Greg Baker-Pool/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks with Mark Norbom, president and CEO of General Electric Greater China, as U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern (left) and GE President and Regional Executive (China Region) Jack Wen (right) look on, during a visit to the Taiyanggong Geothermal Power Plant in Beijing on Saturday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks with Mark Norbom, president and CEO of General Electric Greater China, as U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern (left) and GE President and Regional Executive (China Region) Jack Wen (right) look on, during a visit to the Taiyanggong Geothermal Power Plant in Beijing on Saturday. Greg Baker-Pool/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton took a tour of a low-emissions power plant in Beijing on Saturday before heading home from her first trip abroad as secretary of state. Much to the dismay of human rights groups, she didn't make the plight of dissidents and political activists a high priority on this trip. She said pressing China too hard could get in the way of a much broader agenda: economy, security matters and climate change.
Clinton's new climate change envoy, Todd Stern, joined her at the plant, which uses technology from GE.
"There is no way to preserve a safe and livable planet unless China plays an important role along with the United States," he said. "This is not a matter of politics or morality or right or wrong, it is simply the unforgiving math of accumulating emissions.
Clinton, who spent much of the rest of the day in formal meetings, seemed pleased to get out and talk to students gathered at the plant to hear her address on clean energy and how it could help China develop.
"We want China to grow," she said. "What we hope is that you won't make the same mistakes we made, because I don't think China or the world can afford that."
This is the sort of dialogue she's trying to promote in U.S.-China relations. In one very candid moment on the trip, she told reporters traveling with her that she didn't want the same old disputes over human rights to interfere.
"We know we are going to press them to reconsider their position about Tibetan religious and cultural freedom … and we know what they are going to say, because I've had those conversations for more than a decade with the Chinese," she said.
Her comments as secretary of state were a far cry from remarks she made as first lady at a 1995 conference on women. In a speech then, she challenged the Chinese government by declaring that women's rights are inseparable from human rights.
Her Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, seemed to welcome the change.
"I said that given our differences in history, social system and culture, it is only natural that our two countries will have different views on human rights," Yang said.
Yang and Clinton said they spoke about human rights, but it seemed to be only in passing. They focused instead on plans for an economic and strategic dialogue they are preparing. Chinese authorities meantime were said to be keeping a close watch on dissidents and not letting some leave their homes while Clinton was visiting.