The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Why isn’t Steinberg in China?

More than 200 U.S. officials are in Beijing today attending the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. But one major Asia hand didn’t make the trip: Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. Steinberg is among the top Asia scholars in Washington and is intimately involved in almost every major policy issue at the State Department. He ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

More than 200 U.S. officials are in Beijing today attending the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. But one major Asia hand didn't make the trip: Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

Steinberg is among the top Asia scholars in Washington and is intimately involved in almost every major policy issue at the State Department. He visited Beijing with National Security Council senior Asia director Jeffrey Bader in March, when Iran sanctions and arms sales to Taiwan were on the agenda.

More than 200 U.S. officials are in Beijing today attending the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. But one major Asia hand didn’t make the trip: Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.

Steinberg is among the top Asia scholars in Washington and is intimately involved in almost every major policy issue at the State Department. He visited Beijing with National Security Council senior Asia director Jeffrey Bader in March, when Iran sanctions and arms sales to Taiwan were on the agenda.

The State Department has been making a concerted effort to raise Steinberg’s profile, and as part of that effort, Steinberg has been giving major speeches on U.S.-China relations. He gave a speech on U.S.-China cooperation on May 11 at the Brookings Institution, and previewed the dialogue on May 19 at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In those remarks, he reiterated his concept for how to manage U.S.-China relations, called "strategic reassurance" — the idea that the United States and its allies won’t oppose China’s rise so long as Beijing can "reassure the rest of the world that its development and growing global role will not come at the expense of security and well-being of others," as he put it in a speech last September — and explained that the U.S. government needs to see "greater transparency, greater clarity from China about what its intentions are, that help provide that reassurance."

The Obama White House has not picked up on the idea of "strategic reassurance," a term that was always Steinberg’s alone and was never adopted by others in the administration, at least not publicly. But it is puzzling why Steinberg, the administration’s most public spokesman on U.S.-China relations, would not be part of the most extensive talks with Beijing in the history of the Sino-American relationship.

The State Department says it’s just for logistical reasons. "He is here running the department while the secretary is on travel," said department spokesman P.J. Crowley. The other deputy secretary, Jack Lew, is traveling in Nigeria, Mali, and France this week. Under Secretary Bill Burns is in Afghanistan and India. The State Department effort in China is being led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, who is also on the trip.

So what will Steinberg be up to today? He’s scheduled to meet with Czech Senator Sasa Vondra, brief members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and then join President Obama’s bilateral meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the White House. More on that later today…

UPDATE:  A State Department official writes into give us the background story on why Steinberg was held back. According to the official, there is a super important NSC meeting Tuesday on the North Korea ship sinking crisis and in Clinton’s absence, Steinberg is attending. Moreover, Steinberg is State’s man at NSC Deputies Committee meetings, which Tom Donilon runs long and often. So rather than have one more China expert in Beijing, State decided it was in its best interest to keep Steinberg in Washington. Moreover, the Deputies and Clinton don’t travel together, it’s just not an efficient use of senior leaders’ time, the official said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.