Economic woes trump rights as Clinton visits China

BEIJING (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday the United States and China can help  pull the world out of economic crisis by working together and  made clear this took precedence over US concerns about human  rights in China.

Making her first visit to China as secretary of state,  Clinton took a softer line on Chinese political and religious  freedoms than in a 1995 Beijing speech in which she openly  criticised the Chinese government’s human rights record.
Speaking at a news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister  Yang Jiechi, Clinton said the two would have “frank discussions  on issues where we have disagreements, including human rights,  Tibet, religious freedom and freedom of expression.”

However, she suggested their joint efforts to spur growth  in the face of the global financial crisis, to curb global  climate change and to address security challenges like North  Korea’s nuclear weapons programme came first.
“World events have given us a full and formidable agenda,”  she said, saying she and Yang had wide-ranging talks “that  started from a simple premise: it is essential that the United  States and China have a positive, cooperative relationship.”

Making her final stop on a one-week Asian trip that has  also taken her to Tokyo, Jakarta and Seoul, Clinton stressed  how intertwined are the US and Chinese economies.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

The United States is one of the largest buyers of Chinese  exports while China, with foreign exchange reserves of about $2  trillion, is the world’s largest holder of US government  debt.

“I appreciate greatly the Chinese government’s continuing  confidence in United States Treasuries. I think that’s a well  grounded confidence,” Clinton said. “We have every reason to  believe that the United States and China will recover and that  together we will help to lead the world recovery.”

Asked if China might someday rethink its purchases of US  Treasuries, Yang provided little direction, saying only that  China makes decisions on how to invest its foreign exchange  reserves so as to ensure their safety, value and liquidity.
Highlighting the US desire for China to curb greenhouse  gas emissions, Clinton visited a low-emissions heat and power  plant that runs with generators from General Electric Co.

“The United States, and certainly the Obama administration,  we want China to grow,” she said after touring the plant. “What  we hope is that you won’t make the same mistakes we made…  When we were industrialising … we didn’t know any better.”

China and the United States are the world’s leading  emitters of greenhouse gases and their reaching an accord on  limiting emissions is regarded as essential for a global deal.

Clinton met President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao and,  before leaving today, was to attend church and meet “civil  society” activists, gestures designed to show interest in  political and religious freedom without causing offence.
Taking a markedly different stance from her 1995 Beijing  speech, Clinton on Friday said Washington would press China on  human rights but said this would not “interfere” with their  work on the financial crisis, climate change and security.
Human rights groups argued that Clinton’s position  undermined US leverage with China on rights.

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