- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

TOKYO — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Japan Monday at the beginning of an Asian tour that is likely to be dominated by the global economic crisis, just as the world’s second largest economy reported its worst contraction in 35 years.

Mrs. Clinton’s first overseas trip as America’s chief diplomat is also the first time in nearly five decades that a secretary of state has chosen Asia for his or her maiden voyage.

“I have come to Asia on my first trip as secretary of state to convey that America’s relationships across the Pacific are indispensable to addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities of the 21st century,” she said at a welcome ceremony in Tokyo.

“We have to work together to address the global financial crisis,” she added.

See related story: Clinton discounts North Korea uranium threat

Hours earlier, the Japanese government said the country’s gross domestic product shrank at an annual rate of 12.7 percent in the last quarter of 2008 — the worst since 1974. That was the third straight quarterly contraction.

“There is no question that this is the worst economic crisis since the end of World War II,” said Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano. “The outcome clearly shows that Japan’s export-dependent economy has been severely hit.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura called the economic downturn a once-in-a-century disaster.

Mrs. Clinton said the “global economic crisis is the backdrop against which this visit takes place,” noting that it will be also a major issue during her meetings in Indonesia, South Korea and China.

“I will be discussing with them the approaches that each are taking, explaining what we have just done with the passage of our stimulus bill, and seeking greater cooperation about how together we are going to work our way through these very difficult economic times,” she told reporters traveling with her.

While in Japan, Mrs. Clinton will sign an agreement to move about 8,000 of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan from the island of Okinawa to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. She will also 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.

“The abductee issue is an issue of grave concern,” she said. “It’s such a human tragedy, and I think all of us can imagine how we would feel if a family member or an entire family that we were connected to in some way just disappeared and were never heard from — and only in recent years have we learned what happened to them.”

Arriving in Asia on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s 67th birthday, Mrs. Clinton also said that she will seek ways to restart six-nation talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.

“The North Koreans have already agreed to dismantling” the programs, “and we expect them to fulfill the obligations that they entered into,” she said. “So our position is that when they move forward on presenting a verifiable and complete dismantling and denuclearization, we have a great openness to working with them.”

Mrs. Clinton also welcomed “the decreased tension across the Taiwan Strait and the increasing cooperation that we’ve recently seen” between Beijing and Taipei.

“We obviously want to support and promote that, and I think that the current Chinese government and the current government in Taiwan also have that as an objective,” she said.

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