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Hillary Clinton on Asia

Hillary Clinton on Asia
Published 13 Apr 2015   Follow @SamRoggeveen

With Hillary Clinton now having officially announced that she is running for president, let's take a stroll through the Interpreter archives to get a sense of her foreign policy views, particularly as they relate to Asia.

As US Secretary of State (2009-13), Clinton developed a reputation for championing the US re-balance or pivot to Asia, most prominently through a 2011 essay in Foreign Policy. As Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove put it in an interview, 'the rebalance is Clinton’s signal foreign policy achievement as Secretary of State, she’s invested in it.'

Rory Medcalf noted that Clinton's embrace of the pivot included an endorsement of the 'Indo-Pacific' concept:

...the term has also entered US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's lexicon, especially in describing the scope of the US-Australia alliance: 'We are also expanding our alliance with Australia from a Pacific partnership to an Indo-Pacific one'.

In 2012, Hugh White covered a speech by Clinton in which he detected a movement away from the Obama Administration's 'pivot' rhetoric:

[The speech] gently but unmistakably steps away from Obama's insistence on the preservation of US primacy in Asia and his rejection of any negotiation with China on their respective roles. So it might reflect the beginnings of a serious debate in America about the wisdom of trying to contain China rather than accommodate it...she several times said that Asia will need a new order which will be very different from the status quo, plainly implying that America's role will therefore be different too. She also clearly suggested that this new order will have to be negotiated between China and America, and admitted that this will be unprecedented for America, and very hard to do.

In 2014, Clinton's tone on China was less accommodating, when she said that Australia's economic dependence on China could 'undermine your freedom of movement and your sovereignty — economic and political'. Darren Lim disagreed. Clinton has had concerns about China's financial heft since at least 2009 when, as leaked US embassy cables revealed, she pointedly asked Kevin Rudd 'How do you deal toughly with your banker?' Graeme Dobell looked at the subtext of that remark. [fold]

Clinton's term as Secretary of State was marked by the opening up of US relations with Burma, with her 2011 visit marking what Burma expert Andrew Selth called  'a turning point in [Burma's] relations with the US':

However, even experienced Burma-watchers were unable to agree on what actually prompted the visit. It was variously described as a calculated move to leave behind the failed policies of the Bush era, an effort to encourage Thein Sein's reform process, an attempt by the Obama Administration to re-engage with the Asia Pacific, and a ploy by the US to score points in its strategic competition with China.

To a greater or lesser extent, all these factors probably contributed to the decision to make the visit, the first by a US Secretary of State to Burma for over 50 years.

Clinton also made the Pacific islands region a more prominent part of her work as Secretary of State. Here's Jenny Hayward-Jones in 2010:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be visiting Papua New Guinea tomorrow, as part of her seven country tour of the Asia-Pacific. Her visit is timely. It comes soon after Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell's testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment signaled an enhanced US interest in the Pacific Islands region, and will send a clear message that the US is serious about the region.

Hillary Clinton officially launched her campaign via social media, and her facility with new technology was a big element of her work as Secretary of State, as Danielle Cave wrote in 2010:

Monitoring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s current Asia Pacific trip online has led me to a surprising and refreshing discovery — Hillary is the ultimate online diplomat.Hillary and the State Department proactively engage the international community in ways the Australian Government could only dream of. I realised seconds into a Google search that in fact I won't need to chase down Hillary Clinton; it’s almost as if Hillary is chasing me.

Last year James Bowen asked whether Hillary really is a foreign policy hawk

In a much-publicised interview with The Atlantic, Clinton called out Obama's failure to offer support to rebels fighting Bashar Al-Assad's regime in Syria as being culpable in the rise of the Islamic State, an organisation most recently in the news for the horrific beheading of US journalist James Foley.

'The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,' she said, adding that great nations needed better organising principles than Obama's favoured 'don't do stupid stuff.'

So far, so hawkish.

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