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I, Virginia Bergman, pledge not to vote for a male presidential candidate in 2016 just because he's male.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Media Misses the Boat on Secretary Clinton’s Diplomacy in China


The BBC reports Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concluded her Asian trip with a three-day visit to Beijing in which she attended church, met academics, journalists, and entrepreneurs. News accounts have repeatedly headlined the fact that Clinton has made human rights issues secondary to global concerns such as climate change and the economy.


It seems the media is collectively incapable of grasping the obvious that in the event of irreparable global warming or international financial collapse, there might be no survivors left on the planet to worry about their rights.


The most refreshing and balanced report of Clinton’s visit to China comes from Julian Baird Gewirtz, who, according to his Huffington Post bio, is “a nineteen year-old student living in Beijing on a gap year before matriculating at Harvard College in the fall. A Chinese speaker, he is the founder of the U.S.-China Youth Forum, a student-run organization that works to build bridges between young people in China and the United States.”


In today’s Huffington Post, Gewirtz answers the question, What Did Chinese Youth Think of Hillary Clinton's Visit?

Gewirtz writes:

In particular, some Chinese young people whom I interviewed liked Secretary Clinton's use of an ancient Chinese aphorism to propose that China and the United States are "in a common boat," an idea which "must continue to guide us today."
Secretary Clinton repeated that proverb in her meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and she has emphasized positive themes every time that she has spoken while in China. As a result, Ms. Clinton undoubtedly leaves China with a more positive image for herself and the U.S. in Chinese eyes than before her trip.


It’s understandable that Gewirtz would report some disappointment that Clinton did not spend more time reaching out to China’s young people:

Of course, Secretary Clinton's trip to China was very brief and therefore could include only one non-governmental public event. In deciding to visit a power plant, she chose to emphasize energy efficiency, a policy theme of extraordinary importance to the entire planet. No one can criticize her for that choice--but it was an event for policy experts, not to connect to ordinary Chinese.

Thus it isn't surprising that when I talked on Sunday with some Chinese teenagers getting their morning Starbucks, as Secretary Clinton was departing Beijing after going to church, their reactions were mixed. Their positive feelings were coupled with a sense that this was only the first step in a new, still somewhat unclear direction. "It seems like the trip was successful," said one 19 year-old, quoting an idiom, "the journey was not made in vain." But, he reminded me, "It's only her first trip."

Future trips, and future diplomatic efforts in China, should focus on broadening direct outreach to ordinary people, especially young people. Doing so is the firmest foundation for building a long-term cooperative relationship between what are clearly going to be the two most important countries on the world stage for my generation.

Although our biased media, apparently still suffering from Clinton derangement syndrome, has expressed astonishment that Secretary Clinton has spoken straightforwardly regarding diplomatic matters, Gewirtz is urging more openness and honesty about American policies.



(emphasis mine)

We should be speaking directly to the Chinese people about an America that wants to give Chinese students the opportunity to learn from the United States, not to deny them visas; an America that wants to make its policies understandable, not opaque; an America that wants to continue representing "freedom, opportunity, and choices"; an America whose young people are eager to learn more about and connect with China. We should also be looking for ways to build programmatic bridges between the younger generation in both countries, not simply bridges between government officials and business people in both countries.

Gewirtz concludes his post gracefully:

This is the best way to allow China and the United States to remain in the "common boat" that Secretary Clinton described--not only "today," but also tomorrow.

Too bad the mainstream media obviously missed the boat, common or otherwise, in their coverage of Secretary Clinton’s Asian trip.



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