On Asia Tour, Clinton Softens China Rhetoric

The Obama administration has made it clear that the Asia Pacific is an area of key interest to US foreign policy, and has stated that a healthy relationship with China is an important policy goal. Hillary Clinton has emphasized this in her tenure as Secretary of State, most notably by identifying the current epoch as “America’s Pacific Century” in a Foreign Policy essay from late 2011. Interpretations of Washington’s rhetoric as delivered by Clinton have varied. Since Clinton’s essay hit the press, she has criticized Beijing over a variety of issues: human rights violations, lack of political liberalization, exercising veto power at the UN Security Council, a failure to live up to global responsibility and the motivations of China’s investment in Africa, to name a few. Yesterday, Clinton embarked on an 11-day tour of the Asia Pacific, and is scheduled to stop in Beijing on September 4th. Speaking today at a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands, Clinton reasserted US commitment to a region rife with territorial disputes involving China. AP reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday pledged renewed American 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 United States would not abandon its long history of protecting maritime commerce in the region and serving as a counterbalance to domination by any particular world power.

“We have underwritten the security that has made it possible for the people of this region to trade and travel freely,” she said, noting nearly a century of American military presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Clinton is the first US Secretary of State to attend the Pacific Islands Forum, and prior to the meeting China Daily expressed concern with her presence. However, the words that Clinton offered today were much softer on China than may have been expected, as Reuters reports:

Clinton’s trip to the South Pacific has spurred some criticism in China, where some commentators accused the United States of seeking to stir up trouble as Beijing’s economic and political influence expands.

[...]Despite what is increasingly being portrayed as a great power rivalry, Clinton said the United States welcomed the chance to work with China and other Pacific development partners including Japan and the European Union.

“We all have important contributions and stakes in this region’s success, to advance your security, your prosperity and your opportunity. And I think the Pacific is big enough for all of us,” she said.

AFP has more on Clinton’s decision to stress commitment and common ground instead of more sensitive topics:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed Friday the United States would remain active in the South Pacific for the “long haul” but said the region was big enough for a rising China.

[...]Clinton, who will visit Beijing next week for talks on the often fractious relationship between the world’s two largest economies, played down rivalries in the South Pacific.

[...]“We all have important contributions and stakes in the region’s success to advance your security, your opportunity and your prosperity,” she said.

[...]“Our countries are bound by shared interests, and more importantly, by shared values, a shared history, and shared goals for the future,” Clinton said.

“We are increasing our investments,” she said. “And we will be here with you for the long haul.”

Also see prior CDT coverage of US-China relations and Secretary Clinton.