East Asia is Clinton’s opener

In another departure from her predecessor, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to visit East Asia on her first trip in her new role.

Clinton is expected to visit China, Japan and South Korea, and perhaps a country in Southeast Asia, according to a foreign diplomat knowledgeable about plans for the trip.

The itinerary signals that Clinton intends to take a closer interest in East Asia than did Condoleezza Rice, her predecessor. Rice in large measure delegated diplomatic matters concerning China to her deputies, sometimes skipping ministerial meetings in the region, to the frustration of diplomats there.

State Department officials have not yet announced Clinton’s travel plans. The foreign official spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with diplomatic protocol.


In her confirmation hearing, Clinton called for a new, “comprehensive” China policy that would incorporate a broad range of issues rather than just the economic questions that have dominated discussions for years.

Rice’s first trip as secretary of State, in 2005, was to Europe and the Middle East, as she sought to improve ties that had been strained by the Iraq war and address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rice’s predecessor, Colin L. Powell, made his first destination the Middle East, while Madeleine Albright before him visited both Europe and East Asia in an inaugural trip that lasted 11 days.

Clinton has highlighted changes in tone from the Bush administration, stressing the need for U.S. diplomacy and promising engagement in troubled regions.

The Obama administration also has named high-level envoys to the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. It is also expected to appoint an emissary to coordinate its efforts to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

But the administration is not expected to name another veteran diplomat for East Asia. Obama has said his administration will strengthen ties with China, Japan and South Korea.

The chief diplomat’s first trip abroad generally receives wide attention. Clinton, a worldwide celebrity since the early 1990s, is expected to command even more attention, whether or not the trip reveals much about the administration’s policy plans.

Clinton had her first face-to-face meetings Tuesday with the foreign ministers of Britain and Germany, two key U.S. allies.