- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
Wading into the miasma of GOP presidential politics, National Security Advisor Susan Rice defended the Obama administration’s decision to host Chinese President Xi Jinping this week amid renewed calls to cancel the high-profile state visit.
“I know that some people question why we host China at all. That’s a dangerous and short-sighted view,” she told an audience at George Washington University on Monday. “If America chose to remove itself from China, we would only ensure that the Chinese are not challenged on the issues where we differ and are not encouraged to peacefully rise within the international system that we have done so much to build.”
Rice’s blunt remarks served as an indirect response to Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker, who has called on President Barack Obama to nix the visit due to Beijing’s alleged support of cyber-espionage in the United States, in particular the devastating breach of data at the Office of Personnel Management.
“Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued state interference with its economy, and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel the state visit,” Walker said in a statement last month.
Xi arrives in the United States on Tuesday for a seven-day trip that will include stops in Seattle to meet American business executives, Washington, D.C., to meet with Obama, and New York for his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly. The recent downturn in the Chinese economy has taken some of the swagger out of Xi’s step, but has done little to reduce a series of disputes between Washington and Beijing, including China’s aggressive posture in the South China Sea, a slew of cyberattacks blamed on China, and the government’s crackdown on U.S. businesses and NGOs.
Rice’s decision to indirectly refute Walker’s remarks may reflect an awareness of China’s extreme sensitivity to public criticisms within the American political system.
“Their position is always, ‘We don’t want to be a political football in U.S. political contests,'” Christopher Johnson, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former China analyst at the CIA, said at a separate event before Rice’s speech. “The fact that they are something of an issue is obviously a concern.”
In recent days, GOP front-runner Donald Trump has also called into question Xi’s visit, saying he would not throw the Chinese leader a lavish state dinner — but treat him to fast food instead. “I’d get him a McDonald’s hamburger, and I’d say we gotta get down to work because you can’t continue to devalue [the Chinese currency],” Trump said on Fox News recently.
In her address on Monday, Rice reserved her harshest criticism for what she called Beijing’s “state-sponsored, cyber-enabled economic espionage.”
“This isn’t a mild irritation. It is an economic and national security concern to the United States,” she said. “Cyber-enabled espionage that targets personal and corporate information for the economic gain of businesses undermines our long-term economic cooperation, and it needs to stop.”
She also reiterated U.S. concerns about China’s construction of artificial islands and facilities in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, a major global thoroughfare for shipping. Despite those concerns, she emphasized the importance of maintaining ties and communication between Washington and Beijing.
“It is determined, constant engagement that allowed us to reach a climate agreement, while overcoming long-standing trade disputes,” she said. “And determined, constant engagement is necessary to manage our differences.”
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