President Barack Obama delivered his first major policy speech on China without mentioning Taiwan or even mildly challenging Beijing on its human rights record. He tried to be positive, perhaps to avoid provoking China which censored his inauguration speech in January.
Addressing the opening session of a two-day ?Strategic and Economic Dialogue,? Obama described the meeting as ?an essential step forward in advancing a positive, constructive and comprehensive relationship between our countries.? Obama avoided upsetting Beijing and appeared to be smoothing the way for a politically profitable trip to China in November.
In his speech, Obama said : ?I have no illusions that the United States and China will agree on every single issue, nor choose to see the world in the same way. But that only makes dialogue more important ? so that we can know each other better, and communicate our concerns with candor.?
Obama listed four priorities for US-China relations: economic recovery; clean, secure and prosperous energy; stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; and confronting transnational threats.
To defuse any sense of pressure on human rights, Obama said, ?These are not things that we seek to impose ? this is who we are. It guides our openness to one another and to the world.? The President was indirect and tactful in stating only that: ?Support for human rights and human dignity is ingrained in America?.Those rights include the freedom to speak your mind; to worship your God; and to choose your leaders.?
Many observers expected he would return to points he made in his inauguration speech in January which was censored in Beijing. According to Reuters, President Obama’s inauguration speech had a little twist in translations when his references to communism and dissent were cut. China omitted the word ?communism? in the line: “Recall that earlier generations faced down communism and fascism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions,”
China also removed an entire paragraph on dissent:
“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
What has been the Chinese reaction to Obama?s first speech on China? Beijing?s government-run Global Times July 29, 2009 published an editorial: “New Sino-US Dialogue Suits Needs of Times.”
The editorial noted the grand opening ceremony of the first China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue hosted in Washington was 0very impressive.? The editorial gushes that this meeting is ?really in keeping with the needs of the times,? and that the US-China relationship ?is really a miracle.?
Then the Chinese skepticism about Obama?s speech hits hard. Beijing says that ?we have to admit there is still a long way to go for the two countries to build mutual trust and effectively tackle the many challenges that will impact the healthy development of their bilateral relations. ?
In line with some US critics who said the speech was short on specifics, China’s reply was that: ?The strategic and economic dialogue is a good start but arduous negotiations on touchy issues must follow.?
Neither Beijing?s editorial nor the Whi te House press coverage have yet provided the details of the ?touchy issues? that will require arduous negotiations. At least this time the President?s speech was fully translated in China?s controlled media.