Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is hoping to revitalise US economic and development ties with Southeast Asia as she visits Indonesia on the next leg of her first overseas trip as America’s top diplomat.
In Jakarta on Wednesday and Thursday, Clinton intends to announce plans to step up US engagement with a region that often felt slighted by the Bush administration.
Clinton also plans to use the visit to continue the Obama administration’s efforts to rehabilitate America’s image abroad, particularly among Muslims. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Islamic nation, and it has personal ties for President Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood living there.
Clinton was to visit the Association of Southeast Asian Nations secretariat in Jakarta and was expected to signal US intent to sign the regional bloc’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Clinton also was to pledge to attend the group’s annual foreign ministers meeting in Thailand this year, US officials said.
Development and climate change will top the agenda during Clinton’s meetings with Indonesian officials, along with discussions about Southeast Asia’s growing importance, the Iranian nuclear dispute and the war in Afghanistan.
During Clinton’s first stop in Japan, her two days of talks focused mostly on North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric and threats of a new missile test, and on the global financial crisis. After Indonesia, she travels to South Korea and China, where North Korea will again probably be a major topic.
In Tokyo, Clinton previewed the new approach to the dialogue she will try out in Southeast Asia. During a town hall student meeting Tuesday, she said the United States was under new management.
“America is ready to listen again,” she said at Tokyo University. “Too often in the recent past, our government has not heard the different perspectives of people around the world. In the Obama administration, we intend to change that.”
Later, in response to a student question about the Bush administration’s perceived “prejudice” against Muslims in the war on terrorism, Clinton lamented that America’s failure to communicate its intentions with the world is “one of the central security challenges we face.”
She also acknowledged that the task had gotten harder because of the hugely unpopular war in Iraq, which she initially supported as a senator, but came to oppose. That conflict, she said, was “viewed as wrong by many in the world.”
“I think that the war on Iraq made our argument more difficult because although they just had peaceful elections, as you know, that they never would have had under Saddam Hussein, the process was extremely controversial,” Clinton said.
Still, she stressed, the administration would not shy from the topic.
“I think you will see from President Obama and those of us in his administration a concerted effort to present a different position to the Islamic world without in any way stopping our efforts to prevent terrorism,” Clinton said.