US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday pledged renewed US commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific, where tensions are rising between China and its smaller neighbors over territorial disputes and many nations face threats from climate change.
Speaking at a meeting of leaders of South Pacific island nations, Clinton said the US would not abandon its long history of protecting maritime commerce in the region and serving as a counterbalance to domination by any single world power.
However, she played down the idea that the US was acting “perhaps as a hedge against particular countries.”
She said the US wanted to cooperate with China in the vast Pacific and encouraged other countries, including those in the region, to do the same.
“The Pacific is big enough for all of us,” she told reporters at a news conference with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, whose country handles defense and foreign relations for the Cook Islands.
Yet she said that China’s interests in the region are not necessarily the same as others, a point she also made clear earlier this month on a trip to Africa when she contrasted US goals for that continent as aimed at adding rather than extracting value. The comment was a veiled shot at China, which some complain is using its overseas investments to exploit resources at the expense of local populations.
“Here in the Pacific, we want to see China act in a fair and transparent way,” Clinton said. “We want them to play a positive role in navigation and maritime security issues. We want to see them contribute to sustainable development for the people of the Pacific, to protect the precious environment, including the ocean and to pursue economic activity that will benefit the people.”
Earlier at the meeting, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai (崔天凱) said China was already engaged with the region in a positive way.
“The thrust of China’s policy toward the Pacific is to achieve peace, stability and development,” Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying. “China has done many concrete things to support the economic and social development of Pacific island countries, always in light of the needs and interests of the countries concerned.”
In her speech to the meeting, Clinton said the US would remain a big player in the region and pointed to past accomplishments.
“We have underwritten the security that has made it possible for the people of this region to trade and travel freely,” she said, pointing to nearly a century of US military presence in the Asia-Pacific. “We have consistently protected the Pacific sea lanes through which a great deal of the world’s commerce passes, and now we look to the Pacific nations in a spirit of partnership for your leadership on some of the most urgent and complex issues of our time.”
She said that hundreds of US naval, coast guard and commercial vessels ply the Pacific and called for them to play an enhanced role in maintaining free trade and combating crime, such as human trafficking and illegal fishing.
Clinton is the first secretary of state to participate in the Pacific Island Forum and the first to visit the sprawling, but sparsely populated Cook Islands. Her visit to the main island, population 10,000, in the remote Cook chain has created a buzz of excitement.