U.S., China agenda to focus on economy, climate change

Sunday, February 22, 2009
Greg Baker ~ Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, is greeted Saturday by Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo on the grounds of Beijing's Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

BEIJING -- In a last full day of talks in Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday stressed American and Chinese cooperation on the economy and climate change, with few nods to human rights concerns amid signs of China's crackdown on dissidents.

Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said a regular dialogue between their countries on economic issues would now include terrorism and other security issues. Details will be finalized by President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao at an economic summit in April in London.

Clinton welcomed Beijing's continued investment in U.S. government securities and said she hoped the Chinese would avoid the kind of environmental "mistakes" that accompanied development in Western countries.

With the export-heavy Chinese economy reeling from the U.S. downturn, Clinton sought in meetings with Hu, Yang and Premier Wen Jiabao to reassure Beijing that its massive holdings of U.S. Treasury notes and other government debt would remain a solid investment.

"We have every reason to believe that the United States and China will recover and together we will help lead the world recovery," she said at a news conference with Yang. In turn, Yang said China wants its foreign exchange reserves -- the world's largest at $1.95 trillion -- invested safely. "We are ready to continue to talk with the U.S. side," Yang said.

Clinton's emphasis on the global economy, climate change and security were meant to highlight the growing importance of U.S.-China relations, which have often frayed over disagreements on human rights. Authorities in Beijing face a year of anniversaries -- 20 years since the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement and 50 years since the failed Tibetan uprising that forced the Dalai Lama into exile.

Activists said Saturday that Chinese police were monitoring dissidents and had confined some to their homes during Clinton's two-day visit. Several of those targeted had signed "Charter 08," an unusually open call for civil rights and political reforms that circulated in December, according to the China Human Rights Defenders.

But ahead of her talks, Clinton said openly that China's controversial human rights record would be largely off the table, an admission that surprised rights groups and dispensed with standard diplomatic tact.

Along with cooperating on the financial crisis, the U.S. wants China to step up efforts to address threats from nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, and the tenuous security situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With China surpassing the U.S. last year as the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases, Clinton said she and Chinese officials had agreed to develop clean energy technology that would use renewable sources and safely store the dirty emissions from burning coal.

Visiting a new gas-fueled power plant in Beijing, Clinton urged China not to repeat the "same mistakes" that Western countries had made when they developed.

Beijing was the last and perhaps most important stop on Clinton's weeklong visit to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China that she was to conclude Sunday by attending church services and meeting with women who are leaders in civil society.

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