Clinton’s gentle approach to China

On her recent trip to Beijing, Hillary Clinton emphasized the common interests between the U.S. and China.

Hillary Clinton’s return to Beijing last week was a triumph, said Kristine Kwok in the Hong Kong South China Morning Post. Thirteen years ago, on a trip to Beijing as First Lady to attend the World Conference on Women, Clinton spoke out strongly against China’s suppression of women’s rights, winning accolades from activists but angering Chinese leaders. This time, on her first trip abroad as secretary of state, she was “more nuanced.” She emphasized the two countries’ common interests, particularly on trade. And “she acknowledged that tackling the financial crisis, climate change, and security should take precedence over human rights and Tibet issues.” She even took care to shake hands with as many Chinese people as possible on her tour. That “soft human touch” went a long way toward repairing America’s image in China.

If the point of Clinton’s visit “was to assure and reassure, she made it,” said Beijing’s China Daily in an editorial. She delivered the welcome news that the U.S. does not see “a rising China” as “an adversary by definition.” Instead, she invoked the ancient Chinese proverb: “When in one boat, help each other.” With our two economies dependent on each other, China and the U.S. are surely in the same boat. It is in our common interest to ensure that both countries prosper—and that imperative takes priority over other matters. Clinton showed that on her “listening tour” of China, she could listen to ancient Chinese wisdom. “Everyone managing Sino-U.S. relations needs such wisdom to cultivate strategic insight.”

Clinton simply recognized the new reality, said Li Hongmei in Bejing’s People’s Daily. “China has grown to be a new heavyweight player and stepped into the limelight on the world stage.” In the old, bipolar world, political relations were “a tug of war between East and West.” But in today’s multipolar world, it’s no longer a zero-sum game. “To be the winner, one has to seek cooperation, rather than confrontation.”

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Still, the two countries have very real differences, said Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun. Clinton won’t be able to avoid the subject of human rights forever. This year marks two important anniversaries for Chinese activists: the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s leaving Tibet to go into exile. More and more “movements seeking democratization” on the mainland are gaining momentum. Differences on human rights could still “cause discord” in U.S.-China relations—and soon.

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