Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting the Priorities Straight

State Secretary Hillary Clinton just finished her trip through East Asia, ending it with a few days in China. 

In her meetings with Chinese officials, Clinton expressed a clear, unequivocal (and correct) message: climate change and economic agreements will be prioritized in US-China relations over human rights and Tibet. The latter set of issues is intrinsically important, but if America and the PRC do not find common ground on halting carbon emissions and economic spiraling, then political freedoms become overshadowed by risings seas, crop failure, natural disasters (in the long-term) and economic collapse (in the short-term). More simply put: how can you talk about someone's rights if you cannot assure their basic necessities?

By striking this note in its first contact with the Chinese, the Obama administration has signaled that it understands the formula above. This is a good first step. But China and the US now need to act very quickly to reach agreements on carbon limits, technology sharing, and green energy investment (for the climate) as well as an agreement to stem off any moves at protectionism (for the economy). 

Then, once each country has specific carbon limits and stable economies, the US can shift more attention to the balance across the Taiwan Strait, the future of Tibet, and the rights of dissenters, media, and the religious in China. 

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