- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2011

The Obama administration is lowering expectations ahead of the first state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao during the Obama presidency.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday rejected what China analysts have called the “G-2,” or how the bilateral relationship between the United States and China will sublimate America’s relationship with other East Asian powers, such as Japan.

“Today, it is as important as any bilateral relationship in the world, but there is no such thing as a G-2,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech at the State Department. “Both of our countries reject that concept. There are other key actors, allies, institutions and emerging powers who will also work with us to shape regional and global affairs.”

The upcoming visit by Mr. Hu, who is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Tuesday, will be a new opportunity for both leaders to take stock of what has been a rocky relationship in the last year.

Thomas E. Donilon, President Obama’s national security adviser, told reporters Friday the United States was committed to being a strong ally of countries, such as Japan and South Korea.

“Those nations absolutely count on the United States to engage in a productive, positive relationship with China, to manage that relationship with China, because that’s obviously a very important part of the stability and security in the region,” Mr. Donilon said.

Mr. Obama emphasized a strategic partnership with China in the first 11 months of his administration as he tried to engage Beijing as a partner on regional and economic issues, ranging from disarming North Korea to cooperating on a new treaty to curb carbon emissions.

But China chose not to cooperate at a U.N. global-warming conference in December 2009, and U.S. intelligence officials still complain about China’s aggressive probing of sensitive U.S. defense computer networks and stealing trade secrets of U.S. companies.

According to the latest Treasury Department statistics, China holds $906 billion in U.S. debt. But many analysts suspect the Chinese also purchase U.S. debt through the United Kingdom and offshore financial centers, such as the Cayman Islands. China also owns $400 billion worth of debt from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

On Friday, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said U.S. exports to China surpassed the $100 billion mark last year and that he expected U.S. exports to China to rise in 2011.

China, in turn, exports almost $400 billion worth of goods to the United States, creating a major trade deficit. “Part of the reason for the trade imbalance is China’s exchange-rate policy,” said Derek Scissors, an Asia economist at the Heritage Foundation.

China also is becoming a major military power. Last week, it tested a new stealth fighter, a move that surprised many U.S. intelligence analysts who thought stealth technology still eluded China’s military.

After meeting with Mr. Hu in Beijing last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters the Chinese president told him that he was unaware the military would test the aircraft during Mr. Gates’ visit. He later in Japan told reporters that he had no doubt Mr. Hu is still in control of the military.

One goal of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy has been restoring regular military-to-military contacts with China. Beijing ended those regular exchanges in 2008. Mr. Gates and Mrs. Clinton both urged China last week to resume U.S.-Chinese military exchanges. The military exchanges were a big part of the Nov. 17, 2009, communique between Mr. Hu and Mr. Obama when the president visited Beijing.

“If you’re trying to build a comprehensive relationship between two of the major powers in the world, that’s not a situation that should be allowed to be sustained,” Mr. Donilon said.

Balancing all of these issues requires top Obama administration officials to walk a fine line.

Mrs. Clinton said the U.S. relationship is complex.

“This is not a relationship that fits neatly into the black-and-white categories like friend or rival,” she said. “We are two complex nations with very different histories, with profoundly different political systems and outlooks.”

In the same speech, Mrs. Clinton criticized China’s imprisonment of Liu Xiaobao, the democracy activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

“We urge China to protect the rights of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, the rights of all people to express themselves and worship freely, and the rights of civil society and religious organizations to advocate their positions within a framework of the rule of law,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And we believe strongly that those who advocate peacefully for reform within the constitution, such as the Charter ‘08 signatories, should not be harassed or prosecuted.”

Mr. Obama met with five Chinese human rights activists at the White House on Thursday. Chinese leaders in the past have criticized U.S. statements about human rights in the country as a form of unwarranted interference in the country’s internal affairs.

“We believe that setting an example here is important, too, frankly,” Mr. Donilon said. “And our efforts to look very hard at our own legal regimes here, including banning torture and other practices, I think are very important in terms of setting an example. And we pursue a number of dialogues with the Chinese on this subject.”