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Top U.S. Diplomat Outlines Complicated Issues Facing U.S., China


Chinese fighter jets came dangerously close to a U.S. spy plane in the South China Sea last month, the latest sign that China considers much of these international waters its own. Against that backdrop, high-level U.S. and Chinese diplomats meet in Beijing next week for talks on a broad range of issues. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel will be there.

He told me the U.S. will underscore how much China stands to lose by flouting international rules.

DANIEL RUSSEL: What the Chinese have been doing in the South China Sea, they have been doing at a sprint in the last two years. It's very destabilizing. It's alarmed the neighbors. And the net effect has been both to drive Southeast Asian countries into America's arms and to create a demand signal for the kind of strong, robust American engagement and presence both in security terms but also in economic terms.

SHAPIRO: Let's look at one of the areas where the U.S. and China really do, more or less, see eye to eye, which is North Korea. With North Koreans staging missile tests, do you see this meeting as a time when the U.S. and China might change direction and try a new strategy with North Korea?

RUSSEL: Well, Ari, we have recently together decided to try a new strategy vis-a-vis North Korea. And that came in the form of a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed unprecedentedly strong and comprehensive sanctions. So I think in the upcoming meeting, there'll be an opportunity for Secretary Kerry and his counterpart, the Chinese state councilor, to really dig down on how we are implementing the U.N. Security Council resolution and what it is that we can do going forward that will bring North Korea not to its knees, but to its senses.

SHAPIRO: When you're at this set of meetings and you say, on the one hand, China, we need to talk to you about stopping what you're doing in the South China Sea. And then perhaps after the lunch break, China, let's talk about what we can do together on North Korea. Does the one detract from the other?

Is there any chance that the places where the U.S. and China are not working together will get in the way of the places where the two countries are?

RUSSEL: There's no question that there is a temptation on China's part to try to barter cooperation on global or regional issues of concern to the United States in exchange for our acquiescence or appeasement on things that are particularly important to them but that we may fundamentally disagree on. There are human rights issues that fit into that category, cyber activities, issues relating to Taiwan and to Hong Kong, et cetera.

We've avoided that studiously by concentrating on practical cooperation that brings together common interests between the U.S. and China. And North Korea is a case in point where we have a common interest in a de-nuclearized and peaceful North Korea that's not posing a threat of a destabilizing crisis.

SHAPIRO: When you look at the presidential campaign, there's a big difference between the way the candidates talk about China and the way President Obama and his administration talk about China. You see a lot more attacks on the campaign trail. Do you hear any reaction to that from the people you meet with when you're in Beijing?

RUSSEL: Well, to a degree, I think it is likely that they chalk up a fair amount of what they hear to campaign rhetoric. But I, Ari, make a point of cautioning them that it's really important for China to pay attention to the damage that some of their policies are doing to the strong support for the U.S.-China relationship that's been, frankly, the bipartisan support over decades.

SHAPIRO: So are you saying that, in a way, it's almost useful to have somebody like Donald Trump attacking China because it allows you to go and say, look, China, you're actually doing some real harm to your reputation here in the U.S.?

RUSSEL: Well, I think that beyond what any candidate might be saying is the concern that I have about the gradual disaffection I see in the U.S. business community. The Chinese legislation and rules that are now limiting the ability of U.S. and foreign organizations - NGOs, companies, academic institutions - from dealing openly and constructively in China is really alienating the strong base that has, for years, supported the relationship.

SHAPIRO: But I could imagine if China has a choice between protecting access to its own market, perhaps stealing trade secrets from the U.S., or on the other hand, having a good reputation in Silicon Valley, they might choose the former.

RUSSEL: Well, we're not giving China the option. Where there is unacceptable behavior by China, we have called it out, clearly. But we have done so in a way that takes us not in the direction of a cold war, let alone a hot war, but in the direction of compromise and adherence to rules

SHAPIRO: Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, thanks for coming in and talking with us.

RUSSEL: My pleasure. Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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