Every major challenge calls for coordination: Hillary

Rising tensions in the Korean peninsula over the sinking of a South Korean warship in March will figure on top of the agenda when United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds talks with the Chinese leadership here on Monday.

Ms. Clinton, in China for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, is expected to press China to take a stronger stand against North Korea, following heightened tensions in recent days over the sinking of the Cheonan, which left 46 South Korean sailors dead.

A joint investigation conducted by South Korea, the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom last week blamed a North Korean torpedo for sinking the Cheonan on March 26. North Korea has, however, continued to deny its involvement in the attack and has threatened “all-out war” if the international community took any steps to punish it.

Speaking in Tokyo on Friday, Ms. Clinton warned of a strong international response. “We cannot allow this attack on South Korea to go unanswered by the international community,” she said, adding that a “business as usual” diplomatic approach was no longer an option.

The attack has presented a diplomatic challenge for China, which supplies significant financial support to North Korea, its long-term ally. During his secretive visit to Beijing earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had called for China's support in the tensions over the Cheonan.

China has, so far, adopted a cautious response to the dispute. Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai last week termed the incident “unfortunate”, but did not comment on whether China would support a strong international response, including new sanctions. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said China wanted all parties “to stay calm” and “exercise restraint”.

Speaking in Shanghai on Sunday, Ms. Clinton said the U.S. would seek Chinese support over the issue. “Virtually every major challenge that we face in the world requires China and the United States to work together,” she said.

Iran issue

Besides North Korea, Ms. Clinton will also discuss the Iranian nuclear issue, climate change and a host of trade-related issues with Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo over two days of talks.

A separate economic dialogue between U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan will also take place on Monday. China's valuation of its Yuan, which the U.S. says has been artificially devalued to support exporters here, is expected to figure in the talks.

Ms. Clinton said on Sunday the U.S. would also push for greater market access for its companies here, amid increasing complaints from U.S. firms over recently-introduced procurement policies which, they say, favour domestic companies.

“For trade to work in any economy, for it to produce the benefits we know it can, there must be a level playing field where domestic and international companies can compete freely and openly,” said Ms. Clinton.

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