NEW YORK The United States should learn from emerging powers such as India and Brazil and make its economic interests central to its foreign policy to remain a global leader, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday.
"We have to position ourselves to lead in a world where security is shaped in boardrooms and on trading floors -- as well as on battlefields," Clinton told the Economic Club of New York.
Her speech, billed as a major address, sought to outline the Obama administration's increasing focus on economic issues as the United States heads into the 2012 election season hobbled by huge budget deficits and stubbornly high unemployment.
She also renewed Washington's complaints about the low level of China's currency and defended America's right to "assert ourselves." A bill approved by the U.S. Senate this week would seek to force Beijing to raise the yuan's value.
Clinton said the United States must end its "culture of political brinksmanship" that many say has paralyzed Washington, and get its own economic house in order while facing new challenges as the global economy changes.
"I know there are some who believe that America, after taking our lumps in recent years, should turn inward. But you can't call 'time out' in the global economy. Our competitors aren't taking a time out, and neither can we," she said.
Clinton said the United States must learn to use its foreign policy to strengthen its domestic economy as it fights unfair trade barriers and a new breed of foreign state-owned or state-supported enterprises which act at the behest of foreign governments.
"Emerging powers like India and Brazil put economics at the center of their foreign policies. ... One of the first questions they ask is, 'how will this affect our economic growth?'" Clinton said. Brazil, Russia, India and China comprise the BRIC group of emerging economies.
"We need to be asking the same question, not because the answer will dictate every one of our foreign policy choices -- it will not, but it must be a significant part of that equation."
Clinton said U.S. global leadership would depend on sustained U.S. economic power, which would depend in part on aggressively challenging foreign trade barriers.
"When governments impose a so-called 'tollbooth' that forces unfair terms on companies just to enter or expand in a new market, we push back," Clinton said.
She said the United States must also devise strategies to compete with foreign state-backed companies that often operate in secrecy, without the transparency and accountability that comes with shareholders and boards of directors.
"We ... see hybrid companies masquerading as commercial actors, but actually controlled by states and acting with strategic consequences," Clinton said. "The way states deploy their cash, companies and natural resources, especially in global markets, is of critical concern to us."
Clinton has increasingly stressed economic diplomacy, highlighting issues such as energy security, job creation and a "level playing field" on trade to counter what Washington believes are unfair advantages that have helped China and some other emerging economies grow so fast.
Clinton's message was clearly aimed in part at the challenge from Beijing, which U.S. officials have accused of using regulatory measures and an artificially low exchange rate to rack up some $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.
She charged that China was trying to give its companies a "leg-up," called for a new set of global rules and said the United States needed to be "assertive in securing the win-win economic relationship we can and should have with China."
Clinton denied that such an approach would lead to 1930s-style protectionism but, in response to a question, gave no definitive view on this week's Democratic-backed Senate bill, which is opposed by House of Representatives speaker John Boehner, a Republican.
"Look, if you're China you're going to do what advantages China. Why should that surprise anybody?," she said. "But we're America, and we need to take care of what's going to put us on the strongest position."
(Writing by Andrew Quinn and Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Jackie Frank)
(This story was corrected in paragraph 4 to say "low level of China's currency.")