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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Clinton focuses on ties to Asia


By Jerry Burris

Is Hawai'i truly a player on the international scene?

That was the question asked and answered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in import-ant speech yesterday at the East-West Center. Clinton is on a whirlwind tour of the Pacific, focusing on such nations as Australia and Papua New Guinea.

That leaves some of the smaller Pacific nations miffed, since Clinton could not find time in her schedule to meet, even collectively. The South Pacific leaders have proved to be remarkably accommodating on such matters. They met with Presidents Bush I and II in Honolulu and pulled themselves together for a gathering with Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, in Washington.

But that small matter behind, Clinton made it clear in her talk in a breezy, sun-filled garden setting at the East-West Center yesterday that the United States takes Asia seriously.

Her take-away line:

The United States, Clinton said, is "back in Asia, and we are back to stay."

What does that mean?

Clinton made it clear that the U.S. is determined to engage China (she was quite blunt that there are concerns about China's human rights record and the larger issue of womens' rights across Asia) and she was direct in her assertion that the U.S. is determined to forge a more multilateral and cooperative approach to the troubles that continue to plague the region.

Or, as she put it, to get beyond its "turbulent past."

Obviously, the immediate focus of the Obama White House and Clinton is on the Middle East. While she didn't dwell on that region, it is the elephant in the room. But taking the long view, Clinton said, it is that America's future, long-term, is linked to the "Asia- Pacific region."

Now, that's what everyone says when they visit Honolulu. We have heard it from every president and other top official going back at least to the days of Lyndon Johnson. But there is a ring of truth here. Clinton's first overseas trip as secretary of state was to Asia, and she has been a frequent visitor since.

Her boss, President Obama, also has visited Asia already and has more visits planned. It is true that Washington will always focus first on the most troublesome hot spots on the globe (today that is obviously Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan). But a good administration will look beyond the immediate to the long-term interests of the country.

That approach will inevitably draw their attention to Asia. If Clinton's speech yesterday at the East-West Center is any indication, the eye of the Obama administration is, indeed, on the prize.