Secretary Clinton in China

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MARCO WERMAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing today. China is Clinton's last stop on her Asia tour. Before arriving, Clinton made it clear that for now, human rights issues were going to take a back seat in her dealings with China. The Secretary of State told reporters that the US �will continue to press China on human rights.� But she said that can't interfere with cooperation on other issues, like the global economic crisis, climate change, and security. The World's Mary Kay Magistad has been reporting on China for more than a decade and Mary Kay, what do you make of the Secretary of State's comments that we can't let human rights issues derail more important considerations about cooperation with the Chinese?

MARY KAY MAGISTAD: Well, I think she's sounding a note of pragmatism. I think she's basically saying, �Look. We've had this dialogue with China for many, many years. There was a time when raising human rights actually did make some headway, actually did lead to some change. But at this point, we know each other's positions on human rights. We sort of go through this pro forma discussion. It takes up time. And while we don't want to stop pushing on these issues and encouraging China to make headway on them, we also feel that we have big issues that we need to deal with now urgently -- and those are the global financial crisis, the environment, and security issues around the globe. And I think both Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama have sounded this note since the beginning of the administration that we want to have a constructive relationship with China. This is different from what President Clinton and President George W. Bush said when they first got into office. Each one of them tried to take a hard line with China, kind of stumbled all over themselves, and then regrouped and decided, �Yes, it is actually a better idea to have a constructive relationship with China.� This time, the Obama administration seems to be trying to go for constructive right off the bat.

WERMAN: The Chinese probably remember Hillary Clinton best from the speech she gave at the UN Conference on Women in 1995.

CLINTON: Freedom means the right of people to assemble, organize, and debate openly. It means respecting the views of those who may disagree with the views of their government. It means not taking citizens away from their loved ones and jailing them, mistreating them, or denying them their freedom or dignity because of the peaceful expression of their ideas and opinions.

WERMAN: Mary Kay, what was the Chinese impression of Hillary Clinton at the time, and how has that evolved to what it is today?

MAGISTAD: Well, Hillary was quite a celebrity at the time. There was a lot of interest in President Bill Clinton and his wife. And when she came to the Women's conference � I was there --- she was the star. Everyone was crowding in to see her. Everyone was crowding around the monitors if they couldn't get into the venue itself where she was speaking, and I remember very clearly when she sounded that note about human rights. I think there was a reasonable amount of tolerance by the Chinese government in her saying that there was some acceptance that she was going to talk about those sorts of issues. I actually think that the Chinese have followed her quite a bit since then as well. There was a lot of interest in the scandal with Monica Lewinsky. I can't tell you how many conversations I had with cab drivers and various other people I met who were saying, �Why are people getting so worked up about this? Look at Hillary. She's, you know, sort of maintaining her composure and moving on.� And there was a lot of interest during the recent presidential campaign, you know, the job that she was doing. I talked to a number of Chinese women who said, �Wow. I wonder if, you know, at some point we're going to have a woman here who could compete or who would have a shot at the top slot?� They don't really compete for it in China.

WERMAN: For Chinese officials, what is the most urgent issue on their agenda for their meeting with Hillary Clinton?

MAGISTAD: I think it's to set the right tone for the overall relationship, and the Chinese tend to enter every first meeting with a new US administration with that in mind. And in this case, the Chinese are really wanting the United States to view China as an equal, and not as someone you can talk down to. So actually Hillary is being pretty smart and not going in and starting to lecture on human rights, because the Chinese really are not interested in hearing that lecture.

WERMAN: Secretary Clinton's trip to China today has as its awkward backdrop a tension in Tibet. It's the year after the protests in Lhasa and the ensuing crackdown. Is tension around Tibet right now ramping up and could it be a flashpoint again?

MAGISTAD: Absolutely, tension is ramping up. There are reports of very marked increased police and military presence not just in Tibet itself but also in Tibetan areas in Western China. The government really wants to keep a clamp on potential protests this year. Tibetan New Year is coming up, and then very shortly after that in mid-March, the 50th anniversary of when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and went to India. So the government is expecting the Tibetans to try something, and it's doing its level best to prevent anything from breaking out on the streets and even more so from being reported internationally.

WERMAN: The World's Mary Kay Magistad. Thanks very much indeed, Mary Kay.

MAGISTAD: Thank you, Marco.