Clinton China Speech Scattershot

January 14, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after her triumphant China speech on Jan. 14.  (Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after her triumphant China speech on Jan. 14. (Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the capper to the Obama administration’s China policy speeches on Jan. 14.

Earlier in the week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had spoken about the economy, and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke had spoken about the prospects for U.S. businesses in China.

Clinton’s speech, like those of her peers, was a sweet and sour sauce—more sweet than sour. But the sweet part came first, delivered in the opulent surroundings of the Benjamin Franklin room in the State Department.


The U.S.-China Relationship

The U.S.-China relationship is important. It is about bolstering security. Its success should deliver positive outcomes. It impacts the world.

  • It is marked by: great promise, real achievements, significant challenges.
  • It is meant for: greater peace, prosperity, progress—GLOBALLY.
  • It is at: a critical juncture, “where the choices we make, both big and small, will shape the trajectory…”
  • The last two years brought: “deeper, broader, and more sustained” cooperation, and lots of other good things… along with “some frustration.”
  • It relies on: both parties making good on what they say (especially China!!—Ed.)
  • It assumes that: there will be always a gulf between democratic America and communist China, though Ms. Clinton did not use the ‘c’ word. This gulf must be dealt with “wisely and responsibly.”
  • These markings, junctures, reliances and assumptions will determine “whether our relationship will deliver on its potential in the years to come.”

So far so good.

U.S.-China Engagement

U.S.-China engagement has:

  • come a long way since 1971, with three decades of intense engagement;
  • “really gone global,” as the two countries “discuss nearly every major international issue,” in endless dialogues, conferences, and meetings;
  • a “breadth of our engagement” that will be on full display next week, when General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Jintao gets a 21 gun salute;
  • massive money wrapped up in it (trade “used to be measured in hundreds of millions,” but now is US$400 billion);
  • relied on the vision of its leaders, aided by an open and dynamic global economy, which was ultimately aided by “American power that has long secured stability in the [Asian] region;”
  • lifted hundreds of millions out of “grinding poverty” and now helps drive “global prosperity;”
  • entwined the economies of the United States and China, such that the two countries’ futures are also now entwined.


Now for China:
-It has a state-dominated economy that depends on external demand and technology, and it has to move to a more market oriented economy powered by demand and innovation.
-More of its people are seeking greater respect for their cultures and religious beliefs, freedom of speech, and legal recourse for addressing injustices.

Now for history and geostrategy:
-It teaches us that the rise of new powers often ushers in periods of conflict and uncertainty.
-It has some disciples in both countries who look at current dynamics through old prisms, such as “cold war style conflict” or “American decline.” And some in China worry that U.S. is bent on containing China’s Rise, which stokes a new streak of Chinese nationalism, but “we reject those views,” Clinton said resoundingly. “In the 21st century it doesn’t make sense to apply zero-sum, 19th century theories of how nations interact. We need new ways of understanding the shifting dynamics of the international landscape.”


The U.S. and China are entangled. This “entanglement” can only be understood in context of the new and complicated landscape. “When you’re in the same boat, you have to row in same direction, and we have to row in same direction or we will cause turmoil and whirlpools that will affect many beyond our borders,” Clinton said.

Stale categories like “friend” and “rival” don’t do justice to the intricate complexity of the current U.S.-China relationship. And while the governmental systems are different, there is a shared “energy, entrepreneurial dynamism, commitment to a better future for child and grandchild,” among the people of both nations, which are “deeply invested in the current order.” Both countries, at least so far, have “much more to gain from cooperation than conflict,” though this does not rule out competition, because that’s “who we are as people.” It’s just important to remember that there are ways of doing it that are more likely to benefit than not.

Next: Now for some syllogisms…