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Clinton Packs Full Asia Agenda for First Trip as Secretary of State

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2009; Page A14

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Asia on her first voyage as chief diplomat, skipping the more traditional itinerary of Europe or the Middle East in order to place a renewed focus on an area with half the world's population and gross domestic product.

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Clinton will depart Feb. 15 and visit three key East Asian nations -- Japan, South Korea and China -- and also Indonesia, the State Department said in a statement that notably did not mention the nuclear impasse with North Korea, a traditional discussion topic for the region. Instead, spokesman Robert Wood highlighted the global financial crisis and climate change as being among the key subjects Clinton will raise on her trip.

Both Japan, with the world's second-biggest economy, and China, with one of the fastest-growing economies, are critical to efforts to emerge from the worldwide economic crisis, while South Korea is an important trading partner with the United States. Indonesia, where President Obama spent some of his childhood, is the world's largest Muslim nation.

Clinton's focus on climate change appears to be part of a broader administration effort to try to persuade China to join with the United States in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Asia Society and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change yesterday issued a joint report laying out a "road map" for U.S.-China cooperation on climate change -- a project that was co-chaired by Steven Chu, now energy secretary, and included contributions from Jeffrey A. Bader, now the top Asia staff member on the National Security Council. The report called for a leaders' summit on climate change and the establishment of a high-level council of top officials from both countries to guide policy.

Some experts, however, warn that China may demand a freer hand on such contentious issues as Taiwan and Tibet in exchange for working with the United States on reducing emissions.

Clinton signaled recently that she wanted to elevate the dialogue the administration holds with Chinese officials, with State helping taking the lead not only on diplomacy but also on economic matters. "We need a comprehensive dialogue with China," she told reporters. "The strategic dialogue that was begun in the Bush administration turned into an economic dialogue."

In the Bush administration, the key discussions on economics and climate change were conducted by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., though periodic discussions were also held at the level of the deputy secretary of state. Some administration officials have advocated establishing such a dialogue at the vice presidential level, modeled after the commission headed by Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. But Clinton also intends to play a leading role, as does Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who speaks Chinese.

As preparation for her trip, Clinton last night had dinner with about a dozen experts on East Asia, seeking ideas and proposals. The dinner was organized by State's new head of policy planning, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and the guests included Michael J. Green, a former top adviser to President George W. Bush on Asia, economist Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Wendy Sherman, an Asia expert who headed Obama's State Department transition team.

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