Campaign Promises

Cabinet/Departments -> State -> China

The Promise: "...will use all diplomatic means at his disposal to achieve change in China's manipulation of the value of its currency, a practice that contributes to massive global imbalances and provides Chinese companies with an unfair competitive advantage."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Protecting U.S. Interests and Advancing American Values in our Relationship with China" dated 09/11/08.
Status:At the start of the Obama Administration, American manufacturers considered the Chinese yuan (also called the "renminbi") to be undervalued by about 40%, contributing to the USA's massive trade deficit with China and the loss of millions of American jobs.

On 07/08/10, the Obama Administration announced that it would not make an issue of China's apparent currency manipulation to gain an unfair trade imbalance. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stated on 09/22/10 that the exchange rate of the yuan was not the "main cause" of the bilateral trade imbalance (which was valued at about $350B) by end-CY2016 and that the U.S. trade deficit with China was not intentional.

President Obama tried to get leading economic powers to follow his plan to end global trade imbalances during the 11/10 G-20 Summit in Korea. He was soundly rebuffed. President Obama's sour reaction was to refer to the yuan issue as an "irritant."

No progress was made during President Hu's 01/11 visit to the USA to change China's manipulation of its currency. It must be recognized, however, that the yaun's value against the U.S. dollar was 6.84 at the start of the Obama Administration and 6.94 yuan to the dollar at the end of CY2016. This is viewed in the context of the yuan's record low value of 1.53 in 01/81 and a record high of 8.73 on 01/94.

During the 11/12-13/11 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Hawaii, President Obama used strong language to press China to reform the U.S. belief that China's currency was being kept artificially low, thereby keeping American businesses at a disadvantage and driving up China's trade surpluses. As in the past, China pushed back against this pressure with Chinese President Hu Jintau telling President Obama that "China's foreign exchange policy is a responsible one," and that China will "continue reforming its exchange rate mechanism." Translation: the Chinese would not reform the perceived manipulation of their currency.

On 12/28/11, the Obama Administration decided not to designate China as a currency manipulator, thereby avoiding a potential trade war rooted in low export prices against high import costs. Since then, research indicates that China has endeavored to raise the value of the yuan whenever it fell rather than further lowering that value.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "...will insist that our imports from China and other countries be safe."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Protecting U.S. Interests and Advancing American Values in our Relationship with China" dated 09/11/08.
Status:During the first term of the Obama Administration, concerns prevailed over the safety of Chinese products. These concerns ranged from much-publicized corrosive effects of Chinese-manufactured drywall with hydrogen sulfide content (affecting more than 20K homes), to lead content in children's toys, to defective tires.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) back in CY2004. Its provisions were generally ignored by China largely due to the absence of cooperation and reciprocal inspections.

The CPSC signed another MOU in 04/10, but this one was with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) organization, following an increase in civil penalties from $8K to $100K for each violation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act of 2008 and from $1.8M to $15M for repeated violations. This 04/10 MOU mandated the allocation of increased CBP resources to inspect and prevent noncompliant products from entering the USA. The new rules apply to all imports -- not only those from China.

China objected to the 04/10 MOU between the CPSC and CBP, and cited it as an example of American protectionism, further exacerbating an already strained bilateral trade relationship. With other pressing issues at hand such as economic relations, China's military buildup, North Korea's nuclear capabilities buildup and its provocative actions in the region, this import concern was not brought up during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the USA in 01/11.

In assessing promise fulfillment, we considered where matters affecting our national security were at stake. During President Obama's tenure in office, China continued to put our military men and women at risk by delivering counterfeit parts for such critical military warfighting systems as the F-15 fighter, Maverick missile, V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and some of the U.S. Navy's submarines. While the extent of parts counterfeiting cannot be quantified exactly, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has acknowledged that it is taking place.

While the Obama Administration took initial steps to enhance the safety of imported products, it has fell far short of ensuring that militarily significant parts obtained from China meet the standards necessary to ensure the safety of military personnel.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "From Tibet to cracking down on democracy and religious freedom activists, China has failed to live up to international standards of human rights. Barack Obama and Joe Biden...will press them to respect human rights."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Protecting U.S. Interests and Advancing American Values in our Relationship with China" dated 09/11/08.
Status:The Communist Chinese government acknowledges that its form of government is a "socialist democracy" under which public debate on certain issues is permitted, so long as the Communist Party's leadership is not challenged. However, that Party continued to disregard basic human rights, including religious freedom, during President Obama's two terms in office.

Secretary of State Clinton, during her first trip to China on 02/09, appeared to push human rights concerns to a low priority by stating that human rights issues "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis."

Meanwhile, those who spoke out against the Communist Party continued to be persecuted, critical internet postings were viewed as subversive, web sites were and continue to be routinely shut down, and their authors hunted down and jailed.

The U.S.-China "Human Rights Dialogue," a forum that permits direct engagement with China on U.S. concerns over specific human rights issues, resumed in mid-CY2010. One of issues discussed was the continued incarceration, at that time, of Dr. Xue Feng, a U.S. citizen, serving an 8-year sentence and $30,000 fine for allegedly revealing state secrets when he published information about China's oil fields in CY2007, in other words, for espionage. In 04/15, after serving nearly the full 8 years in a Chinese prison, Dr. Xue was released and immediately deported to the USA.

By hosting Chinese President Hu Jintau on 01/19/11, President Obama became the first U.S. President to host a head of state whose country continued to imprison a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, democracy advocate and writer Liu Xiaobo (who has since died of liver cancer) who was serving an 11-year prison term for "suspicion of inciting subversion of state power." During the visit, President Hu first tried to deflect a direct question regarding China's poor human rights record. When pressed to answer the question, President Hu simply stated that "a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights." It's interesting that this comment was censored from the press briefing version aired in China.

In a joint statement released on 01/19/11, the U.S. and China addressed their differences on human rights in a "spirit of equality and mutual respect." Translation: no progress. Shortly thereafter on 04/02/11, one of China's best-known and sometimes provocative contemporary artists, Ai Weiwei, was arrested. He was released nearly three months later, after considerable international pressure, but only after signing a confession of having "committed crimes against the state."

Hundreds of Chinese activists and intellectuals were detained or simply disappeared in China's efforts to thwart the possibility of a popular uprising such as the "Arab Spring" uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria, Libya and other Middle East countries during the first half of CY2011.

The 19th U.S.-China "Human Rights Dialogue" took place in mid-08/15. The State Department acknowledged in its briefing to Congress following this conference that "...we discussed the Chinese Government's crackdown on lawyers, which has resulted in over 250 attorneys, activists, and their family members being detained, questioned, interrogated, or held incommunicado...many are still in custody, many reportedly have been denied access to defense counsel. Some have been forced to make televised confessions...that run contrary to China's own criminal procedure law."

Another example: the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor paints an extremely bleak human rights picture for Tibet in its "2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," released in 03/17. The abuses portrayed therein are no different and in some cases worse than during the pre-Obama era.

The bottom line: the Obama Administration failed to improve China's human rights record, with the latter maintaining the status quo ante.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "...will press China to end its support for regimes in Sudan, Burma, Iran and Zimbabwe."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Protecting U.S. Interests and Advancing American Values in our Relationship with China" dated 09/11/08.
Status:Iran: While China provided support for U.S.-led United Nations watered-down sanctions against Iran's nuclear energy program in 06/10, China remained Iran's largest oil customer. However, China was extremely vocal about its opposition to U.S. unilateral sanctions against Iran. As Japanese and Western investments dried up in Iran, China increased its own investments, thereby maintaining its support of Iran's regime. In CY2014, trade between China and Iran was estimated to be $52B, as China depends on Iran for nearly 15% of its oil requirement. In 01/16 during a visit to Iran by President Xi Jinping, the two countries agreed to increase bilateral trade to $600B over the ensuing decade. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised China for standing by Iran during its many years of economic isolation imposed by United Nations, U.S. and European Union sanctions due to Iran's nuclear proliferation activities.

Burma: In 03/10, China defended the Burmese regime's controversial election laws at the UN Security Council by taking the position that any transition to democracy is an internal affair. A year later the first democratically elected President of Myanmar (Thein Sein) visited China during which China reaffirmed its "respect for Myanmar's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Zimbabwe: Through end-CY2016, China continued to be Zimbabwe's largest investor (by some accounts providing 74% of Zimbabwe's foreign direct investment), while exploiting the country's natural resources to develop its own economy. This was greatly facilitated by Zimbabwe's "Look East Policy" established in CY2000 by President Mugabe. On 09/11/11, Mugabe stated: "The imperialist countries of Britan, Europe and the U.S. have continued to undermine our country...we are grateful to the stance China has always taken in defending our sovereignty." As of end-CY2016, China remained as a key supplier of military hardware to Zimbabwe. Recent major sales included a radar system, jet trainers and fighters, military vehicles and AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition.

Sudan: China imports about 80% of Sudan's oil, and continues to deliver weapons, ammunition, tanks, helicopters, fighter aircraft etc. to the Sudanese regime in Khartoum. During the 01/11 visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the USA, China agreed to fully support Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). For China, this ensured uninterrupted acquisition of oil from the oil-rich South after the South became an independent country in 07/11, while continuing to arm the Khartoum regime. At the same time, China continued to favor the Khartoum regime of President Omar Al-Bashir by adopting a "look the other way" non-interference policy in Darfur where, according to UN reports, more than 300K people were killed and nearly 3M people were displaced. During President Hu's 01/11 visit to the USA, he only acknowledged that progress should be made in the political process to resolve the Darfur issue. Meanwhile, China agreed on 07/08/13 to finance the construction of a new $700M Khartoum International Airport.

With the exception of Burma where new-found democracy came about outside of Chinese influence and where Chinese support of a repressive regime is no longer an issue, Chinese support of the regimes in Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan as of end-CY2016 was either at the same level or at a higher level than when President Obama assumed the presidency in CY2009.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "...will vigorously enforce our trade laws and trade agreements to ensure that American companies have a fair opportunity to compete..."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Protecting U.S. Interests and Advancing American Values in our Relationship with China" dated 09/11/08.
Status:From the start of his Administration, President Obama made enforcement of U.S. trade rights a top priority. To that end, between CY2009 and CY2016, the U.S. filed 25 trade enforcement actions with the World Trade Organization (WTO). The U.S. won every one of its challenge that were decided by the WTO by end-CY2016, including seven against China alone. Export figures confirm that these enforcement victories are worth billions of dollars for American farmers and ranchers; manufacturers of high-tech steel, aircraft and automobiles; solar energy manufacturers; cutting edge service providers, and many others.

Among the successes, the Obama Administration, through its U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Department of Commerce, Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took positive action against China on the following:

- Discriminatory aircraft tax exemptions;
- Excessive government support to the Chinese agricultural sector;
- Raw materials (rare earth) quotas/restrictions;
- Unlevel playing field affective seven export sectors such as agriculture, textiles, and medical products;
- Excessive duties on American poultry, high-tech steel, American automobiles and SUVs; and
- Enforcement of anti-dumping/countervailing duty orders pertaining to non-oriented electrical steel, corrosion-resistant steel, cold-rolled steel, and cut-to-length plate.

Further, President Obama was proactive in discussing trade imbalance issues with President Xi Jinping whenever they met. This led to President Xi's commitments to address these issues.

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "will vigorously...counteract piracy of intellectual property."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Protecting U.S. Interests and Advancing American Values in our Relationship with China" dated 09/11/08.
Status:U.S. manufacturers have validated their claims that China routinely counterfeits U.S. goods, offering these goods on the U.S. and world markets at cut-rate prices, thereby furthering China's goals to hold the USA at a competitive export disadvantage and feeding the estimated $350B+ trade imbalance as of end-CY2016.

The U.S. position on mitigating cyber crimes and theft of Intellectual Property (IP) during the Obama Administration was weak at best. In fact, an early CY2017 report published on behalf of The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property by The National Bureau of Asian Research states that "The commissioners were discouraged by the Obama administration's inaction on IP theft and cyber-espionage...Although the president took steps to bring his emergency economic powers to bear on cyber-enabled IP theft, the Obama Administration failed to bring any cases against the perpetrators of cyber crime or IP theft" during his two terms in office.

This promise was not fulfilled.