Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has moved aggressively and quickly to secure a stronger role in what she has called the world’s most important relationship: U.S. dealings with China. But military and economic tensions between the two powers keep getting in her way.
By Foster Klug
As the international financial crisis worsens, the two colossal economies have bickered over their intertwined interests. China is nervous about its position as Washington’s biggest foreign creditor, holding an estimated $1 trillion in U.S. government debt.
Beijing and Washington also have sparred over military matters, including a confrontation between American and Chinese vessels in the South China Sea and harsh words over Pentagon claims that China’s rapidly growing military strength could allow it to win short, intense conflicts against high-tech adversaries.
These issues will demand high-level attention from the Treasury and Defense departments. Clinton is pushing, however, to ensure that her diplomatic corps is not marginalized as the United States engages a country the Obama administration needs as a partner in efforts to solve the world’s major problems.
Clinton began staking out her claim on China early. A week after President Barack Obama’s Jan. 20 inauguration she signaled her determination not to stand on the sidelines in her first comments to reporters at the State Department.
“The strategic dialogue that was begun in the Bush administration turned into an economic dialogue,” Clinton said. “That’s a very important aspect of our relationship with China, but it’s not the only aspect of our relationship.”
In Beijing last month, on her first foreign trip as secretary, Clinton said she and new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “will both be fully engaged” in discussions with China. Clinton then pleasantly surprised China by saying the Obama administration would not let its human rights concerns interfere with cooperation with Beijing.
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