WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2011 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ trip to China this week advanced U.S. relations there, continuing the groundwork laid by Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, who’d years ago worked to open diplomatic relations with China, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today.
Holbrooke, who was serving as special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan when he died Dec. 13, will be honored in a memorial service here today, with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among the dignitaries scheduled to speak.
Clinton made the remarks as the first speaker of the State Department’s Richard C. Holbrooke Lecture Series here. “This is a bittersweet moment for me, personally, to give this inaugural lecture,” she said, praising Holbrooke as a “tireless negotiator” who left “an indelible mark on this department, this country and the world.”
Among his many missions, Holbrooke was a key player in opening formal diplomatic relations with China in the 1970s and served as president of the U.S.-Asia Relations Society, Clinton noted.
More than three decades later, Gates carried on that vision with his trip to Beijing, where he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as the country’s defense and foreign ministers. Gates’ trip was focused on re-establishing military-to-military relations with China, which pulled away last year in response to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
At the end of his visit Jan. 12, Gates called his meetings in Beijing “productive” and said they set the stage to take U.S.-China military-to-military relations “to the next level.”
Hu is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House next week, when, Clinton said, “the breadth of our engagement will be on full display.”
The United States and China have much to gain by working together on regional security threats like North Korea and Iran, on the global economy, and humanitarian missions, Clinton said. And, still, she added, the United States will continue to press Chinese officials to release political prisoners and expand freedom of speech and religion for its citizens.
“This is not a relationship that fits neatly into black-and-white categories of friend or rival. We have two complex countries,” she said. “To keep this relationship on a positive trajectory, we have to be honest about our differences … and avoid unrealistic expectations. It requires steady effort over time.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)