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How-to-save-the-world club

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James Reynolds | 12:37 UK time, Saturday, 21 February 2009

Hillary Clinton began her first full day in Beijing in the most beautiful part of this city - a 100 acre compound of parks, frozen lakes, and ancient villas. The compound houses the Diaoyutai State Guest House - you can only get inside with an official invitation.

This morning I had one, so I joined the US travelling press corps in a grey minibus and we drove into the grounds. Signing up with the travelling press entitles you to a number of things: access to a filing centre at the delegation's hotel; a seat on the minibus; an official State Department booklet with details about China (the booklet describes the non-political interests of the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, "When he worked in the Communist Youth League Central Committee, he occasionally danced solo at parties. He also plays table tennis fairly well."); and a turkey sandwich for lunch (cost: 51 rmb or £5.)

We were escorted into a main hall two hours before a press conference with Mrs Clinton and her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi. The two were holding talks in a room nearby (it was so close that officials had to go round our room asking us all to be quiet, because our chatter was disturbing the official bilateral talks.)

The main hall was equipped with a grand piano (used this morning as a useful surface for folders and laptops) and had a view over a frozen lake.

At 11.47am, Mrs Clinton and Mr Yang came down the steps and started their news conference. Plenty of heavy-calibre diplomatic words were deployed - bilateral relations, strategic dialogue, issues of mutual interest and so on. But the translation was simple : Hillary Clinton came here to ask China to form a 2-member How-To-Save-The-World Club.

The Obama Administration wants to tackle the global financial crisis, climate change, and security issues including North Korea's nuclear programme. These are dusty subjects - but they are actually the kind of lie-awake-at-night worries that superpowers have - can we afford to give our people a better life ? Will the world get too hot to live in ? Will we be blown up in a nuclear war ?

The US believes that it cannot solve any of these problems unless China is involved. That's why Mrs Clinton is here in Beijing. Human rights were mentioned at the press conference - but only briefly. Yang Jiechi insisted that human rights in China were respected, "Although Beijing is chilly," he said, "I'm confident that you will see the biggest number of smiling faces here."

The press conference went on for 49 minutes. After a private lunch with a State Councilor, Mrs Clinton then headed off to a low-emission Chinese power plant which uses hi-tech American equipment. The message : This is how the US and China can tackle global warming together.

She spoke to an audience of Chinese students. Mrs Clinton came alive at one particular point, when she was talking about global warming :

"What we hope is that you won't make the same mistakes, because I don't think either China or the world can afford that. When we were industrialising and growing we didn't know any better. Neither did Europe. Now we're smart enough to know how to have the right kind of growth."

For China, these are interesting words. China has always insisted that the West is to blame for climate change - because of the Western industrial revolutions. Hearing America's chief diplomat come close to making the same point will be welcomed by many here.


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