US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday the United States and China can pull the world out of economic crisis by working together and made clear this took precedence over US concerns about human rights in China.
Making her first visit to China as secretary of state, Clinton took a softer line on Chinese political and religious freedoms than in a 1995 Beijing speech in which she openly criticised the Chinese government's human rights record.
Speaking at a news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Clinton said the two would have "frank discussions on issues where we have disagreements, including human rights, Tibet, religious freedom and freedom of expression."
However, she suggested their joint efforts to spur growth in the face of the global financial crisis, to curb global climate change and to address security challenges like North Korea's nuclear weapons program came first.
"World events have given us a full and formidable agenda," she said. "As we tackle it, the United States is committed to pursuing a positive, cooperative relationship with China, one that we believe is important to future peace, progress and prosperity for both countries and for the world."
Making her final stop on a one-week Asian trip that has also taken her to Tokyo, Jakarta and Seoul, Clinton has stressed how intertwined are the US and Chinese economies.
The United States is one of the largest buyers of Chinese exports while China, with foreign exchange reserves of about $2 trillion, is the world's largest holder of US government debt.
"I appreciate greatly the Chinese government's continuing confidence in United States Treasuries. I think that's a well grounded confidence," Clinton said. "We have every reason to believe that the United States and China will recover and that together we will help to lead the world recovery."
Asked if China might someday rethink its purchases of US Treasuries, Yang provided little direction, saying only that China makes decisions on how to invest its foreign exchange reserves so as to ensure their safety, value and liquidity.
Dissidents barred from leaving homes
Clinton is scheduled to meet President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao later on Saturday and, before leaving on Sunday, to attend church and meet "civil society" activists.
Taking a markedly different stance from her 1995 Beijing speech, Clinton on Friday said Washington would press China on human rights but said this would not "interfere" with their work on the financial crisis, climate change and security.
Human rights groups argued that Clinton's position undermined US leverage with China on rights.
"Secretary Clinton's remarks point to a diplomatic strategy that has worked well for the Chinese government -- segregating human rights issues into a dead-end dialogue of the deaf," Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Several Chinese dissidents, some of them signatories of a petition called "Charter 08", have been barred from leaving their homes, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders said in an e-mailed statement.
"Because of Hillary's China visit, police are standing guard outside my home. I need their permission to go out tomorrow and the day after tomorrow," dissident writer Yu Jie wrote in a cell phone text message.
The Charter 08 petition, issued in December, demands democratic political reform, pitting hundreds of dissidents and civil rights campaigners against the Communist Party. One of its organisers, Liu Xiaobo, has been taken into custody.
Repeating a long-standing Chinese position, Yang said China was willing to talk to the United States about human rights on the basis of "non-interference" in each other's internal affairs. He also suggested US concerns were misplaced.
"Though these days it's a bit chilly in Beijing ... I have confidence that you will see the biggest number of smiling faces here in China," he said.