During the two-day talks, Clinton reiterated US criticism of the wave of human rights violations that began in China in February, including the arrest or disappearance of dozens of pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders, ostensibly to stop Jasmine Revolution-type protests.
She expressed her harshest criticism in an interview with well-known journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, published yesterday, in which she said that Chinese leaders are “worried, [. . .] trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand”. However, despite her criticism, Clinton defended the US policy of seeking co-operation with Beijing because, as she put it, “We live in a real world.”
Whilst rejecting US criticism, Chinese officials have offered a more conciliatory tone. Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said that Beijing has made “remarkable progress” since the Communist state was established in 1949.
“The Chinese government is committed to protecting and upholding human rights and we will ensure and protect people's freedom of religious faith in accordance with the law,” Zhang said at a press conference in Washington.
The focus of the two-day summit has been however on trade and investment. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan have in fact struck a deal in the matter.
China wants US technology and greater investment opportunities for Chinese companies in the United States, especially in areas relating to national security.
For example, Chinese mobile network equipment giant Huawei has been stymied in two attempts to buy US technology companies. It was also blocked from selling equipment to top US mobile phone provider Sprint Nextel.
In exchange, Washington wants Beijing to revalue the yuan to reduce the real value of its national debt, which is largely held by Beijing, as well as protect US manufacturing from Chinese competition. The Americans also want greater access to the Chinese market and better protection of intellectual property.
Both nations have major problems to tackle.
China wants to continue its development but has to bring inflation under control. Last month, it reached 5.3 per cent, just short of the 5.4 record a month before. For their part, food prices rose by 11.2 per cent in April (11.7 per cent in March).
The United States must reduce unemployment and contain its huge public debt, which could undermine the value of the US dollar and the worth of US treasury bills, most of which are held by China. At the same time, Washington must counter the competition of Chinese products and reduce its trade imbalance with China.