- Associated Press - Monday, July 9, 2012

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took aim Monday at China’s model of economic growth without democracy, arguing that it undermines long-term prospects and urging other Asian countries to expand markets and political freedom at the same time.

Without mentioning Beijing by name, Mrs. Clinton laid out a week of diplomatic efforts she will make across Asia to press governments into improving the rule of law and free expression.

Speaking at a women’s event in Mongolia, China’s northern neighbor, she said that limiting freedom “kills innovation and discourages entrepreneurship” and ultimately undermines economic expansion.

“We need to make the 21st century a time in which people across Asia don’t only become more wealthy,” she said. “They must also become more free.”

The message reflects the battle of values between Washington and Beijing as they jostle for strategic and economic advantages across the continent. President Obama has tried to pivot U.S. power to the region, in part to reverse a slide toward China in recent years as its economy boomed and America’s struggled.

Mrs. Clinton, who also will visit Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia over the next five days, held up Mongolia as a positive example of advancement.

Having visited the country once before, as first lady in 1995, she returned to the capital of Ulan Bator via a potholed road undergoing expansion, past billboards advertising Western firms and skyscrapers sprouting up amid the Soviet-era architectural relics dominating the cityscape.

She was formally welcomed below a giant statue of Genghis Khan across the city’s communist-era central plaza from a Louis Vuitton shop, further underscoring the old and new Mongolia and reflecting its rapidly expanding wealth.

“My trip reflects a strategic priority of American foreign policy today,” Mrs. Clinton said. “After 10 years in which we focused a great deal of attention on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States is making substantially increased investments - diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise - in this part of the world. It’s what we call our pivot toward Asia.”

Mongolia has contributed to U.S. strategic interests. It has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and to U.N. peacekeeping operations in Africa, part of a foreign policy designed to carve out protection for itself against Chinese and Russian domination.

Mrs. Clinton said she remains inspired by Mongolia’s transition to democracy in the 1990s and the six successful rounds of parliamentary elections it has held: “Against long odds, surrounded by powerful neighbors who had their own ideas for Mongolia’s future, the Mongolian people came together with great courage to transform a one-party communist dictatorship into a pluralistic political system.”

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