Hillary Clinton: Don't be suspicious of US-China relationship

Hillary Clinton spoke Friday about US-China relations ahead of a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington next week.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks about China, Friday, Jan. 14, at the State Department in Washington.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday said that the “positive, cooperative, and comprehensive” relationship that the Obama administration is striving to build between the United States and a rising China should not be viewed suspiciously in either country. Rather, she said, it should be embraced on both sides of the Pacific as central to 21st-century security and prosperity – bilaterally and globally.

Secretary Clinton’s speech Friday at the State Department was designed to set the tone for next week’s visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, who will be received Wednesday by President Obama in a state visit.

Clinton – speaking to an audience of diplomats and ambassadors, including China’s ambassador to Washington, Zhang Yesui – said that US-China relations are “as important as any bilateral relationship in the world.” In working to strengthen them, she said, the Obama administration is focusing on three elements: undertaking “robust” and revitalized US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region; building trust between the US and China; and “expanding economic and security cooperation wherever possible.”

Clinton said she was aware that some sectors in China viewed US engagement warily. But the Chinese should remember, she said, that a US-supported stability across Asia has permitted China to pursue its “impressive” growth.

Both countries would benefit from greater mutual trust, Clinton said. That trust can be achieved only by “inculcating the habit of cooperation” through actions like increased people-to-people exchanges and the recently instituted “strategic and economic dialogue” between the two countries, she said.

Clinton also underscored the importance of US-China cooperation on global security and economic challenges, saying it was “frightening to think about” the consequences had the two economic powers not worked together in responding to the global recession.

Clinton’s speech culminated a rush of administration activity aimed at setting the stage for Mr. Hu’s visit.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner delivered his own speech in Washington Wednesday, in which he underscored the interdependence of the two economies and called for greater economic cooperation to benefit both countries.

The US is ready to do its part both domestically and bilaterally – for example, granting China the wider access to US high-tech products and the US market that it covets, Secretary Geithner said. But the US “ability to move on these issues will depend on how much progress we see from China” on crucial US concerns such as protection of foreign intellectual property and currency manipulation, he added.

Also this week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Beijing, encouraging the development of US-China military-to-military cooperation.

On Friday, Clinton dedicated significant portions of her speech to two issues China is not always eager to hear about from the US, to say the least: North Korea and human rights.

On North Korea, Clinton noted comments by Secretary Gates, who emphasized while on his trip that Pyongyang’s ballistic missile development is at risk of becoming not only a regional threat, but also a threat to US national security. The North’s progress appears to have the potential of leading to missiles that could reach US shores.

Clinton praised China for cooperating last year on increased international sanctions that sent a message to the North. But, she said, China’s reluctance to wield its influence in response to Pyongyang’s recent acts of provocation toward South Korea risked encouraging the North’s behavior.

On human rights, Clinton said she was aware of the Chinese position that opening up to a full expression of democratic and minority rights would jeopardize the country’s cohesion and economic progress. But as a charter member of the United Nations, China was a signatory to the declaration of universal rights, she pointed out.

The US will continue to argue with China that limiting its people’s rights will also limit its global rise, she said.

Clinton’s comments came a day after Mr. Obama met in the White House with five advocates for greater democracy and human rights in China. Some experts in US-China relations have speculated that the administration’s presummit attention to human rights would not carry through to the Obama-Hu meetings. The two leaders, however, are expected to announce a resumption of the US-China human rights dialogue that was suspended last year.

In her speech, Clinton referred to last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, whose imprisonment prevented him from attending the Nobel ceremony. She said, “The longer China represses freedoms, the longer empty chairs in Oslo will remain a symbol of a great nation’s unfulfilled promise.”

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