective leadership. There are very few decisions, if any, that one person can make alone in China nowadays. They actually do vote in the Standing Committee of the Politburo. There are nine people and Xi Jinping may not necessarily be in the majority on every issue. But I think there is a shared understanding in China that the US-China relationship is extremely important. If they don’t have good relations with the US they can’t achieve the goals that they have. There is no way that China is going to emerge as a great power in its region if we have a hostile relationship with China. If you have to divert all of their resources to a strategic competition with the US, economic, politic and military, they will lose and they’re not going to achieve the results they want. So I think they are keenly observing what the relation is with the US and trying to get it right. Xi Jinping certainly said many things when he was here that suggest that he will also value the US-China relationship and I don’t see any reason to believe he won’t. But it is not until the person is actually in place, until you have a crisis, that you get a sense about what this leader’s policies are going to be. Over a period of time, Obama administration officials tell me they have come convinced, that Hu Jintao has been very determined for the US-China relationship to remain essential in Chinese foreign policy. There is this expression, I believe it was coined by Jiang Zemin, who used to say that the US-China relationship was the most important of the most import. Hu Jintao stopped using this phrase for a while and then I was told that internally in 2009 he started using it again. He hasn’t said it publically, I don’t think Jiang necessarily did either. But Hu returned to that knowing that this would be a signal. Yes, this is the most important relationship. So we have to see whether Xi Jinping uses again this kind of language. There are people in China who believe that China devotes too much of its attention to the US, that it should devote more attention to its neighboring countries, to other powers in the world. There have been some periods where I think China has been trying to do that. But I think today there is recognition that the US-China relations are really important. When Xi Jinping is in power, he will have Hu Jintao behind him. He will no longer be Secretary General or President but he will still be head of the central military for two years. Even Jiang Zemin who has no title whatsoever, has still influence on certain areas. He’s getting old but he’s still around. So Xi Jinping will have certain members of the Standing Committee, he will have Hu Jintao, he will have Jiang Zemin. He is not going to be able to control everything by himself. But eventually it will become clear to us what, if anything, Xi Jinping wants to change. What does he want his mark to be. Right now we have no idea what that will be. Every leader tries to have some mark on policy. Hu Jintao made a 180 degree on policy towards Taiwan. Now this was enabled by the election of the new leader in Taiwan. If the DPP remained in power there was no way that this could have happened. Things in the environment had to change. But you know, Jiang Zemin was basically towing a deadline in their policy towards Taiwan. If Taiwan doesn’t unify by this date, we shall use force. Hu Jintao crossed strait, essentially trying to win the hearts and minds of the people. There was a complete change and there are very few areas that you can look at and say this is completely different. But we’ll have to see what Xi Jinping wants to change.

Thank you very much for the interview.



[1] Bonnie S. Glaser is a senior fellow at the CSIS Freeman Chair in China Studies and senior associate at the Pacific Forum CSIS with a focus on China and South China Sea issues. More on her curriculum vitae can be found at:
[2] To look up more on the ASEAN 2012 Summit in Cambodia, go to:
[3] For more on the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea go to:
[4] For more information on the Shangri-La Dialogue and to watch the interview by Leon Panetta, go to:
[5] Full text of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea at:
[6] Peter Dutton is Editor of the China Maritime Study No. 7 from December 2010: „Military Activities in the EEZ A U.S.-China Dialogue on Security and International Law in the Maritime Commons“ oft he Center for Naval Warfare Studies, Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, USA – Full text available at:—Gaming/China-Maritime-Studies-Institute/Publications/documents/China-Maritime-Study-7_Military-Activities-in-the-.pdf.
[7] For more on the CSIS Conference on the South China Sea of June 2012 visit:
[8] Publications by Dr. Wu Shicun, Head of National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), Hainan, China, at:
[9] The Joint Statement can be found at:
[10] You can read this article at:
[11] More informations about the Strategic and Economic Dialogue at:
[12] US exports to China in 2011 are 103.9bn USD and imports are 399.3bn USD according to USCBC:
[13] According to the 2012 Global R&D Funding Forecast (Industrial R&D – Aero, Defense) U.S. federally funded defense R&D will reach nearly 75 bn USD in 2012, exceeding every other country’s total R&D except that of China, Japan, and Germany.
[14] Michael Beckley, „China’s Century? Why America’s Edge Will Endure“, International Security, Vol. 36, No. 3, Winter 2011/12, pp. 41-78.
[15] You can order this book at:

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