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Could the climate deal be a turning point for improved U.S.-China relations? – Part 3

November 12, 2014 at 6:35 PM EDT
How will deals on trade and climate change, struck during President Obama’s trip to China, affect relations between the United States and China? Susan Shirk of the University of California, San Diego, and author and lawyer Gordon Chang join Gwen Ifill to discuss the significance of the relationship and the pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to compromise.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Today’s deal, of course, also has broader implications for the often tense relationship between the U.S. and China.

For more on that angle, I’m joined by Susan Shirk. She was a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration and now chairs the 21st Century China Program at the University of California, San Diego. And Gordon Chang, he’s an author and attorney who practiced law in Hong Kong for 20 years. He’s also a contributor to

Welcome back to the “NewsHour” to both of you.

First off, apart from substance, Gordon Chang, how significant is it when you put together today’s deal on climate change, yesterday’s deal on trade, given the state of relations between the U.S. and China?

GORDON CHANG, Well, certainly, I think yesterday’s deal on tariffs on information products is very, very important. This is going to affect American business in a very direct way.

And if it indeed is implemented in the WTO’s information technology agreement next year, this is a major win. I’m not so sure about climate change deal, though, because China’s commitment was pretty vague in the White House fact sheet. And also the Xinhua news agency in their release didn’t talk by a climate cap in 2030.

So I have got to make sure, we have got to make sure that there really is a deal here. And, indeed, doing nothing for 16 years, as Mitch McConnell says — and I very rarely quote Mitch McConnell — but doing nothing for 16 areas is politically unsustainable, not only in the United States, but in other countries as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Shirk, asking you the same thing, put this in the context of the overall state of U.S.-China relations. How significant are these two agreements?

SUSAN SHIRK, University of California, San Diego: Well, I think it’s very significant.

This was a good day for U.S.-China diplomacy. Both governments have demonstrated that they have the will to cooperate, despite the growing rivalry between them. And, you know, this climate commitment is very significant. And China has already begun to take major efforts to move toward renewable energy and to reduce emissions and clean up their local environment.

The information technology trade deal, China had been the one holdout. Now that China was motivated to make the compromise necessary to move this agreement forward, I’m quite sure that it will move forward and the benefits for the U.S. economy will be substantial.

And, third, there is also a very important military-to-military agreement, because for years China had resisted our efforts to develop a code of conduct about the maritime and air encounters around their periphery. But now they have agreed that we’re going to develop that kind of code of conduct. So I think because Xi Jinping was hosting this big show and the spotlight was on China, he was very motivated to compromise at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, both of you talked to us earlier today about the role that internal political pressures may have played on President Xi.

Gordon Chang, how do you see that affecting what happens coming out of this meeting, this summit, and the possibility of future connections, relations between the U.S. and China?

GORDON CHANG: It’s going to be very important to see how China implements the agreements that it reached.

And I actually think that the political system now is in distress. Everyone says that Xi Jinping has quickly consolidated control in Beijing. But there are too many symptoms of problems, including the failure to dispose of the issue of Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar, and also these continuing series of loyalty oaths on the part of flag officers, which seem to be a symptom of disagreements in the People’s Liberation Army.

So, Xi Jinping, I don’t think has the consensus to be able to deal with the international community on an acceptable basis. And we saw this in that really deplorable handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where Xi Jinping just breached one diplomatic protocol after another. I think that that shows that there’s problems in the Chinese political system that they can’t deal with a neighbor in an acceptable fashion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that raises another interesting point.

But, Susan Shirk, I do want to get your sense of the internal pressures and how they’re playing out on Xi and how you think this relationship moves forward between the U.S. and China.

SUSAN SHIRK: Well, I do think that Xi Jinping has been very much focused on domestic threats to his power and maintaining the Communist Party in power, despite the dramatic changes in society and economy over the last 30 years.

So you see this contrast between what looks like a very confident Xi Jinping and confident China on the world stage with a very nervous Xi Jinping in China about the potential for domestic unrest. But I think Xi did well for himself by handling this meeting so well, looking like, you know, enhancing China’s status as a responsible big power.

And that’s going to resonate domestically as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, a quick answer from both of you on this, the fact that President Obama referred to what is going on in Hong Kong, President Xi was asked about that, about domestic unrest, if you — in Hong Kong.

Gordon Chang and then Susan Shirk, how much pressure, how much influence does the U.S. really have, if any, in this?

GORDON CHANG: Well, it can have a lot of influence if it decided to use it. We have enormous trade leverage over China, which has become increasingly dependent on exports to the U.S., now that investment and consumption in the U.S. are stagnating.

And, basically, if the United States wanted to exercise leadership, it could.


SUSAN SHIRK: Well, I think that the United States really has and the international community more broadly has limited impact on China’s human rights policies and its policies toward Hong Kong.

And, you know, it has some impact. Certainly, China doesn’t want the reputation of being a police state. Even North Korea is concerned about its reputation on the human rights front, we have seen recently. So it can have some marginal impact. But, by and large, my own experience, having served in government in the Clinton administration, is that we have limited impact, and the demand has to come from within China.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Shirk, Gordon Chang, we thank you.

SUSAN SHIRK: Thank you.