The Obama & Xi Summit: HotAir & Mirage

By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Monday, June 10th, 2013 @ 11:26AM

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The Rancho Mirage meeting between Obama and Xi Jinping left no room for illusion that the basic disagreements between the United States and China could be resolved anytime soon. This much anticipated meeting yielded a lot of hotair, and the only agreement befittingly reached was to discuss ways to reduce emissions of gas, (hydro fluorocarbons–HFCs).

Not even that much was expected. In the run-up to the summit, officials and the media largely lowered expectations of anything happening other than “making nice” on the part of both leaders.  In order to catch a few more readers, some, however, portrayed the event as problem free, except on cyber spying.

The Guardian‘s timely exposé of NSA’s “spying” on millions of American citizens overshadowed the meeting, weakening the U.S. protest against China’s massive cyber theft and ongoing cyberattacks.

On last week’s “revelation” of Barack Obama’s purported new aggressiveness on cyber, the media commentary largely failed to make the case that the NSA has violated the law.

The Guardian’s leak report–holding that Obama had ordered an overseas target list for cyber attacks–provided a link to a copy of formerly super-secret Presidential Policy Directive 20,but it failed to explain what the president’s order for preemptive cyber attacks meant. On the face of it, “Directive 20″ applies the same justification for and execution of such attacks that have traditionally been applied to land warfare.

However, as Max Fisher, blogging in the Washington Post, pointed out, preparing a potential target list is hardly the same as planning to strike those targets; “for many years, the Pentagon maintained worst-case-scenario plans for invading Canada.”

The Presidential Policy Directive 20, “cyber doctrine,” remarked Fisher, “bears a striking resemblance to Obama’s case for the use of drone strikes, which he articulated in a recent speech. Drones, he argues, are justified on the one hand by the need to remove impending national security threats and, on the other, by the fact that all other options would be much costlier.

Criticism of the collateral damage sometimes caused by drone attacks ignores the fact that the enemy is no longer wearing easily identifiable uniforms, and that they often operate from friendly civilian neighborhoods. Nonetheless, the U.S. is likely to allow the UN to proscribe most of our drone program. Indeed, the same fate awaits the preemptive cyberattack policy.

The U.S. had given up the fight against China’s cyber espionage even before Obama had the opportunity, as many hoped, to confront the Chinese president. The U.S. position of determination “to work more vigorously with China and other partners to establish international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace” was declared last week by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

The Chinese, however, respect international norms only when their interest is served.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle has pointed out at ACD’s Cyberthreats and the Economy briefing on April 9, that ”The worst prospect of all would be a cyber version of the Non-Proliferation Treaty–a universal convention based on the premise that any country willing to sign up should have full access to advanced computer science from anywhere in the world. We’ve been down that path before.”

Alas, the Administration seems determined to go even further down that path.

Appropriately, Sol Sanders is asking:

How do you say “schmooze” in Chinese?*

There was less than met the eye at the two-day summit of China’s Xi and President Barack Obama.
Neither party was in a position to tackle the growing list plaguing the relationship between the superpower and the superpower-wannabe. That might or might not have been a product of their particular personal abilities-and the much too often media true-romance about relations among major world figures. It is a question better left to future historians.
But a two-day schmooze was about all the leaders of two mighty world powers could hope for. Given their miserable overflowing in-boxes back at home office, it was to be welcomed by both leaders.
President Barack Obama’s administration has prematurely turned lame duck even before midterm Congressional elections next year. They hold, at least for the moment, little promise for his Democrats to retake the House (where the purse strings abide) and even threaten the fragile Democratic leftwing-nonentity Senate majority.

Obama came to Sunnylands-how appropriate for a supposedly serious geopolitical conclave vacuous to its core-bloodstained from Washington scandals still metastasizing. Try as he has, Obama has failed to use the bully pulpit to take the spotlight with his talk of a somewhat improved economy and a handful of endorsements for social issues for his far-left base. Instead, there is, in the Republican Greek chorus drumbeat exploitation, a growing spectacle of incompetence, petty corruption and failed ideologically driven “comprehensive” solutions. Obama’s directed feints at infinitely complicated social, political and economic problems requiring petty politics maneuvering has never had White House vigor.

President Xi Jinping, although superficially in better shape, also was vacationing from domestic problems that not only threaten his administration but, according to many knowledgeable observers, the Communist Party’s regime itself. Such warnings have come even from CPC leaders’ public statements. Xi’s answer to multitudinous crises bearing down on him in his first months in office is ever more slogans. A little learning is a dangerous thing, as they say, and Xi’s short American sojourns have apparently given him a heady notion of “soft power.” He played the role of Charming Old Uncle leading up to his elevation-assisted by his sing-along wife, purportedly a nationally known chanteuse if in military uniform.

But even the best imitation of American PR cannot camouflage a flagging economy with growth falling far below the formerly accepted minimum for stability, a pending regional and local debt-credit crisis, and an overall economy increasingly victim (as “the world’s factory”) of general world economic malaise, not excluding that of the EU. Despite repeated assertions of policy changes, Beijing has failed to get off the top-down unlimited expansion of capital tack that’s jeopardizing what must in time become a shift to a more consumer oriented economy if it is to prosper.

For all the talk of lessons learned from an entirely illogical historical analogy (of China to Germany and Berlin’s aggressions in the 20th century as a latecomer to the table of the Westphalian nation-states), there isn’t much evidence Beijing has learned whatever “lesson” there was to be had. All the while touting peace and stability, China has laid fantastic claims to southern ocean resources never claimed before except with a few dots on a map; initiated a border incident regarding the century-old Himalayan frontier map dispute with India on the eve of its vice president’s visit; challenged a new, more assertive Japanese government over islands for the claim of which the Chinese can muster little authority; and been unwilling or unable to rein in chauvinistic and even threatening talk by mid-level military.

Neighbors like the Southeast Asians, while always intimidated by the huge northern goliath when it is ascendant, are furious, flirt with whatever surcease Obama offers with his so-called “pivot” to East Asia, and try to get their ducks together for a united front against Beijing. (Meanwhile, they are lapping up the benefits of a new China economy.) “Soft power,” indeed!

Nor will Obama’s new foreign policy team likely have answers for any of the outstanding issues which Beijing’s policies or lack thereof present the U.S. Navy, the traditional peacekeeper in the Western Pacific. All are leaders-from-behind, American-exceptionalism deniers, and UN-firsters who, like their boss, mask all this with macho pronouncements on drone warfare and prowess in intelligence data mining.

Secretary of State John Kerry apparently blithely plans to outdo Hillary Clinton in accumulating mileage in some sort of time warp, in which he thinks he is continuing the old Mideast shuttle diplomacy in the midst of a total breakdown of the 1920s Anglo-French border arrangments. Susan Rice, with some of the sharpest elbows in Obama’s inner circle, is now supposed to be the great mediator of conflicting bureaucracies as National Security Adviser. Many will see her appointment, finally, as conclusive evidence that it is time to make the NSA (subject to Congressional advice and consent), like every other cabinet post. For her very appointment was a poke in the eye to the Republicans (if not some of the conservative Democratic senators) given her still unexplained role as spokesman for the Administration in the Benghazi affair. The president himself said that she knew nothing and had nothing to do with it.

The new ambassador-designate to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is noted for her shoot-from-the-hip pronouncements on everything from how the UN should organize a military operation to “free” the Palestinians from the Israelis to hints that Washington intervene in the current Syrian shambles. She is consistent in believing the highest U.S. foreign policy priority is averting human rights catastrophes, whenever, wherever, however. Not so far in the background is “Brennan of Arabia” as head of CIA, apparently the main influence on Obama’s serendipitous theories about Islam and Muslims-at least before the Arab Spring ripped open the real Mideast underbelly.

Then there is, of course, the mysterious disappearing act of Tom Donilon, outgoing NSA, as one of the President’s intimates and supposedly author of “the pivot.” Without much Asia background, he was the “China hand” who went to Beijing to set up the Obama-Xi meeting agenda such as it was. Civilian life is not in the end, one would assume, going to protect him from Congressional inquisitors-if they ever get back to it-asking his role in the Benghazi “stand down” that refused aid to the beleaguered-then-murdered victims in Libya.

None of the outstanding issues between Washington and Beijing will get anything but rhetoric for a while. Former White House chief-of-staff and now treasury secretary Jack Lew has reaffirmed that Chinese manipulation of their currency is still as big an issue as ever, despite its small appreciation in recent months as Fed Chairman Ben Bernandke continues to roll the dollar printing presses. But Treasury will not formally invoke the sanctions required if Beijing were to be formally named.

The private sector, fortunately, has waked up to what continued, persistent, and defiant cyberwarfare by the Chinese is doing to the already shredded concept of intellectual property (which Beijing ignores) and, of course, in eroding our vast but dwindling technological military lead.

Washington keeps lighting candles and praying Beijing will do something to restrain the North Koreans from building weapons of mass destruction. But despite warm noises from various official and media sympathizers, what Beijing is in fact doing is turning all its efforts to harnessing the North Korean economy (such as it is, but with its valuable direct access to the Pacific). Beijing is obviously dreading that day when the starving, bluffing Pyongyang regime finally implodes and the remnants slide into the lap of South Korea, an American ally.

So, another year, another summit-although actually we are going to have at least two more this year. One has to have sympathy for poor old grand-sumiteer Henry Kissinger, running around China before the big affair. The ageing Henry was only able to get the BBC to listen to his views of what, where and how relations ought to be arranged between the two powers.

After all, Kissinger, whatever his exaggerations of his role, did live in the world of the giants now taken over by pygmies in pseudosumitry. No wonder he can’t get his foot in the major media door.

*A version of this column is scheduled for publication on http://


GUARDIAN UK: Obama orders US to draw up overseas target list for cyber-attacks

WASHINGTON POST: Leaked documents hint at Obama’s emerging cyberwar doctrine

NYT: U.S. and China Move Closer on North Korea, but Not on Cyberespionage  

Sen. Marco Rubio: Do Two Dreams Equal a Nightmare? Why Xi Jinping’s vision of a future China cannot coexist with the American Dream.

Dan Twining: Hold the mao-tais: the risks of Sino-American summit chumminess 

TELEGRAPH UK: Cyber crimes confrontation at Obama Xi summit

FT: Obama and Xi talks tackle cyber security  

GUARDIAN UK: US-China summit ends with accord on all but cyber-espionage. Obama’s meeting with Xi overshadowed by revelations of NSA’s snooping – but deals are made on N Korea and HFCs emissions

WSJ: China’s Move to Slow Credit Comes With Risks

WSJ: Obama, Xi Found Common Ground at Summit, Officials Say   

Categories: ACD/EWI Blog, China, Cyber, U.S. Policy

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