Washington (CNN) -- China must assume the responsibilities of being a 21st-century world power, rather than basing policies on its own self-interest, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.
In a firm but optimistic speech at the State Department, Clinton praised improved ties with China, stressing the Obama administration wanted a "positive, cooperative and comprehensive" relationship.
She acknowledged the relationship is at a "critical juncture," noting many tensions remain on economic and security issues, which are certain to feature prominently when President Barack Obama hosts Chinese President Hu Jintao for a state visit in Washington next week.
"You cannot build a relationship on aspirations alone," she said, "It is up to both of us to more consistently translate positive words into effective cooperation."
The United States does not view China's rise as a threat, nor is it interested in constraining Beijing's growth, Clinton insisted. She dismissed the notion that the U.S. is trying to contain China, fears that she acknowledged have led to a growing nationalist movement in China.
She stressed that Washington and Beijing "need to work together to orient our economies to assure strong, sustained and more balanced future global growth." But she said China must end discriminatory practices that give American firms a disadvantage, such as refusing to allow its currency to appreciate, giving preferences to domestic firms and measures regarding intellectual property.
"Our economies are entwined and so are our futures," Clinton said. "A thriving America is good for China, and a thriving China is good for America."
Clinton said China can be "a unique leader in the 21st century" but must live up to the responsibilities of being an emerging power.
"Embracing the obligations that come with being a 21st-century power will help to realize a future that will give the Chinese people even more, in fact, unimagined opportunities," she said. "But that means accepting a share of the burden of solving common problems, abiding by and helping to shape a rules-based international order."
She urged China to use its "unique ties" with North Korea to persuade it to end its nuclear program. Echoing comments Defense Secretary Robert Gates made this week in China, Clinton said North Korea was becoming "more of a national security challenge to our own shores." China's "failure to respond clearly" to the North's aggression against South Korea emboldened Pyongyang, which led to last month's attack on Yeongpeong Island, she warned.
"It is vital that China join with us in sending North Korea an unequivocal signal that its recent provocations -- including the announced uranium enrichment program -- are unacceptable," she said. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Beijing also has a responsibility to "help the international community send a clear message to Iran's leaders to cease its illicit nuclear activity," Clinton said.
She was firm on China's human rights record, which she said could not be ignored despite Beijing's objections to U.S. interference. She called on China to embrace political reform, including releasing political prisoners such as Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, protecting the rights of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, and allowing greater religious and social freedoms.
Clinton warned that without greater freedoms and the release of political prisoners, China's human rights record will continue to be characterized by "empty chairs at Oslo," a reference to its refusal to allow Liu to attend the Nobel ceremony in the Norwegian capital.
Clinton acknowledged that "distrust lingers on both sides" of the Pacific, particularly on military matters. She said the Obama administration wanted China to embrace a closer relationship with the U.S. that would increase transparency.
But speaking directly to an American public fearful of Beijing's rise, she dismissed the idea that a more assertive China will lead to "Cold War-style conflict or American decline."
"This is a critical juncture, yes, but Americans need not fear for the future," she said. "The world has never been in greater need of the qualities that distinguish us -- our openness and innovation, our determination, our devotion to universal values. The world looks to the United States for leadership to manage the changing times and to ensure that this juncture leads to greater stability, peace and prosperity."
Clinton's speech was the State Department's inaugural "Richard Holbrooke Lecture," a tribute to the former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan who died last month. As the youngest assistant secretary for East Asia under the Carter administration, Holbrooke was "a key player" in brokering the opening of formal diplomatic relations with China in 1979, Clinton said.