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Clinton hopes to build on solid Sino-US foundation

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 18, 2009
Hillary Clinton arrives for her first China visit as US Secretary of State on Friday hoping to take what she has called an essential relationship to a new level.

The former First Lady has called for broadened contact beyond the perceived heavy focus on trade under former president George W. Bush's administration that was highlighted by a twice-yearly economic dialogue.

While economic ties will remain central, Clinton has called for a more comprehensive dialogue including closer cooperation on issues such as regional security and fighting climate change and pandemic disease.

"(Bush's) economic dialogue... really did assume a larger role than a lot of these other concerns," Clinton said in a speech last week, vowing to redress the imbalance.

She is expected to raise these issues in meetings with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and her counterpart Yang Jiechi before departing on Sunday.

Experts warn, however, that Clinton must avoid antagonising an increasingly confident China with pressure on human rights and Tibet, or provocative actions on Taiwan -- issues she has downplayed so far.

"I like Hillary's approach. It reflects the overall situation and does not neglect important aspects that Bush underemphasised," said Jerome Cohen, a senior fellow with the Washington-based US Council on Foreign Relations.

"It is also a low-posture approach seeking cooperation, not acrimony. China should welcome this."

Reflecting the potential for greater cooperation, China and the United States announced they would resume an on-again, off-again military dialogue in Beijing shortly after Clinton leaves.

Clinton's efforts may be aided by the stable foundation left by the Bush administration, which avoided overtly pressuring Beijing on prickly issues.

Further, her apparent intention to engage more on climate change has fuelled hopes that a bone of contention with the Bush administration can be turned into a new avenue for cooperation.

Bush refused to commit to emissions cuts without reciprocal steps by developing countries like China. Beijing, in turn, insists developed nations must shoulder the burden of fighting climate change.

Although details are yet to emerge, Clinton has hinted at a greater willingness to compromise.

She has also brought her special envoy on climate change, Todd Stern, on the trip, which includes stops in Japan, Indonesia and South Korea.

"The new emphasis on climate change will bring us even closer and perhaps become the biggest area of cooperation once the economy begins to revive. The key will be whether we and China can agree on burden-sharing," Cohen said.

However, trade and economic issues remain a bilateral flashpoint.

China has warned of rising US trade protectionism amid the global economic crisis, while US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has accused China of manipulating its currency.

In this light, an overly comprehensive bilateral dialogue brings risks, said Robert Kapp, president of the US-China Business Council, as "one false move" on a single issue, especially protectionism, could endanger other efforts.

"(The economic crisis) makes clearer that China is now too strong and too globally extended simply to be told how to play by the rules," he said.

The United States must also accept that China is too powerful to be pushed on human rights, observers said. Clinton is expected to keep such discussions behind closed doors to avoid having China lose face.

"On the rights issue, China's government won't simply dodge and evade; it will stand its ground and insist on improving rights in its own fashion," said Xu Tiebing, a scholar on Sino-US relations at Beijing's Communications University of China.

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Clinton kicks off first trip in 'indispensable' Asia
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 16, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched her Asia tour in Japan Monday calling US-Pacific ties "indispensable" for curbing problems like climate change, the global financial crisis and nuclear weapons.

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