Mon, Feb 23, 2009
Hi, I'm Hillary, your advice columnist


MRS Hillary Clinton strolled past open sewers in Jakarta, talked about robots with the Empress of Japan in Tokyo and met women students in Seoul, one of whom asked how she knew her husband "would be your love".

Said a bemused Mrs Clinton: "You know, I feel more like an advice columnist than a Secretary of State today."

During a week-long tour of Asian capitals - her first trip since taking charge as United States Secretary of State - the former presidential candidate took to diplomacy as if it was a political campaign.

Her predecessors had focused only on policy. But, along with meetings with presidents and premiers, Mrs Clinton squeezed in a music-TV show appearance in Indonesia, "town hall" meetings with students in Japan and South Korea, and a web chat in China.

Beyond advancing US interests in Asia, she told reporters that part of her job was to restore a US image tarnished by the Iraq war and other unpopular policies pursued by former president George W. Bush.

"We've got a lot of work to do," she said early in her trip to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China. "I have no illusions about how high...a hill we have to climb here to inspire confidence and respect."

In Indonesia, she commented that diplomacy, to her, meant operating "people to people".

And she generally got a rock-star reception when she managed to meet ordinary citizens.

"(It's) glorious to meet you," gushed a student at Japan's august Tokyo University.

But Mrs Clinton also made policy points with assurance. In Jakarta, ahead of presidential polls this year, she stressed with ironic understatement the need to accept the outcome of a fair election, even when you lose - earning laughs and claps.

And she dared to break with diplomatic discretion, openly talking about the possibility of a power struggle in Pyongyang over who succeeds North Korea's Kim Jong Il.

Western diplomats seldom, if ever, speak openly about a matter of such sensitivity, but "it's been in the news for months", Mrs Clinton said briskly, when asked about her comment.

She is showing that she doesn't mind breaking rules. Interesting times await us.



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