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National Security / Foreign Affairs

Clinton: United States, China at a Critical Juncture

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the talks will focus on building trust.(Richard A. Bloom)

January 14, 2011

Updated at 3:45 p.m. on January 14.

Ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington next week, the United States and China are at a critical juncture, and their choices will shape the relationship to come, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Friday. High on the agenda will be determining China's motive for modernizing its military.

“The United States welcomes China as a rising power. We welcome China’s efforts not only to lift their own people out of poverty but to export prosperity and opportunity,” Clinton said in a speech at the State Department. “We look forward to a time when our future generations can look back and say of us, they didn’t just talk about a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship--they made the right  choices, they worked together, they delivered results. They did leave us a better world. That is our vision.

 

“That is our commitment for this most important relationship,” she added.

Specifically, Clinton said that the discussions with Hu and China will focus on building trust in both countries.

“I would be the first to admit that distrust lingers on both sides,” she said. “The United States and the international community have watched China’s efforts to modernize and expand its military, and we have sought clarity as to its intentions.... We will continue to raise [this issue]."

Clinton spoke as Washington prepares for Hu's visit beginning on Tuesday, an important high-level U.S.-Chinese session. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in China this week to jump start the stalled military-to-military cooperation, and a meeting with Hu was marred by what appeared to be a surprise flight of China’s new J-20 stealth fighter--which apparently was a surprise to Hu as well.

“Today, our economies are entwined and so are our futures,” Clinton said. “On both sides of the Pacific we do see some trepidation about the rise of China and the future of the U.S.-China relationship.”

In upcoming dialogue with China, Clinton said that the U.S. will continue to push for more-transparent military ties, as well as for improvements in China’s human rights. China's regional responsibilities have become even more urgent, Clinton said, as its cooperation to rein in its ally North Korea is essential.

Next week’s visit will be the eighth face-to-face meeting between Obama and Hu, who have met on the sidelines of various international summits over the last two years. But this pomp of a state visit—only the third of the Obama administration—is important to Chinese officials.

Hu is set to retire in 2012, and he sees this visit as important to cementing his legacy. His last White House visit came in 2006 and was somewhat tarnished by blunders. A protester from the Falun Gong, a spiritual sect outlawed in China, infiltrated a welcoming ceremony and heckled Hu. And at a reception, a White House announcer confused China’s formal name with Taiwan when introducing China’s national anthem.

The White House is eager to get the details right this time. When Hu and the Chinese delegation arrive at Andrews Air Base on Tuesday evening, the Chinese delegation will be greeted by Vice President Joe Biden and second lady Jill Biden.

That evening Obama will host an intimate private dinner for Hu at the White House. Clinton and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, as well as their Chinese counterparts, will be at the dinner, but spouses aren’t invited. Donilon said that the small welcome dinner, in the Old Family Dining Room, is unusual for a state visit, but the hope is that it will spur “candid conversation.”

On Wednesday, there will be an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, where Hu will be greeted by a 21-gun salute. Obama and Hu will then sit down for a one-on-one conversation in the Oval Office. Later, Obama’s Cabinet will join their counterparts, and Obama and Hu will meet with U.S. and Chinese business leaders.

After the meeting with the business leaders, Hu and Obama will hold a joint press conference in the East Room. Only four journalists (two from U.S. organization, two from Chinese news outlets) will be allowed to ask questions.  After the news conference, Hu will head to the State Department to attend a luncheon hosted by Biden and Clinton. Later that evening, Hu will be honored with a state dinner—only the third of the Obama administration. 

Hu will meet with the House and Senate leadership on Thursday and will address the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations that same day. Later on Thursday, Hu is scheduled to travel to Chicago to meet with American business leaders. Donilon downplayed the possibility of any headline-catching announcements coming out of next week’s visit. 

“We, at the outset of the administration, made the determination that we’re not going to engage in a summit-oriented approach, but rather to have a steady, intensive engagement with China,” Donilon told reporters on Friday.

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