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Hillary Clinton's visit to Beijing

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James Reynolds | 16:10 UK time, Thursday, 19 February 2009

On Friday, Hillary Clinton comes to Beijing for talks with China's leaders. Hers is the first visit to China from a senior member of the Obama Administration. Many are interested to see whether or not Mrs Clinton will publically address the subject of human rights while she's here.

Hillary ClintonIn the past, US officials have often preferred to speak softly (in public at least) during their visits in order to avoid embarrassing their hosts. They save their harsher words for before and after their trips. President Bush did this last August when he delivered a critical speech on China from Thailand, just before he arrived on Chinese soil to watch the Olympics.

But Mrs Clinton has a precedent to follow. It is her own.

In September 1995, during her husband Bill Clinton's first term of office, she came to Beijing. She was the main speaker at the Fourth World Conference on Women. Mrs Clinton delivered a 20 minute speech (you can listen to it here) in which she made some pretty direct statements:

"Both women and men are entitled to a range of protections and personal freedoms from the right of personal security to the right to determine freely the number and spacing of the children they bear [applause]. No one should be forced to remain silent for fear of religious or political persecution, arrest, abuse or torture."

There was even a direct rebuke:

"It is indefensible that many women in non-governmental organisations who wished to participate in this conference have not been able to attend - or have been prohibited from fully taking part."

But now Mrs Clinton has a new job - having traded the post of first lady for secretary of state. It's not clear whether or not this will mean a change of tone when she gets to China. But one group of human rights organisations has just sent her a letter reminding her of some of the comments she made in Beijing in 1995.

Aside from human rights, there's plenty for Hillary Clinton to discuss when she meets China's leaders.

1) The Economy
China and America are stuck together on this one. China's economic growth has been fuelled by its exports - the US is its biggest export market. So, in order to keep going, China needs Americans to keep buying. But the US has a few complaints. The US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner recently accused China of "currency manipulation" - of keeping the value of the Rmb artificially low in order to gain an advantage over its competitors. China denies this charge and points out that the Rmb has appreciated 21% since China partially floated its currency in 2005.

2) Climate Change
Recent figures show that China has overtaken the US as the world's largest single producer of carbon emissions. In December, the world will go to Copenhagen to negotiate a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. Any global climate change deal which does not address China won't last all that long. But China says that it cannot accept a cap on its emissions, since it's still a developing country. China also points out that - per capita - Chinese people are responsible for about one-sixth of the amount of carbon emissions produced by each American. It's something to talk about with the US Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, who's coming to Beijing with Mrs Clinton.

3) North Korea
Since 2003, Beijing has hosted six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. The US has taken part in these discussions along with Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea itself. Many believe that China has more influence on the regime in Pyongyang than any other country. So, the road to a nuclear deal with North Korea may begin in Beijing.

There are other issues as well. The US military says that it's hoping to restart high-level military exchanges with China. These ties were broken off last October after the US sold arms to Taiwan.

I'll be covering Mrs Clinton's visit amid the Beijing snow.


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