Jacqueline Vitello is a program manager and research associate with the China Power Project, where she works on projects that pertain to Chinese foreign and security policy, U.S.-China bilateral relations, and cross-Strait relations. From 2013-2015, Ms. Vitello was a research associate with the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS. Prior to joining CSIS, she completed a Boren fellowship in Taiwan, where she conducted research on U.S.-Taiwan relations. She also worked with the MacArthur Center for Security Studies in Taipei, as well as with the CSIS Freeman Chair in 2012. Ms. Vitello is coauthor of Taiwan’s Marginalized Role in International Security (CSIS, January 2015). She also coauthors a quarterly review of U.S.-China relations in Comparative Connections, an electronic journal on East Asian bilateral relations, with Bonnie Glaser. Ms. Vitello graduated with an M.A. in international security from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She received a B.A. in international affairs and a B.S. in chemistry from Florida State University.
Articles by Jacqueline Vitello
Despite growing friction between the US and China on a number of issues, Xi Jinping’s state visit to the US in September was mostly positive and produced important outcomes on climate change, cyber security, and avoiding accidents between military aircraft. Tensions persisted in the South China Sea with China unwilling to stop its construction and militarization of terraformed reefs. The USS Lassen, a US Navy guided-missile destroyer, exercised international rights of freedom of navigation by sailing within 12nm of Chinese-occupied Subi Reef. The Obama administration notified Congress of its intent to sell a $1.83 billion arms package to Taiwan prompting Chinese objections, but no suspension of bilateral military exchanges. Presidents Obama and Xi met again on the margins of the Paris climate change conference in late November. They also conferred by phone, helping to conclude an historic, ambitious, global, agreement to reduce emissions at COP21.
Preparations for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the US in September were the primary focus of the US-China relationship from May to August. The seventh Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) was held in June in an effort to tee up agreements for the summit. Friction increased on a range of issues, including China’s artificial island building in the South China Sea, Chinese cyber hacking against US companies and the US government, and repressive laws and actions undertaken by the Chinese government, some of which are likely to have negative repercussions for future US-China people-to-people exchanges. National Security Adviser Susan Rice traveled to China at the end of August to finalize deliverables for the summit amid reports of a possible Obama administration decision to impose sanctions on China for cyber-enabled theft of US intellectual property before Xi’s arrival.
2015 opened with high-level exchanges in preparation for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, scheduled for early summer, and Xi Jinping’s state visit in September. Visits to China were made by Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi met National Security Adviser Susan Rice in New York. Military exchanges included dialogues, ship visits, joint drills, and video calls. The South China Sea remained a source of friction as evidence mounted that China is building military outposts on reefs in the Spratly Islands. In response to the issuance of the revised US-Japan Defense Guidelines, China voiced concerns and called the alliance outdated. Despite US objections, a total of 57 countries signed up to be founding members of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. China held its annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, announcing an economic growth target of around 7 percent and an increase in its defense budget of 10.1 percent in 2015.
The highlight of the final months of 2014 was the summit between Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping, which produced agreements on visa extensions, military confidence-building measures, climate change, and information technology. Alongside progress, tensions persisted over China’s activities in the South China Sea and its continued promotion of regional security architecture fashioned by Asian nations, with the US role unclear at best. The 25th Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) convened in Chicago in mid-December. The “Umbrella Movement” in Hong Kong introduced a new source of friction in the bilateral relationship as Beijing suspected Washington’s instigation behind the scenes.
The US and China held the sixth Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing in July. None of the myriad of problems in the relationship were solved, but the annual meetings provided an opportunity to take stock of bilateral relations and hold high-level discussions. Tensions in the South China Sea caused by China’s deployment of an oil rig off the Paracel Islands dominated many bilateral and multilateral meetings. There were several military exchanges, with a visit to the US by Chief of the General Staff of the PLA Fang Fenghui and a visit to China by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. The PLA Navy participated in the US-led RIMPAC military exercises for the first time. In an incident reminiscent of the 2001 collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a US surveillance plane, a Chinese fighter flew dangerously close to a US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
The complexity of the US-China relationship was in sharp relief in the first four months of 2014. Differences over maritime disputes along China’s eastern periphery were at the top of the agenda. Russia’s seizure of Crimea introduced a new point of contention. Despite much diplomatic activity, little progress was made on a way forward in seeking denuclearization of North Korea. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a fruitful visit to China that included very sharp exchanges with his Chinese counterparts and a tour of China’s aircraft carrier. Michele Obama along with her children and mother toured China promoting education and people-to-people exchanges. The full range of issues in the bilateral relationship was discussed by Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping when they met on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague.
Bilateral interactions in the final months of 2013 were characteristically active. Secretary of State John Kerry attended the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting and the East Asia Summit in President Obama’s place, and met President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. There were several military exchanges, including the first-ever live drill involving members of the US and Chinese armed forces. A week after the Chinese military announced the establishment of its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), Vice President Biden visited China along with Japan and South Korea. On the economic front, the 24th Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) was held in Beijing. US and Chinese navy ships got within 100 yards of each other in yet another close call.
With their domestic challenges in mind and a shared need for a stable bilateral relationship, Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping met for a day and a half “no necktie” official working meeting to discuss the panoply of bilateral, regional, and global issues that affect US and Chinese interests. The fifth annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) was held in Washington on July 10-11, along with the Strategic Security Dialogue (SSD) and the first Cyber Working Group. Cyber security, especially cyber theft, was a prominent and contentious issue, aggravated by the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas were also a source of tension. The bilateral military relationship was a bright spot, with the visit to the US of Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.