Probably having already arrived in Japan at this time, I want to comment on SoS Clinton's public comments leading up to this trip, including those while in the air over the Pacific.
First, I want to highlight comments from a speech she made to the Asia Society that I feel hint at both her approach and the coming strategy to be adopted by the Obama Administration in regards to the Asia-Pacific.
Following her introduction, she starts with this line:
"Today, it is tempting to focus our attention on the tensions and perils of our interdependence, but I prefer to view our connectedness as an opportunity for dynamic and productive partnerships that can address both the challenge and the promise of this new century."
After this, she mentions "smart power," but I think this is a dumb phrase--I suggest "grand strategy" instead:
"At the same time, given the realities of today’s world, we can no longer approach our foreign policy solely country by country, or simply by carving the world into separate regions. With smart power, we will seek to build partnerships that transcend geographic and political boundaries."
This is a concept I have been trying to live and advocate while in the Asia-Pacific, becoming a student of the multiple countries and cultures in Northeast Asia rather than an expert of just one. SoS Clinton goes on to highlight how some of the major issues today fit into this approach:
"The global financial crisis requires every nation to look inward for solutions, but none of us can afford to become so introspective that we overlook the critical role that international partnerships must play in stabilizing the world’s economy and putting all of us back on the path to prosperity. And we cannot respond with a race to erect trade and other barriers. We must remain committed to a system of open and fair trade."
Notice how she said "fair" trade? That is a signal from her that she will be looking to strengthen the role of labor, humanitarian and environmental standards in free trade agreements and/or discussions. I am not suggesting this is a bad thing, but countries less developed than the U.S. tend to feel intimidated by these restrictions. So it is important that we encourage the development of higher standards in the context of each country's stage of development.
Next is the underlying security in the region:
"Like the financial crisis, other issues also require bilateral as well as regional and global approaches. The United States is committed to maintaining our historic security alliances in Asia and building on those relationships to counter the complex global threats we face. I’m very pleased that Japan and South Korea this week agreed to joint assistance for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and that both countries continue to work with us on global security, especially in combating piracy off the Horn of Africa.
"We will need to work together to address the most acute challenge to stability in Northeast Asia, North Korea’s nuclear program. The Obama Administration is committed to working through the Six-Party Talks, and I will discuss with South Korea, Japan, and China how best to get the negotiations back on track. We believe we have an opportunity to move these discussions forward, but it is incumbent upon North Korea to avoid any provocative action and unhelpful rhetoric toward South Korea."
Unfortunately, unhelpful rhetoric is all North Korea knows--try reading some of the NK news links to the left of this post. Anyway, nothing really knew or unexpected here; hopefully, this develops into a path towards a maritime security framework for the region.
Next, to my dismay, is climate change:
"Global solutions are essential to addressing climate change and the need for clean sources of energy. Now, climate change is not just an environmental nor an energy issue, it also has implications for our health and our economies and our security, all wrapped up in one.
"The rapid appointment that the President and I made of a United States Special Envoy for Climate Change reflects the seriousness we feel about dealing with this urgent threat. And I will be taking Special Envoy Todd Stern with me to Asia next week to begin the discussions that we hope will create the opportunities for cooperation."
My hope is that the government would push advancements in green technology decoupled from the climate change hysteria, but I won't digress in this post. Moving on, I think she next covers a much more important topic:
"Now, you may have heard me describe the portfolio of the State Department as including two of national security’s three Ds: defense, diplomacy, and development. Each is essential to advancing our interests and our security. Yet too often, development is regarded as peripheral to our larger foreign policy objectives. This will not be the case in the Obama Administration. We will energetically promote development around the world to expand opportunities that enable citizens, particularly on the margins, and particularly women and children, to fulfill their God-given potential, which we happen to believe will advance our shared security interests. That much of Asia enjoys peace and prosperity today is due in no small part to American efforts over the last half century to support political, economic, security, and educational alliances with Asian nations."
The above is certainly key, especially when considering post-disaster areas such as those hit by the Tsunami of 2004 and post-conflict areas such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on the African continent.
In the question and answer session, SoS Clinton answers "Why Asia first?":
"Well, I believe it demonstrates clearly that our new Administration wants to focus a lot of time and energy in working with Asian partners and all the nations in the Pacific region because we know that so much of our future depends upon our relationships there. And we equally know that our capacity to solve a lot of the global challenges that we’re confronting depends upon decisions that are made there. So it was an easy choice for me to make. Obviously, we are focused on the many problems that exist today that we’re confronting."
On the plane to Japan, SoS Clinton had this to say about China, which are in my opinion nice to see from somone who is hoping the Obama Administration tackles APAC with a grand strategy, rather than piecemeal by country or by issues:
"I have had a long conversation with Secretary Geithner. We believe that we have to have a comprehensive approach to our dialogues with China, which we did have, but they were divided between the Strategic Economic Dialogue and the Senior Dialogues. And we want a more comprehensive, unified approach to the discussions that we will be engaged in with the Chinese. But we're going to discuss the best way forward with the Chinese, because, clearly, you know, they have a lot of equities within their own government in trying to determine how best to engage with us."
In summary, I like a great deal of the approach and developing strategy SoS Clinton is espousing above. I only take issue with so much focus on the impacts of climate change (the new phrase for anthropogenic global warming), which, contrary to what we are often fed by the mainstream media, politicians and activist groups, is not settled science. She will find receptive audiences in Japan and Australia on this topic because they are invested much more deeply financially and emotionally in climate change myths, but not in China or a few of the Southeast Asian nations. Again, I would love to see more focus on green technologies that improve our immediate and tangible surrounding environment rather than those that focus on CO2 reduction, especially when CO2 is not a pollutant.