US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to visit Japan and China on her first foreign trip in her new position, with a senior congressional source saying Clinton would be certain to discuss Taiwan with the Chinese leadership.
The source said the discussions would probably lead, on Clinton’s return, to an informal State Department review of US-Taiwan relations.
Last week, professor Robert Sutter of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service said the US should reassess its Taiwan policy and consider what it would do if Taiwan chose to align itself with China.
Sutter said that while President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policies had won some progress in cross-strait economic and trade development, there had been no concessions of substance from China on its military, diplomatic or economic policies.
US State Department officials declined to confirm Clinton’s trip to China, but officials said in private that she was “leaning” toward visiting Asia at some point before US President Barack Obama meets Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) at a London summit in April.
The New York Times reported over the weekend on speculation that Clinton would visit Japan and China and possibly South Korea. The trip would allow her to check in with Japan, a staunch ally, and take stock of an economic rival, China, the paper said.
The paper quoted an experienced State Department hand as saying: “Besides, if no one of her stature shows up in Tokyo by April or so, the Japanese will wonder what is wrong with the relationship.”
“A secretary of state’s first foreign trip is always an event — steeped in symbolism and parsed for clues about how the new boss will conduct diplomacy,” the paper wrote.
“Mrs Clinton’s celebrity lends the maiden voyage added glitter, but also the burden of great expectations,” it said.
Obama and Hu spoke on Friday morning, US time, in their first telephone call since the US leader came to power.
“President Obama told President Hu that he looked forward to meeting with him and to early contacts and exchanges between senior officials of our two countries,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Gibbs would not say whether Taiwan had been discussed in the telephone conversation, but China’s Xinhua new agency said the two leaders had agreed to meet at the G20 economic summit in London in April.
It also said the leaders exchanged invitations to visit each other’s country.
Clinton said earlier that she would pursue a “comprehensive” dialogue with China that went beyond the economic focus of the administration of former US president George W. Bush.
The senior congressional source said Clinton had made it clear to her staff that on foreign visits she would only deal with substantive issues and issues in which she could make a difference.
“That being the case, it would be impossible for her to visit China without discussing Taiwan,” the source said.
He said that last month China issued a 105-page White Paper on national defense stating that “the United States continues to sell arms to Taiwan,” which leads to “serious harm to Sino-US relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.”
David Rothkopf, an academic at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said: “The critical relationship that requires the most attention right now that has gotten the least is that with China.”