WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hillary Clinton hopes to reassure allies jittery about U.S. policy on North Korea and to set the tone for a productive relationship with China when she visits Asia next week on her first trip as secretary of state.
Breaking with tradition, Clinton's inaugural journey will take her to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China rather than the United States' historic allies in Europe and the perennial trouble spots of the Middle East.
Clinton leaves Washington on Sunday and plans to spend two nights in Tokyo, one each in Jakarta and Seoul, and then two in Beijing before returning to Washington on February 22.
While U.S. President Barack Obama has not detailed his Asia policies, analysts said the visit itself was a powerful signal he wants to keep his campaign promise to consult allies such as Japan and South Korea after their perceived neglect by former President George W. Bush.
Clinton also hopes to lay the ground to work with China to curb the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran and to cope with the global financial crisis and climate change -- priorities that may mute any critique of the Chinese human rights record, which she famously criticized in a 1995 speech in Beijing.
"This, in many ways, should be a listening tour," said Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign relations.
"We need to hear from the Chinese what ... their priorities are in the relationship with the United States because ... that is how we are going to get any leverage," she added.
LONG LAUNDRY LIST
Analysts advised Clinton not to confront the Chinese with a series of demands on her first visit as secretary of state.
That said, the laundry list is long.
The United States would like China to do more to support internal consumer demand and reduce its reliance on exports to generate its growth. It would also like to see the Chinese currency appreciate, making U.S. exports more competitive and helping to narrow...