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'Distrust lingers on both sides,' Clinton says of U.S.-China relations

The East Asian nation must overcome reluctance to build a 'military-to-military relationship,' the Secretary of State Clinton says in a speech leading up to the Chinese president's visit to Washington.

January 15, 2011|By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times
  • Clinton's speech at the State Department inaugurated a lecture series dedicated to Richard C. Holbrooke, the longtime U.S. diplomat who died last month.
Clinton's speech at the State Department inaugurated a lecture series… (Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images )

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 Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington next week, acknowledged that in President Obama's first two years in office the two nations have had "some early successes, but also some frustrations."

She said the U.S. goal with China is to build a "positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship." But she conceded that the two nations 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 restrict the expansion of Chinese influence. She sought to emphasize that the United State does not intend to try to contain China.

She said China needs 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.

She said that although both nations are working to strengthen the complex relationship, "distrust lingers on both sides."

Clinton urged 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 [ United Nations] Security Council resolutions and North Korea's own commitments."

The United States will continue to push China to observe the rights of its citizens, she said, reiterating Washington's call for the nation to release Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned dissident writer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and other political prisoners.

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

Hu 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 M. Gates to Beijing.

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

Hu's visit will be, in the judgment of some analysts, the most important between U.S. and Chinese leaders in years.

He will stop in Chicago as well as Washington, and is scheduling events to demonstrate how China contributes to the U.S. economy. He is expected to visit a Chinese-owned auto parts plant and a joint American-Chinese clean-energy project.

Clinton's speech inaugurated a lecture series dedicated to Richard C. Holbrooke, the longtime U.S. diplomat who died last month while serving as the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Later on Friday, Clinton was among the speakers at a memorial service for Holbrooke, along with former President Bill Clinton, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

paul.richter@latimes.com

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