As the Democratic National Conventions is set to open in Charlotte North Carolina, Hillary Clinton is far away in China. True, the Secretary of State has already announced that she will step down after Obama's first term, irrespective of whether he wins or loses the forthcoming election. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, will be a featured speaker at the gathering.
Before going to China (she will be shortly followed by Leon Panetta the secretary of defense), Clinton went to Jakarta, the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
She urged the 10 member body to present a united front to the Chinese in order to progress on a process that would end the festering territorial disputes "without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force". By taking this position, the US is running full tilt into the Chinese position that refuses to engage the Southeast Asian countries as a bloc but only on a bilateral basis where Chinese preconference will prove decisive.
To judge by the Chinese press, the US Secretary of State is in store for a less than hospitable reception. Global Times, the English language offshoot of the official People's Daily, attacked US policy and blamed it for stoking the territorial disputes by encouraging Southeast Asian countries to take on China.
This, it said, was the real meaning of the US "pivot" to Asia :"The US has fomented surrounding countries into confronting China over territorial disputes, so as to disturb and check China's rise." The Chinese response to US maneuvers had to be clarity, both towards Clinton and the Southeast Asian countries. It did not suffice to issue general statements about sovereignty, but the statements had to be backed up by other unspecified actions to underline Chinese determination.
The Chinese news agency Xinhua presented a detailed indictment of the United States and accused Washington of hypocrisy in claiming that it was evenhanded and had no interest in exacerbating territorial disputes in the region.
The US, it claimed, had encouraged the Philippines by "turning a blind eye to Manila's provocative acts." On the other hand, when China established a military garrison on one of the islands, Washington was quick to criticize. The American response to Japanese provocations was to stage a month-long military drill simulating the occupation of the islands.
Finally, on the old irritant of US relations with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a rebellious province rather than a separate country, it said " Washington has so far refused to promise to halt arms sales to Taiwan, cease close-range military reconnaissance of China, and stop discrediting China's promise for peaceful development."