Hillary Clinton has told China that the US considers human rights concerns secondary to economic survival.
Arriving in China on her first visit as US secretary of state, Mrs Clinton promised a new relationship between the two countries, one she considers to be the world’s most important of the 21st century.
Mrs Clinton landed in Beijing from South Korea, where she lashed out at the North Korean “tyranny” of its leader Kim Jong-il.
But in contrast she offered a conciliatory hand of friendship to Mr Kim’s ally China, contradicting hostile policies both she and President Barack Obama promised during their presidential campaigns last year.
She said she would continue to press China on issues such as human rights and Tibet, but added: “Our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”
Recent American presidents, her husband Bill Clinton included, began their terms of office promising to “get tough” with China over issues from human rights to trade.
Mr Obama’s campaign pledges to protect American jobs from competition from low-wage economies and to force China to revalue its currency were received badly in Beijing.
But in advance of her trip, Mrs Clinton called the US-China relationship the world’s most important of the 21st century.
“Some believe that China on the rise is, by definition, an adversary,” she said last week. “To the contrary, we believe that the United States and China can benefit from and contribute to each other’s successes.”
Washington has been left with little choice but to improve ties in the wake of the financial crisis, which has seen the huge trade imbalances between the two explode in a debt crisis in the US and an export crisis in China.
Mrs Clinton herself referred to a Chinese aphorism that “when you are in the same boat, you should keep the peace on the crossing”.
China now owns more than $600 billion (£420 billion) of US government debt, and will be called on to buy more as President Obama’s stimulus package inflates the budget deficit.
Jim McGregor, who runs the JL McGregor research company in Beijing and used to head the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said that where US leaders once came to Beijing to hand out lectures, now they came to “kiss up”.
“The power relationship between the United States and China has shifted greatly over the last ten years and dramatically over the last three months,” he said. “America needs China badly right now.”
China announced in advance that it was willing to resume the military dialogue with the Pentagon it suspended over US arms sales to Taiwan last October.
Mrs Clinton is also expected to discuss a joint approach to climate change.
Her harsh words for North Korea may be intended to reassure America’s closest regional allies, South Korea and Japan.
Some Japanese officials are uneasy at the growing rapport with Tokyo’s old rival China, while even Washington’s stance on Pyongyang has recently sounded more conciliatory than either Japan’s or South Korea’s.
In 1995, when Mrs Clinton attended an international women’s conference in Beijing, she offended her hosts by criticising their one-child policy, among other human rights complaints.
US state department officials said Mrs Clinton was likely to go to church in Beijing on Sunday, something President George W Bush did when visiting to highlight lack of religious freedom in China. But they said Mrs Clinton’s church-going was “private” and unlike Mr Bush’s would not be open to the media.
Ding Zilin, leader of the Mothers of Tiananmen group representing relatives of those killed when the army put down student protests in 1989, told The Daily Telegraph that Mrs Clinton should continue to put pressure on Beijing. She called for the release of Liu Xiaobo, a leading dissident detained in December.
“I would like not only Mrs Clinton but also other world leaders like your Prime Minister Mr Brown to guide and persuade the Chinese government to let Liu Xiaobo return to his wife as soon as possible,” she said.
By Richard Spencer in Beijing
Last Updated: 6:28PM GMT 21 Feb 2009
Source: The Telegraph