ANALYSIS: China clouds US plan for 'trans-Pacific system'
By Bill Smith Nov 12, 2011, 13:28 GMT
Honolulu, Hawaii - 'Chinese Communist Party stop killing Falun Gong,' read banners held by scores of yellow-clad members of the sect opposite the Hawaii Convention Center.
The peaceful protest reflected the gap in human rights between the United States and China, where police regularly seize Falun Gong practitioners and detain them for months without any legal process.
China banned Falun Gong in 1999 and branded it an 'evil cult.' The movement's founder, Li Hongzhi, lives in exile in the United States.
International rights groups and Falun Gong members continue to report illegal detentions, torture, imprisonment and deaths in custody in China.
When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday promoted the US vision of a 'trans-Pacific system,' she highlighted such abuses as an obstacle to Asia-Pacific economic integration.
Clinton said US officials would 'continue to call on China to embrace a different path' in its protection of human rights.
She mentioned Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist under house arrest since his release in September 2010 after four years in prison.
The United States was 'alarmed' by reports of abuse against Chen and by a recent spate of self-immolation protests against the Chinese government by young Tibetans, she said.
Chinese leaders routinely denounce such comments as interference in internal affairs. President Hu Jintao was expected to adopt a similar attitude during talks with his counterpart Barack Obama in Hawaii Saturday.
Clinton's strong remarks and some equally tough rhetoric from China have lowered expectations of any breakthrough between Hu and Obama on the sidelines of leaders' summit of the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations.
'On human rights, if he (Obama) wants to raise it, then go ahead, China can disregard it,' Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at People's University in Beijing, told dpa.
Shi said it was 'impossible' that international pressure would lead China to change its policies on Tibet or the neighbouring Xinjiang region, where some Uighur Muslims seek independence.
The gulf over human rights is not the only major difference between Washington and Beijing. Several other issues make China, the world's second-largest economy, the toughest of the 21 APEC members to enrol in the 'trans-Pacific system.'
The United States wants to expand the Trans-Pacific Partnership that it has developed for free trade with eight smaller APEC economies.
'US rule of TPP halts natural expansion,' read the headline of a commentary on Friday in the Global Times, an English-language newspaper of the Communist Party's People's Daily group.
Washington's push for TPP while pressing China on human rights 'runs counter to its aim of strengthening mutual trust and ironing out differences in the Asia-Pacific region,' it said.
It said Clinton's remarks on Thursday had 'fuelled speculation about Washington's attempt to contain China through TPP.'
Clinton also highlighted the exchange rate of the renminbi against the dollar, which critics say makes China's exports artificially cheaper, renewing US pressure on Beijing to allow faster appreciation of its currency.
'On this issue, the US regards China as a substitute and wants to switch its domestic anger to China,' said Wu Chunsi, director of the US research centre at Shanghai Institute of International Studies.
'China is reforming the currency and adjusting its economic structure continually,' Wu told dpa, adding that any acceleration of the currency reform would 'depend not on the US but on the Chinese economy.'
China said the second US-China dialogue on Asia-Pacific affairs, held in Beijing last month, was dominated by 'sensitive issues' including Tibet, Taiwan and the Chinese currency.
'In violation of the pursuit of a cooperative partnership, the United States has recently taken a series of harmful actions,' the official Xinhua news agency said.
One of the 'harmful actions' was Obama's meeting in July with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader. Others were a new round of US arms sales to Taiwan and the approval of a Senate bill criticising China's alleged manipulation of its currency.
China has promoted its own free-trade mantra but does not want the rapid 'regulatory convergence' favoured by the United States.
The Communist Party retains a high degree of control over China's economy, making it unlikely to accept the liberal free-trade agenda of TPP.
It has expanded bilateral ties in the Asia-Pacific and its links with the Association of South-East Asian Nations and 'ASEAN plus three,' which groups China, Japan and South Korea with ASEAN.
The Global Times said China did not oppose US plans to expand TPP beyond its nine members. But it warned that 'any Asian cooperation with the absence of Beijing will not have much heft.'