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2015 in Retrospect
Top 10 Events in China-U.S. Relations: 2015
A look back at the year's most important developments in their relationship
 NO. 2 JANUARY 14, 2016


U.S. President Barack Obama holds a ceremony to welcome visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping on September 25 (XINHUA)

Chinese President Xi Jinping paid state visit to the United States.

In September, President Xi paid his first official visit to the United States since taking office, which received attention around the world as the leaders of two largest economies met to discuss a wide range of economic, security and geopolitical topics. During the seven-day visit, from Seattle, Washington to Washington D.C., and then to New York to address the United Nations, Xi stressed that building a new model for major-country relationships is a priority of China's diplomacy and that the two sides should ensure that China-U.S. relations continue to sail along the right course. The two sides reached 49 important consensus points and outcomes during the visit and a series of wide-ranging commercial contracts were signed between business leaders. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi commented that Xi's visit to the United States enhanced the impetus for the development of bilateral relations, and led the "cross-Pacific cooperation" to a new stage. President Obama has already announced he will visit China in 2016, his final year in office.


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gives a speech at the closing ceremony of the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles on September 16 (XINHUA)

China and the United States reached consensus in efforts to address climate change.

Leadership on both sides of the Pacific to combat climate change is a highlight of China-U.S. relations in 2015, and is an important milestone in the international effort to reduce global warming. In June the two countries reached consensus on strengthening cooperation on energy and addressing climate change during the seventh U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). During Xi's trip to America, the two countries issued a new joint statement, reiterating their important role and responsibility in coping with climate change as the globe's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases; and committing their countries to ambitious carbon-reduction targets. On December 11, Xi and Obama had a telephone conversation on the upcoming international climate conference in Paris. China and the United States' respective roles helped pave the way for an international agreement at the conclusion of the Paris conference, and were being hailed by both sides not as the end, but as the beginning of their joint efforts to accelerate green development and peak their emissions.

The Chinese metropolis Shanghai promotes itself at an Invest Shanghai event in Los Angeles on September 24 (XINHUA)

China becomes the top trading partner of the United States.

China-U.S. trade has continued to grow in 2015 even under the unfavorable conditions of a steep downturn in global trade. Data from the U.S. Commerce Department showed that the United States' total trade with China for the first nine months has reached $441.6 billion, with year-on-year growth of 3.7 percent, meaning China had replaced Canada for the first time as the largest trading partner of the United States. At present, China's foreign trade volume accounts for 7.4 percent of total world trade, while the United States accounts for about 14 percent. China and the United States have contributed greatly to the growth of world economy, which will have a profound impact on China-U.S. relations in the years to come.


U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visits the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier as it sails through waters in the South China Sea on November 5 (CFP)

The South China Sea maritime dispute becomes a stumbling block.

In 2015, in the name of safeguarding freedom of navigation, the United States strengthened maritime patrol and military deployment in the region. In May, a U.S. P-8A anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft flew over waters off China's Nansha Islands with a CNN team on board. In October, the U.S. Navy sent its U.S.S. Lassen close to the waters of China's Zhubi Reef; and in November, U.S. military officials announced that the U.S. Navy plans to conduct patrols in the area about twice a quarter. Against the backdrop of the U.S. "pivot to Asia" strategy, U.S. interference in the South China Sea issue has increased tensions between Beijing and Washington.


Keith Alexander, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command and former Director of the National Security Agency, delivers a keynote speech at the 2015 China Internet Security Conference held in Beijing on September 29 (XINHUA)

China-U.S. cybersecurity gaming and cooperation coexist.

In the first half of 2015 the United States accused Chinese hackers of a series of cyber-attacks on the United States and threatened to impose economic sanctions on concerning Chinese entities and individuals. In June, the computer system at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management was hacked with personal information of about 22 million U.S. federal employees being stolen. During President Xi's visit to America in September, the two governments reached important consensus on jointly fighting crime in cyber-space and set up a relevant high-level dialogue mechanism for coordination. On December 1, China's State Councilor Guo Shengkun co-chaired the first China-U.S. high-level dialogue on fighting cybercrimes and related matters with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. The two sides reached an agreement on the guidelines for joint China-U.S. fights against cybercrimes, and the establishment of a hotline.


U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman (right) speaks at a press conference on December 8 to announce the United States is bringing a case against China to the World Trade Organization, protesting China’s taxes on some imported aircraft (XINHUA)

Washington's China policy becomes major talking point in U.S. presidential debates.

In 2015, U.S. academic circles participated in a new round of debate on the United States' China policy. Michael Pillsbury, a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense, argued that China is implementing a strategic deception program. Some advocated for a "containment policy" instead of an "engagement policy." David Lampton, a senior professor at Johns Hopkins University, said in a lecture in May that the China-U.S. relationship is at a tipping point. The China policy debate amongst academics coincides with the primary stage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a time when "China-bashing" can be used as a way to score easy political points amongst domestic audiences who express worry about economic competition from China and fret about a possible decline of U.S. dominant status.


Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi joins talks with P5+1 (China, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and Germany) to discuss the Iran nuclear issue in the UN’s headquarters in New York on September 28 (XINHUA)

China-U.S. cooperation contributed to Iran nuclear deal.

In July, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and the European Union reached a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program--the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under the JCPOA, Iran is not allowed to conduct uranium enrichment above 3.67 percent,and must stop building the Arak heavy water reactor and allow more inspections. In response, the related countries should not add new sanctions on Iran and partly lift their current sanction. During this nine-year long negotiation, China and the United States have conducted constructive coordination and cooperation. After the JCPOA took effect on October 18, China and the United States also helped reach an agreement on the Iranian Arak nuclear reactor transformation project under the JCPOA.


The picture shows Qinzhou Bonded Port Area in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, which has become an important hub for China’s 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road initiative (XINHUA)

Competition of international agreements and initiatives intensified.

China has actively promoted the One Belt and One Road initiative and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) during the year, which will help significantly strengthen interconnectivity between China and its neighbors. Yet China's leadership in these areas has resulted in suspicion from Washington as it believes that China is maneuvering to challenge the U.S.-dominated world order. In his State of the Union speech this year, U.S. President Obama increased the stridency of his rhetoric that the United States and not China must write the trade rules for Asia. Despite that the United States reacted coolly to the AIIB, the international community has shown great interest and enthusiasm, including many European countries who have signed-on as founding members. As a pillar of the United States' "pivot to Asia," the Obama administration vigorously promoted the completion of negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in October, which excludes China. The TPP has further intensified competition for multilateral free trade pacts in the Asia-Pacific and around the world.


Eric Chu, Chairman of Taiwan’s Kuomintang Party, arrives at his hotel during his trip to the United States on November 11(CFP)

Taiwan issue surfaced again.

On December 16, the Obama administration authorized a $1.83 billion arms sale to Taiwan, the first major arms sale in more than four years. As the 2016 Taiwan leader's election is drawing near, Taiwan is likely to face a new-round of political transition. The United States is working to maintain Washington's influence on Taiwan's politics. China has subsequently announced sanctions on companies involved. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said China firmly opposes the US arms sale to Taiwan.


China and U.S. navies hold their first joint military exercise in the Atlantic on November 7 (XINHUA)

Risk avoiding mechanism between the two militaries was strengthened.

Building on the two Memoranda of Understanding on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) signed by China and the United States in Beijing in November 2014, they have now completed new annexes on air-to-air safety and crisis communications. China and the United States have also agreed to continue discussions on additional annexes to the Notification of Major Military Activities CBM. Additionally, they reaffirmed the progress achieved in building military mutual trust mechanism. At the invitation of the Chinese Government, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will visit China in 2016.

Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell 

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