Friday, February 20, 2009

Frenetic Clinton hits Asia running

Matthew Lee


February 20

Dashing through a kaleidoscopic tour of the far East in her first outing as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton is back in full campaign mode.

But instead of selling herself as presidential candidate, Clinton is pitching the still-emerging foreign policy of her former rival, President Barack Obama.

While cautiously projecting Obama's careful diplomatic stances in her official meetings with diplomats and foreign leaders, Clinton has unleashed the ebullient public persona she showed in the final giddy stages of her unsuccessful 2008 campaign.

Clinton has appeared unabashedly delighted soaking up affectionate, sometimes gushing reactions that she evoked among foreign officials and onlookers.

At the Jakarta airport in Indonesia, she beamed as she was serenaded by rows of singing, swaying schoolchildren. Later, she visited the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, waving and smiling broadly when hundreds of employees chanted "Hee-ler-ry," Hee-ler-ry" as she entered.

The bloc's secretary general, Surin Pitsuwan, appeared smitten and spoke in glowing terms about the former first lady, presenting her with an arrangement of 32 yellow flowers.

The tone of Clinton's diplomatic charm offensive was a significant departure from the traditional approach of some previous secretaries of state, who were on the road a great deal but tended to be more comfortable in private settings than out in public.

Her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, an academic, was far more reserved and less effusive, while Colin Powell, a retired general and President George W. Bush's first secretary of state, was a portrait in stoic, genteel statesmanship.

But midway through her weeklong tour of Asia, it is clear Clinton has brought the urgent showmanship of an election season politician to the patient practice of diplomacy.

She has adopted a grueling public schedule with gusto.

In visits to Japan, Indonesia and South Korea — China is still to come — Clinton has kept busy late until night, seemingly unaffected by jet lag as she crams in official meetings, local media appearances and visits to cultural sites, such as the venerable Meiji shrine in Tokyo.

Some of her appearances have mirrored the countless town halls of her campaign days. But instead of gymnasiums crowded with American voters, Clinton showed up at college auditoriums in Tokyo and South Korea, plying audiences with anecdotes and fielding questions on topics from motherhood to politics.

"Wow, I feel more like an advice columnist than a secretary of state today," she said to loud laughter when asked about the subject of love by one of several thousand students who gathered to hear her speak at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

"We could be here for hours!" she said in response to the next questioner who asked Clinton to describe her relationship with her daughter Chelsea.

She has waded into crowds despite nervous glances from her security detail, worked rope lines and happily taken time to pose for photos with pretty much anyone who has gotten close enough to ask for one.

And the enthusiastic responses, much like those she got at rallies on the campaign trail, seem to have energized her while the grueling pace has exhausted her traveling staff and local embassy employees, not to mention the reporters accompanying her on the trip.

There have been so many news conferences and interviews that the State Department's efficient team of transcribers has been overwhelmed and unable to produce transcripts of her appearances, sometimes for days.

Yet Clinton is clearly relishing the limelight, and not even natural disasters can stop her.

On her first morning abroad as America's top diplomat, Clinton was jolted awake by one of Japan's frequent minor earthquakes.

"It woke me up. It was like I was in one of those hotel vibrating beds and accidentally dropped in some quarters," she said, recalling the shaking in her 10th floor suite that roused her in Tokyo's pre-dawn hours on Tuesday after the long flight from Washington.

The early wake-up call did not, however, slow her down. That day, Clinton had at least 12 official events, beginning at the Shinto shrine at 8 a.m. and ending with a 9 p.m. post-dinner meeting with Japan's main opposition leader.

In between, she greeted staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, met the Japanese foreign and defense ministers, signed a military agreement, held a news conference, had tea with Empress Michiko, gave interviews to three television networks and several Japanese newspapers, spoke to university students at a town hall meeting and ate dinner with the prime minister.

Arriving in Jakarta the next afternoon after a seven-and-half hour flight, Clinton crammed in what might normally be an entire day's worth of meetings in the remaining daylight and evening. Then, she had dinner with a group of civic leaders.

Early the next morning, she was at it again, appearing on Indonesia's most popular youth television program, an MTV-style show, telling the audience about her surprise when Obama asked her to become secretary of state, opining about her favorite bands and joking about her inability to sing.

See also:

Korea Times - Clinton's warnings for North Korea and Hillary got her Korean name

Hillary Clinton's remarks on the Asia-US relations, February 13

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