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April 18, 2013

John Kerry recently made his first visit to the Asia Pacific since becoming Secretary of State, spending three days total in Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo. Initial goals for the trip were said to include persuading China to use its economic and diplomatic leverage to try to temper North Korea’s behavior and to reassure Japan and South Korea as U.S. allies. Kerry met with both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during his time in Beijing.

Both sides jointly called on North Korea to refrain from provocations and to abide by international obligations, while endorsing the principle of ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. Kerry further suggested in a news conference that American missile defenses could be cut back if North Korea were to abandon its nuclear program—a statement reportedly intended to encourage China to take more concrete actions towards North Korea, as such cutbacks would help address Chinese concerns about the buildup of American weapons systems in the region.

Despite Kerry’s positive assessment of the meetings, media reports note there was no significant shift in China’s position on North Korea following his visit. Reports further suggest a stronger Chinese stance is unlikely considering stability is Beijing’s top concern for the Korean Peninsula. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated, “China’s stance on the Korean Peninsula is consistent. No matter what happens, China will stick to denuclearization and peace on the peninsula and settling the issue through dialogue.”

North Korea was not the only item on the agenda for Kerry’s meetings in Beijing. The formation of a working group designed to foster dialogue and cooperation between the U.S. and China on issues related to cyber security was announced. This effort seeks to ease recent tensions and mutual accusations of hacking and Internet theft. Discussions on an energy cooperation program were held and an agreement was reached to elevate U.S.-China cooperation on climate and energy issues to the ministerial level. Further discussions were also held on regional maritime security in addition to the deteriorating situation in Syria. In an overall assessment of his meetings in China, Kerry remarked that agreement outweighed disagreement between the two sides on most issues of discussion.

Continuation of High-level Discussions and Chinese Media Assessment of Kerry

Kerry announced in a following press conference that members of the U.S. intelligence community, in addition to Deputy Secretary Burns, would be traveling to China later in April to continue high level discussions on security-related issues.

Chinese media reports expressed new hopes for positive U.S.-China cooperation under Kerry, emphasizing his ‘gentler’ side in comparison to Secretary Clinton’s perceived ‘hard line’ approach, which was reportedly viewed by some Chinese policymakers as ‘aggravating’ rather than effectively addressing key issues.

Subnational Component of U.S.-China Relations

While Kerry’s meetings represent the more commonly reported, national level of U.S.-China relations, partnerships between the two countries are increasingly being formed and expanded at the subnational level. As such, some national-level policy is now being driven by the subnational desire for regulations favorable to economic growth at the state level. Thus, recent years have seen a growth in governor-led delegations to China of business representatives from their respective states. One of the most recent and formalized mechanisms for such subnational cooperation is the U.S.-China Governors Forum.

Background on Previous Governors Forum Meetings

In February 2011, Hunan Provincial Secretary Zhou Qiang and Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) Li Xiaolin, were invited to the U.S. National Governors Association Meeting. At this meeting, a formal agreement was signed between Li and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, announcing the launch of the U.S.-China Governors Forum. The U.S.-China Governors Forum was then formally established in July 2011 with the goal of providing a platform for engagement between local leaders and expanding cooperation in trade, investment, energy, the environment, culture, and people-to-people exchanges. Previously, two rounds of dialogues have been held, the first being held in Salt Lake City, Utah in July 2011 and the second being held in Beijing in October 2011.

The first forum was attended by over 20 U.S. governors–led by Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, and four Chinese governors–led by Zhejiang Party Secretary Zhao Hongzhu. Over 20 MOUs and other agreements were signed during the forum, including one regarding a reciprocal visit of U.S. governors to China later that year. In addition to the forum itself, governors from 15 U.S. states and territories held one-on-one meetings with the Chinese governors and the Chinese governors were able to visit other U.S. states during their time in the U.S. Six U.S. and eight Chinese governors participated in the second forum in Beijing, which primarily served to further understanding between the two sides and reinforce agreements made during the first forum.

Third U.S.-China Governors Forum Held in Beijing, Tianjin

The third U.S.-China Governors Forum was recently held in Beijing on April 15th and in Tianjin on April 16th. Representatives from the U.S. side included Iowa Governor Terry Branstad—who led the delegation, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in addition to the Secretary of State’s Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs Reta Jo Lewis. The governors were accompanied by a delegation of approximately 50 business representatives and meetings were held with governors from five Chinese provinces.

The purpose of this forum was to discuss economic and trade cooperation and environmental management. Chinese media reports quote various Chinese participants as speaking out on behalf of companies based in their respective provinces that had been discouraged by so-called punitive measures in the U.S. American Governors reportedly responded that they would work with both their state and national counterparts to ensure a welcoming environment for Chinese businesses in their home states.

In addition to the Governors Forum, many U.S. states are seeking cooperation with China on their own. Earlier this month, the Governor of California and six Chinese provinces and municipalities including Shanghai, Chongqing, Jiangsu, and Shandong signed an agreement to establish the China Provinces and US California Joint Working Group on Trade and Investment Cooperation. Furthermore, the three participating U.S. governors are reported to be traveling to other parts of China following the forum to seek additional forms of cooperation.

[Note: The majority of Chinese press on this event refers to it as the Second Governors Forum, whereas the U.S. State Department refers to it as the third. Very little has been reported in U.S. national media on the forum. Please see the below chart for a basic breakdown of the three Governors Forums that have been held to date.]

For further information on Kerry’s recent trip to China or the Governors Forum, please see the following news sources:

China Daily – China-US economic cooperation goes local

China Daily – Governors seek bilateral efforts to safeguard environment

China Daily – Iowa governor leads trade groups

China Daily – President meets ‘old friend’ in Beijing

China Daily – Wisconsin governor seeks greater trade ties in trip

China Radio International – China Urges US to Reduce Investment Barriers

Global Times – “China visit a test to Kerry’s ‘gentle’ side

McClatchy – Kerry leaves China with no evident breakthrough on North Korea

New York Times – Kerry in China to Seek Help in Korea Crisis

People’s Daily – Great wisdom needed to push Sino-US ties

Reuters – U.S., China agree to work together on cyber security

Reuters – U.S. seeks tough Chinese stance on North Korea as Kerry heads to Seoul

U.S. Department of State – John Kerry-Solo Press Availability in Beijing, China

U.S. Department of State –Remarks at Energy Cooperation Event

U.S. Department of State – Outcome of U.S.-China Governors Forum

U.S. Department of State – The Secretary of State’s Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs Reta Jo Lewis Travel to China

Xinhua – Chinese FM stresses denuclearization, peace, dialogue on Korean Peninsula Issue

Xinhua – Xi meets 2nd China-US governors’ forum attendees


For Chinese language commentary on Kerry’s recent trip to China or the Governors Forum, please see the following news sources:


Huaxia (华夏经纬网) –分析称克里东亚行是战略再平衡 朝鲜提供契机

Renmin Wang (人民网) –中美关系进入智慧推动阶段

Renmin Wang (人民网) –美国全国州长协会主席认为中美省州长论坛取得成功

Zhongguo Ribao (中国日报) –克里访华泽放什么信号?

Xinhua (新华) – 克里东亚行: 为何而来?

Xinhua (新华) –第二轮中美省州长论坛在天津举行

Xinwen Lianbo (新闻联播) – 习近平会见中美省州长时强调 把中美地方交流合作做实做深 造福两国人民


Compiled and edited by Catherine Beck.