Clinton in China to push climate, finance

February 20, 2009 4:48:20 PM PST
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton headed into meetings with senior Chinese officials on Saturday to press the country's leaders to cooperate on climate change, the world financial crisis and security threats like North Korea. Clinton was to see China's foreign minister, prime minister and president and tour an innovative geothermal energy plant in Beijing on the last stop of her inaugural overseas trip as America's top diplomat.

Ahead of her talks, she told reporters that China could play a major role in stemming global warming, improving the economic outlook and addressing threats like North Korea's nuclear program and tenuous security situations in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And she signaled that those issues would likely take precedence in her discussions ahead of traditional U.S. concerns about human rights about which Clinton said both sides already knew the other's positions. Her stance drew immediate fire from rights groups who said she was squandering Washington's leverage with Beijing.

"I think there is a lot of room for cooperation, which we will be seeking," she told reporters just before arriving in China, referring to the financial situation.

Clinton stressed the importance of dealing with climate change with China, which has overtaken the United States as the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, as well as with the nations she visited earlier on her tour of Asia.

"So many of the opportunities for clean energy, technology and the like are going to come out of this region of the world," she said. "Japan, South Korea and China are uniquely situated to be part of the answer to the problem of global climate change."

"How we engage them, particularly China, is going to be an incredibly important part of our diplomatic outreach," Clinton said.

On security and counterterrorism, she said she would be looking for Beijing to take a more active role in convincing North Korea to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and cool rising tensions between Pyongyang, Seoul and Tokyo.

"What will China be willing to do with respect to the six-party talks and their bilateral relationship with North Korea?" Clinton said. "What's their perspective on Afghanistan and Pakistan where they have historical interests but also current commercial and security interests."

She was criticized on Friday for saying that an endless debate with China over human rights, Taiwan and Tibet could not be allowed to interfere with efforts to forge consensus on those other broader issues.

Clinton said that while she would raise human rights concerns, it might be better instead to agree to disagree on long-standing positions and focus instead on pressing global threats.

"That doesn't mean that questions of Taiwan, Tibet, human rights, the whole range of challenges that we often engage on with the Chinese, are not part of the agenda," she said. "But we pretty much know what they're going to say."

"We have to continue to press them," she said. "But our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises.

We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those."

Human rights groups hoping for a repeat of the stance she took nearly 15 years ago when she was first lady and publicly took on and angered the Chinese government in a tough speech on this issue, denounced the remarks.

"Amnesty International is shocked and extremely disappointed by (Clinton's) comments that human rights will not be a priority in her diplomatic engagement with China," the organization said in statement.

"The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues," it said. "By commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future U.S. initiatives to protect those rights in China."

Human Rights Watch said Clinton had "made a strategic mistake in appearing to concede that she expects no meeting of the minds on human rights issues."


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