Critical Comments On ‘US Policy Toward China: Recommendations For A New Administration’

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2017

President Xi Jinping against the backdrop of the Chinese army. Source: Janne Wittoeck via Flickr.

James E. Fanell
U.S. Navy (ret)

Below are the critical comments I provided to Dr. Orville Schell, the co-chair of the recent Asia Society and University of California, San Diego report US POLICY TOWARD CHINA: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A NEW ADMINISTRATION. While there are sections of the work that I agree with, I still fundamentally disagree with the overall foundation of the document’s recommendations which I believe are designed to sustain the past 40 year of a policy that promotes unconstrained “engagement” with the PRC.  As such, I’ve gone through the entire document and extracted several statements and paragraphs that I disagree with and a few that I agree with.  While I will provide comments for each specific reference issue, I can summarize my dissent of the report in the following major themes:

1.  Unconstrained Engagement.  Engagement with China is asserted to be the primary goal of US relations with China without providing evidence for that assertion.  Or worse, suggesting things are actually going well, contrary to all objective evidence.

2.  “The Relationship” is the #1 Priorty.  “The relationship” is prioritized as being equal to or more important than U.S national security.  There is no clear articulation that U.S. National security should be the #1 national security priority for the US and that our relationship with China should be judged through that lens, not through the lens of sustaining “the relationship” at all costs.

3.  Do Not Provoke.  America should not “provoke” China, but again, there is no evidence to support why this position will benefit U.S. national security interests.

4.  Dissent Not Welcome.  While I appreciate inclusion of Ambassador Lord’s dissenting opinion on North Korea, clearly the study did not value, or include, dissenting opinions, especially in the Asia-Pacific Regional Security and Maritime Dispute sections.

The following are my more detailed remarks (after my nickname, “Kimo”) on specific sections of the report:

Page 17, Introduction:
While it is important to preserve and use what has worked, it is also important not to be held a prisoner to the past.  Kimo:  I agree with this sentiment, unfortunately the majority of the document reminds the reader and makes policy recommendations that are based on the past 40 years of institutional policy work.  While maybe not a “prisoner”, it is non-the-less “baggage” that detracts from clear and new thinking.

Page 10, Executive Summary:
No national interest is furthered by abandoning or conditioning this policy on other issues.Kimo:  see my point.  In one section you say we should not be held prisoner by the past, but then the reader is told that U.S. National interest is not furthered by “abandoning or conditioning” the past accepted policy.  These are clearly contradictory statements.

Page 11, Executive Summary:
In its first year, the Trump administration will confront six contentious, high-priority issues where US interests are immediately at stake and where insufficient attention or missteps could undermine the foundations of the broader US-China relationship as well as the position of the United States in Asia and the global order. Kimo:  While the list of six issues is fine and I appreciate seeing the NK nuclear issue listed as the top priority, what I find alarming is that these issues are listed no as serious threats to U.S. National security, but as being issues that could “undermine the foundations of the broader US-China relationship as well as the position of the United States in Asia and the global order.”  This is one of the fundamental problems I see with the study and from a majority, if not all of the contributors life’s work, that being that everything is viewed from how it will effect Sino-US relations.  As you can imagine, from my career in the U.S. Navy, my oath of office was devoted to supporting and defending the U.S. against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Why is it that this document never clearly and unambiguously states that the analysis and recommendations therein are designed to “support and defend” the United States first and foremost.  Why is it that almost every recommendation is focused on the impact of the “relationship” as if this was the moral equivalent to defending the United States national interests.  Your work rightly suggests the U.S. should deal with the PRC from a position of strength, but that seems a hollow statement given the many, many other references about “not upsetting the relationship.”

Page 11, Executive Summary:
Work with China to halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile program…Toward this end the members of this task force recommend that the US president immediately engage Chinese President Xi Jinping to create a new high-level channel dedicated to the joint resolution of this problem…A critical element in gaining China’s complete cooperation in this effort will be assuring Beijing that in the future, the United States will recognize China’s legitimate security interests on the Korean Peninsula….If China fails to respond and continues to frustrate efforts to pressure Pyongyang, the Trump administration must be prepared to impose secondary sanctions on Chinese banks, firms, and individuals still doing business with North Korea. Kimo:  First of all, I find the selective use of history to be alarming.  For instance, the study makes no reference to the 1994 Agreed Framework.  That agreement was predated by several years of work, which in essence means that since the reform and opening up by Deng in 1989, nearly 30 years, the PRC has done virtually nothing to lean on or influence North Korea away from their commitment to become a nuclear state.  If you say that the PRC cannot do anything outright because NK is its own nation, then why make the recommendation to create another “new high-level channel” to resolve the problem?  This is simply illogical.  If on the other hand you say that Beijing does have the ability to influence North Korea to regulate its actions, then I say to you, why haven’t they done so for the past 30 years?  You cannot have it both ways.  Suffice it to say, I was pleased to see Ambassador Lord’s dissenting opinion provided at the end of the paper.  His analysis and recommendations are spot on and given my interactions with the new administration, I expect new hard hitting sanctions will be a tool that is likely used.  We will see.

Page 12, Executive Summary:
Reaffirm US commitments to Asia…Because the 2016 presidential election heightened anxieties throughout Asia about whether the United States has the will and the capability to sustain its traditional leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region, the Trump administration must move quickly to reassure our allies and friends that our commitment to the region is steadfast. Kimo:  On what basis does the United States of America have to reaffirm its commitments to Asia?  Have we left the arena?  Have we threatened the arena?  You say that the 2016 presidential elections heightened anxieties throughout the region, but what of the tangible actions the PRC has taken to upset the peace and stability of the region?  That said, I do know what you mean, despite the publicly announced “rebalance” or “pivot” there is clearly a sense that the last administration was all talk and no show.  I have spent considerable time around the region talking to all of our allies and friends regarding this issue and I can assure you that my sources were afraid of the U.S. acquiescing to Beijing’s demands and ignoring their partner.  The 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident is a prime example.  Unfortunately, this document has no reference to the debacle at Scarborough, although I am not surprised because I know that Kurt Campbell is actively engaged in re-writing the history of that event.  Something I will not be quiet about as I was witness to this from my seat at the U.S. Pacific Fleet as the Director of Intelligence.  That one event has done more to hurt U.s. National standing than any other event in the past decade or more.

Page 12, Executive Summary:
Intensify efforts to encourage a principled, rules-based approach to the management and settlement of Asia-Pacific maritime disputes….China’s assertive actions in its maritime disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea raise serious concerns about the region’s future stability…The Trump administration’s approach to these maritime disputes should be to reinforce international law, making it clear that US military ships and planes in the South China Sea and East China Sea are operating to support regional stability and freedom of navigation rights, but do not represent a departure from our posture of neutrality on the underlying sovereignty disputes…When conducting freedom of navigation exercises, the administration should not broadcast operational details because public disclosure only undercuts the argument that the United States is simply exercising its legal rights rather than signaling military intent to contain China or taking sides in the disputes themselves…Kimo:  I actually agree with most of this section’s recommendations, but I am confused.  We agree about intensifying efforts to encourage China to support rules-based approach to conflict resolution and the rule of law, but unfortunately the past administration went weak in the knees after the 12 July 2016 Arbitration Panel ruling on the Philippine Case.  Why wasn’t that failure listed as an example of what the new administration should not do?  Like the failure to speak up and support international law at Scarborough in 2012, it seems to me that the former administration’s failure to hold Beijing accountable in the face of this international tribunal’s ruling would be a good case example to help guide the new administrations actions.  Finally, when it comes to the issue of “freedom of navigation” (FON) operations, I agree with you to the extent that we should not publicize our actions before we do them, but I do not agree with any recommendation that suggests the results of the FONOPs program not be documented and publicized following the actions.  Furthermore, I believe the PRC’s bad behavior should be publicized much more often.  See the attached document published this past year on the topic of how the USG should be approaching public relations over the PRC’s actions in the maritime domain.  Fundamentally, I do not think the paper provides the requisite evidence to support the recommendation that public disclosure is bad.  No, this recommendation is another “bag” from the “engagement” school.

Page 12, Executive Summary:
At the same time, however, the United States must make it clear that it supports all bilateral and multilateral diplomatic negotiations that are conducted by the claimants and other interested parties. These negotiations should encompass the China-ASEAN Code of Conduct with China’s Southeast Asian neighbors, as well as functional cooperation in fishing, exploitation of mineral resources, and environment protection.  Kimo:  Why was there no mention of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct and how China for 15 years has not only disregarded it, but has trampled it under its unilateral expansionism in the SCS?  Seems to me that there should be some acknowledgment that China has a track record of disregarding international law and agreements they have signed.  If you accept that premise, and I am not sure you or any of the co-authors or contributors will, then you have to ask yourself what kinds of recommendations you will make given this fact of reality.

Page 13, Executive Summary:
Respond to Chinese civil society policies that harm US organizations, companies, individuals, and the broader relationship…The Trump administration should open high-level discussions with Chinese leaders on the need to restore a more reciprocal balance between the United States and China in these crucial nongovernmental areas.  Kimo:  I agree we should be more defensive about our civil society, but is the call for a “high-level” discussion, really the only solution?  Again, these recommendations appear to all be based upon the fundamental premise that what is the most important is to not upset “the relationship”, instead of offering tangible recommendations for dealing with a tough negotiating PRC.  While I know you did not intend to suggest it, this comes across as negotiating with China from a position of weakness and subservience.

Page 14, Executive Summary:
Overall, the task force concludes that the long-held bipartisan strategy of engaging China from a principled position of strength has served the United States well, has maintained peace and stability in Asia, and should continue to guide our approach. Despite very different political systems and values, the United States and China have managed their differences reasonably well and have expanded areas of cooperation in addressing global issues of common concern. Kimo:  this is the section that really is the hardest to comprehend.  “Overall, the task force concludes that the long-held bipartisan strategy of engaging China from a principled position of strength has served the United States well”?  Really?  First of all, where is the evidence to suggest the U.S. Has approached engagement with the PRC from a position of strength?  For instance, where is the strength when we rush to invite the PLAN to RIMPAC at the same time the PLAN is using military force to help threaten the region as it builds new islands in the SCS or against our ally Japan in the ECS?  Or how about our effusive elation over having three PLAN ships pull into San Diego at the same time the international Arbitration Tribunal’s ruling was announced on 12 July 2016?  There are many other examples were it is absolutely clear that the U.S. Was engaging with China from a position of weakness.  And then to suggest that this has served the U.S. well?  Again, I ask, really?  It is an undeniable fact that U.S. China relations are worse today than they were 30, 20, 10, five or even two years ago and that is not because the U.S. Was drawing “red lines” or pushing back against Beijing’s expansionism.  No, the facts indicate that the “long-held bipartisan strategy” of engagement has not served U.S. national interests, especially in Asia.  Frankly, when I read these words, it occurs to me that there was no one in the room who was either willing to express such view or had the fortitude to write a dissenting opinion.  Why not is what many are asking?  Especially as the PRC press today extolls the work.
As China’s wealth and power has grown over the past few decades, it has also become more ambitious and is playing a more active and significant role in regional and global affairs. This expanded role is not incompatible with US interests, as long as Beijing pursues its goals in a manner that is consistent with the interests of other nations, contributes to the global public good, adheres to international law, and abides by global norms. And, of course, as the United States challenges China to meet these high standards, it, too, must do the same.  Kimo:  Again I agree with the substance of the first sentence, but the second sentence is alarming, because it insinuates the U.S. has not “done the same”.  I don’t accept President Trump’s assertion that America is equal to Russian leader Putin when described as being a killer and neither do I accept that the U.S. has not adhered to the rule of law or the global/regional good order.  Not only is that insinuation not true, it is insulting to those of use who have served our nation, whether in or out of uniform.
Yet as the new US administration takes office, a number of worrisome new challenges now demand strategic thinking and new responses. Tensions are rising between the two countries in Asia as China asserts its maritime and territorial interests in ways that threaten the interests of the United States and our allies and partners. China’s protectionist economic policies have led to an increasingly inequitable situation in trade and investment. Authoritarian government controls have caused the relationship between US and Chinese civil society and media organizations to deteriorate, and cyberhacking has opened a new front of antagonistic contention.  Kimo:  100% concur.

Page 15, Executive Summary:
These new challenges now require the United States to take stock, look at what has worked in the past, reassess how the US-China relationship has changed, and then make a careful appraisal of what additional policy tools are needed to protect and advance our national interests—and hopefully restore the relationship to a more stable and mutually beneficial state. We hope that the recommendations of this task force will provide the Trump administration with some helpful concrete policy ideas, as well as a more comprehensive roadmap for navigating future US-China relations.  Kimo:  again, I concur with the first part of the first sentence and the call to reassess what works and doesn’t work, but again it fails to deliver because it is predicated on restoring “the relationship”.  Every part of this document focuses their recommendations on this goal, instead of the nation’s leaders #1 priority of protecting America.  If you say, well, a good relationship between the US and China do equate to improving U.S. National security, then I challenge you on that assertion.  The evidence is thin compared to the voluminous evidence where things are worse in the region and for our national security.

Page 17, Introduction:
Although a strong US presence in Asia and a reliable commitment to our regional allies helps stabilize this vitally important region, US dominance in and of itself is not an end. Kimo:  I found this comment about “US dominance in and of itself is not an end.”  Why insert that?  Can you please provide me the source for anyone of substance either in government, previously in government or someone of substance who has made this argument?  No one I have ever met with or studied in my career has ever made that statement.  What I have heard is that the U.S. presence in East Asia has been a key element for providing peace and stability to the region, to the point that the U.S. Military is also partly responsible for the PRC being allowed to form and prosper over the past 30 plus years of this stability.  So, once again, for someone who has served in uniform, this sentence is code for what I have routinely heard from Department of State China Hands who have an unhealthy respect for the U.S. Military.  I am not saying you do, but clearly, the inclusion of this phrase was added by someone who does not respect the U.S. military or worse, thinks their voice has been to big in Sino-US relations.  This would be an absurdly laughable point, were it not so serious.

Page 18, Introduction:
But the overall trend has been a reasonably positive and encouraging one. Kimo:  Again, where is the evidence to back up this assertion?  It is stated so matter of fact, but it ignores so much evidence it is hard to take seriously.

Page 18, Introduction:
As its economy and military capabilities grew, it reassured its neighbors of its peaceful intentions, not only by proclaiming such slogans as “peaceful development” and a “peaceful rise,” but also by undertaking a series of concrete initiatives with Asian neighbors, including the peaceful resolution of most of its land border disputes and the implementation of a number of free trade agreements.  Kimo:  again, where is the evidence of this peaceful rise?  Just because we are not in a shooting war at the moment does not mean that the PRC has resolved their differences in a peaceful way.  Look at what they’ve done to the environment of the SCS?  They have unilaterally built seven islands within the EEZ of three (or four if you count Brunei) neighbors and have destroyed the coral reefs.  They are threatening Japan by sending Coast Guard and PLAN warships into the Contiguous Zone of the Senkaku Islands, and they are continuing to threaten Taiwan with thousands of ballistic missiles and circumnavigate the island with bombers, warships and an aircraft carrier.  These are just a few examples of where the PRC has NOT reassured its neighbors.  So how is it that this paper suggests otherwise?  I don’t understand why these facts were not included?

Page 18, Introduction:
By participating constructively in global and regional institutions and by becoming an increasingly responsible stakeholder in them, China began building a reputation as a country willing to accept and live within the framework of post-World War II international institutions and norms.  Kimo:  Really, China has a reputation for being willing to accept and live within the framework of the post-WW II international order?  How can this be, when they have openly and publicly rejected the 12 July 2016 international court’s recommendations?  Or how they have rejected the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct?  Or how they have twisted the 1943 Cairo and 1945 Potsdam Declarations to suggest that the PRC was “given” all the islands within the First Island Chain?  Seriously, did the group go out an canvas NE and SE Asian nations for their assessment about whether or not they believe China is a responsible stakeholder?  Again, my experience with asking this question of the region does not give me that answer.

Page 18, Introduction:
This strategy of engaging China from a principled position of strength has been largely successful.  Kimo:  I think it would have been more correct to say that the “The principal of dealing with China from a position of strength will be successful.”  As I mentioned earlier, there is not a strong track record of the U.S. conducting such negotiations.  Again, I raised the 2012 debacle as a classic case in point.

Page 21, Finding the Right Policy Tools:
The United States’ long-held bipartisan strategy of engaging China from a principled position of strength should continue to be the main orientation of our approach.  Kimo:  same comments as above.

Page 25, Improve Trade and Investment Reciprocity between the United States and China:
For decades, commercial relations have served to bind the United States and China closer together. But in recent years, there has been a growing sense among US workers and corporate leaders alike that the relationship is becoming increasingly unbalanced and disadvantageous. These concerns stem largely from the loss of progress on market reforms in China, where the government has strengthened state control over the economy and adopted a series of highly prejudicial measures favoring its own businesses. In China’s growing economy, US companies are facing an ever-more-skewed playing field, particularly in high-tech sectors, where Chinese protectionism has noticeably intensified.  Kimo:  I agree, I just wonder why we seem reluctant to deal with China in the military dimension as you suggest here for the economic realm?

Page 27, Intensify Efforts to Encourage a Principled, Rules-based Approach to the Management and Settlement of Asia-Pacific Maritime Disputes:
As China began extensive reclamation efforts throughout the region and pressed its expansive maritime claims surrounding disputed islands and reefs, the United States stepped up naval actions designed to assert freedom of navigation rights under international law (in particular, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.)  Kimo:  The U.S. did not “step up naval actions” in the SCS.  That is factually incorrect.  What we did is step up the pre-announcement of FONOPs, which was not only stupid on the face of it, but that we also could not correctly tell the story of the purpose of these events after the fact.  But to stay on point, it is wrong to assert that the U.S. PACOM/PACFLT somehow ratcheted up the situation in the SCS.  No, as I have indicated earlier, the PRC’s actions in the Spratly Islands were in keeping with Beijing’s grand design to “restore” China combined with the vacuum in U.S. Leadership during the 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident.  To Beijing’s surprise they felt no “steel” when they pushed on the Philippines at Scarborough and saw this as an opening to build their artificial islands.  Which now happen to be one of the new “wonders of the world”, truly an amazing piece of engineering and building.

Page 27, Intensify Efforts to Encourage a Principled, Rules-based Approach to the Management and Settlement of Asia-Pacific Maritime Disputes:
Although the publicity helped allay domestic concerns about US resolve, it undercut US arguments that these actions are not aimed exclusively at China but rather represent an even-handed defense of international law, irrespective of the claimant.  Kimo:  another point I have trouble understanding is the idea that somehow U.S. FONOPs or recce in the region has to be “equally applied” to all nations in the region.  Why?  I know you have seen the great work that CSIS-AMTI has done in documenting the amount of reclamation and artificial island building that has been done in the SCS.  To equate what Taiwan, Vietnam or the Philippines have done, either individually or when combined, with the PRC is not only an outrageous assertion, it is demoralizing to our neighbors, partners and allies.  First, I reject the assertion that somehow the U.S. military (which is what is being suggested) is “picking on China”, that simply is not true.  U.S. PACOM conducts FONOPs and ISR operations against the entire region.  Second, there is no question that the scope and scale of China’s unilateral actions, in defiance of international law and norms, is massively greater than any other nation in East Asia.  So why shouldn’t that fact be highlighted?  Why not make a recommendation to the new administration to expose their bad behavior?  There is no moral equivalence between the two and our allies and the region are acutely aware of it.

Page 27, Intensify Efforts to Encourage a Principled, Rules-based Approach to the Management and Settlement of Asia-Pacific Maritime Disputes:
This same set of policies should be followed in the East China Sea. The Trump administration should create a context conducive to China and Japan peacefully resolving the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands dispute. The United States should reaffirm that the islands are covered by the US-Japan Security Treaty and that China should not seek unilaterally to alter the status quo through provocative naval and air operations. At the same time, the United States should encourage Japan to continue its policy of not building infrastructure or installations on the islands.  Kimo:  I agree with a policy that seeks to prevent armed conflict in the ECS, but based on our failure to protect our interests and those of our allies in the SCS, I do not think the recommendation that the U.S. Should lean on Japan to not build on the islands is correct?  Instead, I think a more realistic recommendation would be for the U.S. To work with the Japan on how they could build something like the PRC has done in order to get their “marker on the table” and prevent China from launching an attack at a later date.  We have not discussed this aspect of the study, but it is my assessment the positions contained in the study are based on a fear that if offended, Beijing will lash out in a military strike and that WW III could begin.  I do not accept that assessment.  At least not today in 2017.  The PLA has clearly acquired a great deal of self-confidence, but they have not been directly challenged in this First Island Chain and I do not assess they are quite yet ready to use force.  This is certainly a debatable point and I know not everyone agrees, but it is still a position that should have been raised, if for no other reason than for a deterrent effect.  I am sure you know Rear Admiral Eric McVadon.  A few years ago he wrote a piece describing the PRC/PLA as being in its adolescent phase, clearly strong but not necessarily knowing how strong they were or how to regulate their physical manifestations.  I think China is now beyond adolescence and is their early 20s and their military might is nothing to discount or ignore, but neither is it something to shy away from, like we’ve basically done over the past two decades.  Hawkish?  Surely most of your co-authors and co-contributors would think so; however, given SECDEF Mattis’ Congressional testimony he talks of the need for the U.S. national security apparatus to return to a focus on “deterrence”.  I did a search and only found the word deterrence used two times in the entire document.  Seems to me it could have been used much, much more.

Page 29, Respond to Chinese Civil Society Policies that Harm US Organizations, Companies, Individuals, and the Broader Relationship:
To remedy this growing lack of reciprocity, the new administration should open high-level discussions with China on restoring a more reciprocal balance for US media companies, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions operating in China. Kimo:  I agree with the assessment, but not the solution.  More high-level dialogues are not the solution to each and every issue.  Does anyone think these efforts really solve every problem?  Isn’t there a “harder line” and I am not suggesting a military responses.  I am suggesting that we take your earlier recommendation and negotiate from a position of strength.  We need to define our “core interests” and shamelessly defend them like the PRC does at every turn.

Page 39-40, Global Governance:
In the contentious disputes about the South China Sea, for example, the United States is handicapped by its failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty whose ratification would enhance US national security because it encourages China and other countries to follow international law and to embrace a rules-based global order. China’s refusal to participate in the proceedings or accept the ruling of the UNCLOS tribunal on the South China Sea was properly criticized as undercutting international law as the best basis for addressing international disputes. Kimo:  While this argument is universally extolled by each and every Chief of Naval Operations and US PACOM/PACFLT commanders, the simple fact is that the US Senate has not ratified it.  So, the question then becomes one of how effective is it to continue to diminish our moral authority over this fact of politics, especially since the US essentially wrote the document and adheres to it as customary law in our day-to-day operations around the globe since UNCLOS met pen to paper.  I get it, it is the obligatory recommendation, but for too long we’ve just made it and then said nothing else.  How about we make the recommendation for ratification AND also remind the new administration of our moral compliance with international law?  We get pedantic at times about “the law”, but we fail to take credit where we comply with the spirit of the law or when Beijing fails to do so.

Page 42, Asia-Pacific Regional Security:
If China believes the United States is simply bent on containing it militarily, then Beijing would lose any motivation to moderate its conduct and might instead double down on preparations to fight and win in a showdown.  Kimo:  this is similar to the point above.  Why do we feed Beijing’s strategic narrative that we are trying to “contain” China?  Why?  Where is the evidence?  I was re-reading the 1943 Cairo and 1945 Potsdam Declarations today and it seems to me that for over 70 years the United States of America has been staying AND acting as a nation that is not trying to dominate the region, not subjugate any one nation (not even turing the Cold War against the Soviet Union) and simply has a proven track record of trying to be the “beat cop” keeping everything quiet and cool on the streets.  More importantly, the results of that approach are evident across the nations of the region, not least of which is China itself.  So, why do we feel compelled to sustain Beijing’s narrative that the U.S. is trying to contain China?  I see the paper also made the reference that the PRC is “encircled” by 14 nations.  That is language I know that comes from David Lampton and is attempting to put ourselves in Beijing’s “shoes”.  Fine, we should always try and understand their perspective, but isn’t also clear that on this point Beijing is manipulating us by throwing it in our face each and every time we talk?  I was just in Japan in December and had two members of the PRC Embassy to Japan accuse me supporting the “containment” of China.  When I asked them for proof, they could only keep repeating the phrase, but never showed any evidence.  No, the region and the world know the U.S. Is not trying to “contain” the PRC, simply shape it so that it comports itself in accordance with international law.  Why not make a recommendation to the new administration to not be sucked into Beijing’s strategic narrative?

Page 43, North Korean Nuclear Threat:
The North Korean regime has already displayed signs of just such miscalculation. In 2010, it sank the Cheonan, a South Korean naval ship, and launched an unprovoked attack on the South Korean island of Yeongpyeong.  If the United States and its allies were to react forcibly to another such provocation, North Korea might then feel compelled to use its nuclear weapons. What is more, it is possible that North Korea will be moved to sell nuclear and missile technology to other actors, including terrorist groups or hostile states. Kimo:  I was the U.S. Seventh Fleet Intelligence Officer aboard the USS BLUE RIDGE when the Cheonan was sunk.  I will forever feel a bit of guilt for the death of those 46 ROK Sailors, they are our allies and have shed blood with us on the Peninsula, in Vietnam, and in other parts of the world.  Can you explain to me why the document does not reference the fact that the PRC has still, as of today, not acknowledged that North Korea is responsible for their deaths?  I know for a fact that North Korea was responsible and yet China refuses to acknowledge this.  I think it is an important fact and is something that should be used to remind Beijing that their credibility about being a responsible stakeholder is put in jeopardy because of this issue.

Page 47, Maritime Disputes:
The core objectives of US policy in the South China Sea should be:  Maintaining a stable US-China relationship, in which the South China Sea does not become a dominant issue or source of rivalry. Kimo:  once again, we have a reference to the “relationship” with China being more important, even than our alliance with our other allies in the region?

Page 47, Maritime Disputes:
The Obama administration aimed to uphold the rights afforded to the United States under international law and to maintain stability in the region while remaining neutral on individual territorial disputes, without unnecessarily elevating the role of the South China Sea disputes in US-China relations. That has proven to be a difficult needle to thread.  Kimo:  As discussed above, the previous administration was virtually silent regarding the 12 July 2016 international tribunal ruling, like we did regarding Scarborough Shoal in 2012 (it took us five months to issue a statement that the USG does not support unilateral action in the SCS), and we are doing the same over the ECS.  Why this need to “thread the needle”?  Again, the answer seems to be based on this near religious belief that “the relationship” is the most important thing and that the US should never publicly provoke China.  How well has that worked out for us?  The evidence seems clear to many, it has failed.

Page 47, Maritime Disputes:
Although the attendant publicity might help allay domestic concerns about US resolve, it undercuts US arguments that the US actions are not aimed exclusively at China, but rather represent an even-handed defense of international law, irrespective of the claimant.  Kimo:  This point has been made before, making a moral equivalency between what China has/is doing versus the rest of the region just makes no sense.

Page 47, Maritime Disputes:
The foundation of US policy in the South China Sea should be to maintain strict neutrality on the competing territorial claims of sovereignty over land features, including the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and Scarborough Shoal.  Kimo:  Why?  Shouldn’t the foundation of our policy in the SCS be to sustain peace and stability and ensure no one nation threaten and bully weaker and smaller nations?  The notion of maintaining “strict neutrality” seems to be another facet of the primacy of “the relationship” philosophy.

Page 48, Maritime Disputes:
Conduct regular, routine US naval freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to challenge the excessive claims to maritime rights beyond what UNCLOS allows. These naval operations should be conducted quietly, according to standard US practice around the world, to challenge excessive claims by all states around the South China Sea, not only China. They also should be conducted around land features held by other claimants as well as China to demonstrate that the United States is applying common principles without targeting any particular nation. Kimo:  This is already occurring.  Why not make a more pointed recommendation that says that our FONOPs program should be focused on publicly reporting violations of international law.  We do these things and issue one annual report.  It has become an almost irrelevant program.  It should be revitalized by a more public, post-event reporting process.

Page 48, Maritime Disputes:
Challenge diplomatically the excessive maritime claims made by other states in Asia, such as claims to exclusive economic zones around reefs that would not meet the definition of an island according to the UNCLOS tribunal’s ruling.  Kimo:  again, this is already being done (has been for over 30 years, I was personally involved with it for much of my career on the execution side), but it again raises the issue of “moral equivalency”.  This study perpetuates the notion that somehow what these smaller other nations are doing is morally equivalent to what China is doing?  This is wrong.  And by the way, it isn’t just the scale of operations, it is the timing.  For instance, the PRC has done most of their work in the past 2 years, where as the minor reclamation work done by the other nations was largely done before the 2002 DoC.  Yes, I understand that Beijing complains that we are picking on them, but again, why do we have to be held hostage by their propaganda departments strategic narrative?  This notion of “common sense” is not just something to be ignored.  The world can see what China is doing and when we pretend like it is nothing different than what Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia or the Philippines are doing, we simply cause the region to question our staying power or commitments to bi-lateral or multi-lateral treaties/agreements.

Page 48, Maritime Disputes:
Consider adjusting excessive maritime claims by the United States, including exclusive economic zones around Kingman Reef and Johnston Atoll in the Northeast Pacific Ocean and around Jarvis Island in the South Pacific Ocean, among others, which, if judged by the tribunal’s ruling, also do not appear to qualify as islands.  Kimo:  this again is another “moral equivalency” argument.  Does anyone really believe that by the US unilaterally adjusting our maritime claims around the features noted that Beijing will adjust their claims in any way?  If so, please provide the evidence to support this assertion.

Page 48, Maritime Disputes:
Since China has pledged publicly and repeatedly to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea—especially those over the Spratly Islands and associated maritime claims—through peaceful negotiations, the United States should specifically:  Kimo:  Yes, Beijing has publicly proclaim to do this, but in fact they have not.  So, why not tell the world about this duplicity?

Page 49, Maritime Disputes:
Underscore that China’s military coercion or use of force against US treaty allies or the United States itself will elicit a strong response from the United States in order to deter it from using its armed forces to advance its claims.  Kimo:  this is good, but it must be backed up by real, military capability.  There should have been more representation from U.S. military experts on how to demonstration US resolve and deterrent capability by what increases to the size and scale of the US military.

Page 49, Maritime Disputes:
Oppose land reclamation on Scarborough Shoal to develop a military base on the shoal that would pose a direct threat to the security of the Philippines.  Kimo:  good, but how?  Again, this demonstrates a lack of representation from PRC military experts in the China Watching community, in my opinion.

Page 49, Maritime Disputes:
Territorial and maritime jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea are inherently unstable. Actions by one state to strengthen its claims will be viewed as a challenge by others, creating spirals of tension.  Kimo:  sure, but why insinuate that somehow each nation’s actions are equivalent?  Maybe the paper would have been strengthened by suggesting that the PRC’s action have universally been more massive and aggressive than anyone else and that the new administration should work overtime to formulate a multilateral approach to ensure peace and stability are maintained in the SCS?

Page 49, Maritime Disputes:
Holding a serious dialogue between the United States and China on the meaning and definition of militarization.  Kimo:  This again indicates there were no serious military experts or scholars of the PRC/PLA.  There is no need to have a dialogue to define what militarization means, we all know what it is and we are seeing it unfold in the classic “salami slice” fashion on the seven new artificial islands in the Spratly Islands.  This statement really lowers the credibility factor for the new administration by the way.

Page 49, Maritime Disputes:
Strengthening the maritime capacity of states to monitor and defend their claims, including maritime domain awareness and maritime patrol abilities, especially civilian maritime law enforcement.  Kimo:  I strongly support this notion and if you look at the second attachment you’ll see more detail about it.

Page 50, Maritime Disputes:
The United States should continue to publicly assert that Article 5 of the US-Japan security treaty covers the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands as an area under the longtime administration of Japan. It should also quietly discourage Japanese activities that are unnecessarily provocative, such as any efforts to develop the disputed islands.  Kimo:  Mentioned before, but the “keep quiet” approach has not worked.  And could you please explain what constitutes “provocative”?  I think that is a term that could use a high-level dialogue within the USG, as there is no uniform meaning today.

Page 52, Taiwan and Hong Kong:
The Trump administration also should reiterate the longstanding US position that it will not challenge any future arrangement between Taiwan and the mainland as long as it is arrived at amicably by the consent of the people on both sides without intimidation or coercion. But the United States also must reiterate its strong interest in maintaining cross-Strait stability and support for all forms of noncoercive cross-Strait dialogue and exchange, with the hope that such interactions will develop in the coming years and help heal the divide.  Kimo:  Concur.

Page 55, Human Rights:
The principle that should guide US responses, especially to China’s new human rights encroachments on the global stage, is reciprocity. The United States is fully justified in demanding not only that its sovereignty not be abridged, but also that the privileges that Chinese institutions and nationals enjoy in the United States should also be afforded to US institutions and nationals in China. Greater reciprocity would require Beijing to allow:  Kimo:  Concur.

Page 56, Defense and Military Relations:
If China’s national power continues to increase relative to that of the United States, then maintaining stability in East Asia will become increasingly challenging for the United States, its allies, and its security partners.  Regardless of how China grows and evolves over the next several years, Beijing will likely be increasingly dissatisfied with the US alliance structure and forward military presence in the Asia-Pacific region because it perceives it as ring fencing China on its maritime frontier.  Kimo:  Concur.

Page 59, Defense and Military Relations:
An overemphasis on the percentage of specific US military forces deployed in the Asia-Pacific region shifts debates away from more critical issues, such as the correlation of forces, competitive doctrines, and survivability and sustainability of US and allied military power. Increases in total US defense spending may be required to offset the steady rise in Chinese military expenditures, especially if the growing costs of active and retired personnel in the US armed forces continue to limit funds allocated to research and development, equipment, and training.  Kimo:  Concur, but don’t understand why there is no reference in this section about why the military must be large enough, across all measures of effectiveness, to deter China’s bad behavior.  There seems to be a lack of appreciation of the necessity for the US military to be a deterrent force.  If you accept that requirement, then the amount of increases in defense spending will be much greater than simply nibbling around the edges.

Page 59, Defense and Military Relations:
When disputes do arise, the United States must insist that they are settled peacefully and that all claims are made in ways that are consistent with international law—applying these principles to all actors, not just China— thereby discouraging allies and security partners from adopting provocative policies of their own.  Kimo:  Concur with the first portion of this sentence, but disagree wit the notion that somehow any other nation is using its military to settle its disputes like the PRC has done.  You may site Vietnam, but let’s be clear, during the 2014 CNOOC HYSY 981 event (one that almost sparked into war), it was the PRC that dispatched its warships and jet fighters around HYSY 981.  And we’ve all witnessed how the PLA/PLAN has intimidated the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal, but let’s not forget the PRC’s use of the Chinese Coast Guard to prevent the resupply of food and water to Philippine sailors and marines on the grounded LST Sierra Madre, not only a clear violation of UNCLOS and the 2002 DoC, but also a clear human rights violation to prevent these handful of military personnel from getting life sustaining food and water.  So this again demonstrates that the co-authors and co-contributors favor the notion of “moral equivalency” over objective analysis of the facts.

Page 60, Defense and Military Relations:
Efforts by senior US military leaders to establish trust-based relationships with their Chinese counterparts should continue, though realistic expectations are in order.  Kimo:  Why?  What is the evidence to support this assertion?  Signing of CUES and having the PLAN attend RIMPAC?  Those are hardly convincing.  See my view on this issue in the 3rd attachment.

Page 65, Conclusion:
Meanwhile, the incoming Trump administration appears to be considering policy approaches toward China and Asia that could radically alter the basic strategy that previous Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued for many decades.  Kimo:  Well, given last nights confirmation that President Trump has sustained the “one China policy”, it highlights the pre-conceived bias that the report had towards the new administration.  More importantly though is how this statement in the conclusion contradicts the statement in the introduction to not not be “held prisoner” by the past.  You cannot have it both ways.  Either you are held hostage by the past or you are willing to look at everything afresh, to include even the sacrosanct “one China policy”.

Page 66, Dissenting Views:
The only way to get serious attention in North Korea and China is to force the Kim regime to choose between nuclear weapons and the only goal it prizes more—survival. This entails rapid, not incremental, ratcheting up of Iran-type sanctions, including those that directly hurt Chinese interests.  Kimo:  As I stated before, I appreciate Ambassador Lord’s recommendation and I would expect this new administration to be listening to this portion of the report.


If you have followed me this far, then I congratulate you on your tenacity and forbearance in reviewing my comments.

For the past 15 years I had access to the highest classified documentation that this nation has regarding issues related to the PRC and I spent each and every day correlating what I read in those reports, with what China was saying in public, and with what they were actually doing with their military forces down to the tactical level.  It is my conclusion that despite valid reasons for Dr. Kissinger for making contact with the PRC and establishing relations, the past 15-20 years of unconstrained engagement and the push of the relationship above all other factors has in fact placed U.S. National security at greater risk than if the US had taken a different, more principled, approach to our US Asia policy.  I suspect you will disagree with me, but that is what my analysis of the data leads me to conclude.

In April of 2016 Dr. Schell wrote an article in the New York Times entitled “Crackdown in China:  worse and worse”.  In it he concluded:

“His authoritarian style of leadership at home and belligerent posture abroad are ominous because they make China’s chances of being successful in reforming its own economy—on which the entire world now depends—increasingly unlikely. At the same time, because they seem bound to make the Party more dependent on nationalism and xenophobia, Xi’s policies also seem destined to prevent Beijing from being able to recast its inflamed relations with its neighbors around the South and East China seas. Finally, because such policies also grow out of a deeply paranoid view of the democratic world, they make it extremely difficult for China to effectively cooperate with countries like the US on crucial areas of common interests such as antiterrorism, climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation. Whatever may come, China is undergoing a retrograde change that will require every person, business, and country dealing with it to make a radical reassessment of its willingness to seek convergence with the rest of the world.”

I agree, but would suggest that this study should have also concluded that the new American administration needs to make a “radical reassessment of its willingness to seek convergence” with a PRC that he correctly described as being more dependent upon nationalism and xenophobia.

James E. Fanell retired as a Captain from the U.S. Navy in January 2015. His nearly 30-year career as a naval intelligence officer focused on Indo-Asia Pacific security affairs, with an emphasis on the Chinese navy and its operations. He was most recently the Director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He is currently a Government Fellow with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Throughout his naval career he served in a variety of afloat and ashore assignments across the Pacific region, highlighted by tours as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence for the U.S. Seventh Fleet aboard the USS Blue Ridge, the Office of Naval Intelligence China Senior Intelligence Officer, and as the Senior Intelligence Officer for the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier strike group, then forward-deployed to Japan. He was a National Security Affairs Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and holds a B.A. in History and Political Science from San Diego State University, an M.A. in History from the University of Hawaii, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Command and Staff College where he received an M.A. in Military Science. He is also a public speaker most notably at the AFCEA West / U.S. Naval Institute’s panels on China in 2013 and 2014. He has published works in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval Intelligence Professionals Quarterly, Fox News, Switzerland’s Military Power Review, and the Hoover Digest. Jim is the creator and manager of the Asia Security forum Red Star Rising since 2005.

JPR Status: Commentary.