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.