By John Pomfret
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, CALIF. -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday played down friction between the United States and China, saying she thinks the countries have a "mature" enough relationship to be able to handle differences of opinion.
Speaking on the first day of her first trip of the new year -- a nine-day, three-nation Asia-Pacific journey -- Clinton said that China's rise in the region has made U.S. engagement all the more crucial.
"Everyone's aware that China is a rising power of the 21st century," she said on her plane. "But people want to see the United States fully engaged in Asia, so that as China rises the United States is there as a force for peace."
China has reacted strongly to a U.S. decision last week to sell almost $1 billion in anti-missile batteries and missiles to Taiwan. So far, six senior Chinese officials have publicly criticized the deal. China claims Taiwan as its territory and has said the United States is interfering in its internal affairs by selling arms to the island of 20 million. The U.S. government is mandated under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide for Taiwan's defense.
"What I'm expecting is that we actually are having a mature relationship," Clinton said when asked about China. "That means that it doesn't go off the rails when we have differences of opinion."
Clinton acknowledged that more friction is likely when President Obama meets with the Dalai Lama. In an effort to get off to a good start with China, Obama last year postponed a meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader until after a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama is expected to take place soon.
While Clinton said the United States recognizes China's sovereignty over Tibet, she said U.S. officials differ with China over the region. "We support the legitimate desire for cultural, religious respect and autonomy," she said.
Questions to Ponder:
- How does the change of US policy to one which engages "hot spots" in China (e.g: Tibet & Taiwan) affect China's partnership with US?
- From the US perspective, what are the advantages of the alliances with Taiwan and support for Tiber? What are the odds of of US isolating China through their actions?