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Vol. 76/No. 28      July 30, 2012

Clinton visit: US, China
vie for trade in SE Asia
(front page)
Expanding U.S. trade ties in Southeast Asia was at the center of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip there, highlighting a key aspect of Washington’s intensifying competition with China, its most formidable economic and military rival.

Clinton attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 11-13. In her remarks to the gathering, she said the Obama administration “has elevated our engagement across Asia as a strategic priority of our foreign policy.”

“I’ve assembled and led the largest ever delegation of American business executives to Cambodia,” she said. They attended the first U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum in Siem Reap July 13 “to lay the groundwork for economic connections.” ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

“The United States is the number one importer of Cambodian-made garments,” Clinton said, “so the now 350,000 Cambodians, 90 percent of whom are young women, working in the textile industry in Cambodia have seen tremendous advances.”

Garment workers in Cambodia receive among the lowest wages in the region—$61 a month. Recent strikes and other protest actions over unsafe working conditions and pay have forced some bosses to raise the monthly wage to $73.

Over the past decade trade with ASEAN members has shifted in China’s favor. In 2004, the U.S. was ASEAN’s largest trading partner, with total trade of $192 billion, but by 2010 China eclipsed this figure with $293 billion in two-way trade.

“China is the biggest trading partner of Asean, Japan, Korea, India and Australia, and the biggest source of investment for many countries in the region,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said July 5, addressing the Asia Society, an institution based in New York.

For the first time in its 45-year history, the ASEAN meeting failed to conclude a joint statement because of contention between Beijing and several ASEAN governments—the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia—over territorial waters and islands in the South China Sea.

Washington is exploiting this dispute to deepen its alliances and military operations in the region. More than half the world’s shipping tonnage travels through the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves.

‘Increased investments’ in Mongolia

Prior to appearing before the ASEAN gathering, Clinton stopped in Mongolia July 9. In a talk before the International Women’s Leadership Forum in Ulan Bator, she said “the United States is making substantially increased investments.”

The secretary of state’s eyes were on the huge coal, copper and uranium reserves as well as untapped deposits of gold, lead and zinc in this undeveloped landlocked nation bordering China and Russia.

The following day Clinton visited Vietnam, where in a speech in Hanoi, the capital city, she touted the increased trade between the two countries—$22 billion in 2011, up from $1 billion in 2001. “We hope the U.S. will become the top foreign investor in Vietnam in the near future,” Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh told Clinton, reported the Wall Street Journal.

On July 11, Clinton made a four-hour stop in Laos, the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state in 57 years. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early ’70s, the U.S. military conducted more than 580,000 bombing missions in Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country on a per-person basis, noted the Times.

After the war ended, more than 30 percent of the bombs, many cluster bombs containing hundreds of bomblets, remained unexploded. “In recent years about 100 people have been killed by unexploded ordnance, 40 percent of them children,” the Times said.

In a visit to an orthotic and prosthetic center, Clinton asked “why more sophisticated technology could not be used to find the bombs,” said the Times. The paper didn’t report the secretary of state offering any further assistance, as she promptly flew to Phnom Penh.
Related articles:
Governments of Australia, Indonesia strengthen ties
Part of imperialists’ pursuit of allies against China  
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