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Hillary Clinton's first stop

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COMMENTS

6 February 2009 15:56

Carl Ungerer is Director of the Australian National Security Project at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. 

Foreign policy pundits like to play a game called 'where will they go first?' Following the election of a new government, speculation is rife about the location and timing of the first overseas visit by senior officials. The first visit is said to assume great importance as a signal of foreign policy interests and focus.

I think it’s important not to over-interpret these things. But the announcement of Hillary Clinton’s first visit will draw polite chatter. As US Secretary of State she has decided to visit Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China – in that order. The visit will take place later this month.

The choices are interesting ones. Of course, Japan and South Korea are Washington’s two principal allies in Northeast Asia. And no trip to that part of the world would be complete without visiting Beijing. Indonesia is more interesting – partly because Clinton will sit on a plane for 16 hours to get between Tokyo and Seoul – when the flying time between them is less than 2. The press corps in Washington suspect that Clinton’s visit is just a precursor to a visit by President Obama soon after, perhaps even to give his address to the Muslim world.

Canberra will have mixed feelings about all of this. That the new Obama Administration is focused on East Asia is a positive and welcome sign. But the omission of Australia from the itinerary will cause some consternation. Our alliance with America has enjoyed a period of close and sustained cooperation. Perhaps the tyranny of distance will now see the relationship fall back into a more managerial phase, and Australian diplomacy will need to work harder in foreign capitals, including Washington, to have its voice heard.

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