Hillary Clinton made her first trip abroad as secretary of state, returning to the first criticisms of her performance in her new role.
Amnesty International said it was "extremely disappointed" with the way Clinton dealt with human rights in Beijing. And in an editorial, The Washington Post said the effect would be to "demoralize thousands of democracy advocates in China."
This, because she said that pressing human rights issues "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis."
On a Beijing television talk show, she urged the Chinese to continue buying U.S. Treasury bonds. And later, in an online chat, she asked China to join in an effort to curb greenhouse gases and "not make the mistakes that we made."
Welcome to Obama's pragmatic style of foreign policy. When the new secretary says the U.S. has to continue pressing human rights issues, "but we know what they will say," she is saying that the United States needs China for too many purposes to allow a hang-up over conflicting values.
In presenting the State Department report on human rights around the world, Clinton, now back in Washington, said, "We will not rely on a single approach as we strive to overcome tyranny and subjugation that weakens the human spirit."
The ambiguous approach, which once would have been called coexistence, is also beginning to evidence itself in relations with Russia. The U.S. government heartily disapproves of the Kremlin's repression of dissidence, the invasion of neighboring Georgia and the use of natural gas as a political weapon. But the U.S. needs Russian cooperation in arms control, in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions, and economic stabilization.
And when Vice President Joe Biden, in his Feb. 7 speech to the European security conference in Munich, offered to press the reset button with Russia, he was reflecting changes that already happened.
A few days after the inaugural, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke with President Obama on the telephone. There followed exchanges of letters about what they could profitably discuss. Both Obama and Medvedev emphasized normalizing relations and "starting anew," according to Russia's foreign minister. Arrangements are being made for the two to meet during the Group of 20 economic summit in London on April 2.
President Obama appears committed to fostering a pragmatic new era of relations with the two giants, Russia and China. And to achieve that, he seems willing to soft-pedal their many differences.