Commentary: Obama administration finally sending China a firm message

One of the first things Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did on assuming office was inform China that human rights should not be allowed to "interfere" with more important matters.

Given Beijing's penchant for bullying both its own people and its neighbors, this was not a good message. Fortunately, the Obama administration has taken a firmer line of late.

At a regional security forum, Clinton declared that peaceful settlement of the tangled claims to two island chains in the South China Sea is a U.S. "national interest." The claims, she said, should be decided through a "collaborative diplomatic process … without coercion."

That may sound like harmless boilerplate, but the Chinese were not amused. Beijing does not want the long-running disputes over the Spratly and Paracel island chains to be "internationalized."

China, in other words, would prefer to continue intimidating interested nations — Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei — one at a time.

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