Friday, February 20, 2009

Eyes on China as Clinton arrives

US Secretary of State arrives in Beijing on Friday evening

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that both China and the United States need to “work together” during the current economic downturn. Speaking to CNN prior to her arrival in Beijing she showed optimism that the two countries could overcome previous difficulties. There have been a rise in tensions between the two superpowers over product safety and on issues such as human rights over the past year. However, Michael Santoro, author of China 2020, told CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout on Asia Today, that a new model needs to be fleshed out for the partnership to work.
China has suffered too from the economic crisis. Millions of migrant workers, once employed in factories across the country, have been made jobless. To get the country back on track China recently announced a $600 billion economic stimulus package and there are plans to boost its steel and auto industries, including about $1.5 billion to develop alternative-fuel vehicles. But with concerns of product safety, China has to address these problems as it moves into other areas of manufacturing. "It's no longer sufficient for China to become a manufacturer of sneakers or toys and the like," Santoro told CNN]. "Now they're looking to become players in the area of pharmaceuticals and foods and other high value-added products, where safety and quality are important characteristics for improving in the global economy."

While China’s economy has passed Germany and closed ranks with Japan, it has not been immune to the effects of the recession. The Chinese government has revised its growth figures for 2007 from 11.9 percent to 13 percent, bringing its estimated gross domestic product to $3.4 trillion, around 3% larger than Germany's $3.3 trillion for the same year, based on World Bank estimates. Beijing is expected to release its 2008 GDP figures next week [BBC / CNN / Xinhua].

Hillary Clinton arrives in a country still wary about Western attitudes towards it. President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech rattled some nerves in Beijing after he mentioned the word “communism”. During his address, Obama said, "Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions." China Central Television aired the speech live with a simultaneous Chinese translation, but when the translator got to the part where President Obama talked about facing down communism, her voice suddenly faded away. The programme suddenly cut back to the studio, where an off-guard presenter had to quickly ask a guest a question. Versions of Obama’s speech have also been cut on news websites, though English language versions remain intact [BBC].

English output from Chinese news services often differs from Chinese language versions. On CCTV’s China Today, human rights and the environment were mentioned as subjects the US Secretary of State was set to discuss with Chinese leaders. Professor Chu Shulong of Tsinghua University described the meeting as a positive move. But it will be a tight schedule on the last day of her Asian tour. She is set to meet with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Clinton’s visits to Japan, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have made few headlines other than concerns over North Korea. However, many will be watching closely as she visits this growing economy which become so inextricably linked to so many others.

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