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'Remove barriers,' Clinton urges

"U.S. firms want fair opportunities," the top American envoy says during a speech

By William Cole

LAST UPDATED: 4:00 a.m. HST, Nov 11, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton provided the first public comments from a high-ranking official at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, saying America's prosperity is tied to the region and pledging stepped-up economic, diplomatic and military emphasis in the East.

"What will happen in Asia in the years ahead will have an enormous impact on our nation's future, and we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and leave it to others to determine our future for us," Clinton told nearly 300 invited guests Thursday at the East-West Center.

Clinton said the 20th century saw the United States play a central role in shaping a network of relations across the Atlantic, and "we are now doing the same across the Pacific."

"It is becoming increasingly clear that in the 21st century the world's strategic and economic center of gravity will be the Asia Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas," Clinton said on the lanai of the Imin Center.

As a member of APEC and host for the summit, the United States will drive an agenda focused on strengthening regional economic integration, promoting "green" growth and advancing regulatory cooperation, Clinton said.

Clinton, who spoke Thursday morning, also called for a greater investment in the "economic potential of women, whose talents and contribution still often go untapped."

"We have to remove barriers, both at borders and behind borders, barriers like corruption, the theft of intellectual property, government practices that distort fair competition," Clinton added. "Economic integration must be a two-way street."

A good portion of that message was directed at China, and Clinton noted how the two countries are inextricably linked economically, saying a "thriving China is good for China, and a thriving China is good for America."

"U.S. firms want fair opportunities to export to China's markets and a level playing field for competition," she said. "Chinese firms want to buy more high-tech products from us, make more investments in our country and be accorded the same terms of access that market economies enjoy."

Clinton also took China to task on human rights issues.

"When we see reports of lawyers, artists and others who are detained or disappeared, the United States speaks up both publicly and privately," she said.

Clinton said the U.S. is "alarmed" by recent incidents in Tibet of young people lighting themselves on fire in protest.

Among the pacts being sought during APEC is a nine-country trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The U.S. will be placing special emphasis on engaging with treaty allies Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand, Clinton said.

Three student fellows at the East-West Center asked Clinton questions, and Mian Cui, who is from China, asked about foreign students studying in the U.S.

Clinton said a program now seeks to get more American students studying in China, and more Chinese students coming to the U.S. The same program also is in place with other countries, she said, and efforts are being made to make it easier to come to the U.S. and stay after getting an education.

Later Thursday, Clinton held bilateral meetings with officials from Japan, China and Australia.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, one of those in attendance for Clinton's speech, said he is "very pleased" that the focus is back on Asia and the Pacific.

"Our whole emphasis has been that Hawaii is the anchor for the Asia-Pacific region," Abercrombie said. "We're no longer being thought of as the crossroads -- some place to pass through. We want to be a destination for people thinking throughout the Asia-Pacific region about what Hawaii can provide."

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, said "the Pacific is the theater of the future, and Hawaii has the most critical role to play in the Pacific."

Hanabusa, who also took in Clinton's speech, said the U.S. military "is no longer, in my opinion, a forward-deployed force that we're looking at. It's not just (a force that's) going to go to combat. The military is what enables economic growth, plus the diplomatic stability in the area by its presence."

Hawaii News Now video: Clinton addresses APEC gathering

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