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Paul Haenle

Based in Beijing, China

  • Director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
  • An expert in China-US relations and the Asia-Pacific region
  • Former Principal Assistant to the US President’s National Security Advisor and the China Director in the White House
  • Director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
  • An expert in China-US relations and the Asia-Pacific region
  • Former Principal Assistant to the US President’s National Security Advisor and the China Director in the White House

Paul HAENLE (韩磊) is the Maurice R. Greenberg Chair and Director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. He is also a Senior Advisor at Teneo Strategy and RiceHadleyGates LLC. Haenle served in the White House under U.S. Presidents Bush and Obama from 2007 to 2009 as China director on the National Security Council, and was the White House Representative to the Six-Party Talks nuclear negotiations with North Korea. Haenle also served for 3 years in the West Wing as executive assistant to the National Security Advisor from 2004 to 2007. Haenle was trained as a China foreign area officer in the U.S. Army, has been assigned twice to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, served as a U.S. Army company commander during a two-year tour to the Republic of Korea, and worked in the Pentagon as a China adviser on the staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Haenle serves on the Board of Directors of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and in 2002 was an inaugural fellow in its US-China Young Leaders Program. He earned his master’s degree in Asian Studies from Harvard University and a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Clarkson University.

As countries around the world work to contain and eradicate the coronavirus, recent developments in the Asia-Pacific have raised concerns among U.S. officials that China is trying to take advantage of the crisis to further its strategic interests.

WHERE HAS CHINA BEEN MOST ACTIVE IN RECENT WEEKS?

Recent incidents in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and Hong Kong have ratcheted up regional security tensions at a time when the United States and its allies are least able to respond. The surge in military activity has highlighted the potential for an inadvertent collision or confrontation that could spiral into a larger crisis.

In the South China Sea, China has pushed forward with the development of its artificial islands and continues to intimidate and bully competing claimants. Beijing opened two new research facilities in March, one on the occupied features in the Spratlys; extracted a record-setting amount of natural gas; and detained a crew of Vietnamese fishermen in early April after sinking their boat near the disputed Paracel Islands. Most recently, China announced two new administrative districts in disputed waters that will divert further funds to Chinese administrative, economic, and military development in the region.

Events in the Taiwan Strait have been equally worrisome. Despite a pause in military activity early on in the coronavirus outbreak, China has increased the frequency of its military exercises in recent weeks to prod and harass Taiwan’s defense forces. On April 11, a flotilla of People’s Liberation Navy vessels, including the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, passed through the Miyako Strait—roughly 200 miles from the northernmost tip of Taiwan—on its way to conduct exercises in the South China Sea. In February and March, Beijing also conducted a number of fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance exercises that either crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait or came dangerously close to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The Taiwanese, Japanese, and U.S. militaries were quick to respond by sailing their own warships through the strait and conducting reconnaissance flights.

In Hong Kong, the government has intensified its crackdown on prodemocracy protestors while much of the world is distracted. Despite subdued protests in recent months, the government has begun to prepare for renewed unrest as the coronavirus subsides, recently arresting fifteen prominent protestors. The arrests came just days after the two Chinese representative offices in Hong Kong admonished prodemocracy figures in the legislature for filibustering the passage of new bills—an action some observers view as violating Beijing’s commitment under Article 22 of the special administrative region’s Basic Law not to interfere in Hong Kong’s political system. The new head of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong stoked further fears with a statement that called on the city to enact a national security law that prevents “treason, secession, sedition, [and] subversion” against the Chinese government. The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries have condemned the arrests and urged Beijing’s adherence to the “one country, two systems” policy.

WHY IS CHINA TAKING ACTION NOW?

China aims to project strength and stability abroad while other nations struggle to cope with the virus. China has reported zero infections in its armed forces, a widely uncredited statistic likely touted to suggest unimpeded military capabilities. As the South China Morning Post recently reported, “The Liaoning’s appearance near Taiwan was not only a demonstration of military deterrence to the independence-leaning ruling party in Taiwan, but also a gesture to show off the [People’s Liberation Army]’s greater ability to contain the coronavirus pandemic than its American counterpart.” This message mirrors the narrative promulgated by China’s foreign ministry and diplomats: China was able to quickly curb the virus’s domestic spread and is now taking on a global leadership role.

China is also seizing the opportunity presented by other countries’ reduced military operational capacities and inattention to regional hotspots, especially on the part of the United States. The transit of the Liaoning, for example, occurred while two U.S. aircraft carriers were beset by onboard outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused the coronavirus. The USS Ronald Reagan was in Japan for regular maintenance and the USS Theodore Roosevelt was put in port in Guam after its captain was controversially relieved from duty following his plea for greater assistance. This suggests that Beijing was taking advantage of U.S. weakness to intimidate Taiwan with little pushback. As Mike Kafka, spokesman for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told the Wall Street Journal, “Beijing is a net beneficiary of global attention diverted towards the pandemic rather than military activities in the South China Sea.” Beijing may have seen a similar opportunity to take action in Hong Kong, as it did not expect a forceful response from a Washington hampered with the coronavirus.

Washington, however, has been quick to react in other ways, including an April 13 “elephant walk” in which a large number of U.S. aircraft were paraded in Guam to signal the strength of U.S. military capabilities despite the temporarily inoperable carriers. More recently, the United States sent an amphibious assault ship and guided missile cruiser into waters near Malaysia, where a Chinese ship has been tracking a Malaysian oil exploration vessel.

HOW DO DEVELOPMENTS IN NORTH KOREA FACTOR INTO THE U.S.-CHINA RELATIONSHIP?

North Korea has also become more active in recent weeks, resuming military exercises, live-fire weapon tests, and missile launches. March marked the busiest missile testing period in the country’s history, with nine tactical missile launches. Testing has continued into April, as Pyongyang launched two missiles just ahead of the South Korean elections and the birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Regrettably, geopolitical jockeying is likely to take precedence over any U.S.-China coordination that might advance denuclearization. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump remains focused on maintaining and even tightening sanctions on Pyongyang. China and Russia, however, have repeatedly called for an easing of sanctions over the past year. A recent UN report highlighted the role of Chinese ships in facilitating coal shipments from North Korea—allowing Pyongyang to circumvent sanctions and casting doubt on Beijing’s compliance with their implementation.

On April 15, the U.S. Homeland Security, State, and Treasury departments issued an alert warning of an increase in cyber threats from North Korea and urging countries to raise their vigilance and enhance protective measures. Particularly alarming is the importance of China in enabling North Korean hacking operations: North Korea’s computer scientists often study in northeast China, and the country’s only connections to the internet are routed through China and Russia. In fact, some hacks have been traced directly back to Shenyang, a Chinese city near the North Korean border.

U.S. cooperation with South Korea is also strained after both sides failed to reach a new agreement on sharing defense costs ahead of an April 3 deadline. Lack of coordination among Beijing, Seoul, and Washington is all the more worrying given recent rumors surrounding North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s health. If the regime were to collapse, there would be an immediate need for coordination to deal with a potential nuclear disaster.

WHY HAS NORTH KOREA RAMPED UP MISSILE TESTING AND WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR RESUMING DENUCLEARIZATION TALKS?

North Korea has not reported a single coronavirus case. Given the opacity of the situation on the ground, it’s difficult to discern whether recent provocations are meant to signal resolve abroad, while much of the world shudders from the effects of COVID-19, or at home, while the population suffers under strained resources. It could well be both.

Whatever the reason, the coronavirus has not provided an opening for renewed diplomacy. Disagreements persist over sanctions relief, the pace and extent of North Korea’s denuclearization commitments, and the staging of any comprehensive agreement. Pyongyang has focused on developing its nuclear capabilities despite the intensive sanctions regime and a near complete shutdown in the flow of goods due to closed borders.

Meanwhile, Trump has tried to maintain his relationship with Kim. He followed up his January birthday letter with a personal letter in March offering U.S. cooperation to contain the coronavirus. Kim’s response, however, was muted. His younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, emphasized the special relationship between the two leaders but reiterated that weak bilateral relations prevented meaningful progress in negotiations. The regime also struck out at U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying his “ludicrous language made us give up on any hopes for dialogue.”

The regime’s rhetoric suggests that Kim sees a direct deal with Trump as his best path forward. He will not, however, let Trump leverage the relationship for one-sided political gain. Pyongyang recently rebuffed a claim by Trump that Kim had sent him a note in reply, warning that the personal relationship should not be “misused for meeting selfish purposes.”

Continued provocations from North Korea are likely in the months ahead, especially as the country approaches the seventy-fifth anniversary of its founding in October. It is doubtful that Kim will pursue substantive negotiations until after the U.S. elections, when Pyongyang knows whom it will being dealing with going forward. Kim may even pressure Trump as he faces reelection by ramping up testing to seek concessions in exchange for some semblance of stability.

WHAT IS THE OUTLOOK FOR U.S. SECURITY ENGAGEMENT WITH CHINA IN THE YEAR AHEAD?

Prior to the breakout of COVID-19, there was already an elevated likelihood of regional crisis, whether from an inadvertent collision in the South China Sea or an incident in the Taiwan Strait. Chinese military officers have been taking riskier actions, perhaps learning from their diplomatic counterparts that assertive stances can earn fast promotions in a system that “rewards toughness [and] leaves the moderates to die out in [the] cold,” as Carnegie-Tsinghua scholar Tong Zhao has argued.

The People’s Liberation Army is in the early stages of a military modernization and reorganization that will increase the size, effectiveness, and reach of its fleet. U.S. military officials have requested an additional $20 billion in funding “to fortify the country’s naval, airborne, and ground-based operations in the Indo-Pacific region.” The United States will feel compelled to ramp up that competition if it believes China is trying to increase its advantages during the pandemic.

The United States has simultaneously supported economic decoupling from China. The Trump administration has reportedly considered new export controls, including measures that would require companies using U.S. chipmaking equipment to obtain licenses to supply certain chips to the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei. During an interview last week, Pompeo argued that because “the Chinese Communist Party failed to be transparent and open and handle data in an appropriate way,” it would “cause many, many countries to rethink what they were doing with respect to their telecom architecture.”

It is too early to predict what the U.S.-China relationship will look like once COVID-19 subsides. In the interim, it is clear that Beijing will pursue its previously established policies while seizing strategic opportunities presented by the diminished capabilities of the United States and other significant players in the Asia-Pacific. Perceptions in Washington that Beijing has exploited a crisis for its benefit will only sow further distrust.

The author is grateful for research assistance provided by Lucas Tcheyan, Ethan Paul, and Bernice Xu.

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the many issues in the U.S.-China relationship. Why can’t Washington and Beijing better coordinate a response to the pandemic?

 

To listen to this discussion between Paul Haenle and Evan A. Feigenbaum, click here.

 

Written by Paul Haenle and Sam Bresnick

Donald Trump likes to claim that he is the first U.S. president to “get tough” on China. Trump, along with his advisers and supporters, argues that his trade war and export controls have made him Beijing’s worst nightmare. Whereas previous presidents carried out policies that allowed China to take advantage of the United States, the narrative goes, Trump is the first chief executive to stand up to China and robustly defend America’s interests.

But this narrative does not withstand scrutiny. On the contrary, a growing number of Chinese government officials and strategic thinkers believe Trump’s policies offer China significant strategic benefits; as a result, they would in fact prefer to see Trump reelected in November. These Chinese observers have analyzed Trump’s weakening of the United States’ reputation and leadership in global governance institutions, destruction of its post–World War II alliance structures, and exacerbation of domestic political polarization and concluded that these trends not only harm Washington’s international position but also boost Beijing’s global standing.

U.S. MISSTEPS AT HOME AND ABROAD

The Trump administration’s domestic and international responses to the coronavirus have been woeful. While Trump had weeks to prepare for the coming onslaught, he played down the severity of the issue, repeatedly telling the nation he had the disease “totally under control” during January and February. As the situation deteriorated, he resorted to magical thinking, arguing the virus would simply “disappear.”

These gaffes were followed by baseless claims that vaccines were fast approaching, that warmer weather would destroy the virus, and that testing was widely available, among other inventions. Such untruths have undoubtedly driven segments of Trump’s already media- and elite-skeptic base to underestimate the severity of the pandemic and ignore instructions to stay indoors. It is clear that Trump’s downplaying or misunderstanding of the crisis allowed the virus to spread further, but his skepticism about the United States’ standing in the international community has also limited its ability to play a global leadership role.

Though Washington included increased funding for some diplomatic programs in its recent $2 trillion stimulus package, it has largely resisted working with multilateral organizations to address the pandemic. Former President Barack Obama and several of his predecessors used the UN to direct responses to previous disease outbreaks, but Trump has criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) and threatened to defund it. Furthermore, U.S. officials have hampered international cooperation efforts, as evidenced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence on using the term “Wuhan virus” in a G7 statement. Because other member states would not accede to the request, no joint statement was issued.

But the rot at the heart of the administration’s international response extends further. It has not worked closely enough with Taiwan and South Korea, two partners who have had success containing the coronavirus, to adjust its own response. Moreover, the Trump administration recently furloughed 4,500 South Korean employees at U.S. military bases, an unprecedented move. Instead of cooperating with its allies, the U.S. government is requisitioning medical equipment bound for other countries. As Evan Medeiros, a nonresident senior fellow at Carnegie, noted on a recent episode of the Asia Chessboard podcast, the administration should “learn from the Asian countries that have done well and help those that aren’t doing that well.” But the administration seems to prefer dealing with this crisis alone.

CHINA’S FAR-REACHING RESPONSE

While the U.S. government is retreating from the international stage and leaving its allies high and dry, China sees an opportunity to fill the leadership void and enhance its global standing through emergency aid and assistance to countries around the world. There is no doubt that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made serious missteps in its initial response to the coronavirus, including covering up critical facts and failing to cooperate fully with the United States and international medical authorities, but it corrected course in the containment and mitigation phase by leading a highly effective, if draconian, campaign to suppress the spread of the coronavirus.

While the jury is still out as to whether Beijing’s public relations blitz will successfully cloud the global community’s recollection of the CCP’s role in worsening the crisis at home and abroad, the short-term results seem promising. China’s diplomacy toward EU-skepticEuropean nations has aimed to peel them further away from the union. In announcing a national state of emergency, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić savaged the myth of EU solidarity and said help from the government of Chinese President Xi Jinping, his “friend and brother,” was Belgrade’s best bet to beat the virus. Just after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán passed legislation that grants him sweeping emergency powers, Beijing and Budapest signed a $2.5 billion railway modernization deal, the terms of which will be kept secret for an unprecedented ten years. China has also sent supplies and teams of experts to Italy and Spain, although some medical equipment in its shipments turned out to be defective.

Beijing has also gained important ground in multilateral institutions over the last few years, and it is poised to further solidify its position. Last week, Chinese tech giant Tencent announced a partnership with the UN that will see the company host thousands of conversations on its platforms in honor of the UN’s seventy-fifth anniversary. This comes just a few months after it became clear Chinese tech companies are influencing the UN’s evolving facial recognition standards.

Despite its botched response at the outset of the pandemic, China is even exerting increased pressure on the WHO, which has been loath to criticize Beijing for its missteps. Indeed, the WHO has issued several fawning statements about China’s handling of the virus, leading some to accuse the organization of being Beijing’s “accomplice.” The lack of U.S. leadership in such institutions has made it easier for China to mold them to its liking.

Finally, the coronavirus has emboldened Beijing to carry out provocative actions in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. In March, Beijing carried out a thirty-six-hour military exercise simulating combat conditions in a potential war with Taipei. On April 3, a day after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed to “enhance cooperation,” a Chinese ship hit and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel with eight crew members. Though Trump recently signed legislation strengthening ties with Taipei and sailed a ship through the Taiwan Strait, Beijing may see an opportunity to push the line and make further strategic gains given the United States’ weakened condition. Indeed, while China made strategic moves in the waters around its periphery, the U.S. Navy fired the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier essential to combatingChinese actions in the South China Sea, for “poor judgment” after he requested to dock due to coronavirus infections on board.

MARCHING TOWARD SUPERPOWER STATUS

Carnegie President William J. Burns has argued that international crises can speed up geopolitical trends, recently saying, “Just like a virus can worsen, accelerate, aggravate pre-existing health conditions . . . this pandemic can accelerate, worsen, aggravate pre-existing political conditions.” The United States should heed Burns’s words as the coronavirus threatens to hasten China’s ascent as a global superpower.

The Trump administration is locked in a competition with China not only for global supremacy, but also for the international community’s hearts and minds. As the journalist Michael Schuman has noted, the two superpowers are engaged in an “ideological war over which system is superior, democracy or autocracy.” At the moment, given the failures of the U.S. response, China’s system is looking more attractive to many countries, despite the lack of clear evidence that authoritarian systems handle pandemics better than democratic ones.

The critical point to understand is that Beijing will use its comparative success to boost the case for not only its authoritarian governance model, but also every facet of its system, including digital surveillance and state-directed economic policy. If Washington cannot right its ship, U.S. democracy and the post–World War II global governance system it built will be at risk of losing their credibility.

Several U.S. government officials have told the authors that the administration is uncomfortable working with China on the pandemic because of China’s attempts to capitalize strategically on the crisis. While this is a valid concern, the administration must figure out how to work with China to learn from its experience in containing and mitigating the spread of the virus and to procure necessary masks, medicines, and protective medical equipment—all while limiting Beijing’s strategic gains.

A better response by the United States starts at home. The administration must get the outbreak under control within its borders and then shift its attention to helping the international community fight the virus. While providing bilateral assistance where necessary, the United States should work through existing multilateral organizations and also consider establishing a new multilateral task force to oversee the global coronavirus response.

If Washington cannot get its act together, China may make critical gains in its march to global superpower status. China’s strength increased and reputation improved drastically after the 2008 financial crisis, when it helped pull the world out of recession, gaining public goodwill and demonstrating the strengths of its system. As the United States’ reputation falters yet again, the CCP leadership is feeling greater confidence about both the strengths of its system and its international appeal.

The United States and China worked together to combat the SARS and H5N1 outbreaks, but the new coronavirus has been met with finger-pointing and recrimination.

To read the complete article, click here.

Speaker Paul Haenle, Maurice R. Greenberg Director’s Chair at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center based at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China talks about Covid-19’s impact on US-China Relations.

To read the complete article, click here.

On January 15, 2020, Paul Haenle kicked off the 2020 Leadership Speaker Series at ILTexas, when he addressed students via conference call from Beijing. Students from 7 different campuses across Texas listened to Paul but also asked him questions about the current political situation, the trade war, the impact of the current political situation on the youth and more!

 

 

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  • US-China relations
    • As one of the most consequential bilateral relationships in the world, the United States and China must find ways to work together on critical global challenges and identify potential areas for strategic cooperation.
  • China’s evolving foreign policy and global role
    • China’s rise onto the world stage and its growing global economic interdependence are necessitating, and leading others to demand, China play a more proactive role in addressing global issues.
  • Regional Security and Development in the Asia Pacific
    • Maritime territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea threaten the security and economic vitality of a region that includes the first, second, and third largest economies in the world. The East Asian regional order is currently being shaped by the reemergence of China and the reactions of Japan and South Korea, the US rebalancing policy, and comprehensive trade agreements under negotiation.
  • China’s domestic environment
    • President Xi Jinping is tightening political control and embracing economic reforms as he attempts to avoid the mistakes of the Soviet Union and steer the second largest economy in the world past the middle income trap.
  • The North Korea nuclear issue
    •  Under its young and brutal leader, Kim Jung-un, North Korea continues to threaten regional security and develop its nuclear program. But Kim may be overplaying his hand, threatening the very stability China hopes to preserve and undermining China’s evolving security interests in ways that are leading Beijing to reconsider its North Korea calculus and be more open to international cooperation on the North Korea issue.

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