Wednesday May 27, 2020



July 26, 2012

U.S. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon concluded a three-day visit to Beijing this Wednesday, July 25. During his visit, he held talks with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Vice President Xi Jinping, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and Chinese general Xu Caihou. This week’s trip was the first visit of an American National Security Advisor to China in eight years, and Donilon’s first visit since becoming National Security Advisor, after he cancelled a trip planned for late 2011. The visit was significant as a reaffirmation of the importance of U.S.-China relations ahead of the leadership transitions that will take place in both countries later this year.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon has played a central role in the management of the White House relationship with China during the Obama administration, participating in many high-level events between the two countries in recent years. Donilon and Chinese diplomat Dai Bingguo discussed a number of key issues in U.S.-China relations during the NSA’s trip to Beijing, including trade issues, regional security concerns such as the South China Sea and North Korea, and the global challenges of Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Further details of the talks were not released in order to keep the meeting low-profile. On Wednesday, Donilan also met with General Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, to discuss the military-to-military relationship between the United States and China. Both agreed on the need to improve the relationship between the two militaries, and Donilan indicated that the United States was willing to increase military exchanges and cooperation with China in order to maintain regional stability and security.

Donilon’s meetings with President Hu and Vice President Xi centered on the trajectory of the broader U.S.-China relationship and promotion of bilateral ties. President Hu noted that U.S.-China relations have generally been growing and improving in a stable manner due to efforts on both sides, and Donilon remarked that ties between the two countries are positive and fruitful. Hu mentioned that he and President Obama had achieved an important consensus on building a new type of partnership between the United States and China based on mutual trust and benefit, and Donilon assured him that the Obama administration was committed to implementing this vision and deepening bilateral cooperation on a range of issues.

The meetings between the NSA and Chinese leaders and their statements of support for bilateral cooperation come at a time of increasing attention on U.S.-China relations on both sides. In the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election, China policy has become a significant campaign issue. Last week, China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution backed by the U.S. and other Western nations that would have imposed new sanctions on Syria’s government. China’s growing military presence in the South China Sea has increased tensions with Southeast Asian nations and caused some U.S. allies in the region to look to the United States for support, while the American “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region has made some in Beijing wary of U.S. intentions to contain China. Meeting with Donilon on Tuesday, President Hu said that the United States and China should respect each other’s major interests and concerns and handle “sensitive” issues cautiously, perhaps referring to differences in policy over the South China Sea and Syria. One of the goals of the NSA’s trip to China this week may have been to address such worries and bilateral tensions. A former Obama administration official told the New York Times that one of Donilon’s priorities for his trip was persuading Beijing that the United States’ renewed focus on Asia was not driven primarily by military concerns, but was part of a larger effort to engage the region.

The trip also came ahead of changes in leadership that will take place in both countries this fall, as the United States elects a new president and China undergoes a leadership transition at the 18th National Party Congress. Statements by Donilon and Chinese leaders affirming the importance of U.S.-China relations may have aimed to set a firm basis for the relationship before it is handed off to the next administrations. Chinese foreign policy advisor Shi Yihong told the New York Times that China’s leaders highly value their relationship with the White House, while Donilon said that U.S-China relations “are among the most important in the world”. The focus on positive bilateral relations during the NSA’s trip to China, despite a number of differences on regional and global issues and uncertainty surrounding leadership changes, demonstrated a commitment on both sides to a stable, productive relationship for the long term.



For more information on the U.S. National Security Advisor’s trip to Beijing, please see the following news sources:

China Daily – “President Hu urges healthy, stable China-US relationship

New York Times – “Political Worries in U.S. and China Color Obama Aide’s Beijing Visit

Washington Post – “Chinese VP says consensus reached on many issues in meetings with US national security advisor

Xinhua – “Senior Chinese military official meets U.S. national security advisor


For Chinese language commentary on the NSA’s meetings with Chinese leaders, please see the following news sources:

People’s Daily (人民网) – “习近平会见美国总统国家安全事务助理多尼隆

Xinhua (新华网) – “美国外交“灭火员”来华沟通



Compiled and edited by Amanda Watson.