Clinton Pays Attention to Asia

Published on July 16, 2009

By Nehginpao Kipgen

Journal of Turkish Weekly – July 17, 2009

The U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton is set for her second visit to Asia in six months which begins this Friday, July 17th. She will be in India for five days and spend two days in Thailand, and wraps up her trip on July 23.
 
Though Clinton had visited India several times before, this will be her first visit to the country as secretary of state.
 
Clinton will first travel to Mumbai, the financial capital of India, before heading on to New Delhi on July 19. In Mumbai, she is expected to meet with a broad section of Indian society and pay tribute to victims of last year’s terrorist attacks in the city.
 
The U.S. chief diplomat will meet with prime minister Manmohan Singh, external affairs minister S M Krishna, other government officials, the leader of the opposition, entrepreneurs, scientists, and youths.
 
“The secretary and minister Krishna will discuss the structure and elements of an enhanced U.S.-India strategic partnership that will enable us to advance solutions to the defining challenges of our time and to enhance global prosperity and stability in the 21st century,” said state department spokesman Ian Kelly on July 14.
 
With the Obama administration intensifying its fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and millions of dollars pouring into the two countries, the administration does not want to be seen as isolating India. Washington is balancing its actions between the two nuclear rivals.
 
The simmering tensions between India and Pakistan since the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 and the strained relation over the dispute in Kashmir make the U.S. South Asia policy delicate.
 
In his address to the Muslim world from Cairo last month, president Obama missed out the Muslims of South Asia, which has the largest Muslim population after Indonesia. The lingering tension between India and Pakistan is largely along religious lines – Hindus and Muslims.
 
As much as Washington needs Islamabad in the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, the participation of New Delhi is also critical in maintaining peace and stability in the region. India is not only the largest democratic country on earth, but also is an emerging economic power, which currently ranks the 12th largest economy of the world.
 
Regardless of differing national and security interests, the two largest democracies need each other in times of global challenges, including confronting global economic crisis and global warming.
 
Though not specifically mentioned in her itinerary, the U.S. chief diplomat is expected to discuss the issues of Tibet and Burma during her visit to  India. These issues are likely to come up during informal talks or press briefings. India shelters refugees from Burma and Tibet.
 
India has been widely criticized for ignoring the unabated human rights abuses in Burma and for not speaking out on the trial of 1991 Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
 
After a five-day stay in India, Clinton will visit Thailand. The secretary of state will hold talks with “prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and foreign minister Kasit Piromyato to underscore the importance of our alliance and our bilateral relationship,” said Ian Kelly on July 14.
 
The U.S. top diplomat will lead the U.S. delegation to ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) summit in Phuket, Thailand, from July 22 to 23. The ARF, Asia’s main security gathering, will be attended by foreign ministers from the 10 members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations and from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, Russia and the European Union.
 
The summit agenda is likely to center around the North Korean nuclear program. If North Korea participates and cooperates with the forum, this could lead to a path for resumption of the six-party talks.
 
The United States and the European Union may raise concerns regarding the U.N. secretary general’s recent visit to the Union of Burma and his report to the Security Council on July 13.
 
The Phuket gathering is a regional forum, but its decisions could have a global impact due to the presence of the entire U.N. Security Council member countries.
 
Nehginpao Kipgen is a political analyst and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com). He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Asia for many leading international newspapers.