With Hillary Clinton's first trip to the Asia-Pacific drawing near, there has been an increasing flurry of articles and press releases, in addition to SoS Clinton's own comments. It is now known that her trip will not only consist of visiting Japan, but also South Korea, China and Indonesia. Below are the pieces from the State Department press release on her trip, from February 5th, starting with the schedule:
"In her first trip abroad since taking office, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Asia, departing Washington, DC on February 15. Secretary Clinton will visit Japan (February 16-18), Indonesia (February 18-19), the Republic of Korea (February 19-20), and China (February 20-22)."
As for the content of her upcoming talks, prior to this press release, I speculated as follows in February 1st:
"I believe what can be inferred here is that SoS Clinton would like to tie a regular dialogue to other issues such as labor standards, human rights, environmental policy, etc. A description of SoS Clinton's various positions is outlined here by the Council on Foreign Relations. I won't go into every detail of her positions, but it is fair to say that she is a China 'skeptic' in the context of a general support for free trade. It is also I think fair to say that she prefers trade agreements conditional upon concessions in the other areas of policy mentioned above. Asian countries are sure to have a long file on SoS Clinton and a team of people that have worked with her and her husband in the past. The key to success will be whether SoS Clinton approaches the Asia-Pacific under a well-crafted grand strategy, in which policy is defined against the deeply rooted interconnectivity in the region, or takes the stance of trying to isolate and score points on individual issues."
"In all capitals, Secretary Clinton will be discussing common approaches to the challenges facing the international community, including the financial markets turmoil, humanitarian issues, security and climate change."
"In Tokyo, Secretary Clinton will meet with senior Japanese officials for discussions on the strategic bilateral alliance and cooperation with Japan on regional and global issues. The Secretary then will travel to Jakarta to hold consultations will senior Indonesian officials to discuss the close and growing partnership with Indonesia and perspectives on common interests in Southeast Asia."In Seoul, Secretary Clinton will meet with senior leaders to discuss our expanding global cooperative partnership with our ally, the Republic of Korea."The Secretary will conclude her trip in China where she will meet with senior officials in Beijing to further develop a positive, cooperative relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China."
"The Australia-Japan-United States Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD) was announced in 2005 as a means for channeling their growing role as independent regional and international security players into a more cohesive policy mechanism. This mechanism sought to facilitate Australia’s and Japan’s dialogue and policy planning with their American ally..."...The core rationales underlying the Dialogue’s founding were to:
(1) act as a catalyst for gradually integrating the traditional bilateral security politics of containment into more cooperative multilateral security diplomacy;
(2) build on successful episodes of non-traditional security politics (e.g. peace-building and disaster relief) to coordinate future responses to emerging non-military threats;
(3) encourage Japan to pursue its own national security agendas as a moderate and self-confident regional power; and
(4) coordinate allied policy input and, where appropriate, political support for U.S. global security initiatives.
A key task for the Obama Administration will be to find a way to build on these multiple bilateral, trilateral, and multi-lateral dialogues created and/or strengthened during the Bush Administration towards a larger, Asia-Pacific grand strategy and framework. The Wall Street Journal, in the article "Clinton's Overseas Trip Asserts Asia as Priority," suggests SoS Clinton understands that success in the region, in fact success globally, pivots on the quality of our relations with China (highlights mine):
"During Hillary Clinton's failed presidential run, she cited the China relationship as Washington's most important.
"As secretary of state, she is moving to establish China as a priority, making her first trip abroad to China and three other Asian nations. It's a break with the tradition among secretaries of state of visiting Europe first.
"In Beijing, Mrs. Clinton is expected to discuss a gamut of economic, security and environmental issues with her hosts, including China's response to the global financial crisis and its role in curbing North Korea's nuclear program."While officials in Washington don't plan dramatic shifts in Asia policy, Asia experts see opportunities for advancing U.S.-China relations during Mrs. Clinton's Beijing trip. Among them is resuming military-to-military talks frozen by Beijing last year after the Bush administration approved new arms sales to Taiwan.
"The U.S. and China are also expected to outline a joint strategy to address global warming and other environmental issues. Mrs. Clinton may announce U.S. funding of green projects in China, such as environmentally friendly buildings, according to people familiar with the discussions.
"Mrs. Clinton is expected to build on the Bush administration's foundations in dealing with China. Under President Bush, the U.S. established two formal engagement channels with Beijing -- the "senior dialogue" focused on security issues and a "strategic economic dialogue" led by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson."
At the same time, The Christian Science Monitor discusses the balance SoS Clinton will have to strike in her first trip to the Asia-Pacific, and specifically China. I phrase this as approaching the region with confidence rather than arrogance:
"The tricky part for Clinton is that she will be seeking to broaden the discussion with a rising global power into areas it is reluctant to address – human rights and greenhouse gases. And this comes at a time when the US needs China's cooperation in the financial crisis...
"..."Historians will judge this administration and our generation on how we managed the rise of the East," says Michael Green, who was senior director of Asian affairs in the Bush National Security Council and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. They will "look back at this [trip] as an important signal to the region.""
CSM also quotes Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, who is all over the place these days promoting his new book, Great Powers:
"...some big-picture security experts say the secretary of State has to be pragmatic, especially in the midst of a global financial crisis and when the US needs Beijing's cooperation on issues like Iran and North Korea.
""If Clinton thinks, 'I'm going to push the democracy agenda on China no matter what,' she's going to get a quick education," says Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of the recent book "Great Powers: America and the World After Bush." China continues to hold 70 percent of its foreign reserves in dollars, he says, but if miffed Chinese leaders "shift just 10 percent of what they hold to another currency, believe me, we are going to notice."
"Indeed, observers like Green of CSIS predict that Clinton will greet her Asian hosts "with a large dose of humility" – in part because she will arrive representing an economically weakened and chastened America. "This is not like the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, when the US was up and Asia was down," he says. "This time, the crisis started in the US market, and I think it's appropriate for our officials – and I think this is the tone the secretary will set – to make it clear we have problems we have to fix.""
How does this all piece together into a grand strategy? As I mentioned before, much will depend on the Obama Administration's overall approach--will they try to score points on individual issues, or lead the game with a coordinated, regional effort that recognizes the complex and multiple interdependencies in the region. On the former approach, this is the basic "missing the forest for the trees" scenario. I can especially see trouble ahead if the Obama Administration evaluates success in the region based primarily on progress with North Korea; this would be similar to the current problem of tieing success in the Middle East primarily to peace between Israel and Palestinian territory. It would only stunt progress on other fronts, unnecessarily.
Of course, the North Korea problem is a critical security and economic issue for the region, but we shouldn't give the North Koreans the leverage to destabilize and fracture the positive working relationships with the rest of Northeast Asia.
As a follow-up to this already lengthy post, I will later look at an article from the Far Eastern Economic Review, as well as a SoS Clinton press conference and speech at the Asia Society.