Monday, November 13, 2023

APEC Summit Highlights Need for Stable Relations

An APEC banner promoting the San Francisco summit. Image credit: APEC press kit 

When US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco this week, they will have lots to talk about. 

As at every meeting between Chinese and US leaders in recent years, Taiwan tops the agenda. Wars in Ukraine and the Middle East will not be far behind.  

China has objected to the sale of weapons to Taiwan – a recent headline in a BBC story read “The US is quietly arming Taiwan to the teeth” – as well as multiple visits to the island by US officials touched off by then-Speaker Pelosi’s August 2022 visit. There have been numerous close encounters between US and Chinese warplanes and naval vessels in the South China and East China Seas in recent months. 

Issues relating to trade – market access, intellectual property protection, export and import restrictions imposed by both countries on products ranging from semiconductors to rare earths – will come up as will narcotics, especially the trafficking of deadly fentanyl. China’s anti-espionage law is causing considerable disquiet in the foreign business community in China. 

The United States wants to talk about the situations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, but China does not. The United States considers Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang legitimate topics for discussion, but China will push back, stating that what goes on in those three places are China’s internal affairs and as such are none of the United States’ business. 

Human Rights 

Human rights will come up, though they are likely not high on the agenda. Here too the presidents have plenty to discuss. 

The Moscone Center, where APEC events will be held. Image credit: Sergiy Galyonkin / CC BY-SA 2.0 

Dui Hua estimates that there are around 200 Americans undergoing coercive measures in China, but the State Department refuses to release the actual number or even an estimate. The US State Department considers three Americans – Mark Swidan, Pastor David Lin, and Li Kai, all businessmen – to be “unjustly imprisoned” in China. 

The meeting between Biden and Xi will take place 11 years after Mark Swidan was detained in Guangdong Province. He has been sentenced to death with two-year reprieve. Multiple senators and representatives have called for his release. If Mark Swidan is released on medical parole and allowed to return to his mother in Texas, this will be viewed positively by the American people. 

The Chinese government also believes that Chinese citizens have been persecuted in the United States, but it has not publicly released their names. 

In addition to citizens thought by the Department of State to be unjustly detained, there is the nettlesome problem of exit bans. Dui Hua estimates there are more than 20 Americans under exit bans, including businessman Henry Cai, who has been forbidden to leave China for nearly seven years. 

The US government raises the names of relatives of US citizens who have been imprisoned in China, including Uyghurs. High priorities are Dr. Gulshan Abbas, Professor Rahile Dawut. and entrepreneur Ekpar Asat. 

On September 24, 2015, President Xi and then-Vice President Joe Biden stand during the US national anthem on Xi’s state visit. Image credit: Airman 1st Class Philip Bryant / US Air Force photo  

While the fate of prisoners is high on the list of human rights issues, it is also possible that the two leaders will talk about areas where the two countries can cooperate. These include the rights of juveniles, women in prison, and the disabled. Dui Hua has worked closely with China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) on juvenile justice reform and the rights of incarcerated women and girls in both countries. The foundation has partnered with the SPC on nine programs in this area since 2008, most recently in April 2023. In the past the United States and China have held a dialogue on the rights of the disabled. These programs have made a difference for those at risk in both countries. 

Number of Dialogues Declines Sharply 

When President Trump took office there were more than 100 dialogues between the United States and China covering a wide range of subjects. Now only a handful remain, including the dialogue on consular affairs where the fates of detained citizens are raised.  

The last human rights dialogue between China and the United States took place in 2016. The dialogue has been suspended since. Meanwhile, China is less interested in holding human rights dialogues with Western countries. There were once as many 10 such dialogues, and many consultations. Now they are few and far between. Instead, China is focused on dialogues and consultations with like-minded countries like Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. Several such events have taken place in 2023. 

Years ago, Dui Hua executive director John Kamm was told by a Chinese official that “When relations are good, your work benefits. When relations are bad, your work suffers.” This is as true today as it was those years ago. 

At APEC2022, Thailand passes the baton—a bamboo basket decorated in three colors symbolizing the values of openness, connection, and balance—to the United States as the next host of APEC2023. Image credit: APEC Thailand X account 

The drop in the number of dialogues between China and the United States has fueled a lack of trust between the two countries, and contributed to a situation where leaders are forced to discuss a long list of issues, some of which are complicated and contentious. 

It is quite possible that a result of APEC summit will be the resumption of suspended dialogues between the United States and China, including the human rights dialogue. If the rights dialogue is resumed, preparations need to begin as soon as possible, including agreement on guidelines. Washington is expected to insist on the right to submit prisoner lists and get responses in return. Hopefully Beijing will agree.