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Clinton Begins Asian Trip With Stop in Japan

Hillary Clinton is in Tokyo on the first stop of her First overseas trip as U.S. Secretary of State. The visit is to focus on the global economic crisis and Asian security hot spots. Clinton will also visit Indonesia, South Korea and China.

Underscoring the importance of Asia to the United States in the new century, Hillary Clinton is breaking with tradition as new secretaries of state often first visit Europe or the Middle East.

It is no accident Japan is the first stop in Asia. The United States and Japan, which were bitter enemies in World War II, have since enjoyed decades as critical trading partners and allies on the security front.

Both governments have confirmed that besides the ailing global economy, a number of security issues are on the agenda.

Clinton is to meet with her Japanese counterpart and Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose popularity has plunged. She is also meeting the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, who could become prime minister if the largest opposition party comes to power in this year's national election.

Japan is eager to see North Korea brought back to the six-way talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear proliferation.

Former spokesman and current advisor Tomohiko Taniguchi at Japan's Foreign Ministry tells VOA News that Tokyo strongly desires a revival of the negotiations to end the military threat to Japan posed by North Korea.

"It has to be revitalized. Mrs. Clinton is going to talk with the Japanese government, South Korean government and then Beijing government to consolidate their positions," Taniguchi said.

During the now-stalled talks, North Korea had agreed to end its nuclear programs in exchange for assistance to its crippled economy.

Just prior to the former First Lady's arrival, as North Korea celebrated the 67th birthday of leader Kim Jong Il, Pyongyang strongly hinted it is preparing for another controversial test-firing of its longest-range missile.

Some Japanese are anxiously looking for signals from the Obama Administration on whether it will maintain its strong ties with Tokyo in an era when China is quickly rising in the geo-political and economic arenas.

Advisor Taniguchi at Japan's Foreign Ministry says his country hopes Clinton's trip results in a closer partnership between Washington and Beijing, but not at the expense of the special U.S.-Japan relationship.

"Partner, yes. But ally or trusted friend, definitely no," he said. "In order to deal with the important partner you have to first cement the friendship with your trusted friend."

Speaking to reporters over the Pacific en route to Asia, Secretary of State Clinton said her talks in China would have a broad agenda, including how to work together on economic policies, responding to climate change and stopping nuclear proliferation, as well as the always thorny topic of human rights.