- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2009

NEW YORK | Two days before traveling to Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that China is not a U.S. adversary and Washington will engage it on many issues, beginning with resumption of military talks suspended by Beijing over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan last year.

“Some believe that China on the rise is, by definition, an adversary. To the contrary - we believe that the United States and China can benefit from and contribute to each other’s successes,” she said in a speech at the Asia Society in New York - her first major address since taking office.

“Our mutual economic engagement with China was evident during the economic growth of the past two decades,” she said. “It is even clearer now, in economic hard times and in the array of global challenges we face - from nuclear security to climate change to pandemic disease and so much else.”

Broadening Washington’s dealings with Beijing beyond economic issues was one of the first tasks Mrs. Clinton set for herself after she arrived at the State Department. There has been speculation that her ambitions could clash with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s agenda, but she said they had met on the subject and will work on it together.

“It is in our interest to work harder to build on areas of common concern and shared opportunities,” she said of China. “I’m happy to say, our two countries will resume mid-level, military-to-military discussions later this month.”

Mrs. Clinton said she also would raise human rights issues with China.

“As part of our dialogues, we will hold ourselves and others accountable as we work to expand human rights and create a world that respects those rights,” Mrs. Clinton said. “One where Nobel Prize-winner [and Myanmar’s opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi can live freely in her own country … where the people of North Korea can freely choose their own leaders and where Tibetans and all Chinese people can enjoy religious freedom without fear of prosecution.”

Two days before heading to Asia on her first overseas trip as secretary, Mrs. Clinton chided the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to Asia. She said her trip is meant to show the Obama administration’s commitment to the continent. She is scheduled to visit Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China next week.

She reiterated Washington’s pledge - first made by the Bush administration - to establish diplomatic ties with North Korea, sign a peace treaty and provide energy and economic aid if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear-weapons programs. She urged Pyongyang to avoid provocative rhetoric and actions toward South Korea that could complicate six-nation nuclear talks.

“If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the peninsula’s long-standing armistice agreements with a permanent peace treaty and assist in meeting the energy and other economic needs of the North Korean people,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton also made it clear that the Obama administration will not return to a 1994 accord known as the Agreed Framework, which was negotiated by the Bill Clinton administration and froze the North’s plutonium program.

The Bush administration said the deal was dead after it discovered what it described as a secret program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons in 2002. The North Koreans have yet to admit publicly to developing such a program.

“At the time, I said I regretted that the previous administration completely walked away” from the Agreed Framework, Mrs. Clinton told reporters. Although she agreed with the threat posed by the uranium program, she said it could have been dealt with while not totally abandoning the 1994 accord.

“We have to deal with the world as we find it today,” she added.

While in Tokyo, Mrs. Clinton said, she will meet with families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents decades ago to tell them that the U.S. has not forgotten their plight.

Analysts said the symbolism of Mrs. Clinton’s trip will not be lost on the Asians, even if she comes back with few specific achievements.

“Coming only three weeks into the Obama administration, [her] trip will be long on signals and short on substance,” said Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

“That is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it sends several critically important messages to allies Japan and South Korea,” he said. “Her trip communicates that Asia matters to the United States and that Washington is committed to a predominant role in the region over the long term.”

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