Washington – Ahead of a key bilateral summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao, which begins here Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a sweeping China-U.S. policy speech Friday, setting the tone for next week’s meet.
Clinton’s address capped a weeklong parade of curtain-raising speeches by other top cabinet officials, revealing the importance that the Obama administration places on Beijing-Washington dealings.
Her message was broad, touching on key issues – trade, security, human rights – and places – Iran, North Korea, Taiwan – important to the bilateral relationship. But her message, like those of this week’s other key addresses, was also clear, focusing firmly on the need for mutual cooperation on both divisive and shared issues.
“Moving forward, it is up to both of us to more consistently translate positive words into effective cooperation,” she said. “It is up to both of us to deal with our differences… We need to deal with them wisely and responsibly. And it is up to both of us to meet our respective global responsibilities and obligations.”
The country’s top diplomat also addressed the growing concern in some circles over Beijing’s modernising military, its increasingly assertive foreign policy, and a resurgence of Chinese nationalism.
“Some in the region and some here at home see China’s growth as a threat that will lead either to Cold War-style conflict or American decline,” Clinton said. “And some in China worry that the United States is bent on containing China’s rise and constraining China’s growth… We reject those views.”
“In the 21st century, it does not make sense to apply zero- sum 19th century theories of how major powers interact,” she said.
Experts see next week’s high-level meeting as an opportunity to “reset” Sino-U.S. relations and steer them in a more mutually beneficial course.
“The trip has symbolic importance as it will put to an end a period of disturbance in the relationship over the past year,” said Douglas H. Paal, vice president of studies for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Disputes in 2010, such as U.S.-Taiwan arms sales, China’s refusal to condemn North Korea for allegedly sinking a South Korean ship, and skirmishes with Japan and other South China Sea neighbours over territorial claims, have rocked relations.
North Korea is set to be high on next week’s agenda, as officials say the administration will continue to build on recent discussions with Beijing about taming Pyongyang’s provocations and scaling back its nuclear programme.
The secretary also drew attention to China’s egregious human rights record, calling for increased freedoms for its citizens and the release of Liu Xiaobo and other political prisoners.
More broadly, however, Clinton’s address – and the rhetoric from other officials this week – tried hard to be future- focused.
“[The trip] has greater importance going forward,” Paal commented. “We are going into a key election year – not just for the United States, but also for Taiwan, Korea, and even in its own way for China, which has a selection process for its new political leadership in 2012…. The two presidents have a chance to set the main contours of the relationship going forward.”
This relationship is arguably the most interdependent it has ever been, analysts say, with the administration perceiving its positive stewardship as key to regional and global stability.
A leaked diplomatic cable from February 2008 predicts, “The United States and China share important and growing political and economic interests that will bind us indefinitely, despite frictions. Where interests vary or compete, we share a common interest in managing our differences.”
A facet of this interdependence, or “entanglement” as Clinton said in her speech, is the trade partnership between Beijing and Washington.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke – in U.S.-China policy addresses made earlier this week relating to their own sectors – called for Beijing to allow for the faster appreciation of its undervalued currency and to further open its markets for U.S. and international access.
“It’s very important to understand that this is a relationship with very substantial economic benefits to the United States,” Geithner told reporters at a briefing Friday. “Last year our exports to China passed the 100- billion-dollar mark.”
At the same time, Beijing seeks to acquire U.S.-made high- technology and expand trade and investment here.
“China is likely to become our largest trading partner sometime roughly 10 years from today,” Geithner noted.
“The numbers say something,” National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said at the same briefing. “This will be the eighth face-to-face meeting between President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China… That pace and intensity of engagement with the Chinese reflects the breadth, depth, and importance of the relationship.”
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