For the third
time in two years, hundreds of Chinese officials are
meeting with hundreds of their U.S. counterparts to discuss dozens of bilateral
topics in dozens of meetings. After the first day of the two-day event, there
aren't any new bilateral agreements to announce, and officials say there aren't
any expected soon.
"Now more than ever, with two years of dialogues behind us, success depends
on our ability to translate good words into concrete actions on the issues that
matter most to our people. So as we begin this third round, we will keep that
goal in clear focus," Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton said in her Monday morning remarks at the opening of the U.S.-China
Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which is being held at various
locations in downtown Washington.
She praised the new high level participation of senior officials from
China's People's Liberation Army and rattled off a long list of issues that
would be discussed, including: military-to-military relations, the situation in
the Middle East, the need to rebalance the global economy, Iran sanctions, the
North Korean nuclear crisis, and human rights.
President Joseph Biden delivered the
strongest message on Chinese human rights practices in his Monday morning
remarks, when he said, "We have vigorous disagreement in the area of human rights."
"We've noted our concerns about the recent crackdown in China, including
attacks, arrests and the disappearance of journalists, lawyers, bloggers and
artists," Biden said. "I recognize that some in China see our advocacy [on]
human rights as an intrusion and Lord only knows what else. But President
Obama and I believe strongly, as does the secretary, that protecting
fundamental rights and freedoms such as those enshrined in China's
international commitments, as well as in China's own constitution, is the best
way to promote long-term stability and prosperity of any society."
Jeffrey Bader, the
recently departed senior director for Asia at the National Security Council,
wrote in a Brookings
Institution policy brief that the dialogue "was not conceived as a
mechanism to deal with bilateral crises or to produce specific ‘deliverables,'
but to develop a richer, more intensive dialogue between senior officials on
the two sides than would be possible in the usual quick in-and-out visits, and
to break down bureaucratic stovepipes among agencies, particularly on the
Chinese side, not accustomed to coordinating effectively with each other."
On Sunday, Clinton awarded Bader the Secretary's Distinguished Service Award, standing
alongside Chinese State Councilor Dai
Critics of the Obama administration's China policy
see the event as yet another example of the administration placing style over
substance, and raising expectations of progress in the U.S.-China relationship
without delivering results.
"By far the
most important economic issue for America and China is the related imbalances
in our economies," wrote
the Heritage Foundation's Derek Scissors. "The U.S. recognized this
several years ago and has repeatedly raised the matter. Result: Both economies
are now more
when the dialogue began. The main reason is simple: Neither country wants to bear the pain of
rebalancing. Instead, they take to telling the other side why it should
administration official, speaking to reporters after the conclusion of the
first day's meetings, said that the primary discussion of tough economic issues
will be held on Tuesday.
the focus is on how the U.S. and China can rebalance our economies so we can
strengthen our recoveries. Monetary and exchange rate policies are certainly be
a focus of those discussions," the official said. But he warned not expect any major
announcements. "[The Chinese currency] is not moving enough and no one's
satisfied, but it's appreciated more than 5 percent against the dollar [over
the last year]," he noted.
Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and
Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats took the Chinese to task for their
policy of giving regulatory, financial, and legislative support to state-owned
"The biggest challenge in addressing these issues effectively is forging a
common understanding that state-controlled competition is not competition, and
that competitiveness cannot be bestowed by decree. The trade distortions
created by the ‘China Model' are disadvantageous to our U.S. companies trying to
compete for opportunities around the world, and a direct threat to U.S. jobs
and competitiveness," Hormats said.
And Deputy Secretary of State James
Steinberg told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies on Monday afternoon that climate change, specifically short-term
climate change forces, was a major topic of discussion between Energy Secretary
Stephen Chu and his Chinese
As for the military component of the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters
last week that the United States intends to engage "not just traditional
players in the Foreign Ministry but also other players in the Chinese government,
including the military."
Dan Blumenthal, a former China
desk officer at the Pentagon and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise
Institute, said that while increased military dialogue and the building of
relationships is good, the administration must not depend on such dialogue to
halt the growing tension in the bilateral security relationship.
"The Chinese are moving very cautiously, the
political leadership in China is very adverse to making any bold decisions, and
the PLA has very little interest in talking to us about anything of substance,"
he said. "The summits matter less than what we are doing on the ground in
response to what China is doing."