U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it is “understandable” that some may think that the United States should cut back on its commitments to the Asia-Pacific region when Americans are hurting.
But she said that view is mistaken.
“We are here to stay,” Clinton said at a policy speech at the East-West Center in Honolulu. “What will happen in Asia in the years ahead will have an enormous impact on our nation’s future. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and leave it to others to determine our future for us.”
Clinton cited diplomatic and military efforts and alliances that have “set us on a course for broad and lasting progress” in an area she said is becoming the world’s economic center of gravity.
Clinton called the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and upcoming trips by herself and President Obama to Asia a "significant period of engagement," adding that economic issues would be front and center in the multi-national talks.
She said the United States would drive an agenda of regional economic integration, green growth and technology and advancing regulatory cooperation and convergence.
On relations with China, Clinton said the Obama administration was committed to building a positive and cooperative relationship with China.
"Expanding our common interests is essential," she said.
She added that the U.S. would look to the Chinese government to "intensify dialogue" between civilian and military officials "to have an open and frank discussion on the most sensitive issues."
Clinton is speaking at the East-West Center before holding bilateral meetings with a number of foreign ministers. President Barack Obama is also attending APEC.
After APEC, Clinton is scheduled to visit U.S. treaty allies Thailand and the Philippines before attending the annual East Asia summit in Indonesia.
The State Department says the visits underscore U.S. efforts to strengthen key alliances in the region. In Manila, Clinton on Tuesday will to mark the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.
The next day she goes to Bangkok, where Thai authorities are battling severe floods. Clinton is scheduled to return to Washington on Nov. 19.
In her speech, Clinton also pressed China, Vietnam and Myanmar, also known as Burma, to release political prisoners.
Clinton noted inital efforts towards democracy in Myanmar, including the lifting of some censorship of the news media and law changes that could allow opposition leader Aung Sang Soo Kyi to run for office, the "first stirrings of democracy in decades."
But she said the United States wants to see if the efforts at democracy are sustained.
The U.S. leads an economic boycott of Myanmar, intended to pressure the government into reforms.
In regard to Thailand, Clinton said she felt Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra made the correct decision to forgo APEC and remain in her country to deal with massive flooding that may have displaced as many as 2 million people.
She said her meetings with government officials in Thailand will help determine what assistance the government might require from the United States.
Clinton wrapped up her speech discussing efforts by the United States to stay competitive in education, to both attract students and send American scholars abroad.
“We think higher education is one of our great exports,” she said, adding that the Obama administration would support additional international education programs.
The Associated Press contributed to thsi story.