In China, Pelosi Hopes for Allies in Combatting Climate Change

By Ariana Eunjung Cha and Paul Kane
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 23, 2009; 12:37 PM

BEIJING, May 23 -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square in 1991 in support of pro-democracy protesters, has never been shy about speaking her mind about human rights in China.

But on Sunday, she arrived here to talk about a less sensitive topic: climate change.

At a briefing in Washington just before leaving for her week-long trip, Pelosi declined to say whether she planned to discuss human rights with her hosts. Instead, she said the focus of her visit would be securing support for a global pact on reducing carbon emissions to help combat climate change, in advance of a major international gathering in Copenhagen in December.

"We have to . . . learn from each other as we go forward. So that is the subject," she told reporters, ignoring several requests to address human rights issues.

Pelosi, the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Beijing since President Obama took office, is an unlikely emissary for an administration that appears to be turning on the charm with China at a time of economic chaos. Many countries are looking to the two powers to cooperate to help stabilize markets and create jobs.

Some U.S. diplomats have tiptoed around human rights issues with China, knowing how much Beijing resents foreign interference in what it describes as "domestic matters." But Pelosi's criticism has been public and frequent.

Throughout her 22-year tenure in Congress, Pelosi -- whose home district of San Francisco includes a large number of Chinese immigrants and their children and grandchildren -- has become a champion of the cause of human rights in China.

Her trip comes at a sensitive time for the Chinese government. June 4 marks the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when People's Liberation Army soldiers fired on Chinese citizens, killing a large number of college students and other citizens. The government has never given an official account of the incident.

Before she became a congressional leader, Pelosi cited the Tiananmen massacre as cause for the Clinton administration to link human rights issues to normalized trade relations with China. But in 1994, President Bill Clinton rejected that argument, delinking what was then known as most-favored-nation status from human rights. Pelosi protested the decision, to no avail.

In March 2008, Pelosi condemned China's rule of Tibet when riots violent erupted in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and the Chinese government responded by taking monks and others they said they suspected of having a role into custody. She said "freedom-loving people" should "speak out against China's oppression in Tibet." She also said the International Olympic Committee made a mistake in awarding the Summer Games to Beijing because of its human rights record.

During her trip, Pelosi and members of the Select Committee on Climate Change and Energy Independence will meet with government officials, business leaders and students. On May 26, she will give a speech at an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in China about how China and the United States together account for nearly half the global energy demand and how clean technology can help solve the problem.

Kane reported from Washington.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company