US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in South Korea for the third leg of her Asia tour after Japan and Indonesia. Her talks in Seoul are likely to focus on bilateral ties and the North Korean nuclear issue. Before leaving Jakarta, she pledged to deepen US-Indonesian cooperation. Her visit was seen by many as an attempt to improve Washington’s ties with the Islamic world.
US Secretary of State Clinton with Indonesian schoolchildren
Her visit to Indonesia was “no accident”, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on arrival in the Southeast Asian country. At a meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta on Thursday she reaffirmed that Washington wanted to boost ties with the whole region.
Neither leader elaborated on the meeting, but Indonesian presidential spokesman, Dino Patti Djalal, told reporters what the focus of the talks had been: “The president said that during the present difficult economic times, cooperation between the US and Indonesia would be further strengthened.”
Global warming was also high on the agenda. “In order to achieve a global consensus, we need new efforts the president underlined saying that a global consensus on climate change cannot be achieved without US leadership.”
Rapprochement with the Muslim world
Another aim of Clinton’s visit, observers said, was to send out the message that Washington is seeking rapprochement with the Muslim world.
“Certainly, Indonesia being the largest Muslim nation in the world, the third largest democracy, will play a leading role in the promotion of that shared future,” Clinton said at the beginning of her visit.
Already tarnished by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the image of the United States in the Muslim world worsened after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Perception of the US and its foreign policy was also very negative in Indonesia.
But the public mood changed with the election of Democrat President Obama, who spent part of his childhood there and is very popular among Indonesians.
Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a political expert from the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, explains: “The Indonesians rejected the Bush administration. Now, however, the public perception towards US policy is changing and the people have no problems if the government signs bilateral projects with the Americans.”
Questions about US role in the Middle East
But there is still anger about the role of the US in the Middle East. During her trip to Jakarta, Clinton was fielded with questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even when she appeared on a popular music TV show.
She reaffirmed that Washington wanted to actively engage in trying to bring the two parties together to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Jakarta was Clinton's second stop in Asia after Japan. On Friday, she will meet her South Korean counterpart Yu Myung-Hwan and will lunch with President Lee Myung- Bak.
Apart from bilateral co-operation, her talks in Seoul are likely to focus on North Korea. Both the US and South Korea are involved in the stalled six-nation talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament.
Clinton’s visit comes at a time when relations between the two Koreas are at an all time low and there are reports that North Korea may be preparing to test fire its longest-range missile.