US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived here for talks Friday with Chinese leaders after vowing not to let human rights block progress on the global economic crisis, climate change and security.
Clinton said the United States and China had a better chance this weekend of tackling the world’s current hot-button issues than bridging their long-standing differences on human rights, including China’s attitude to Tibet.
“Successive administrations and Chinese governments have been poised back and forth on these (rights) issues and we have to continue to press them,” Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.
“But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.”
Clinton was set for talks with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Foreign minister Yang Jiechi during a hectic day of diplomacy on Saturday.
She said it was not yet known how the two sides would engage on the economic crisis, climate change and security issues such as extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those,” Clinton said.
“So if we talk more about those, it’s in large measure because that’s where the opportunity for engagement is.
“And that doesn’t mean that we have any lesser concern about the need for China to be more willing to recognise and protect human rights of people.”
Rights groups rounded on Clinton’s comments, saying the US had a duty to hold China to account.
T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA said the global rights lobby was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by Clinton’s remarks.
“The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues,” he said.
“But by commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future US initiatives to protect those rights in China,” he said.
North Korea is also set to be in focus after Clinton issued a warning to the isolated regime’s leaders to stop being provocative and not to go ahead with a threatened missile launch.
China, regarded as North Korea’s closest ally, is host of the six-nation talks that also involve the United States and are aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
China and the United States have traded some barbs in recent weeks on trade issues, highlighting the inevitable tensions between the world’s biggest and third biggest economies.
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner accused China of manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage while Chinese officials warned of rising US trade protectionism.
But Clinton struck a conciliatory note before she began her journey to Asia and she continued Friday to emphasize the need to work together to combat the global economic crisis rather than bicker.
“The way I am looking at China, and anticipating our talks there over the next two days, is that the (economic) rise of China is not, in and of itself, threatening to the United States,” Clinton said in an interview with CNN.
“It’s how China decides to act with whatever assets it has. But that’s up to how we cooperate together.”
There have been signs of an increasing willingness to engage in other fields, such as the announcement this week that the two nations would resume their on-off military dialogue in Beijing shortly after Clinton leaves.
China also said this week it wanted to work more closely on tackling climate change.
“Strengthening cooperation on climate change is in the interest of the two countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said on Thursday.
Aside from meeting the Chinese leadership on Saturday, Clinton will visit a general Electric power plant that runs on natural gas to highlight potential cooperation on clean energy.
On Sunday she will attend a church service and meet civil society leaders before flying home.
Clinton began her Asian sojourn, her first overseas trip as secretary of state, in Japan on Monday, then visited Indonesia and South Korea.