Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in Seattle yesterday and addressed a group of business leaders, touching on most of the hot topics rumored to be on the agenda with President Obama during his visit to Washington: China’s handling of its economy, liberalization, and cyber warfare. But though analysts will try to find hidden messages of goodwill in what will more than likely be platitudinous statements—“We will address the legitimate concerns of foreign investors in a timely fashion, protect their lawful rights and interests, and work hard to provide an open and transparent legal and policy environment”, Xi said in Seattle—the relationship between China and the United States remains edgy.
Case in point: Pacific Command announced yesterday that two Chinese JH-7 fighters had flown within 500 feet of the nose of an American RC-135 spy plane two weeks ago. The spy plane was flying 80 miles off Shandong Peninsula, over the Yellow Sea, in international airspace. The Pentagon deemed the intercept “unsafe”, a serious infraction by its standards, though officials said it did not amount to a near collision, and maintained that thus far this was an exception rather than a trend. Of course, the intercept follows on China’s sending a flotilla of warships through the Bering Sea and through U.S. territorial waters. The move was in full compliance with international laws and conventions, but it was nevertheless likely meant as a message.
Similarly, while President Xi makes conciliatory noises about cooperation on cyber warfare and, perhaps more crucially, theft of corporate intellectual property, Beijing has officially arrested a Chinese-American businesswoman, Phan Phan-Gillis, the 55 year old they have had in custody since late March. China’s foreign ministry confirmed yesterday that she was arrested on suspicion that she had “endangered national security” (translation: she was a spy), and said that it hoped “other countries” would let China pursue justice in this case.