The visit finished Wednesday in dramatic fashion: an announcement from the Chinese government two hours before Clinton’s departure that a former police official who had sought sanctuary at a U.S. consulate months earlier and triggered a still-roiling political scandal was being charged with defection and other crimes in what appeared to many analysts like a stick in the eye aimed at the United States.
In all, Clinton’s trip exposed real differences, frustrating difficulties and aspects of the U.S.-China relationship that remain outright puzzling after four years of engagement, strategic castigating and a search for balance between the two.
At a news conference Wednesday after meeting with President Hu Jintao and other top Chinese officials, Clinton tried to explain the complicated bilateral relationship, which frequently veers between friendship and suspicion, cooperation and competition.
“Our two nations are trying to do something that has never been done in history,” she said, “which is to write a new answer to the question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”
The Chinese leaders struck a markedly different tone.
“Generally speaking, our relationship has been moving forward, but recently I am more or less worried,” Premier Wen Jiabao told Clinton in a slow, measured voice, deviating from the usual empty pleasantries of official Chinese meetings. “I feel that our two countries should maintain political mutual respect and strategic mutual trust. The United States should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In his sharp comments, made in front of a handful of reporters at the beginning of Wen’s meeting with Clinton, the premier blamed the United States for the troubles between the two countries.
With his mention of “sovereignty,” Wen was alluding to territorial disputes between China and its neighbors that have intensified dramatically in recent months. On the South China Sea especially, China has been the most aggressive actor, claiming almost the entire disputed area.
China has expressed increasing suspicion and resentment at the growing U.S. involvement in the Asia-Pacific region and has taken issue with Clinton and others who have pushed on behalf of smaller Asian nations for peaceful, collaborative negotiations.
Divisions on display
The disagreements between Clinton’s delegation and the Chinese were so deep that her first meeting Tuesday night, which was with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and had been scheduled to last an hour, stretched into a four-hour marathon that ended at 1 a.m.
The next day, the divisions on Syria, Iran and North Korea also were evident.