Stephan Haggard does a standup job analyzing the results of the Sunnylands summit between Xi Jinping and Barack H. Obama.
The interesting feature of Xi Jinping’s response was the modified version of the “peaceful rise” foreign policy line, which emphasizes standard liberal arguments: that globalization and the pursuit of economic well-being and opening and reform will require cooperation on the international stage. Emphasis throughout Xi’s response was on the variety of channels to be tapped, including a specific mention of deepened mil-mil relations that Obama also sought to underline. Xi made reference to constructing a “model of major country relationship [sic],” the apparent new characterization. But also lurking was the reference to “the Chinese dream of the great national renewal” and the uncertain shape that Chinese nationalism would take during the Xi years.
Donilon made it clear at the outset that the meetings should be seen in the context of the US rebalancing to Asia, now clearly the favored formulation over “pivot.” Although a changed relationship with China was a piece of the rebalance from the start, that piece sometimes got lost amidst the other actions the US felt it needed to take to counter a period of clumsy assertiveness in Chinese foreign policy over the last three years. Donilon traced the process of getting to the summit, which included a sustained effort at high-level re-engagement through visits by Secretaries of Treasury and State Lew and Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey. (Chuck Hagel delivered the somewhat more forward, tough-cop messages at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore).
On North Korea, the denuclearization message has been standard fare among major media outlets. But, it’s clear Beijing and Washington are agreeing to disagree, and that their clients, North Korea and South Korea, followed their protectors’ lead.
But, most telling is whose fate was not decided, indeed even tabled: refugees.
The complexity of the sanctions comments is worth underscoring. First, the Chinese noted both the strategic value of sanctions—getting North Korea back to the table—and the importance of curbing any proliferation risk. At the same time, the US underscored that the multilateral sanctions effort would be seen as a floor not a ceiling and that the US would continue to take actions—including military ones—to defend against possible risks. The message: North Korea is a strategic liability for China.
On the Laos Nine, we have no inside information. But our guess is that the administration concluded that the Chinese did not know enough about the transit of the refugees to be held accountable, and that in any case the issue was too small-bore for the larger ambitions of the summit; although our position on the refugees is clear, this is a reasonable judgment.
People always come last.