Tue, Mar 03, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Clinton’s Asia trip shows priorities

By Sushil Seth

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent Asia tour is a significant development. It signals the intention of the new US administration to put Asia at the top of its diplomatic priorities.

Under the regime of former US president George W. Bush, all diplomacy increasingly became a function of its military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the generic war on terror. Two other important issues were North Korea and Iran.

In Asia, only China seemed to matter in terms of helping or hindering US policy.

Clinton’s trip to Asia — her first foreign trip as secretary of state — starting with Japan and including Indonesia, South Korea and China, sought to restore some balance to a China-obsessed US perspective.

Japan is the US’ most important security ally in the region, yet China got the most attention from the Bush administration. In other words, Japan felt slighted by its more powerful ally.

By making Japan her first port of call, Clinton sought to assuage hurt feelings. She symbolically restored Japan’s place of pride as the US’ most important security partner in Asia.

And by visiting the families of some of the Japanese abducted by North Korea and listening to their stories, Clinton showed sufficient sensitivity for the continued trauma of those grieving for missing relatives.

Clinton’s Indonesia visit was part of the same initiative, but this time intended to focus on Southeast Asia. This part of Asia was neglected under Bush even more than the Asia-Pacific rim. It sometimes seemed the US was in the process of withdrawing from the region, with China increasingly filling the vacuum.

As a result, countries in the region have increasingly adapted themselves to China’s power role.

Indonesia is the most populous member of ASEAN and Clinton announced in Jakarta that the US would soon begin the process of signing an agreement with ASEAN.

As for South Korea, the US’ commitment goes back to the Korean War in the 1950s. South Korea depends on the US for its security from North Korea.

The latter is dependent on China for political and economic support, though Beijing is not inclined to support its provocative and dangerous nuclear program.

Therefore, North Korea casts a large shadow on any visit by a US leader to South Korea. For both the US and South Korea, Pyongyang’s nuclear program is a major worry.

Pyongyang’s expected test of a long-range missile that would be capable of reaching parts of the US compounds their concerns.

However, Clinton’s tone on the nuclear question was softer, suggesting that the US will help North Korea with economic aid and in other ways in return for a verifiable commitment toward non-proliferation by Pyongyang.

When she was in Seoul, Clinton raised the question of uncertainty created by a likely succession battle in North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reportedly suffered a stroke, although he is believed to have recovered sufficiently to carry on much of his duties.

Clinton said “there is a succession, even if it’s a peaceful succession, that creates more uncertainty, and it may also encourage behaviors that are even more provocative, as a way to consolidate power within the society.”

Expressing understanding for South Korea’s predicament, she said: “This is an especially important time for South Korea, as they are confronting a lot of worries about what’s up in North Korea, what the succession could be, what it means for them.”

This story has been viewed 3444 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top