Clinton in East Timor on democracy push

Posted on September 7, 2012


DILI, East Timor (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised East Timor on Thursday for holding fair elections this year, and said it was up to the government of Asia’s newest and poorest nation to decide when and how to seek accountability for past violence during its struggle for independence.

Associated Press/Jim Watson, Pool – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton drinks a cup of coffee while visiting the Timor Coffee Cooperative in Dili, East Timor Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in East Timor to offer the small half-island nation support as it ends its reliance on international peacekeepers. (AP Photo/Jim Watson, Pool)

Clinton said her visit, the first by a U.S. secretary of state to East Timor, was “a visible sign of our support for all that has been accomplished by the people of this nation.” She and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao enjoyed coffee produced by a cooperative that helps supply the Starbucks Corp. chain.

At a press conference with Gusmao, Clinton congratulated East Timor on “three sets of free and fair elections this year, and a peaceful transfer of power to a new president, government and parliament.”

There was some violence, including one death, following July’s parliamentary polls. The top vote-getter, Gusmao’s National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor, formed a coalition that excluded the runner-up Fretilin party, angering Fretilin supporters.

Clinton met Timorese officials as they prepared for the departure of the last of nearly 1,300 U.N. peacekeepers from the small, half-island nation by year’s end.

A Portuguese colony for three centuries, East Timor voted in 1999 to end 24 years of Indonesian occupation that left more than 170,000 dead. Withdrawing Indonesian troops and proxy militias killed almost 1,500 people and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure.

Clinton said it is important for the people of East Timor to have accountability for abuses committed during the independence struggle, but added that the U.S. would “take the lead from the Timorese government” on how to achieve that.

“It is difficult to talk about this,” Gusmao said, “when we need to have good relations with our closest neighbor.” About 70 percent of East Timor’s trade is with Indonesia.

“Democracy can only survive if we have development,” he said.

Clinton announced new programs including $6.5 million to bring Timorese students to the United States to study. She is in the middle of an Asia trip with stops in the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Brunei and Russia’s Far East.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, talks with Agribusiness Advisor Bency Isaac, left, as she tours the Timor Coffee Cooperative in Dili, East Timor Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in East Timor to offer the small half-island nation support as it ends its reliance on international peacekeepers. (AP Photo/Jim Watson, Pool)


Clinton in Brunei deterimined to heal territorial disputes

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a visit to the tiny sultanate of Brunei on Thursday in her latest stop on a tour seeking to cool tensions in the South China Sea.

Clinton’s one-night stop in the US-friendly petro-state makes her the first US secretary of state to visit all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), whose unity she has been keen to strengthen.

Tensions have escalated in the South China Sea with the Philippines and Vietnam accusing China of stepping up harassment of their fishermen and ships in a bid to exert Beijing’s claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway.

Brunei next year will serve as the chair of Asean and the East Asia Summit, the latter of which includes Asean and a handful of other countries including China and the United States.

Brunei succeeds Cambodia, whose tenure has been marred by rising friction between Southeast Asian nations and China over the maritime disputes.

“I think they’re somewhat nervous about next year,” a US official aboard Clinton’s plane said on condition of anonymity.

Asean foreign ministers in July failed for the first time in the bloc’s 45-year history to produce a joint communique at annual talks amid divisions over whether to stand up to China.

“They would like to avoid the kinds of public tensions that we just witnessed when we were in Cambodia,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

“Like many Asean countries, they want very much to have a good relationship between the United States and China. They don’t want to have to choose.”

Brunei is one of six nations with various claims – some of them overlapping – over the South China Sea, through which around half of the world’s commercial cargo is transported.

Clinton, whose latest trip has taken her to Beijing and Jakarta, has pushed for Asean and China to agree on a code of conduct that would manage disputes and prevent incidents at sea from escalating into full-blown conflicts.

She will meet with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah for dinner Thursday and then take part in an event on Friday to highlight an initiative between Brunei and the United States to teach English in less prosperous parts of Asean.


Clinton heads to new rifts at Asia summit

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to an Asia-Pacific summit torn by disputes between China and its neighbours on Friday, after a tour aimed at unifying Southeast Asia.

After spending much of her 11-day tour focused on the tense South China Sea, Clinton will attend the summit in Vladivostok, Russia, where friction is rife between China and Japan as well as between US allies Japan and South Korea.

Clinton on Friday plans to highlight an initiative funded by the tiny gas-rich sultanate of Brunei for US instruction in English in Southeast Asia, part of an effort to raise economic potential in poorer parts of the region.

Clinton will discuss the project at a university after dining with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who invited her delegation to his palace.

With the stop in Brunei, Clinton becomes the first US secretary of state to visit all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where several governments are engaged in bitter territorial disputes with China.

President Barack Obama’s administration has put a high priority on building relations with ASEAN, seeing the bloc as economically dynamic and mostly US-friendly. Clinton has urged ASEAN unity in the face of a rising China.

Clinton, who met much of China’s top leadership on a visit to Beijing on Wednesday, said that she had hoped to see ways forward on the region’s territorial disputes on the tour but would stand firm on US interests.

“The United States — certainly I — am not going to shy away from standing up for our strategic interests, and in expressing clearly where we differ,” Clinton told reporters on Thursday at a stopover in Timor Leste.

“The mark of a mature relationship — whether it’s between nations or between people — is not whether we agree on everything, because that is highly unlikely between nations and people, but whether we can work through the issues that are difficult,” she said.

Clinton has voiced hope that China and Southeast Asian nations will work on a code of conduct to manage disputes, ideally in time for an East Asia Summit in Cambodia in November.

Brunei, which also has territorial disputes with China, takes over the helm of ASEAN and the East Asia Summit next year. A US official travelling with Clinton said that Brunei was “nervous” about how to manage the disputes and did not want to appear to take sides between China and the United States.

The official said that easing tensions was in the interest of all sides but that Asia has seen “a very certain and definite rise in nationalism, which triggers issues associated with territory, with history and with politics”.

“It is a very potent brew and it leads to really unpredictable circumstances,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

China and Japan, Asia’s two largest economies, are not expected to hold a summit on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation talks in Vladivostok as a dispute flares over islands in the East China Sea.

Possibly more alarming for the United States, tensions have soared between its two main allies in Northeast Asia, Japan and South Korea, whose leaders are also likely to avoid one another at the 21-member APEC summit.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, long seen as one of the closest foreign allies of Obama, outraged Japan by making an unprecedented trip to disputed islands in the Sea of Japan, known in Korean as the East Sea.

Clinton is taking part in the summit instead of Obama, who hosted last year’s APEC meet in Hawaii but has other priorities this time as he delivers his re-election campaign speech at the Democratic convention in North Carolina.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Clinton briefly as she is not a head of state, his top foreign policy aide said.

However, Clinton plans talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that are expected to focus on the two countries’ sharp differences over Syria.