No Breakthroughs In Clinton's Trip To China

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in China as part of her six-nation Asia trip. Despite mounting tensions, Clinton emphasized mutual cooperation and strong ties as she visited Beijing.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been visiting Chinese officials, talking of mutual cooperation, despite a lot of tension. So far her visit to Beijing has produced no breakdowns but also no breakthroughs. Here's NPR's Louisa Lim.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: There were smiles as Clinton met China's president, Hu Jintao. But for the past few days, China's state-run media have been in full flow against her. Hillary Reinforces U.S.-China Mistrust was one headline. Today, any sniping there might have been stayed behind closed doors. Constructive and productive was how both sides characterized meetings between the foreign ministers. Clinton shrugged off the personal attacks on her.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: We are going to have critics in both of our countries who are going to second-guess decisions that we are making. But I feel strongly that we are on the right track in building a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship for the 21st century.

LIM: Tensions have been building, especially over territorial disputes. China claims much of the South China Sea, pitting it against the Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. Washington says it doesn't take sides but has an interest in protecting the freedom of navigation. Today, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi gave assurances about the freedom of navigation.

YANG JIECHI: (Through translator) For China and our neighboring countries, the South China Sea is really a lifeline for exchanges, trade and commerce. There is no issue currently in this area, nor will there ever be issues in that area in the future.

LIM: In July, with much fanfare, China announced the formation of a new city, Sansha, to administer disputed islands in the South China Sea. The U.S. expressed concern. Tensions have also built over islands in the East China Sea, also claimed by Japan. China calls them Diaoyu; Japan, Senkaku. The State Department waded into the debate when spokeswoman Victoria Newland used the Japanese name.

VICTORIA NEWLAND: We call them the Senkaku. So if that's the question that you're asking, we don't take a position on them, though, as I said all the way through.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So you don't take a position on them but on the other hand...

LIM: That Chinese reporter's persistence made him a folk hero on the Chinese Internet, where nationalism looms large and many see the U.S. as meddling. There's concern about the U.S. pivot to Asia and whether it's aimed at containing China. Wang Zheng from Seton Hall University researches Chinese foreign policy. He says Clinton's focus on the region has made her unpopular.

WANG ZHENG: Some of the Chinese people, they have this kind of conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton is visiting just all these neighboring countries of China, and they're trying to somehow push them to unite against China.

LIM: Today, one mantra was invoked repeatedly by both sides. We cannot see eye-to-eye on everything but at least we can discuss our differences. Given the domestic political imperatives of the U.S. election and the Chinese transition of power, those differences may yet become magnified in the months to come. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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