US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has officially confirmed that her first foreign trip since assuming office will be to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China.
She will be in Tokyo from Feb. 16 through Feb. 18, Jakarta from Feb. 18 through Feb. 19, Seoul from Feb. 19 through Feb. 20 and Beijing from Feb. 20 through Feb. 22.
“In all capitals, the secretary will be discussing common approaches to the challenges facing the international community, including the financial markets’ turmoil, humanitarian issues, security and climate change,” US State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said.
While Taiwan was not mentioned during Wood’s briefing on the trip, senior State Department sources said later that there was “no doubt at all” that US-Taiwan policy would be discussed in both Beijing and Tokyo.
In particular, the sources said, Clinton would address China’s questions about US arms sales to Taipei and would seek clarification on China’s stand on Taiwan and the WHO and World Health Assembly.
The Washington Post said in an article on its Web page soon after the briefing that Clinton’s focus on climate change appeared to be part of a broader administration effort to try to persuade China to join with the US in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But the newspaper added: “Some experts, however, warn that China may demand a freer hand on such contentious issues as Taiwan and Tibet in exchange for working with the United States on reducing emissions.”
State Department officials reached by the Taipei Times insisted that Taiwan would never be used as a bargaining chip with Beijing to win concessions on other issues.
“We will not sell Taiwan down the river, you can be sure of that,” one official said.
Asked specifically about North Korea, Wood said: “North Korea will come up in conversations. We all want to see how we can get North Korea to abide by their international obligations and to see how, through the six-party framework, we can get them to live up to those obligations.”
This was a clear reference to North Korea’s continuing and much-condemned development of nuclear weapons.
It was noted that Clinton was going to China before US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Wood was asked if this were an indication that the State Department was taking the lead in terms of the US relationship with China and if she would be discussing currency and exchange rates.
In a vexed tone Wood replied: “The secretary has said that this is an important relationship for the United States. It’s very broad. The State Department will have an important role in engaging China. I’m not going to get into this, who has greater weight within the relationship.”
Under the administration of former US president George W. Bush it often appeared as though the Treasury had a greater role than the State Department in the making of China policy.
“The subjects of human rights and Tibet always come up in conversations with our Chinese counterparts because human rights is a very important issue for the United States. So I would suspect that those issues could very well come up,” Wood said.
The acting spokesman said that Asia was growing in influence and prosperity and that Clinton felt that going to Asia on her first trip abroad as secretary of state “would send a tremendous signal to Asia and others in the world of the importance of Asia, particularly in our foreign policy agenda.”