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Clinton Pokes China, No Response?

Secretary Clinton used a speech in Mongolia to take a veiled swipe at nearby China’s government, saying democratic countries like Mongolia

stand in stark contrast to those governments that . . . work around the clock to restrict people’s access to ideas and information, to imprison them for expressing their views, to usurp the rights of citizens to choose their leaders, to govern without accountability, to corrupt the economic progress of the country and take the riches unto themselves.

The speech will not please the rulers of the country just to the south of Mongolia, of course. But the Obama administration is continuing its “forward posture” in Asia; the Secretary will soon be on her way to Vietnam and Laos, attending ASEAN and promoting economic and political ties across Asia.

None of Secretary Clinton’s rhetoric is meant to antagonize or contain China. But pushing the democracy and human rights issues will anger many there all the same. Washington and Beijing have long traded diplomatic barbs on these issues, and no Chinese citizen or official wants to be told by an American to change the way their government works.

The problem for China is how to harness and turn that anger into a coherent foreign policy strategy. Beijing can protest American “meddling” or “interference.” It can resort to economic tools or hit back through diplomatic channels, and to some extent it can limit the amount of exposure Clinton’s arguments get within China. But publicly, in the foreign policy sphere, there is little China can do to counter Washington’s human rights line.

Clinton believes that all this democracy talk will build support for American policy among many Asian allies, and also back home. But it’s not so clear how this goes over in countries like Vietnam. We shall soon see.

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  • Jim.

    If recent articles about Chinese “ghost cities” are to be believed, China is worse than a kleptocracy… the government takes wealth and nobody gets to enjoy it. The buildings they build, whole towns’ worth, over sixty million residents’ worth, stand empty.

    Market signals exist for a reason, guys. Some places don’t need apartment buildings. (Some places don’t need high-speed rail.)

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Jim is right, not only are there ghost cities in China, many of the new skyscrapers are empty, and the high speed rail lines are to expensive for the impoverished Chinese to ride so they use the older cheaper lines which get there slower. Most of the economic numbers coming out of China are bogus, with much of the economy government owned and with the 10 year political changes coming, bureaucrats are fudging the numbers to make themselves look good. China’s export model economy is coming to an end, with a -0.6% decline in prices between may and june, electricity production falling, and export sales falling off a cliff.

  • Luke Lea

    Words, words, words. What is wanted are calm, measured, firm penalties announced ahead of time: Congress should pass a schedule of tariffs on Chinese imports calibrated to certain benchmarks of political reform: an independent judiciary, internationally supervised accountancy standards, freedom of speech, etc.., details to be worked out among our allies and maybe even in public consultation with the Chinese authorities. The message should be if you want to be part of the civilized world, be civilized. Pre-modern barbarism doesn’t cut it anymore. We’ve helped you get off the poverty floor, at considerable cost to our own welfare. Shape up.

  • Gman

    The thought that comes to my mind is that the US economically advantaged ruling elite set this whole thing up long ago, by skillfully allowing China into the WTO. Their mistake, the whole worlds price to pay.

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