HILLARY Clinton’s decision to postpone her trip to PNG last week and instead make an emergency visit to quake-hit Haiti disappointed many. It would have given PNG greater presence in the world. Indeed, PNG is gaining more attention now because of various factors, including the multi-billion dollar LNG project, climate change and security issues.
If the US Secretary of State had proceeded with the visit to PNG, she would have touched on economic and security issues.
Her speech at the East-West Centre in Honolulu on Jan 12 gives an insight into principles that “define America’s engagement and leadership” in the Asia-Pacific region.
THE speech came at the start of what had been scheduled to be Hillary Clinton’s fourth trip to the Asia-Pacific region as America’s top diplomat.
However, she later postponed the remainder of her trip and returned to Washington due to the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
Clinton spoke at the East-West Centre in observance of the 50th anniversary year since the institution was founded by the US Congress to promote better understanding and relations between the peoples and nations of the US, Asia and the Pacific.
“During the five decades since the Centre opened, no region has undergone a more dramatic transformation,” she said.
“The East-West Centre has been part of this sea change, helping to shape ideas and train experts. … I thank all of you for bringing greater awareness and understanding to the economic, political and security issues that dominate the region and the world today.”
Clinton noted that President Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, had been an East-West Centre scholar when she pursued her graduate studies in anthropology, focusing on the emerging field of microfinance.
Obama himself spent his formative years in Hawaii and Indonesia, a background that she said fostered a world view that “reflects his appreciation of – and respect for – Asia and its people”.
Speaking before an invited audience of about 150 East-West Centre students, staff and Hawaii dignitaries, Clinton said that nearly a year into the Obama administration, it should be clear that the Asia-Pacific relationship is a priority for the US.
“We are working to deepen our historic ties, build new partnerships, work with existing multilateral organisations to pursue shared interests, and reach beyond governments to engage directly with people in every corner of this vast region,” she said.
In recent decades, she said, the Asia-Pacific region has undergone unprecedented transformations.
“Asian countries that were destitute a generation ago now boast some of the highest living standards in the world,” she said.
“… In the space of two generations, Asia has become a region in which the old is juxtaposed with the new, a region that has gone from soybeans to satellites, from rural outposts to gleaming mega-cities, from traditional calligraphy to instant messaging, and, most importantly, from old hatreds to new partnerships.”
This progress is the product of hard work and ingenuity multiplied across billions of individual lives, Clinton said, “and it has been sustained by the engagement, security and assistance provided by the United States.”
Clinton said Asian leaders have long talked about strengthening regional cooperation, and that regional institutions have already played a significant part in Asia’s evolution.
“Yet looking forward, we know that they can – and I would argue must – work better,” she said. “…There is now the possibility for greater regional cooperation, and there is also a greater imperative.”
She laid out several principles that she said “will define America’s continued engagement and leadership in the region, and our approach to issues of multilateral cooperation”.
First, she said, America’s longstanding nation-to-nation alliances are the “cornerstone” of its
involvement in the region.
She cited relationships with such nations as Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines as being among “the most successful bilateral partnerships in modern history” and said other bilateral relationships would continue to develop.
“The security and stability provided through these relationships have been critical to the region’s success and development,” she said.
“Our commitment to our bilateral relationships is entirely consistent with – and will enhance – Asia’s multilateral groupings.”
Second, she said, regional institutions and efforts should focus on clear and increasingly shared objectives, such as enhancing security and stability, expanding economic opportunity and growth, and fostering democracy and human rights.
“To promote regional security, we must address nuclear proliferation, territorial disputes and military competition – persistent threats of the 21st century,” Clinton said.
“To advance economic opportunity, we must focus on lowering trade and investment barriers, improving market transparency, and promoting more balanced, inclusive and sustainable patterns of economic growth.”
Regional organisations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) have already shown considerable progress in these areas, she said, and in addition the US is engaging in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations as a mechanism for improving linkages among many of the major Asia-Pacific economies.
In regard to democracy and human rights, Clinton applauded the Association of Southeast Nations’s decision to establish an Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
“Over time, we hope the commission and other regional initiatives will enhance respect for fundamental freedoms and human dignity throughout the region,” she said.
She cautioned, however, that in all these objectives, multilateral regional institutions must be effective and focused on delivering results.
“It’s more important to have organisations that produce results, rather than simply producing new organisations,” she said.
As an example, she cited the international relief effort in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
“The world witnessed how concrete collective action and a relentless focus on results can provide hope in the face of tragedy.”
Clinton also said that since regional leaders must be flexible in pursuing the results they seek, the US would continue to support less formal multilateral arrangements focused on specific challenges, such as the Six Party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme, along with “sub-regional institutions that advance the shared interests of groups of neighbours”.
Finally, she emphasised that Asia-Pacific nations, including the US, need to decide which will be the “defining” regional organisations.
“It’s important that we do a better job of trying to define which organisations will best protect and promote our collective future,” she said.
Following her remarks, Clinton took several questions from students in the audience.
Noting that her country only has one female MP, Evelyn Pusal of Papua New Guinea asked how women can increase their rights in the region.
Women in many places still face legal, cultural political and barriers, Clinton responded.
“They are not easily removed unless there are enough women exercising leadership,” she said, adding that to overcome such obstacles, a “critical mass” of support is needed from both women and men.
“The old habits that prevent women from participating just have to be taken head-on,” she said.
Qiong Jia, a graduate degree fellow from China, asked the secretary to respond to concern about US-China relations.
“We know we have differences,” Clinton said, but she added, “We’re working to develop a relationship that will be a mature one, that will not be knocked off course when one or the other does something we don’t agree with.”