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Clinton’s Asia trip takes economic turn

(Global Times)

08:27, July 16, 2012

Editor's Note:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently visited Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos Cambodia and other neighbors of China. During the trip she repeatedly urged countries in the region to expand markets and political freedom. The trip is seen by some as the latest test case of the Obama administration's efforts to pivot US foreign policy toward Asia amid China's increasing sway in the region. Are the visits aimed at compressing China? How will the visits affect regional situation? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Zhaokun talked to Michael Mandelbaum (Mandelbaum), director of the American Foreign Policy Program at the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, and Chen Youjun (Chen), an associate research fellow on international political economics with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, on the issues.

GT: Clinton's trip to Laos is the first by an US Secretary of State in 57 years. The engagement comes as US relations also warm with countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam and Mongolia. Is Washington gradually compressing China's strategic space?

Mandelbaum: An increased emphasis on Asia in the US foreign policy is the natural consequence of the growing economic and political importance of Asia and of the expense and unpopularity of nation-building in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, China's Asian neighbors are worried about China and seeking good relations with the US as a hedge against China. At the same time, neither they nor the US wants to have an overtly adversarial relationship with China. Asian countries want good relations with both the US and China, but they increasingly believe that good relations with the US will help them maintain the kind of relations with China they seek.

Chen: It is true that Clinton's trip to Asia is an important step taken by the US to readjust its foreign policy and strategy and there are many discussions about whether her visits target China as she made a whirlwind tour of China's neighbors without coming to Beijing.

But I think the US "back to Asia" strategy is misleading, as Washington has never left the region. The US has always held huge economic and investment interests in the region. Also, we can't neglect the China-US contact factor during her trip. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with Clinton during an ASEAN meeting late last week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

China and the US can play their special roles in regional affairs. There are many areas in which the countries can cooperate, such as the economic development of the Mekong River area. When small countries deal with relations with big powers, they tend to seek to achieve a kind of balance. I think this is likely to be the choice of many nations in the region as this is the best way to protect their national interests.

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