BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s foreign ministry on Thursday downplayed comments by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the country was on a “fool’s errand” to try to halt the march of freedom, suggesting the remarks were taken out of context.
In an interview with the Atlantic magazine published on Tuesday, the last day of a strategic economic dialogue between China and the United States in Washington, Clinton took the Chinese to task in some of her most vivid language to date.
“They’re worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand,” she said in the April 7 interview, which focused largely on political upheaval in the Middle East. “They cannot do it. But they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.”
But Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the comments did not distract from the overall successful tone of the Washington meetings.
“I think perhaps you have taken the quotes out of context, and ought to look at the full picture to understand the U.S. appraisal of the talks’ achievements,” Jiang told a regular news briefing in Beijing, when asked about Clinton’s interview.
“Generally speaking, the reports I have read, and what I have found out, have been positive,” she added.
“We have expressed our point of view many times on the relevant question,” Jiang said, in an apparent reference to the human rights issue. “China and the United States have broad common interests.”
Chinese state media had largely glossed over U.S. criticism of China’s rights record at the Washington talks, which focused on economic ties, underscoring an unwillingness to let the issue stymie broader relations.
China is in the midst of a severe crackdown against dissent, jailing, detaining or placing in secretive informal custody dozens of activists and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule.
A party leadership succession in late 2012 is encouraging China to keep a hard grip on dissent, as is anxiety that anti-authoritarian uprisings in the Arab world might inspire similar movements on the Chinese mainland.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Sabrina Mao; Editing by Ken Wills and Alex Richardson