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Hillary Clinton keeps speech on China relations in familiar territory

In advance of China President Hu Jintao's U.S. visit next week, the secretary of State calls for a transparent military relationship and urges China to 'send a clear message to Iran's leaders' regarding nuclear activity.

January 14, 2011|By Paul Richter, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that the U.S.- China relationship does not fall "neatly into black-and-white categories like 'friend' or 'rival.' "

Clinton, assessing the important relationship in a speech in advance of China President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington next week, acknowledged that in President Obama's first two years in office, the two countries have had "some early successes, but also some frustrations."

She said the U.S. goal with China will be to build a "positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship." But she conceded that the two countries will continue to have disagreements, growing from "profoundly different political systems and outlooks."

Clinton said the United States intends to continue strengthening its economic and security ties to East Asian nations, even though some in China see that process as an effort to contain the expansion of Chinese influence.

She said China needed to overcome "its reluctance at times to join us in building a stable and transparent military-to-military relationship." The military has been one of the Chinese institutions most wary of the United States, and has often preferred to keep the Pentagon at arm's length.

Clinton called on China to do more to "send a clear message to Iran's leaders to cease its illicit nuclear activity." She said it also was vital that China join the U.S. in sending North Korea "an unequivocal message that its recent provocations -- including the announced uranium enrichment program -- are unacceptable and in violation of Security Council resolutions and North Korea's own commitments …"

She said the United States would also continue to call for China to observe the human rights of its citizens. She reiterated the U.S. call for release of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned dissident writer, and other political prisoners in China.

Clinton's speech broke no major new ground on U.S. policy toward China.

It was originally billed as a major exposition of U.S. views on the relationship. But administration officials scaled back their plan for the speech in recent days, apparently not wanting to risk further tension to a relationship already under some strain as the summit approaches.

Hu Jintao has been embarrassed in recent days by the disclosure that he was unaware that the Chinese military was testing a new radar-evading plane during the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Beijing.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner also criticized Chinese economic policy in a hard-hitting speech this week.

Paul.richter@latimes.com

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