Today marks the beginning of this year's Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the U.S. and China, an annual opportunity for senior American and Chinese officials to compare notes and develop cooperative policy frameworks. While numerous portfolios are up for discussion, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner are taking the lead on the strategic and economic tracks, respectively, explaining in this op-ed that "Simply put, few global problems can be solved by the U.S. or China alone. And few can be solved without the U.S. and China together."
President Obama kicked off the conference this morning, with a speech mentioning Yao Ming (I know he's famous in both China and the U.S., but do we have to allude to him every time there's a diplomatic meeting?) and offering some criticism of the recent crackdown on the Uighur Muslim minority in Western China:
Just as we respect China’s ancient culture and remarkable achievements, we also strongly believe that the religion and culture of all peoples must be respected and protected, and that all people should be free to speak their minds. That includes ethnic and religious minorities in China, as surely as it includes minorities within the United States.
That sour note aside, the main thrust of the dialogue comes on three fronts: First, the broad macroeconomic shift that the U.S. wants China to accomplish by taking steps to shift its focus from export-led growth to internal consumer demand -- a process that began earlier in the summer when Geithner visited Beijing and that will be sweetened by offering China more say in international economic institutions. (While you may hear a lot about currency reserve issues and the deficit, those policies are a fait accompli ). Second, the Administration wants to push forward on climate change, led by special envoy Todd Stern and highlighting Energy Secretary Steve Chu, the most prominent Chinese Americans in government, towards reaching an agreement in principle on climate policy before a major international conference later in the year. Third, Clinton will be focusing her discussions on nuclear proliferation and in particular the North Korean situation.
Don't expect too much concrete progress at this event; it's really designed to make sure that issues are being discussed rather than targeted at specific negotiations; at a press briefing last week senior administration officials (yup, those guys again) emphasized that beginning a major international meeting like this so early in the administration is a sign of commitment to revitalizing the U.S.-China relationship, intended to set the tone for the Administration's next three or seven years.
-- Tim Fernholz