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China's future leader takes a pass on meeting with Clinton

September 5, 2012 |  8:03 am

BEIJING — In a short, frustrating visit to Beijing, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was stood up Wednesday by the future leader of China and delivered a stern lecture on China’s rights in the South China Sea.

Both China and the United States aired their differences about how to handle the uprising in Syria.

During the third stop in her nearly two-week sweep of Asia, Clinton had hoped to meet with Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to get the nod next month to succeed Hu Jintao as China's president.

Xi also canceled meetings Wednesday with the Singapore prime minister and Russian officials, claiming a back injury. Nonetheless, the no-show at the session with Clinton was widely interpreted as a snub.

In advance of the visit, Chinese state media lashed out at Clinton, ridiculing what it said were her efforts to maintain American “hegemony” in the Pacific. Beijing particularly resents U.S. efforts to mediate China's competing claims with neighbors — Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, in particular — to barren islets and reefs around its waters.

On Wednesday, Clinton reiterated a proposal for a code of conduct to help countries resolve such disputes. But she was shot down by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during a join news conference in the Great Hall of the People.

"The position of the Chinese government has been consistent and clear-cut. China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters," he said in response to a question.

During the visit, Clinton's fifth to China as secretary of State, she met with Hu and discussed issues that include North Korea, Iran and Syria.

"We haven’t agreed on how to handle Syria, but we haven’t stopped talking about what should be done," Clinton said.

Expectations were low for the meetings, as China is nearly as paralyzed with politics as the United States in a key transition year. Beijing is preparing for the 18th Communist Party congress, at which the new leadership should be named amid an ongoing swirl of political scandals and even a murder plot.

Xi’s cancellation of his meetings Wednesday triggered speculation that something was amiss with his candidacy and censors blocked any reference to “back injury” on the voracious microblog sites.

Also on Wednesday, Wang Lijun, a police official, was formally charged with defection, power abuse, bribe-taking and dereliction of duty. Wang was accused of "bending the law for selfish ends," the state-run New China News Agency reported.

Wang had sought refuge in a U.S. consulate early this year after uncovering evidence that British businessman Neil Heywood was murdered in China last November. Gu Kailai, the wife of a former Politburo member, was convicted of the slaying last month and received a suspended death sentence.

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-- Barbara Demick

Video: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton complimented the U.S.-Chinese relationship, in a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. She also criticized China's stance on Syria, during a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister. Credit: Associated Press

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