Biden launches ‘China House’ to counter Beijing’s growing clout

“The Biden administration..launched “China House,” the centerpiece of its effort to strengthen its diplomatic heft in its global rivalry with Beijing.
The State Department-based unit is designed to eliminate silos among sometimes redundant government bodies, giving U.S. officials from within State and beyond a central clearinghouse to share information and shape policy on China, State officials told POLITICO”

“China House — formally known as the Office of China Coordination — replaces the China Desk in the State Department’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs bureau. The new entity will employ roughly 60 to 70 personnel, including liaisons from other parts of the department such as the Africa and Latin America bureaus, as well as people detailed from other U.S. departments and agencies who may focus on topics such as technology or economic policy.

“The sheer scale, scope, complexity and stakes of the China challenge required us to think, collaborate, organize and act differently,” a senior State Department official said. “It could not be managed alone through the bilateral desk approach.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussion involved sensitive diplomatic matters.”

Why Brittney Griner was released now

“There is a possibility there were other elements to the deal. There might be something entirely secret that we don’t know and won’t know, something that it would be both in Russia’s and the US’s interests to keep behind closed doors. After all, that’s how the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, through quiet diplomacy, a complete picture of which wasn’t clear until later.”

China’s alliance with Saudi Arabia signals a potential shift in the global order

“The Crown Prince, who is commonly known by the acronym MBS, has met with Xi before, most recently at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Though it might seem an odd pairing, the two nations actually have quite a bit in common, including autocratic leadership, serious repression of dissent, a clear need to diversify in order to maintain economic growth, and ambitious infrastructure projects.
China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with Chinese exports to the kingdom reaching $30.3 billion in 2021 and Saudi exports totaling $57 billion in the same year, according to Reuters. Saudi oil makes up 18 percent of Beijing’s total crude oil imports — worth about $55.5 billion between January and October of this year.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has great ambitions to diversify its economy, which has for decades relied on crude oil output. But in order to do that, it needs money — oil money. That’s at least part of why Saudi Arabia limited production in the midst of a global oil crisis and prices for crude oil remain high.

Both nations also tout ambitious infrastructure projects. The Belt and Road initiative, China’s effort to create a 21st-century Silk Road international trade route by providing the finances to develop series of ports, pipelines, railroads, bridges, and other trade infrastructure to nations across Asia and Africa, is a milestone effort for Xi. It’s also received major criticism for potentially exploiting poor nations by essentially loaning them money they can’t pay back, in some cases granting China control over these critical hubs.

Xi’s presence in Saudi Arabia, both with MBS and as part of a larger summit with Arab and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, present multiple opportunities to strengthen ties with a host of nations in the region — and to make sure that in the global power competition, those nations are, at least, not aligned with the US”

“Saudi Arabia knows it cannot depend on generous US weapons sales under Biden, so China is an increasingly viable alternative. In fact, Reuters reported, Saudi Arabia is thought to have signed $30 billion in defense contracts at this summit with China.

In forging their alliance, both nations get a strong trading partner who won’t question their policies; Saudi Arabia gets a more predictable relationship in Xi than it has seen in the switch from former President Donald Trump to Biden.”

Israelis press U.S. not to rejoin Iran nuclear deal

“The 2015 nuclear deal, struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, lifted an array of U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for major restraints on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was too weak and too narrow and he reimposed the sanctions while adding new ones. After about a year, Iran began violating the terms of the deal, including by enriching uranium to high levels and shutting out inspectors.

President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the deal — he and his aides argued that it remains the best vehicle to contain an Iranian nuclear threat. Over nearly a year and a half, a period that included some long pauses, Biden’s emissaries have engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials about reviving the agreement.

The two sides, whose discussions have been mediated primarily by European officials, have tangled on a variety of thorny topics. Those include: whether the U.S. will rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the fate of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into traces of nuclear materials at various Iranian sites; and Iranian demands for certain guarantees that the lifting of sanctions will lead to economic benefits — and that the U.S. won’t pull out of the deal under a different president.

Biden has said he will not rescind the IRGC’s terrorism designation, and the IAEA has indicated it will not give up on the probe.

Iran recently responded to a European draft proposal on reviving the deal with comments mostly focused on sanctions and economic guarantees. U.S. officials have been looking at the Iranian demands and preparing their own response, which may be sent to European negotiators later this week.

The U.S. has been consulting allies, among them Israel, before sending its response, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it would wait until after Gantz’s meeting with Sullivan.

“At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.

The Israeli officials are making their push at a sensitive time: the country, currently being overseen by a caretaker government, will soon hold its fifth election in less than four years.

The main internal debate among U.S. negotiators has been about the economic guarantees sought by Iran, said Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group. Those guarantees deal in part with Iran’s concerns that even if the 2015 deal is revived, foreign companies will consider it too risky to invest in the country. Even when the deal was in full force, many foreign firms were hesitant to do business in Iran.

For Israel’s political leaders, an Iran whose economy is stronger is an Iran that is a bigger threat to their country’s existence. Iran’s rulers consider Israel an illegitimate state, and some have predicted its eventual doom.

Israeli political leaders’ argument against the nuclear deal often boils down to concerns that, if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran, the regime will use the incoming cash to engage even more in an array of unsavory activities, including funding and arming terrorist groups that target Israel.”

“some Israelis in the security establishment — often retired officers with more freedom to speak out — have broken with their political leaders on this issue. They argue that, as imperfect as the nuclear deal may be, it’s better than having no restraints on or surveillance of Iran’s program.”

“At present, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon — is believed to be a few weeks. Under a restored deal, it would likely be around six months. Under the original 2015 agreement, it was estimated at around a year.”

Biden says he wants a two-state solution. Why is he silent on Israeli settlements?

“Severe setbacks for the two-state solution have made US policy seem far-fetched at this point.

That reality came across in Biden’s remarks. “We’ll discuss my continued support — even though I know it’s not in the near term — a two-state solution,” he said upon his arrival this week. He conceded that such an outcome was elusive, while still clinging to it.

A number of factors have contributed to the declining prospects for an independent Palestinian state. Not enough US diplomatic muscle has been put into making the deal happen. The recently disbanded Israeli government didn’t even agree to it as policy (and the previous prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t really, either). Divisions between the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza have detracted from the Palestine Liberation Organization’s authority and legitimacy as a negotiating partner. And wealthy Arab states, like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have prioritized normalizing relationships with Israel — which come with economic and tech cooperation, defense business, and weapons sales — at the expense of Palestinian rights.

But the largest by far is the rampant expansion of settlements in the West Bank that has precluded Palestinians from living there.”

Beijing cuts U.S. cooperation to protest Pelosi’s Taiwan visit

“High-level bilateral military contacts have long been a vexed issue. Beijing repeatedly rebuffed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s efforts to secure a call with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe. Austin finally succeeded in speaking to Wei in April after almost 18 months of efforts.

“We want more open communications particularly between our militaries at a time like this,” John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, said Friday. “Because when you have this much military hardware steaming and sailing and flying around, the chances of misperceptions and miscalculations only increase.”

But the relatively low-level nature of the canceled talks suggests that Beijing’s cancellation was more form than substance.

“These are all useful engagements but ones that are not at the very top level and …[bilateral] communications will remain open,” said Ret. Vice Adm. Robert B. Murrett, professor of practice at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. “I would hope that as opposed to being canceled, these [meetings] are actually just being suspended and that cooler heads would prevail sometime into next year.”

The announcement of cancellations allows Beijing to publicly vent about the Pelosi visit while providing time to walk them back in the coming months. That performative aspect of the Chinese response reflects President Xi Jinping’s domestic political considerations and the need to burnish his image as an iron-willed defender of China’s territorial integrity. That effort is particularly urgent in the run-up to autumn’s 20th Communist Party Congress, where Xi is widely expected to emerge with an unprecedented third term as a paramount leader.”