The White House is issuing a stern warning to China about its incursions and meddling in cyberspace, the South China Sea and global currency markets, days before China's President Xi Jinping comes to the White House.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Monday said that the U.S.’s objections to Chinese policy on multiple fronts are at the fore of the conversations between the globe’s two most powerful nations, and would be at the top of President Obama’s agenda during talks this week.
“Everyone has to play by the same rules, regardless of size or power, because that’s the way everyone can compete or be treated equally.”
Rice’s speech appeared to set the tone for President Obama's meeting with Xi, which comes on the heels of new friction over Beijing’s alleged cyber spying on top U.S. officials, and increasing concerns about the Chinese economic market’s ability to send ripples throughout the globe.
“Many of our concerns stem from a common root,” she explained. “Steps that erode the international system or that slowly eat away at a rules-based order and universal rights or that give one nation an unfair advantage are detrimental to us all.
“This is true whether we’re talking about maritime concerns or cyberspace or human rights.”
Xi arrives in the U.S. for a six-day tour on Tuesday, starting with a visit to Seattle. He will meet Obama for a private dinner at the White House on Thursday, followed by a formal state visit on Friday.
Tensions between the two countries on cybersecurity threaten to loom large over the visit, even while Rice on Monday claimed that broader issues of both collaboration and contrast would be on display. The White House will need to scold China this week while also refraining from doing serious damage to the relationship, which will no doubt be a delicate balancing act.
The White House has ruled out leveling sanctions on China in the days leading to Xi's visit, which many had speculated could be issued as punishment for Beijing's alleged theft of millions of American government personnel files. Instead, there are some indications that the U.S. and Beijing will use this week’s summit to move ahead with an agreement outlining rules of the road for cyberspace, to prevent persistent escalation of tensions.
Rice made a point to reject the calls from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) — who is running for president — to call off Xi’s visit because of China’s history of hacking.
“If we sought to punish China by canceling on China or refusing to engage them, we would only be punishing ourselves,” she claimed.
In addition to the concerns about cybersecurity, Rice also raised the U.S.’s objections with China’s treatment of human rights activists, limitations on the Internet, obstruction of sea lanes in the South China Sea and interference with the economic market.
“We want China to advance market reforms that level the playing field for foreign firms, reduce barriers to trade and unleash its massive economic potential,” she said.
Still, Rice was far from uniformly critical of China, and framed the points of friction as legacy complaints that would not hinder broader cooperation between the two nations.
“Our differences and America’s concerns are real,” she said. “At the same time, it is important to recognize the long-term trends that increasingly anchor this relationship.”
In particular, she hailed a landmark agreement last November to jointly limit greenhouse gas emissions, which has the potential to dramatically reset the global debate over climate change.
“This is an example to the world of how sustained U.S.-China engagement can yield historic results to meet the challenges of the 21st Century,” she said.
Rice also praised U.S.-China cooperation to confront North Korea and their joint roles in reaching the historic nuclear agreement with Iran earlier this summer.