[Editor’s note: The title of this New York Times’ article is modified by The 4th Media.]
The New York Times: Smiles and Barbs for Clinton in China
BEIJING — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here on Tuesday night to a barrage of unusually harsh coverage in China’s official news media over what they called American meddling in territorial disputes in the region — and then a strikingly warm welcome from the country’s foreign minister.
The contrasting receptions — both official, though in different ways — underscored a complicated and often fraught relationship that both countries nevertheless appear intent to maintain despite serious differences over foreign policy, trade and human rights.
“In recent years, the China-U.S. relationship has maintained stability and achieved development,” the foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, told Mrs. Clinton in brief but positive remarks, “and we have made important progress in some areas.”
But articles and editorials in China’s official media, as well as comments by Chinese analysts, contained unusual bite on Tuesday, including personal criticism of Mrs. Clinton.
The sharpness stemmed from tensions over China’s increasingly assertive claims in maritime disputes with other nations in the region, and it echoed a feeling shared by many in both countries that the United States and China are locked in a competition for dominance in the region and beyond.
“The United States should stop its role as a sneaky troublemaker sitting behind some nations in the region and pulling strings,” a writer specializing in foreign policy said in an article for Xinhua, the state-run news agency. It was a clear reference to recent statements by the State Department criticizing China’s establishment of a military garrison on disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Mrs. Clinton’s visit is certain to have far less drama than her last one, in May, when a blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the American Embassy here, infuriating the Chinese and enmeshing the United States in arduous negotiations that eventually won permission for Mr. Chen to leave China for New York.
Despite the lingering tensions from that case and new ones over China’s territorial ambitions, Mrs. Clinton was scheduled over two days to meet with all of the country’s senior leaders, including President Hu Jintao and his presumed successor, Xi Jinping, on Wednesday.
The meeting with Mr. Xi was canceled Wednesday morning, although United States officials said they did not think it was intended as a slight because Mr. Xi had also canceled other Wednesday appointments.
Officials traveling with Mrs. Clinton say they hope differences over the South China Sea can be overcome in the same way that Mr. Chen’s case was.
“We are committed to building a cooperative partnership with China,” Mrs. Clinton said here on Tuesday evening. “It is a key aspect of our rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific.”
The Obama administration’s renewed focus on Asia has been unfavorably interpreted in some quarters here as an effort to contain China. China is as wary of American moves in the region — including an increase in military personnel and matériel in Australia and the Philippines — as the United States and its allies in the region are of China’s territorial ambitions.
“For the United States, the South China Sea is not a matter of territorial disputes,” said Wu Xinbo, deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. “It’s an issue of strategic gaming. The United States is concerned about China’s naval growth.”
Mrs. Clinton, who is in the middle of a 10-day, 6-nation tour of Asia, has repeatedly said that the United States is not taking a position on the disputed islands in the South China Sea and that it is seeking a peaceful settlement of the overlapping claims.
In Indonesia the day before, she expressed support for efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which includes the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam, all with competing territorial claims — to negotiate a code of conduct that would avert disputes and lay the foundation for long-term settlements.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has gone out of its way in the past two days to say that only the countries directly involved in South China Sea territorial disputes should participate in their solutions, a clear public rebuff of the United States.
China’s recent tactics have raised concerns even among other countries in the region not directly involved, including India, Singapore and Indonesia.
In particular, they cite China’s blocking of a diplomatic communiqué at an Asean summit meeting in Cambodia in July that called for a collaborative process, rather than confrontation.
“China’s evident pressure on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has undermined 20 years of Chinese ‘charm diplomacy,’ ” said an Asian diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“If Asean is divided,” the diplomat said, “this will ultimately rebound against China’s interests because it could well catalyze the very thing China fears most: containment by the United States, as anxious smaller countries will naturally cluster around the United States for balance.”
Mrs. Clinton, who has traveled to China often as secretary of state, is generally viewed here as more hostile than other American officials, including Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon. By contrast, a commentary in the state-run Global Times on Tuesday was blunt about Mrs. Clinton.
“Many Chinese people do not like Secretary Clinton,” the commentary said, according to a translation from the Chinese by the American Embassy. “The antipathy and vigilance that she personally has brought to the Chinese public are not necessarily in the United States’ diplomatic interest.”
Bree Feng contributed research.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 4, 2012
A version of this article appeared in print on September 5, 2012, on page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: Smiles and Barbs for Clinton in China.