Secretary Clinton: ‘We Are Ready to Listen’ to Asia

Just days before her trip to Asia, Hillary Clinton stopped by New York’s Asia Society to make her first major foreign policy address as U.S. secretary of state. An excerpt of her speech, from Asia Society:

Now, some believe that China on the rise is, by definition, an adversary. To the contrary, we believe that the United States and China can benefit from and contribute to each other’s successes. It is in our interest to work harder to build on areas of common concern and shared opportunities. China has already asserted itself in positive ways as chair of the Six-Party Talks and in its participation in international peacekeeping efforts. And our two countries, I’m happy to say, will resume mid-level military-to-military discussions later this month. And we look forward to further improved relations across the Taiwan Strait.

Even with our differences, the United States will remain committed to pursuing a positive relationship with China, one that we believe is essential to America’s future peace, progress, and prosperity.

An ancient Chinese story tells of warring feudal states, whose soldiers find themselves on a boat together crossing a wide river in a storm. Instead of fighting one another, they work together and survive. Now, from this story comes a Chinese aphorism that says, “When you are in a common boat, you need to cross the river peacefully together.” The wisdom of that aphorism must continue to guide us today.

Some have praised Clinton for her candor and what they believe to be a “new, more vigorous approach to China.” From the New York Times:

Not since Dean Rusk in the 1960s has a new secretary of state flown west rather than east on a first trip. But Mrs. Clinton, who has already sent special emissaries to the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan, said, “There has been a general feeling that perhaps we didn’t pay an appropriate amount of attention to Asia over the last years.”

In one sign of a fresh start, Mrs. Clinton said the United States and China would resume middle-level exchanges between their militaries, which China suspended because of American arms sales to Taiwan.

But with praise comes caution, as many are unsure of the potential outcome of U.S.-China talks on such thorny topics as human rights. From the Washington Post:

Still, Clinton’s approach also carries the risk of roiling the relationship at the moment when the struggling world economy is increasingly dependent on cooperation between the two countries. Clinton, as presidential candidate and as first lady, was highly critical of China’s human rights record — sensitive topics in a year that will mark both the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet and the 20th anniversary of the uprising in Tiananmen Square.

In her speech Friday, Clinton noted that “as part of our dialogues, we will hold ourselves and others accountable, as we work to expand human rights and create a world that respects those rights . . . where Tibetans and all Chinese people can enjoy religious freedom without fear of prosecution.”

February 14, 2009 8:47 PM
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