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Published: Saturday, 2/21/2009

Clinton defers pushing China on human rights

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Beijing for three days of talks, although she said her priority no longer includes such contentious issues as Taiwan and freedom for Tibet. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Beijing for three days of talks, although she said her priority no longer includes such contentious issues as Taiwan and freedom for Tibet.
GREG BAKER / AP Enlarge

BEIJING - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that she would set aside contentious issues such as human rights in talks with the Chinese in favor of topics on which progress may be more likely: the economy, climate change, and security issues.

Arriving in Beijing on the last leg of her inaugural trip abroad as America's top diplomat, Mrs. Clinton said that after years of pressing Beijing, the dialogue on human rights, freedom for Tibet, and accommodation with Taiwan had grown predictable.

"We know what they're going to say because I've had those kinds of conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders," Mrs. Clinton said. She said she would raise the contentious issues, but noted that neither side is likely to give ground on them.

Instead, she said it might be better to focus on U.S.-Chinese engagement on climate change, the global financial crisis, and security threats.

Her comments drew negative reaction from human rights advocates who were hoping for a repeat of the stance she took nearly 15 years ago when she was first lady and publicly took on and angered the Chinese government in a tough speech on this issue.

But in surprisingly candid remarks, she said each side already knows the other's divergent positions on those matters and progress might be more achievable by concentrating on other areas where Washington and Beijing can work together. "That doesn't mean that questions of Taiwan, Tibet, human rights, the whole range of challenges that we often engage on with the Chinese, are not part of the agenda," she said.

"We know we're going to press them to reconsider their position about Tibetan religious and cultural freedom and autonomy for the Tibetans and some kind of recognition or acknowledgment of the Dalai Lama and we know what they're going to say," Mrs. Clinton said.

Human rights groups, some of whom had written to Mrs. Clinton last week urging her to make the matter a priority, denounced the remarks.

"Amnesty International is shocked and extremely disappointed by [Mrs. Clinton's] comments that human rights will not be a priority in her diplomatic engagement with China," the organization said.

In her remarks, Mrs. Clinton stressed she had never shied away from bringing up human rights issues with China, recalling her 1995 speech to the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing that so angered authorities that they pulled the plug on live television coverage of it.

Mrs. Clinton traveled to China after a one-day visit to South Korea, which ended with a strong statement of support for the beleaguered South Korean government.

Appearing with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung hwan, Mrs. Clinton said North Korea "is not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue with [South Korea]."



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