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East Asia Obama's top diplomatic priority
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Less than a month after Obama's inauguration, the leaders of his diplomacy and security team have flown to both Europe and Asia. At first Vice-president Joe Biden led the security team to the 45th Munich Security Conference in Europe, before Obama's presidential emissary Richard Holbrooke visited South Asia and Afghanistan.

The visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and China from February 16-22 was even more conspicuous.

It is fair to say the diplomacy of the new Obama administration focuses for the main part on Asia.

Even before its formal declaration, Clinton's Asian trip had already been interpreted from all angles. The media closely watched her first stop in Japan.

There the Aso cabinet, hampered by the severest economic recession since World War II and a slump in opinion polls, seemed able to relax momentarily as it was made apparent that new US President Obama attaches great importance to traditional allies.

At first, Japan, unsure of Obama's Japanese policy, deeply worried that the US-Japan alliance, which had entered into a "dusk period", might be weakened.

The new administration of the US has demonstrated its willingness to achieve normalization of relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), formulate a permanent peace agreement to replace the Korean Peninsula's truce agreement, and help to satisfy its energy demand, if the DPRK gives up its nuclear weapons and allows inspection.

It is reasonable for Clinton to visit South Korea, since it is an ally of the US, and its relations with its northern neighbor have been strained during the tenure of President Lee Myung-bak.

Indonesia is the country where Obama spent part of his childhood, and the largest Muslim nation in East Asia. The new US administration is planning to strengthen its cooperation with Indonesia in education, energy, and food security, and develop an all-round partnership. However, it's unrealistic to think that such a short trip can repair relations between the US and the Muslim World after they were damaged during the Bush era.

China was the final leg of Clinton's first overseas tour as Secretary of State.

Before her departure, in a speech at the US's Asia Society, she said, "As members of the Asia Society, you know very well how important China is and how essential it is that we have a positive, cooperative relationship. It is vital to peace and prosperity, not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but worldwide."

She also declared, "The United States and China can benefit from and contribute to each other's successes".

An over-interpretation of Clinton's itinerary is unhelpful in grasping the overall key point of American diplomacy.

It is better to observe it in the grand picture of East Asia.

The sequence of Clinton's visit to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and China successively, does have somewhat symbolic consideration. It is apparently incomplete and shallow, however, to judge the closeness of relations with the countries only from the sequence. We should note that Clinton visited East Asia first, identifying the priority of US global diplomacy.

As the first Secretary of State for half a century to make a debut trip to East Asia, Clinton's visit signifies the unprecedented significance of East Asia for the US.

As said by her, this visit aims at transmitting a crucial piece of information, the "connectedness" between the US and the other side of the Pacific "that can address both the challenge and the promise of this new century".

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