U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will urge Asia to embrace “open, free, transparent and fair” global trade rules in a speech overshadowed by fears of a catastrophic U.S. debt default.
U.S. officials said Clinton will use her speech to business leaders in Hong Kong to outline a future economic order governed by clear rules of the road—rules that Washington believes China and other developing countries often chose to ignore.
“The speech reflects her growing emphasis on economics and economic power in foreign policy,” one U.S. official said ahead of Clinton’s speech at about 12 PM (0400 GMT).
Clinton’s speech is aimed at stressing that the United States will remain a “resident economic power” in Asia despite mounting fears over both the short- and long-term state of U.S. finances.
U.S. lawmakers failed to achieve a budget breakthrough with scant sign of a deal to raise the government’s debt ceiling and head off a default in nine days that could trigger global economic calamity and downgrade America’s Triple-A credit rating.
After weeks of rancorous talks, both sides appeared further apart than ever on a broad deficit reduction deal that would clear the way for Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
Despite the uncertainty, U.S. officials said Clinton would assure Asia that the United States was committed to expanding its economic outreach, and to push for a “level playing field” to counter what Washington believes are unfair advantages that have helped China and some other emerging economies grow so fast.
Clinton was expected to urge Asian governments to do more to boost local consumer demand, and to take a new look at policies ranging from intellectual property rights to support for state enterprises at the expense of private entrepreneurs.
“The system needs a better balance,” another U.S. official said.
“We want to work with these countries .. in order to ensure that as the rules of the 21st century are shaped, we work with the East Asians to make sure they are shaped in a way that underscores and supports the broad principles that have worked very well in the past.”
Clinton’s speech was not expected to directly target China, but her message is clearly intended for Beijing, which U.S. officials have accused of using regulatory measures and an artificially low exchange rate to rack some $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.
U.S. officials said China was clearly concerned about the U.S. debt impasse and had repeatedly urged Washington to get its economic house in order.
“They’ve basically said that they’ve made a substantial investment in the United States and that they expect—not hope, expect—the United States will abide by its various financial and international commitments. Full stop,” a third U.S. official said.
Clinton’s visit to Hong Kong, the first by a U.S. secretary of state since Beijing resumed control over the city from Britain in 1997, comes at the end of a round-the-world trip during which China was often at the top of the agenda.
Clinton urged leaders in India and Indonesia—which Washington sees as potential counterweights to Beijing—to take a more assertive regional stance and urged China and its Southeast Asian neighbors to quickly resolve territorial disputes over the South China Sea.
She also pushed China to pressure its ally North Korea to take concrete steps to show it is serious about discussing its nuclear program.
Clinton will head to the southern Chinese economic boomtown of Shenzhen later on Monday for a meeting with Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo that is expected to touch on a number of these issues.
Despite their differences—which include Taiwan and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama—both Washington and Beijing have signaled they want to keep ties on track ahead of a series of major international meetings including the East Asia Summit in November. (Reuters)