US pragmatism upsets some Chinese activists
The pragmatic approach of the administration of United States president Barack Obama was in evidence during the visit to China of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.While many observers were impressed by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's performance in Beijing, some human rights activists were dismayed at the contrast with her previous visit in 1995 when she was First Lady. On that occasion, Clinton angered her hosts by raising the human rights issue in a speech which was duly faded out by the Chinese media.
But the situation this time was very different. The world economic crisis means that the interdependency of the two countries has become paramount, and other issues have effectively been put on hold. In a speech on Sunday Clinton urged China to keep buying US debt, saying it would help to jumpstart the flagging US economy and stimulate demand for Chinese exports.
This course is supported by Lu Feng, an economist at Beijing University's China Center for Economic Research, who says that China has to keep investing in the United States if it wants to protect the value of its trillions in dollar holdings:
"China is sitting on huge piles of foreign exchange and it will increase its holdings of US Treasuries. Objectively speaking, helping the US economy is good for both China and the US."
China overtook Japan last year as the United States' biggest foreign creditor, and had 696.2 billion dollars of Treasury Bills in December, according to the latest official data from Washington.
"By continuing to support American Treasury instruments the Chinese are recognising our interconnection. We are truly going to rise or fall together." Critics
However, not everyone in China is happy about the depth of this interdependency.
Critics argue that China, as a developing country, should be investing its cash at home instead of subsidising the world's richest country, or else diversifying into other foreign assets.
Some experts in the US also believe that the financial links with China have become too close for comfort. Brad Setser, an economist with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, has calculated that China provided close to 500 billion dollars in financing to the United States last year, which he believes is too much.
"China now has more exposure to the US than is in its long-run interest. I also believe the US relies far more on a single government for financing than is in its long-run interest."
Clinton's declaration that she would not allow US concerns about human rights in China to get in the way of joint work on the global economy, climate change and security issues, angered human rights activists, who saw her visit as an opportunity squandered. Amnesty International said it was "shocked and extremely disappointed". Zeng Jinyan, one of China's best-known dissidents, who was confined to her home by police during Mrs Clinton's visit said:
"Chinese human rights defenders and civil society will suffer even more if the international community does not pay enough attention and (place) enough pressure on China."
However, some dissidents were more positive in their assessment of Mrs Clinton's visit. Dissident writer Jiang Qisheng said:
"We understand that the US faces difficulties and has its own considerations to take into account in dealing with China. I suspect that in private, Clinton was more forceful. When speaking in public, she will naturally watch her words to allow Chinese authorities to maintain face."
Listen: China expert Kelly Brown talks to RNW, click here.
Radio Netherlands / Reuters / AFP