Friday February 21, 2020


September 11, 2014

U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice visited Beijing from Sunday to Tuesday this week, her first visit to China since assuming office in July, 2013. Rice met with a host of prominent Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and General Fan Changlong, a Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

The primary purpose of this trip was to prepare for Obama’s upcoming visit in November, when he will meet informally with President Xi following an APEC leader’s summit in Beijing. However, the visit also served to measure the state of U.S.- China relations in the midst of international turmoil and recent conflicts between the two nations. Both sides made an effort to display their belief in cooperation between the two powers as central to global affairs. After arriving in Beijing on Sunday, Rice tweeted, “Most major global challenges of 21st century cannot be addressed effectively without U.S. and China working together.” She emphasized this sentiment again in meetings with Chinese officials, stating that her presence in China during a time of violent upheaval in the Middle East was a testament to the importance Obama places on the U.S. – China relationship.

According to U.S. officials accompanying Rice, the meetings with Chinese officials primarily focused on non-controversial topics and areas for bilateral cooperation. Among topics discussed were economics, environmental protection, U.S. business interests, Korea, and counter-terrorism. In discussing the threat of ISIS in the Middle East, the Chinese counterparts took U.S. concerns seriously, reported U.S. officials, although they did not provide any details. Certainly, the U.S. seeks to gain Chinese support in combating ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Rice further expressed Washington’s hope that China will take a stance on the Ukraine conflict and press Russia to accept Ukrainian sovereignty. She did also touch upon the more sensitive issue of Hong Kong democracy, although apparently did not delve into specifics. The U.S., of course, stakes high importance on promoting democratic expression and human rights in the People’s Republic.

Overshadowing Rice’s visit, however, was the intercepting of a U.S. patrol aircraft in international airspace near Hainan by a Chinese fighter jet. The incident occurred last month when a Chinese pilot flew dangerously close to the U.S. surveillance plane, sparking comparisons to a similar incident in 2001 in which U.S. and Chinese planes did collide, causing the death of a Chinese pilot. The topic came up in discussion with General Fan Changlong. Fan stated the Chinese pilot had acted correctly in intercepting the U.S. aircraft and insisted once more that the U.S. halt surveillance activities of China. He said he hopes the two nations will be able to increase military cooperation and trust instead of turning to surveillance to learn about one another. Rice responded by urging china to stop intercepting U.S. aircraft.

This exchange took place the same day Admiral Jonathan Greenert, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, discussed the issue at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. While speaking with reporters, he stated, “There’s no intention that I’m aware of” to halt surveillance of China’s coast, adding that when Chinese surveillance craft enters U.S. space, “we don’t make a big deal out of it.” U.S. and Chinese militaries have recently increased cooperative engagements, but the uncompromising rhetoric on both sides regarding the matter of surveillance illustrates just how vast the trust deficit over military concerns still is.

Despite the number of high priority topics mentioned, Susan Rice’s visit to China ended without many obvious gains. The two sides primarily exchanged platitudes expressing their desire to continue to build trust while pledging to talk about the important issues later. If nothing else, the event does prove the commitment to creating a more constructive relationship remains strong, even while both the United States and the People’s Republic have many larger areas of concern to address. It will be Obama’s visit in November and meetings with Xi Jinping that will serve as the true test of the state of U.S. – China relations.


For more information about this topic, please consult the following sources:

ABC News“US: China, US Should Avoid Military Incidents.”

Breaking Defense“Chinese Reporters Press US Navy Chief: P-8s, Go Home!”

Reuters“U.S., China security leaders trade barbs over jet maneuvers.”

The Diplomat“US, China Trade Barbs Over Surveillance Flights.”

The Diplomat“NSA Susan Rice in China: Rethinking ‘New Type Great Power Relations.’”

The Hindu“NSA Susan Rice holds talks ahead of Obama’s China visit.”

The New York Times“China Asks U.S. to End Close-up Military Surveillance.”

The Washington Post –  “US and China discuss avoiding military incidents.”

Xinhua“China, U.S. in preparations for Obama’s China visit in November: Chinese State Councilor.”

China Daily (中国日报)“王毅会见美国总统国家安全事务助理赖斯.”

Xinhua (新华)“习近平会见美国总统国家安全事务助理赖斯.”

Compiled and edited by Molly Bradtke