Pacific big enough for US, China: Hillary
Rarotonga: Amidst tensions between China and its smaller neighbours over territorial disputes, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday announced that her country would continue to serve as a counterbalance to domination by any single world power.
She further pledged renewed American commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific.
Speaking at a meeting of leaders of South Pacific island nations, Hillary played down the idea that the US was acting "perhaps as a hedge against particular countries”. She said America wants to cooperate with China in the vast Pacific and encouraged other countries, including those in the region, to do the same.
"The Pacific is big enough for all of us," she told reporters at a news conference with New Zealand`s Prime Minister John Key, whose country handles defence and foreign relations for the Cook Islands.
Yet she pointed out that China`s interests in the region are not necessarily the same as others, a point she also made clear earlier this month on a trip to Africa when she contrasted US goals for that continent as aimed at adding rather than extracting value.
The comment was a veiled shot at China, which some complain is using its overseas investments to exploit resources at the expense of local populations.
"Here in the Pacific, we want to see China act in a fair and transparent way," Hillary said. "We want them to play a positive role in navigation and maritime security issues. We want to see them contribute to sustainable development for the people of the Pacific, to protect the precious environment, including the ocean and to pursue economic activity that will benefit the people."
Earlier, at the meeting, China`s Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said China was already engaged with the region in a positive way.
"The thrust of China`s policy toward the Pacific is to achieve peace, stability and development," the Chinese government`s Xinhua News Agency quoted him as saying. "China has done many concrete things to support the economic and social development of Pacific island countries, always in light of the needs and interests of the countries concerned."
In her speech to the meeting, Hillary said the US would remain a big player in the region and pointed to past accomplishments.
"We have underwritten the security that has made it possible for the people of this region to trade and travel freely," she said, noting nearly a century of American military presence in the Asia-Pacific.
"We have consistently protected the Pacific sea lanes through which a great deal of the world`s commerce passes. And now we look to the Pacific nations in a spirit of partnership for your leadership on some of the most urgent and complex issues of our time."
She noted that hundreds of US naval, Coast Guard and commercial vessels ply the Pacific and called for them to play an enhanced role in maintaining free trade and combating crime, such as human trafficking and illegal fishing.
Hillary is the first secretary of state to participate in the Pacific Island Forum and the first to visit the sprawling but sparsely populated Cook Islands.
Her visit to the main island, population 10,000, in the remote Cook chain has created a buzz of excitement and she was welcomed on arrival by dozens of colourfully clad local traditional dancers and dignitaries amid lots of drumming.
Hillary also announced a new contribution of more than USD 32 million for programs throughout the region aimed at boosting economic development while protecting biodiversity in the face of rising waters attributed to climate change. The US already spends USD 330 million a year on development in the Asia-Pacific.
Hillary is on the first leg of an 11-day, six-nation tour that keep her half a world away from US politics at the height of the presidential conventions but put her at the centre of maritime disputes between China and its neighbours.
Hillary will visit Beijing at the midpoint of the trip, which will take her from the Cook Islands next to Indonesia, the seat of the secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose members are sharply divided over how to deal with China`s expansion of influence and increasingly aggressive claims on disputed territory.
A summit of ASEAN leaders in July failed to reach consensus on how to handle the disputes. Hillary will press them to find common ground and hash out a framework for negotiating with China, US officials said.
(With Agency inputs)
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