Frenetic Clinton hits Asia running
Last updated 2-26-09 at 3:55 p.m.
By Matthew Lee
The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Dashing through a kaleidoscopic tour of Asia 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 a 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 and has been soaking up affectionate, sometimes gushing reactions that she evoked from 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 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 Clinton’s weeklong tour of Asia, it is clear she has brought the urgent showmanship of an election season politician to the patient practice of diplomacy. And she thinks it’s the best way to go.
“I see our job right now, given where we are in the world and what we’ve inherited in the world, as repairing relations with not only governments but with people,” she said.
“President Obama has an extraordinary capacity to do that because of the really positive feelings that he personally engenders,” Clinton said, adding, “To a lesser a degree, I have some of the same capacity.”
To make the most of that, she has adopted a grueling public schedule with gusto.
In visits to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China, Clinton has kept busy until late at 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 been 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 arduous pace has exhausted her traveling staff and local embassy employees, not to mention the reporters accompanying her on the trip. (end)