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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The American Horizon: Hillary’s Nights on the Town in the Orient

Change is indeed happening in the Obama administration, but perhaps not in the way that most people envisioned it when the President Obama used it during his campaign. Hillary Clinton, his former rival and current Secretary of State, demonstrated a unique line of diplomacy during her recent trip to key nations in East Asia by applying a laidback and free spirited approach to talking with America’s friends, trading partners, and even rivals. Her unconventional diplomatic language made it clear that she wasn’t going to take the Kissinger method, but be a (somewhat risk-taking) pioneer for making “change” in a political art steeped in tradition. At the same time, Hillary established that she could be both tough and tactful when she talked about China in spite of her previous position on this country as First Lady and Senator.

When Hillary was asked about her talking points with the Beijing Government, she said “We pretty much know what they’re going to say, because I’ve had those conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders.” She first visited Beijing in 1995 for a widely-discussed speech on women, and has written about how she believed that her words made her Chinese hosts think about their human rights policies. This time around, however, she said human rights issues would take a backseat, since she could not afford to derail discussions on big issues like the global economic crisis, climate concerns and a nuclear North Korea. This choice has earned her pointed criticism from Amnesty International, which said that it was “shocked and extremely disappointed” that human rights were not made more of a concern.

During the talks with China’s leaders, Mrs. Clinton did bring up the matter of human rights with Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister. Yang repeated China’s conventional statement that Beijing was prepared to talk about human rights with Washington on the basis of “equality and noninterference in each other’s affairs.” On the global economic crisis, the two governments said they would work jointly to plan a recovery of their respective economies as well as fixing the world economy. Mrs. Clinton said she expected to see changes in the economic relationship between China, with its sky-scraping savings rate, and the United States, with its increasing weighty borrowing from this fiscally conservative Asian state.

The most interesting aspect of these discussions is the fact that the US is being subsidized by China, which nonetheless remains in the category of being a developing nation. The reason can be best explained in Tina Rosenberg’s article “Reverse Foreign Aid.” In the article she explains that there has been a reverse flow from the poorer countries of the world, otherwise known as the “South,” to the richer states, like the US, which consist of the “North.”

How did it come to this? Here’s what Rosenberg says: “All countries hold hard-currency reserves to cover their foreign debts or to use in case of a natural or a financial disaster. For the past 50 years, rich countries have steadily held reserves equivalent to about three months’ worth of their total imports. As money circulates more and more quickly in a globalized economy, however, many countries have felt the need to add to their reserves, mainly to head off investor panic, which can strike even well-managed economies. Since 1990, the world’s nonrich nations have increased their reserves, on average, from around three months’ worth of imports to more than eight months’ worth – or the equivalent of about 30 percent of their G.D.P. China and other countries maintain those reserves mainly in the form of supersecure U.S. Treasury bills; whenever they buy T-bills, they are in effect lending the United States money. This allows the U.S. to keep interest rates low and Washington to run up huge deficits with no apparent penalty.” The current reports from the US Government suggests that if China stopped investing this way, the American economy could enter a far worse recession.

On the other hand, I don’t think Hillary’s words will significantly change US-China relations. America’s hard-line language has been in doubt since the days of the Cold War, when the US used the radio to entice anti-Communist forces within the Eastern Bloc to instigate uprisings against their totalitarian masters. A case in point of the folly behind the US’s so-called commitment to the free people of the world is its cruel inaction during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Since the end of the Second World War, the US had been using the radio to instigate revolution in Eastern Europe by promising to come to the aid of anyone who revolted against the Soviet stranglehold over their nation. The Hungarian uprising was started with these promises as the primary reason. They were sadly betrayed, because when the Soviet tanks crushed the rebellion, the US and the West were nowhere to be found.

With this in mind, I commend Hillary for showing some tact (for once!), especially when we remember her public relations blunders during the Presidential Election of 2008 (i.e. her lie about being shot at during her publicized visit to Pakistan). She didn’t spout any foolish words about demanding major changes on China’s strongly criticized human rights record. Unlike Tim Geithner, our Treasury Secretary, she understands that she needs to be more practical in what she says to the Chinese government ? whereas Mr. Geithner chose to imprudently accuse the same institution of manipulating the value of the Chinese Yuan by keeping its value artificially low. She kept within a sensible range in what she said about human rights, because she knows that the US is in no position to follow up on any tough words she might use.

About the Contributor
Dillon Zhou served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2010-2011