U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in the midst of a massive trip to Asia just as the Democratic convention gets underway in Charlotte next week.
Once a presidential candidate herself, the top diplomat will meet with leaders from six countries, even acting as a stand-in for President Obama in Russia.
Maritime security in the South and East China Seas as well as regional cooperation and defense will likely be key issues discussed during her trip.
"[Clinton's] visit will emphasize the depth and breadth of American engagement across economic, people to people, strategic, environmental, and security interests," State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said in a statement Tuesday.
She added, "The visit also represents a concerted effort to strengthen regional multilateral institutions, develop bilateral partnerships, and build on alliances - three core elements of U.S. strategy toward the Asia-Pacific."
Clinton will depart August 30 for her first stop in the Cook Islands, where she will attend the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Post Forum Dialogue on August 31.
The Chinese are already calling the trip troubling, saying her presence at the PIF raises "geo-political concerns over competition among major powers in the region."
"The two countries' engagement on the Diaoyu Islands, South China Sea and Clinton's recent visits to Asia, Africa and the South Pacific — which have been viewed as encircling China — will likely be high on the agenda," an article in the China Daily, an English-only state-controlled daily newspaper, stated Tuesday.
After the PIF, Clinton will visit Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, to discuss the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership and regional cooperation. The Obama administration has embraced Jakarta for trying to staunch the spread of terrorism inside its borders and in mediating between Southeast Asian nations and China over maritime claims.
After Indonesia, Clinton will face the China issue head-on, stopping in Beijing from September 4-5 to discuss "efforts to build a cooperative partnership" and to prepare for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings.
Clinton will then become the first Secretary of State to visit the tiny island country of Timor-Leste, which gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. Brunei will be her fifth and second to last stop before filling in for the president at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 8-9.
Brunei, one of several countries with overlapping maritime claims with China, and other Southeast Asia countries have increasingly sought American help over freedom of navigation in the East and South China Seas.
China remains suspicious of the U.S.'s "pivot to Asia" policy which it sees as an attempt to hedge the Asian superpower and Clinton's increasing engagement in the region is continuing to worry China.
However, the U.S. has denied on multiple occasions that it is a legitimate Asia-Pacific power and its policy is just a fulfillment of engagement that should have existed decades ago.
On the South China Sea issue, it remains neutral in policy statements, tacitly urging China to sign onto international compacts, such as the Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and insisting on dialogue.
"We don't want to see the disputes in the South China Sea or anywhere else settled by intimidation, by force," Nuland told reporters Tuesday when asked about the U.S.'s intention in the area. "We want to see them settled at the negotiating table."
by RTT Staff Writer
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