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Cooperating with China

No one expects the secretary of state to play the leading role in U.S. policy toward the global economic crisis. For Hillary Clinton, on her first extended overseas tour as America's top diplomat, this poses something of a dilemma. The economy ranks second to none in U.S. relations with China, and in its ties with most other states, too. Much to the dismay of human rights groups, Clinton said just before her arrival in Beijing (Telegraph), that pressing China on Taiwan, Tibet, and human rights issues "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crises."

Yet these issues along with China's vote on the U.N. Security Council, its leverage over North Korea, and a host of other issues all pose longstanding challenges that fall into Clinton's charge. Ironically, writes CFR President Emeritus Leslie H. Gelb, China is one of a small number of nations which may have preferred Barack Obama's predecessor (Daily Beast).

Be that as it may, the economic crisis has underscored the codependent nature of the U.S.-China relationship. China is the United States' second-largest trading partner and largest holder of U.S. debt at $ 1.7 trillion. Fears of trade protectionism have already begun to be voiced on both sides. Last month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the Senate before he was confirmed to the post that President Obama believes China is "manipulating" its currency. In December 2008, the United States brought a case against China to the World Trade Organization challenging an industrial policy that promotes sales of Chinese merchandise through prohibited export subsidies (PDF). China, meanwhile, reeling from a 17.5 percent fall in exports, has spoken out against the "Buy American" clause in...

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