U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seeking to re-iterate America's commitment to Asian regional security by undertaking a multi-country tour in which she will discuss maritime issues, trade, climate change and gender equality.
Clinton's first stop was the Cook Islands, where she attended the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Post Forum Dialogue on Friday. The PIF, a group of 16 Pacific countries, coordinates regional cooperation and integration efforts in an effort to balance relative national strengths in the area.
"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's attendance at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Post Forum Dialogue, the first ever by a U.S. Secretary of State, demonstrates the United States' commitment to partnering with the Pacific Island countries to address local and global challenges," a State Department fact sheet read.
Issues discussed included climate change, economic development, gender equality and education. But peace and security in the region is probably the issue of note at the moment, with Chinese influence continuing to grow while neighboring countries encourage further American involvement as a buffer.
As tensions increase in the Pacific Ocean over maritime claims between the Asian giant and its smaller neighbors, the U.S. seeks to ensure disagreements are solved through dialogue rather than violence, Clinton said.
In a speech commemorating U.S. peace and security partnerships in the Pacific on the island of Rarotonga, Clinton said the American presence in the region wasn't meant "as a hedge against particular countries."
"The United States welcomes cooperation with a number of partners, including Japan, the European Union, China, and others. The Pacific is big enough for all of us. We share a common interest in advancing peace, security, and prosperity in this vital region," Clinton added.
Later, at a press briefing she gave jointly with the New Zealand Prime Minister, Clinton said all Pacific countries have an interest in China coming into the fold on regional security agreements.
"Here in the Pacific, we want to see China act in a fair and transparent way," Clinton said, speaking alongside PM John Key.
"We want to see them 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...So we think that there's a great opportunity to work with China, and we're going to be looking for more ways to do that," she concluded.
China has repeatedly made clear it is not comfortable with the U.S.'s "pivot to Asia" policy, which involves a massive increase in diplomatic and military engagement in the region. The U.S., conversely, continues to insist its presence is natural, as it too is a Pacific power.
During her speech to the PIF, Clinton announced $32 million in new programs for her Asia Pacific's strategic engagement initiative, much of which will go to fight combat climate change effecting some of the Pacific's smallest islands.
But the initiative China will most likely have its eye on will be the Pacific Maritime Surveillance Partnership, announced Saturday by the governments of New Zealand, Australia, France and the U.S.
As the four principal providers of aerial and surface maritime surveillance for Pacific Island countries, these countries now intent to strengthen and coordinate surveillance activities in the Pacific, with a particular focus on fisheries.
On the surface, the Chinese have become more amenable to the ideas of security coordination in the region. In a press conference on Friday, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said China was in favor of strengthening cooperation with island countries on marine conservation, deep-sea exploration and fishery resources conservation and management.
Cui also stated China has already begun to work more positively in the region, "to achieve peace, stability and development."
"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," government-run news agency Xinhua reported.
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.
by RTT Staff Writer
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