Monday, July 9, 2012

NEWS: Clinton Digs at China From Neighboring Mongolia

Originally posted on New York Times on July 9, 2012

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia – In an unmistakable message to China delivered in a speech from this neighboring country, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that economic success without meaningful political reform was unsustainable, an equation that would ultimately lead to instability.

Her remarks, couched in unequivocal language at an international forum of democracy advocates, came at a particularly sensitive point in China, when a leadership transition at the top of the Communist Party is proving more messy than usual, and as criticism against the government spreads from environmental concerns to social issues, such as forced abortion.

“You can’t have economic liberalization without political liberalization eventually,” she said. “It’s true that clamping down on political expression or maintaining a tight grip on what people read, say or see can create an illusion of security. But illusions fade – because people’s yearning for liberty don’t.”

Mrs. Clinton arrived in this mineral rich nation on the border of China on the second day of an Asia tour. Her appearances are designed to broaden the Obama administration’s renewed focus on the region beyond an early emphasis on American military strength.

The administration now wants to stress American interests in economic and social issues, an effort to ease up on drawing a confrontation with China.

Mrs. Clinton did not mention China, but her target was clear. “Countries that want to be open for business but closed to free expression will find that this approach comes at cost: it kills innovation and discourages entrepreneurship, which are vital for sustainable growth,” she said, in a particular dig at China as it wrestles with an economic downturn after a decade of double-digit growth.

The notion that democratic values were for Western societies only, an idea spawned in the 1990s by the leader of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew, was incorrect.

This was an antiquated idea, she said: “In the last five years, Asia has been the only region in the world achieve steady gains in political rights and civil rights, according to the N.G.O. Freedom House.”

But in contrast to those that had made democratic gains, there were governments “that work around the clock to restrict their people’s access to ideas and information, imprison them for expressing their views, usurp the rights of citizens to choose their leaders, and govern without accountability, closed off from public view.”

Mrs. Clinton is well known to the Chinese as a critic of their model of government, a fact that she recalled on Monday by referring to her visit to Beijing 17 years ago as First Lady.

On that occasion, in 1995, she addressed a United Nations conference on women and created a firestorm when she declared that “human rights are women’s rights – and women’s rights are human rights.” Immediately after that conference, she visited Mongolia for the first time and was struck, she said, by the emerging of a democracy, a contrast that appears to have left an indelible impression.

Formerly aligned with the Soviet Union, Mongolia has been held up by the administration as a model of how democracy can be born from authoritarianism.

The country’s democratic credentials were tarnished in April when the government arrested the former president, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, on corruption allegations; it has held him in jail without charges since then.

Mrs. Clinton did not refer to the arrest, choosing to praise parliamentary elections last month in which nine women were elected to the 76-member parliament, a tripling from the previous legislature.

She met President Tsakhia Elbegdor in a ceremonial yurt, the traditional abode of nomadic herders, that featured a finely carved wooden ceiling, elaborate chairs and a glistening chandelier.

With President Elbegdor seated on the stage at Government House, a Soviet style building from the 1950s, Mrs. Clinton extolled Mongolia as an excellent example of how freedom and democracy were not exclusively Western concepts. To those who doubted, she said: “Let them come to Mongolia.”

The Obama administration has taken a particular interest in Mongolia, largely because of its position adjacent to China. Mr. Elbegdor visited the White House last year, and Vice President Joe Biden came to Mongolia last year, as well.

Washington is backing an American company, Peabody Energy based in St. Louis in its contest to win a contract to mine a massive coal deposit at Tavan Tolgoi. The other main contender, Shenhua Energy, is a state-owned Chinese enterprise.

Word List:

  • to couch: to be expressed a particular way
  • unequivocal: clear, definite, and without doubt
  • to clamp down: to make a determined attempt to stop people from doing something bad or illegal
  • to yearn: to want something a lot, especially something that you know you may not be able to have
  • dig: to try to find out information about someone, especially when they do not want you to
  • notion: knowledge or understanding of something
  • antiquated: too old or too old-fashioned to be useful
  • to usurp: to take a job or position that belongs to someone else without having the right to do this
  • indelible: permanent
  • yurt: ger
  • abode: the place where you live