Secretary Mattis Meets Chinese Counterpart in Singapore
This week, while international observers
speculated about the prospects for a November meeting between Presidents Trump
and Xi, American and Chinese defense leaders met to reiterate the need for "durable ties" between the two nations. As per
a Chinese request, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis met with Chinese
Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of an ASEAN-led forum on
Asia-Pacific security; reportedly sharing a "straightforward and candid" discussion about
the largest security issues affecting the bilateral relationship, especially
the South China Sea.
The meeting came less than a month after the
Chinese government canceled plans for Secretary Mattis to meet Minister Wei in
Beijing in mid-October amid the imposition of sanctions on the Chinese military and the announcement of a U.S. arms sale to Taiwan.
The cancellation signaled a downward trend in relations between the two, that
was followed by a near collision between Chinese and U.S. naval ships near the
Secretary Mattis emphasized the continued need
for increased high-level communications, saying, "When we have times of
differences and irritants, we should seek to deepen our contact, particularly
at the high level, strategic level, so that we can talk through differences,"
according to Newsweek. A member of the American delegation Assistant
Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs Randall Schriver
also highlighted that Minister Wei maintains a standing invitation to visit the United States,
though no plans for a trip have yet been announced. In the past, Chinese
officials have stressed the necessity of mutual trust in enhancing the
relationship between the two militaries, a sentiment reflected in General Wei's
dialogue with the U.S. secretary of defense.
This week's conference between Mattis and Wei
could serve as a source of optimism for those evaluating the Sino-American
relationship. As China-US Focus contributor Richard Weitz noted earlier this month, though
the Chinese government has often expressed its disapproval of various American
military activities, "More recently, Beijing and Washington have managed to
develop a more durable defense dialogue, to their mutual benefit."
U.S. to Withdraw from 144-year-old Postal Treaty
On Wednesday, the
Trump administration announced its plans to withdraw from the Universal Postal Union treaty
(UPU), delivering a new blow to China in international shipping.
First drafted in 1874, this treaty determines the fees that national postal
services charge to deliver mail and small packages around the world. The
Universal Postal Union has been run by the UN since 1948 and, as of 1969, developing countries (including
China) have been assigned lower rates than wealthier nations as part of an
effort to foster the development of these countries. However, currently about 60 percent of packages shipped into the United States
come from Chinese companies; a result of a 40-70 percent discount on small parcels
traveling to the U.S. from China. The Trump administration has argued that
because of the decreased rates, the U.S. market has been inundated with cheap e-commerce goods from China at the
expense of American competitors.
administration's move to withdraw from the postal treaty is not entirely
surprising given President Trump's well-documented aversion to multilateral
organizations. The announcement of the withdrawal was welcomed by the U.S.
National Association of Manufacturers. The president of the manufacturers
association, Jay Timmons, stated that "manufacturers and manufacturing workers in the United
States will greatly benefit from a modernized and more fair agreement with
China." As Chinese officials have expressed regret regarding the U.S. decision
to pull out of the UPU, U.S. counterparts noted they are open to renegotiating the terms of the treaty within
the next year, but if no agreement can be reached, the U.S. plans to leave the
In the event of a
complete withdrawal, White House officials have stated that the goal for the
U.S. will be to unilaterally declare international postal rates in an effort to close the gap with China. Gary Huang, chairman of the American
Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai's supply chain committee, warns that "Chinese sellers on EBay and other platforms may
disappear, or at the very least they will not find it so easy to sell to
Americans anymore." Consumers
should brace themselves for higher prices that reflect higher shipping rates.
American AI Partnership Now Includes China's Baidu
Multinational technology company Baidu is the
first Chinese firm to join a U.S.-led tech consortium on the development of
artificial intelligence (AI). The partnership was established in 2016 and is funded by major Silicon Valley companies such
as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft. Working to formulate best practices
on AI technology, the Partnership on AI (PAI) invited Baidu due to its
expansion in the sector; as the company launches initiatives aiming to limit
potential negative consequences of the controversial innovation, such as
creating hidden errors and institutionalizing bias.
AI has become a contentious subject in the
tech world: leaders like Elon Musk have argued that AI could pose a threat to the
human race. Many people are concerned that people will lose jobs to AI, and
criminals will utilize the technology to create chaos by controlling drones or
automated weapons. However, these anxieties are not shared by Baidu and its
president, Ya-Qin Zhang. "We recognize the importance of joining the global
discussion around the future of AI. AI's safety, fairness and transparency
should not be an afterthought but rather highly considered at the onset of
every project or system we build," he said in a press release on
China's desire to be at the center of AI
development only reinforces Baidu's presence in PAI. As part of China's Made in China 2025 program, Beijing began
pouring money into higher value-added manufacturing sectors to build its
domestic AI industry, investments estimated to be worth $150 billion in the coming years. Terah Lyons,
PAI's executive director, emphasized the importance of China's involvement in
this consortium: "Any conversation about the future of AI that does not
involve China is an incomplete conversation." An important
first step in building a global partnership, PAI intends to give China more
seats at the table.
Nobel Prize Winners Aid Victims of Sexual Violence
This year's Nobel Peace Prize winners are
fighting on behalf of the victims of sexual violence. Recipient Dr. Denis
Mukwege is a gynecologist who specializes in the treatment of girls and women
impacted by sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His fellow
Laureate Nadia Murad was kidnapped by ISIS and now leads Nadia's Initiative, an
organization dedicated to helping women and children victimized by mass
atrocities and human trafficking. In this week's episode of 'At Large,' James
Chau discusses the work of these recipients, while also diving into the IMF
meeting in Bali, the protest against climate change in France and the former
U.S. accusations of currency manipulation against China that have now been
retracted. Listen to the new episode here.