As top American and Chinese officials gathered in Washington yesterday to launch the third annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that both countries "have much more to gain from cooperation than from conflict" and that "a thriving America is good for China and a thriving China is good for America," though she also reiterated America's "concern about human rights." In an interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg published this morning, however, Clinton had much harsher words for the Chinese regime.

After Clinton referenced China's "deplorable human rights record" as part of a larger discussion about America's response to the Arab Spring, Goldberg pointed out that the Chinese "are acting very scared right now" as uprisings roil the Middle East and North Africa. "They're worried," Clinton responded, "and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand. They cannot do it. But they're going to hold it off as long as possible."

In analyzing Clinton's words, Goldberg notes that while the Obama administration has been escalating its criticism of China's human rights record recently, especially after the arrest of the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, Clinton went a step further by suggesting that China's one-party system will eventually collapse. Her statement, he says, reminded him of Ronald Reagan's articulation of American policy toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War: "We win and they lose." Clinton's comments, he adds, suggest that "she sees the Arab Spring as the harbinger of a worldwide move toward democracy."