- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday signaled a shift in U.S. dealings with China, with the State Department poised to take charge after the Treasury Department’s leading role during the Bush administration’s final years.

Mrs. Clinton said the economy-focused approach to China that was spearheaded by Bush administration Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. must give way to a “broader agenda.”

“We need a comprehensive dialogue with China. The strategic dialogue that was begun in the Bush administration turned into an economic dialogue,” she told reporters in her first briefing at the State Department since taking office last week. “That’s a very important aspect of our relationship with China, but it’s not the only aspect of our relationship.”

She avoided specifics, but issues affecting Sino-U.S. relations traditionally have included human rights, technology transfers, Taiwan, military exchanges and efforts to slow nuclear proliferation and halt fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and co-chairman of a new House commission on human rights, criticized U.S. policy for putting commercial interests ahead of human rights. Mrs. Clinton has been a vocal advocate for human rights — particularly women’s rights — in the world’s most populous nation.

“Obviously, our economic problems here at home mean people are being laid off, not only here in America, but also in China,” she said. “So the economy will always be a centerpiece of our relationship, but we want it to be part of a broader agenda.”

Analysts said that Treasury should have at least an equal role in China policy with the State Department because of the vital importance of economic issues amid a global recession.

“I can understand why State wants to wrest control back from Treasury, but it’s unrealistic to think that State can handle these economic matters by itself,” said Steven R. Weisman, a public policy fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

A Treasury official declined to comment, saying he had been on the job for four days. A Chinese Embassy spokesman was not available for comment, either.

President Obama’s Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, made tough remarks about China’s “manipulation” of its currency during his Senate confirmation hearing last week. His remarks were criticized by supporters of engagement with Beijing.

Even though U.S. officials have pressed China for years to allow the market to determine the yuan’s value, they had avoided the word “manipulate.”

People’s Bank of China Vice Governor Su Ning was quoted as saying during the weekend by the state-owned Xinhua news agency that Mr. Geithner’s “remarks are not only inconsistent with the facts, but they are misleading about the reasons for the financial crisis.”

Mrs. Clinton said many U.S. policies are under review, and the new administration has “a lot of damage to repair” around the world. Still, she promised “continuity” in certain areas, including six-party negotiations aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear programs.

“It is important that I underscore what we see as the significance of the six-party talks. They have been useful not only vis-a-vis North Korea, but among the participating nations in related matters in the region,” she said.

She also pointed out bilateral U.S.-North Korean talks. During her Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month, she hinted that those direct contacts may be expanded.

On Iran’s nuclear program, Mrs. Clinton said she will preserve the current negotiating format, which includes the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Officials from those countries are expected to meet in Berlin next week.

Mr. Obama said repeatedly during his election campaign that his administration, unlike the Bush administration, would talk to Iran without preconditions. In a television interview Monday, he said the United States was prepared to extend its hand to Iran if it “unclenched its fist.”

“Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them,” Mrs. Clinton said Tuesday.

Her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, offered to talk to Iran in 2006, but only if Tehran stopped enriching uranium, which Washington suspects is meant to be used for a nuclear weapon. Iran denied it was pursuing nuclear weapons and refused to stop its uranium program, and the offer died.

On overall U.S. relations with the rest of the world, Mrs. Clinton, who has called 36 foreign leaders so far, said: “There is a great exhalation of breath going on around the world as people express their appreciation for the new direction that’s being set and the team that’s [been] put together by the president.”

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