01/15/2011 12:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

China-U.S. Relations 'Critical' Ahead Of Hu Jintao's Washington Visit

With the international media abuzz with rumors just days before Chinese President Hu Jintao touches down in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed calls for a Cold War-style containment policy and instead noted the U.S. sought a "positive, cooperative and comprehensive" relationship with China.

As the AFP is reporting, Clinton's Friday speech indicated human rights -- particularly in the wake of jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo's historic Nobel Peace Prize win -- to be a topic of priority during Jintao's visit, scheduled for Jan. 18-21. "A vibrant civil society would help address some of China's most pressing issues, from food safety to pollution to education to health care," Clinton is quoted as saying. "The longer China represses freedoms, the longer it will miss out on these opportunities and the longer that Liu Xiaobo's empty chair in Oslo will remain a symbol of a great nation's unrealized potential and unfulfilled promise."

Washington is reportedly hoping for progress on other fronts, too -- including climate change to the ongoing Sudan referendum. As Bonnie S. Glaser, a former consultant for the Department of Defense and the State Department and now chair of the China program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells the Washington Post:

At the global level, the United States seeks greater Chinese cooperation in countering proliferation of nuclear weapons, reducing imbalances in the global economy, and combating climate change. Regional issues include preventing further North Korean provocations, promoting regional security cooperation in the East Asia Summit, and ensuring that the results of the referendum on southern Sudan are accepted by Sudan and the international community and that the 2005 peace agreement is fully implemented. Bilateral issues that will be raised by the U.S. side include human rights, trade, and the U.S.-China military relationship. The Obama administration would like some concrete deliverables to demonstrate to the American public that the president's policy is effective and producing results.

Douglas H. Paal, a former unofficial U.S. representative to Taiwan and now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted a more lasting outcome of Hu's state visit -- scheduled to be his last as president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, before he steps down in 2012 -- may lay even further ahead:

While results so far are on the whole good, perhaps the trickier part of the process is to make it survive the weeks after the summit. Past experience in times of constructive relations suggests the best method going forward is to engage a broader swath of the Chinese and American elites in a full agenda of exchanges. An important outcome of the summit, therefore, would be instructions from the two leaders for their colleagues to continue the process. An exchange of visits by Chinese Vice President and heir-apparent Xi Jinping and Vice President Joe Biden would be the first place to start.