Nov 6, 2017

Axios China

By Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

Happy Saturday ... President Trump has started his weekend in Asia, where he will be for the next 11 days visiting Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. The expectations seem so low that perhaps anything short of triggering a trade or hot war will be considered a success?

Thanks for reading.

1. Trump in Asia: pivot rebranded

The New York Times has a good overview of the strategic backdrop to Trump's Asian tour:

  • "In Vietnam, his aides said, Mr. Trump will articulate a new policy for Asia built on the concept of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" region. The idea, they acknowledge, originated with the Japanese, who have been urging the United States to bond with three other maritime democracies — Japan, Australia, and India — to contain a rising China..."
  • "Japanese officials planted the Indo-Pacific idea with two American counterparts: Brian H. Hook, the State Department's policy planning director, and Matthew Pottinger, the Asia director in the National Security Council. But it dates further back, to a 19th-century American naval officer and historian, Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose writings about maritime power have long been studied in Japan but who has only recently drawn attention in the White House."

So far I'm not hearing to expect any substantive breakthroughs with China on either trade or North Korea. China and the U.S. will sign a lot of deals during the visit, but deals are easy for the Chinese and, once you wade through the pr spin, many of the signed "agreements" may actually be non-binding MOUs. I hope I am wrong but it sounds like the US President will shy away from any specific, hard asks around the metastasizing structural issues in the US-China economic relationship.

  • But Xi Jinping will ensure Trump is well feted. The Forbidden City will close November 8 for Trump's private tour and Cui Tiankai, the soon-to-retire Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., told the media that Trump "will receive a "State visit-plus" featuring a military honor guard, official talks, formal banquet and "special arrangements."

Other things to watch:

2. China's correction on South Korean missile defense

The China-South Korea "rapprochement" just before the Trump visit is noteworthy. This newsletter has suggested a few times over the last several weeks that Xi might find some sort of face-saving solution over THAAD to allow Beijing to back away from its hysterical reaction and rebuild ties with South Korea, with a goal towards driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington over North Korea.

  • The story I heard was that the initial briefing to Xi about THAAD dramatically overstated its capabilities, leading Xi to overreact and then the entire system to overreact with him. Just days after the 19th Party Congress Xi seems to have gotten past the THAAD issue and made a smart correction of a mistaken policy that may reduce Trump's multilateral DPRK options and leverage ahead of his Asia visit.
3. Yours Truly Talks The 19th Party Congress

I did a fun Sinica podcast on the 19th Party Congress:

Takeaways from China's 19th Party Congress, with Bill Bishop and Jude Blanchette - SupChina

Useful Graphic: UPDATED INFOGRAPHIC: A Post-19th Party Congress Guide to China's New Leadership

4. Xi Jinping keeps promoting allies and breaking norms

Xi JInping's college roommate, Chen Xi, is taking over a party school, the latest close ally given a senior role, according to the South China Morning Post:

  • For the past two decades, the post has been held by the first ranking member of the party's secretariat, a role filled by a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Chen Xi is a member of China's second highest decision making body, the Politburo.
  • Xi himself is a former head of the academy, as was his predecessor Hu Jintao and the recently retired ideology chief Liu Yunshan.

Other Jobs For Team Xi: Zhao Kezhi is the new head of the Ministry of Public Security and, as Sinocism predicted in the 10.25 newsletter, Xi loyalists Huang Kunming and Ding Xuexiang have been named Minister of Propaganda and head of the Central Committee General Office, respectively. The new head of the important Central Policy Research Office remains a mystery, as does the role that Hu Chunhua will take on.

5. PRC system focused on propaganda work about the 19th Party Congress

They always do these propaganda campaigns after Party Congresses. The intensity, the focus on one individual — Xi — and the inclusion of Politburo member Chen Min'er on the "central publicity team" looks a bit different than years past. Party members will spend a lot of time in the coming weeks on this.

The details from Xinhua:

  • The campaign will be the prime political task for the Party and for the country, according to a decision of the CPC Central Committee released Thursday.
  • The document summarized the essence of congress and made detailed requirements for Party members and organizations during the campaign.
  • The Central Committee requires full training for Party members, as well as courses specifically for Party officials.
  • Textbooks will also be compiled, said the document, dated Wednesday.

More on Chen from the South China Morning Post:

  • Observers said the decision to include Chen Miner, Xi's close associate and one of the youngest Politburo members, in the group pointed to his expanding role in the leadership.
  • The Politburo trio will be part of a 36-member "central publicity team" that from Sunday will go to companies, villages, schools, communities and government departments to talk about the key points made in Xi's 3½-hour speech at the Communist Party's national congress last month, according to Xinhua.
6. Time's Asian edition cover

Ian Bremmer of The Eurasia Group goes full pundit in his cover story China's Economy Is Poised to Win the Future:

"The China striding into that spotlight is not guaranteed to win the future. In this fragmenting world, no one government will have the international influence required to continue to set the political and economic rules that govern the global system. But if you had to bet on one country that is best positioned today to extend its influence with partners and rivals alike, you wouldn't be wise to back the U.S. The smart money would probably be on China."
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

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