December 21, 2017


Institute for China-America Studies

A Survey of Scholarship on U.S.-China Relations

Twice a month, the ICAS Bulletin updates a global audience on American perspectives regarding the world’s most important bilateral relationship. Research papers, journal articles, and other prominent work published in the U.S. are listed here alongside information about events at U.S.-based institutions.


Why China Takes Issue with Trump’s “Indo-Pacific” Concept

By Han Guo

In the News

B-1B Bomber Joins U.S.-South Korea Drills as Tensions Escalate
Christine Kim, Hyon hee Shin
Reuters, December 05

“A U.S. B-1B bomber on Wednesday joined large-scale U.S.-South Korean military exercises that North Korea has denounced as pushing the peninsula to the brink of nuclear war, as tension mounts between the North and the United States.”

“The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States, as part of a weapons program that it has conducted in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.”

Japan, China Agree to Implement East China Sea Crisis Management Hotline
Ankit Panda
The Diplomat, December 07

“The governments of Japan and China have reached an agreement on the implementation of a crisis management and communication mechanism to avoid sea and air clashes in disputed areas of the East China Sea. According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, the mechanism, which functions as a hotline between the two countries, will soon be operationalized.”

North Korea Ready to Open Direct Talks with U.S., Says Russia’s Sergei Lavrov
Julian Borger
The Guardian, December 08

“North Korea is open to direct talks with the US over their nuclear standoff, according to the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who said he passed that message to his counterpart, Rex Tillerson, when the two diplomats met in Vienna on Thursday.”

“There was no immediate response from Tillerson but the official position of the state department is that North Korea would have to show itself to be serious about giving up its nuclear arsenal as part of a comprehensive agreement before a dialogue could begin.”

China Unhappy as Philippines Signs Investment Deal with Taiwan
Reuter Staff
Reuters, December 08

“China said on Friday it was seriously concerned about the Philippines signing a bilateral investment agreement with self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its own with no right to any official foreign ties.”

“Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the Philippines signed the agreement in Manila on Thursday with his Philippine counterpart, according to Taiwan’s government.”

In First Winter Stay, 1,800 Chinese Troops Camping at Doklam
Rajat Pandit
The Times of India, December 11, 2017

“Around 1,600-1,800 Chinese troops have now virtually established a permanent presence in the Doklam area, near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction, with the construction of two helipads, upgraded roads, scores of prefabricated huts, shelters and stores to withstand the freezing winter in the high-altitude region.”

Sources from India’s security establishment said after the Doklam standoff this summer, the PLA troops have stayed put in the area for the first time in winter. China has upgraded its existing motorable road in Doklam around 10 km north and east of the face-off site.

China, Taiwan Spar over Chinese Diplomat’s Invasion Threat
Ben Blanchard, Jess Macy Yu
Reuters, December 10, 2017

“In September, the U.S. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2018 fiscal year, which authorises mutual visits by navy vessels between Taiwan and the United States.” The final Taiwan-related language that was submitted to the president for signature on November 30th downgraded

“At a Chinese embassy event in Washington on Friday, diplomat Li Kexin said he had told U.S. officials that China would activate its Anti-Secession Law, which allows it to use force on Taiwan if deemed necessary to prevent the island from seceding, if the United States sent navy ships to Taiwan.”

“The day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” Chinese media at the weekend quoted Li as saying, referring to Taiwan’s main port.

South Korea, U.S., Japan Hold Anti-Missile Drill
Yonhap Staff
Yonhap News, December 11, 2017

“South Korea said Monday it has started a joint missile tracking exercise with the United States and Japan amid speculation that North Korea may soon test a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).”

The two-day drill is taking place in waters near the Korean peninsula and the coast of Japan, and mark the first trilateral military exercise since North Korea’s launch of the Hwasong-15 ICBM in late November. Ships from the three nations are conducting computer-simulations to detect and track any ballistic missile fired by North Korea.

Xi Keeps Low Profile as China Marks Nanjing Massacre Anniversary
Ben Blanchard, Liangping Gao
Reuters, December 13, 2017

“China marked the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre on Wednesday with a call to work with Japan for peace, but President Xi Jinping kept a low profile and left the main public remarks to another senior official.”

“It was the second time Xi has attended the event since China marked its first national memorial day for the massacre in 2014,” when he called on China and Japan to “set aside hatred and not allow the minority who led Japan to war to affect relations now.”

Trump’s National Security Strategy Angers China
Scott Neuman
National Public Radio, December 19, 2017

The Trump administration’s first national security strategy takes a hawkish stance on China. It accuses China of “seeking to displace the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reach of its state-driven economic model and reorder the region in its favor.”

China’s embassy in Washington issued a statement stating “it’s completely egotistical for any nation to put its interests above the common interests of other nations… the Americans on one hand say they want to develop a partnership with China, but on the other hand they take an opposite stance. This is contradictory.”


Articles and Analysis

 A New Stage of China-U.S. Relations
Yu Sui
China-US Focus, December 06, 2017

“China’s persistence in pushing for this new stage in their relationship stems from a desire to benefit their two peoples and all mankind. Although the task is a difficult one, all obstacles will eventually be overcome. As President Xi Jinping said, human effort is the decisive factor. Through concerted efforts, the two sides will gradually replace suspicion with mutual trust and discrimination with inclusion. They will turn from expanding disputes to managing differences and from making trouble to eliminating it. We should be optimistic.”

How Different Is Trump’s Asia Policy
Yang Wenjing
China-US Focus, December 11, 2017

“Trump’s America First policy has indeed reshaped US priorities in the region, with its focus on bilateral trade agreements, yet the method he uses for these purposes is the same, i.e. to resort to the US overriding strategic advantages. In the short run, it seems the US has indeed gained some benefits, but it’s hard to predict whether Trump’s strategy will strengthen US stand or weaken it, and whether the US can balance its self-interest and its international role in the long run.”

Xi-Style Diplomacy Brings China Closer to World
Xinhua Staff
Xinhua News, December 11, 2017

“A China-style major-country diplomacy has taken shape over the past five years through the overseas trips by Chinese President Xi Jinping.”

“The 29 visits to 58 countries and major international and regional organizations across the five continents have helped win Xi the title of ‘chief diplomat’ of China.”

“The trips have enhanced a leadership role for China in global peace, security, governance and development, and promoted a better understanding worldwide of a Chinese vision and approach that includes win-win cooperation and efforts towards building a community with a shared future for mankind.”

Why Trump’s New Security Strategy On China and Taiwan Means the Gloves Are Off in Sino-US Rivalry
Michael Thim
South China Morning Post, December 20, 2017

“The unambiguous wording in the security strategy about Taiwan is a clear message that there have been no changes in US policy, except that China can expect Washington’s more active engagement with Taipei.”

“The US security strategy places Sino-US relations outside ambiguous niceties, and in many ways reflects a change in attitude that has been brewing among US defence and foreign policy circles from long before Trump became a viable candidate for president.”

“Based on this clarity, the two powers may attempt to create an environment where competition still exists, but peace is sustainable.”

Past Events, Videos, and Discussions

Winning the Third World: The Sino-American Rivalry
Event hosted by Center for Strategy and International Security, December 04, 2017

“In his new book Winning the Third World, Gregg Brazinsky illuminates the competition between the United States and China in 21st-century Asia and Africa by analyzing the Sino-American rivalry during the Cold War. Foreign Affairs has called the book ‘Essential reading for anyone interested in the future of U.S.-Chinese relations.’” Please click the title for podcast of the event.

China’s Impact on Global Development and Conflict: Assessing the “China Model”
Event hosted by United States Institute of Peace, December 07, 2017

“China’s impact on global development is growing through its investments, foreign aid contributions, and financing platforms such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. On December 7, specialists on China’s economic development and fragile states examined what the ‘China model’ really is and whether China’s experiences can provide lessons on development for other countries, and discussed how Chinese investments and assistance might help mitigate or complicate local conditions in countries experiencing violent conflict.” Please click the title for video of the event.

China Risk and China Opportunity for the U.S.-Japan Alliance
Event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, December 08, 2017

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Japan Forum on International Relations co-hosted the event to discuss Japanese and American policy towards China in the post-Party Congress environment. The event also examined the potential risks and opportunities for the U.S.-Japan alliance in the near to medium term.

The Japanese speakers agreed that China’s rise does not constitute a direct threat to Japan. However, recent Chinese behavior which seems to challenge the existing rule-based international order could prove problematic. Professor Satoru Mori said he saw promising opportunities to promote regional economic cooperation amongst China, Japan and the United States. He did note that extensive Chinese investments in the region could pose some risks, such as the inability of countries who have borrowed heavily from China to repay their debts, a significant leverage for China to gain the upper hand in political negotiations.

Sheila Smith argued that due to geographical distances and economic interdependence, Japan’s perceptions of China may not necessarily align with those of the United States. She also attributed the deterioration of Sino-Japanese relations since 2012 to an abnormal period of bilateral relations. She predicted that relations would likely return to normal in 5-10 years, as signs of recovery have already been seen in bilateral trade and economic relations.

The Rebalancing of Sino-U.S. Relations
Panel discussion at the Sanya Forum, December 10, 2017

“The panel discussion was presided over by Zhang Yandong, deputy managing editor of Caijing Magazine, the organizer of the forum.”

“According to the scholar of Chinese diplomatic history, Sino-U.S. relations need to be rebalanced because the relative strengths of the two countries have changed, manifested by closing gap in composite national strength and increasingly intense competition in military, economic, financial and technological fields.”

The key takeaway from the discussion was that although China and the United States face serious challenges in maintaining sound bilateral relations, given the new context of competition and cooperation, the two countries should enhance mutual trust in order to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties.

Paper Tiger/Porcelain Dragon: Sino-American Competition for Global Leadership
Event hosted by the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States on December 19, 2017

The Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute hosted its annual “Year in U.S.-China Relations Review,” on the heels of the release of President Trump’s new National Security Strategy.

Robert Daly disagreed with the underlying assumption of the new National Security Strategy which finds that Russia and China’s foreign policies are aimed at harming the United States. He also argued that almost all of America’s recent failures have been self-inflicted. Daly noted that economics seem to be the glue that is holding the U.S.-China relationship together as almost every other area of the relationship is in disarray.

Yun Sun from the Stimson Center observed that there is “a strong sense from the Chinese side that no matter what concession or what compromise China is willing to make, it’s never enough for Trump.” Trump’s China strategy suggests that he’s looking for deals everywhere, on trade, on North Korea; but the administration’s official line, as stipulated by the National Security Strategy suggests that he is looking for a fight.




Why China Takes Issue with Trump’s “Indo-Pacific” Concept

By Han Guo

During November 5-14, President Donald Trump embarked on his first visit to Asia. During this trip, the phrase of a “Indo-Pacific” was coined by the U.S. government as a replacement for the term “Asia-Pacific.” It highlights the cooperation of countries with shared values and security alliance/partnership, a Quad of the United States, Japan, Australia and India. Given that the Trump administration has largely failed in its attempt to produce a comprehensive Asia strategy, the “Indo-Pacific” concept has garnered an extensive amount of attention.

Definition of the term

There are lively discussions in China about the definition of the “Indo-Pacific,” its logic and the feasibility of implementing it. Jin Canrong, a professor at Renmin University, has observed that the term “Indo-Pacific” was first used as a geopolitical concept by Indian scholars a decade ago. The Trump administration’s use of the phrase, however, places security cooperation at the core of the “Indo-Pacific.”

Diao Daming, a professor at Renmin University, defines the Indo Pacific as “a long-term strategic arch that connects the Pacific and the Indian ocean to coordinate on economics, politics, climate, and military affairs.” From a Chinese perspective, the concept is a continuation of the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” and is based on incorporating India as a counterweight to China’s expanding economic and political influence in the region.

Logic and Feasibility

There are several questions surrounding the logic and feasibility of the “Indo-Pacific.” The first and foremost is why India chose to be on board.

Wu Xinbo, Dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, pointed out that the Indo-Pacific concept fits into India’s strategic calculations. From a geo-economic perspective, the “Maritime Silk Road” China proposed stretches from Southeast Asia to the Indian Ocean, which India sees as its traditional spheres of influence.That sphere of influence is now being challenged by Chinese investments and infrastructure projects. Jin Canrong has also connected India’s attitude with the recent deterioration in Sino-Indian relations over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Doklam border standoff. Simply put, India is hedging against China by strengthening its ties with the United States and other regional powers.

The second argument concerns Japan. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) passed the responsibility to solidify regional unity on to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Chen Yinuo, a senior journalist, demystified Japan’s core interest in participating in the “Indo-Pacific” project as “weakening China’s influence in the Asia Pacific, keeping an eye on China’s increasing maritime activities, and establishing bilateral/multilateral maritime security mechanisms.” Japan is embroiled in maritime disputes with China and is wary of Chinese influence in the South China Sea and beyond. By participating in the Trump administration’s new framework for an “Indo Pacific” alliance, Japan hopes to facilitate free trade, infrastructure investment and defense cooperation across the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and Africa, that can counter Chinese influence.

The final observation has to do with the internal dynamics of the United States. Many positions remain vacant in the Trump administration, crippling the capability to draft and articulate a coherent Asia strategy. Trump’s past remarks regarding America’s alliance commitments, trade, and his inflammatory rhetoric on North Korea have unnerved U.S. allies and partners in the region. To combat this effect, it is imperative that the administration put forward a strategic framework (albeit an incomplete one) to placate foreign and domestic audiences. In that light, Trump’s “Indo Pacific” project is little more than an illusion designed to mask the internal chaos of the U.S. government.

Challenges and Impact on China

Chinese scholars have been quick to point out challenges facing the “Indo-Pacific” concept, and dismiss the strategy of trying to contain China. First, the “Indo-Pacific” concept likely only has half-hearted support within the United States itself. Trump places significance on trade and North Korea, and solutions to those problems require cooperation from China. Thus, he is unlikely to endorse a strategy that would lead to significant pushback from the Chinese leadership.

Secondly, President Trump’s proposal of “reciprocal trade” is a source of tension in and of itself. Shi Yinhong, Professor at Renmin University, argued that after the United States withdrew from the TPP, the economic pillar of the “Indo-Pacific” concept has already been undermined.

Yuan Peng, Vice President of the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations, said the contradiction lies in U.S. political calculations to formulate a geopolitical strategy, while at the same time emphasizing the “America First” in economic sector. It may well prove to be impossible to reconcile the contradictions of trying to bolster military alliances with the same nations the America is turning its back on economically.

Third, India and Japan’s long-term commitment to the “Indo Pacific” project is far from certain. Given recent rapprochement between China and Japan, the concept “may well go bankrupt in the first place.” For its part, India is deeply concerned about the reliability of the United States as a partner. This explains in part India’s relatively ambiguous stance on the Quad. Furthermore, India’s decisions to deepen its ties with the United States have already been detrimental to its long-term partnership with Russia. When a U.S. delegation was allowed to inspect the Russian-built, but Indian-owned aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya, and the nuclear submarine, the INS Chakra, Russia fiercely objected, causing damage to the Indian-Russian relationship that has yet to be repaired.


The Trump administration’s “Indo-Pacific” project is incomplete at best, and offers very little substance. Admittedly, the concept may gain traction should Trump become impatient with China over a perceived lack of cooperation on North Korea, trade, or even the Taiwan strait. For now, the Chinese have avoided jumping to conclusions about the implications of the Trump administration’s “Indo-Pacific” project. If anything, this is the manifestation of how sturdy the Sino-U.S. relationship has become.


Han Guo is a research assistant at the Institute for China-America Studies.

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