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Clinton says U.S., China not at odds

The two nations are not adversaries, the secretary of state says in a Honolulu speech

By William Cole

LAST UPDATED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 29, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday the U.S. has "quickened the pace and widened the scope" of engagement in Asia and the Pacific, and she downplayed concerns the U.S. is ceding power to a militarily rising China.

"There are some who say that this long legacy of American leadership in the Asia-Pacific is coming to a close, that we are not here to stay. And I say, look at our record. It tells a very different story," Clinton said in a speech yesterday morning at the Kahala Hotel and Resort.

The Obama administration has been intent on strengthening leadership and engagement in the region -- the importance of which is fully recognized, she said.

Clinton told several hundred people in attendance that "we know that much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia. This region will see the most transformative economic growth on the planet."

She also said that the relationship between China and the United States is complex and of enormous consequence.

"There are some in both countries who believe that China's interests and ours are fundamentally at odds," Clinton said. "They apply a zero-sum calculation to our relationship. So whenever one of us succeeds, the other must fail. But that is not our view. In the 21st century it is not in anyone's interest for the United States and China to see each other as adversaries."

Clinton stopped overnight in Honolulu on her way to a seven-nation Asia and Pacific trip. She will visit Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia. She will also stop in Guam and American Samoa, both U.S. territories.

Her policy speech was the second in Honolulu in nine months. Clinton stopped in Hawaii in January on another Asia trip which was cut short by the earthquake in Haiti.

The upcoming China stop was a last-minute addition. Clinton will meet her counterpart, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, on Hainan island, the home of a new submarine base and a symbol of China's economic and military might.

In 2001 a U.S. Navy crew on board an EP-3E surveillance aircraft made an emergency landing on Hainan after the spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter plane. The crew members were detained and interrogated by Chinese officials.

Clinton said her visit will help prepare for the January trip to the U.S. by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"The United States is committed to making this visit (by Hu) a historic success," Clinton said.

Asia watchers had questioned before Clinton's speech whether she would bring up China's increasing territorial assertiveness in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea, where there have been run-ins with the U.S. Navy, Japan and other nations.

Kerry Gershaneck, an adjunct faculty member at Hawaii Pacific University who has been involved in Asia-Pacific relations for more than 30 years, said he was disappointed with Clinton's failure to address America's plan to deal with a China "that has made our friends and allies nervous in recent years and a China whose stated intention is to challenge America's security, political and economic interest in the region."

In June, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the South China Sea an area of growing concern.

"Our policy is clear," Gates said. "It is essential that stability, freedom of navigation and free and unhindered economic development be maintained."

In her speech, sponsored by the East-West Center in cooperation with the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies and other organizations, Clinton noted America's allies in Asia and the Pacific -- Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines -- and said they "remain the foundation for our strategic engagement."

"These alliances have safeguarded regional peace and security for the past half-century and supported the region's remarkable economic growth," Clinton said.

Engagement efforts are increasing with India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, Clinton said. The U.S. has increased its naval presence in Singapore.

"In Vietnam we are cultivating a level of cooperation that would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago," she said.

Clinton said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is seen as the keystone for an emerging regional political and economic architecture. The U.S. has opened a mission to ASEAN, she said, and Gates recently participated in an ASEAN defense ministerial meeting.

Clinton added that "as we put these relationships to work, we do so in the recognition that the United States is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in the Asia-Pacific -- because of our history, our capabilities and our credibility."

She also acknowledged "deep-seated challenges" in Asia, including human rights abuses by the military in Myanmar (formerly Burma), North Korea's provocative acts, and military buildups matched by territorial disputes.

Clinton also said the U.S. military presence in the region must reflect an evolving word, and that the Pentagon is involved in a Global Posture Review that will lay out a plan for the continued forward deployment of U.S. forces.

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