Is China More Transparent Than Obama Administration? Reporter Asks

By Patrick Goodenough | May 10, 2011 | 4:34 AM EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton makes remarks at a dinner for the joint meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at the State Department Monday, May 9, 2011 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

( – Journalists covering the first day of a U.S.-China summit in Washington on Monday were given access to Chinese officials on several occasions, but for an American perspective, they had to rely on a conference call briefing by two administration officials speaking on background.

Neither Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nor Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner took questions from reporters on the first day of the third U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. (Geithner was interviewed on the Charlie Rose show on Monday evening, along with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan.)

As a result, much of the U.S. viewpoint in media coverage of the conference came from statements made by Clinton, Geithner and Vice President Joe Biden at opening ceremonies at the Department of the Interior and U.S. Treasury Department.

Beijing’s stance, on the other hand, was discussed at press availabilities, including those by Commerce Minister Chen Deming and People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan.

Chen used the opportunity of a press conference to state forcefully that U.S. concerns about China’s currency policies were “unfounded.”

(U.S. firms say the significantly undervalued Chinese yuan benefits Chinese companies and disadvantages those in the U.S. by making Chinese exports cheaper. China’s “currency misalignment continues to be a serious problem,” Reuters quoted Republican members of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee saying in a letter Monday addressed to Clinton and Geithner.)

Speaking to reporters through an interpreter, Chen also declared that U.S. export control policies were depriving American companies of business opportunities and market share in China.

He urged U.S. officials to create a more favorable environment for Chinese investment, saying the review process for foreign investments in the U.S. was neither open nor transparent.

Among other things, Chen complained about China being excluded from a list of countries eligible for license exception under the administration’s proposed new “Strategic Trade Authorization” rule. He said the move was at odds with the agreement by Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao last January to forge a new relationship.

The statements featured prominently in Chinese and financial media coverage of Monday’s conference events.

Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo speaks during the start of the Plenary session of the US China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Monday, May 9, 2011, at the State Department in Washington (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama met later in the day with the leaders of the Chinese delegation, Vice Premier Wang and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, but there was no press availability.

The White House issued a statement about the Oval Office meeting, saying “economic, security and other issues of importance to both countries” were discussed, and that the president had also “raised U.S. concerns about the current human rights situation in China.”

During Monday’s regular State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner was asked about the lack of media access from the U.S. side, with a reporter pointing out that senior Chinese officials were doing three on-the-record press briefings.

“Two years ago when this same thing happened, I raised the question of whether or not this met with the administration’s promise of transparency, and asked if it was something the administration was proud of – that the Chinese were apparently being more transparent than the Americans were on this,” the reporter said.

He then asked Toner whether the conference call briefing, scheduled for later in the afternoon, could be changed from an “on background” discussion to an on-the-record one.

Toner said he would ask, adding “your concerns are noted.” But when the conference call was duly held and the two briefing officials introduced, the department confirmed that they could not be identified in press reports.

“I will note that both gentlemen will be speaking on background as ‘senior administration officials,’ ” a State Department representative said at the start. “I know this was an issue that was raised before, but they will indeed be on background,” he added.

Clinton and Geithner are scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, at the end of the second and final day of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Obama and Hu established the Strategic and Economic Dialogue mechanism in April 2009. The first and second rounds were held in Washington in July 2009 and in Beijing in May 2010, respectively.

Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs last week described the dialogue as “our most important venue, or mechanism if you will, for managing this very complex relationship between the United States and China.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow