Clinton Starts Asia Trip to Build Trade, Alliances

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the second top U.S. official to come to Belgrade in 16 months, is scheduled to arrive at 2 p.m. after a visit to Sarajevo this morning. Photographer: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left on a two-week, nine-stop trip to China, Australia, Vietnam and other Asia-Pacific countries, where she will emphasize U.S. engagement and commitment to the world’s fastest-growing economic region.

On the way, she will deliver a “major” address on the Obama administration’s Asia strategy, said Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs. She will also push the need for broader U.S. economic and trade opportunities in the region, he said.

Clinton and President Barack Obama have made the Asia-Pacific region a foreign policy priority. Clinton’s first trip as Obama’s top diplomat took her to Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. She used the visit to stress the need for better cooperation on the global economy and to reaffirm the U.S. as an Asia-Pacific power, themes she will raise again on the trip that began today.

Clinton’s trip -- her sixth to the Asia-Pacific region since taking office in January 2009 -- is “intended to send a strong message of U.S. engagement on a range of issues -- strategic, political, multilateral,” Campbell said at a briefing yesterday.

Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based policy group, said the trip was also meant to shore up the image of the U.S.

Changing Perceptions

“There’s a lot of perception in the region that the U.S. is waning and China is rising, and a large point of this trip is to counter that perception,” Lohman said in a telephone interview.

Clinton will emphasize trade and economic topics, said Campbell, who previously worked on Asia-related issues at the National Security Council and the Department of Defense.

“At every stop, the secretary will highlight the political and economic interactions and the desire to promote U.S. exports and see a more forward engagement on economic matters,” Campbell said.

This trip, Clinton’s longest since she took charge at the State Department, will take her to Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Australia and American Samoa.

En route, Clinton will stop in Honolulu, where she will meet Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara to discuss “all aspects” of the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship, Campbell said.

U.S. Strategy

While in Hawaii, she will also meet with U.S. naval commanders and deliver her speech on U.S. strategy in Asia.

She then touches down on the U.S. territory of Guam to visit with troops and meet the governor, followed by a stop in Vietnam for the East Asian Summit, a 16-nation trading bloc that includes Australia, India and New Zealand. The U.S. is becoming a member of the bloc and Clinton will be the first high-ranking U.S. official to attend one of its meetings.

After leaving Vietnam, Clinton will stop briefly on the Chinese island of Hainan to meet with China’s State Councilor Dai Bingguo. They will review issues in the U.S.-China relationship and discuss preparations for Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington in January, Campbell said.

Clinton will conduct bilateral meetings with leaders in Malaysia and Cambodia.

New Zealand Stop

The New Zealand stop is meant to “reaffirm a recommitment to a relationship that has not received as much attention in the course of the last 25 years,” Campbell said.

In Papua New Guinea, Clinton will discuss biodiversity, the status of women and “enormous” gas finds, Campbell said. Exxon Mobil Corp. is leading a $15 billion liquefied gas project in Papua New Guinea.

The secretary will focus on “how the current government plans to manage this tremendous windfall that will be coming to the people of Papua New Guinea through this massive find of petroleum and natural gas,” Campbell said.

In Australia, Clinton will attend the 25th annual meeting of U.S. and Australian foreign and defense ministers to discuss security, cyber security and regional concerns.

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