Washington (CNN) – China is a country of big numbers. More than 1 billion people live there. The Great Wall, at its longest, was more than 6,000 miles long. So maybe it is no surprise that it takes a big delegation to meet the Chinese.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a delegation of more than 200 officials from the Obama administration to China for next week's Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
Maybe it pales in comparison to China's population, but in the diplomatic world, that's big. Assistant Secretary for East Asia Kurt Campbell called it one of the largest groups of Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials from the United States ever to visit China. The group includes "virtually all elements of the U.S. government," Campbell said.
Practically every agency of the U.S. government is represented, including administration heavyweights like as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers. Key players from the Pentagon and U.S. Pacific Command will also be there.
The meeting is a follow-up to the first Strategic and Economic Dialogue established by President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao in April 2009 in Washington, where the Chinese delegation was just as large. But this year, the U.S. faces a stronger China, whose political and economic stature has grown in the wake of the global economic crisis.
There is no shortage of issues for Clinton to talk about on the "strategic" front with her Chinese hosts, whose delegation is led by Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Counselor Dai Bingguo.
The U.S. hopes that China will support a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing tough sanctions against Iran and work harder to reign in North Korea after a South Korean investigation found that a North Korean torpedo sank one of its warships. The U.S. is also concerned about China's censorship of the internet. The situation in Afghanistan will also be high on the agenda, as China is a major donor there.
The Chinese have plenty of their own complaints, including Obama's recent meeting with the Dalai Lama and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which infuriated Beijing to the point of threatening sanctions against U.S. companies taking part in the arms package.
The "economic" part of the dialogue, however, is even thornier. The U.S. wants China to provide more access to its markets for American exports and allow its currency, the yuan, to appreciate. With the economic crisis in Greece spreading to other countries in Europe and sinking the euro, China is likely to argue that now is not the time.
Because the U.S. and China are at odds at so many of these issues, there is the potential for the meeting to become contentious. However, with the tensions on the Korean peninsula threatening stability in Asia and with Europe's recent financial turmoil likely to spread, these two important political and economic powers can ill afford to let their differences stop them from cooperating on the world's most vexing issues.