Hillary Clinton’s Successful First Visit to China as Secretary of State
This trip is foremost about realism.
On this trip, Clinton stressed on the importance of Sino-U.S. relations and the need for China and U.S. to work together – as leaders of the world – on a host of issues: from battling climate change to helping the world get out of the current recession to maintaining a robust security frameworks for the 21st century.
Clinton also tried her hand at several Chinese proverbs – spilling out euphemistic quotes such as “tongzhou gongji,” which means roughly “when on a common boat, cross the river peacefully together.”
And instead of demonizing the Chinese for holding American government debt and sensationalizing such holdings as threats to American national security, Clinton actually went out of her way to court the Chinese government to further “invest” in future U.S. treasure bills.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Clinton avoided rhetorical admonishment of the Chinese government over issues of “human rights.”
According to this article in the Washingtonpost,
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s blunt and unadorned style of diplomacy has been evident throughout her first trip as secretary of state the past week in Asia.
U.S. officials generally do not say their sanctions have failed, or speculate about the future government of another country, or suggest that a carefully watched human rights dialogue is largely a farce.
Before her meetings in Beijing, for instance, Clinton said she would raise human rights issues with Chinese officials, “but we pretty much know what they’re going to say.”
Clinton’s comments have stirred outrage in the human rights community, where she was viewed as a hero for having confronted the Chinese government in 1995 over its record. Activists say that without public, sustained international pressure on human rights issues, nothing will change in China.
“I think that to worry about something which is so self-evident is an impediment to clear thinking,” Clinton told reporters traveling with her. “And I don’t think it should be viewed as particularly extraordinary that someone in my position would say what’s obvious.”
In foreign policy circles, Clinton’s remarks on human rights have stirred consternation that she is giving up possible leverage with China before any dialogue has begun. Others say that she is inviting criticism from Capitol Hill and human rights groups that undermines her ability as a diplomat.
But some experts have defended her, saying she should be commended for speaking frankly. The Bush administration was frequently criticized for having a hypocritical approach to human rights, claiming to promote freedom but treating differently friends and foes with similarly poor human rights records.
“I think she clearly feels it’s necessary to induce realism and perspective to expectations and performance, and to tell the Chinese that Obama knows that we all need to work together, so she is determined not to let less centrally vital issues handicap that,” said Chris Nelson, who writes an influential newsletter on Asian policy.
He added: “Honesty is as good in diplomacy as in life — it’s just a question of when and how one frames their candor.”
Former U.N. ambassador John R. Bolton, who was known for his bluntness, said he thinks “our diplomacy should be more candid, with less doublespeak, so if she really meant to say what she said, I don’t mind at all. When the Democrats endorse candor in diplomacy, I’ll be a happy man.”
Others think Clinton is making needless trouble for herself.
“She is correct in the sense that no U.S. president since Nixon has let human rights stop necessary cooperation with China on critical strategic issues. On the other hand, the Obama administration’s China policy is going to run into a buzz saw on Capitol Hill if people think that human rights are now being de-emphasized,” said Michael J. Green, the top White House adviser on Asia under President George W. Bush. “The administration has to clarify quickly that it intends to build a cooperative relationship with China and continue pressing hard for improvements in human rights and on issues like Tibet.”
“Is Hillary Clinton going to not mention women’s rights to the Saudis because they already know what we think?” he said.
Mann, in particular, was struck by the contrast with her husband, who as president a decade ago gave strong speeches on behalf of political freedom in China.
“Bill Clinton told the leader of China he was on ‘the wrong side of history,’ ” Mann noted. “Now, Hillary seems to be giving them the reverse message: that China is on the right side of history.”
In some ways – I welcome U.S.’s less ideological and rhetorical approach to engaging China.
After all – what percentage of Chinese in China do you think welcome American government’s lecturing their own government about governance of China’s domestic affairs? Probably less than 2%, if that at all.
But only time will tell whether the U.S. is going to treat China as a legitimate, real partner. And only time will tell whether the U.S. has truly accepted that the issues of “human rights” in China must be left to the Chinese people alone.
Here is a little humor for everyone. This cartoon shows a little animation featuring a stern-looking Madame Clinton of today kicking off the stage a colorfully dressed First Lady Clinton of the 1990’s, then babbling about some human rights atrocity she had read regarding China….
As far as I can see … it’s about time!
What are people’s reactions toward Clinton’s visit last weekend?
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