|U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves before leaving for China at Seoul military airport in Seongnam, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)|
Frenetic Clinton hits Asia running
SEOUL, South Korea—Dashing through a kaleidoscopic tour of the far East 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 soaking up affectionate, sometimes gushing reactions that she evoked among 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 out 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 Friday.
"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 and South Korea -- China is still to come -- 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 gotten 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.
There have been so many news conferences and interviews that the State Department's efficient team of transcribers has been overwhelmed and unable to produce transcripts of her appearances, sometimes for days.
Yet Clinton is clearly relishing the limelight, and not even natural disasters can stop her.
On her first morning abroad as America's top diplomat, Clinton was jolted awake by one of Japan's frequent minor earthquakes.
"It woke me up. It was like I was in one of those hotel vibrating beds and accidentally dropped in some quarters," she said, recalling the shaking in her 10th floor suite that roused her in Tokyo's pre-dawn hours on Tuesday after the long flight from Washington.
The early wake-up call did not, however, slow her down. That day, Clinton had at least 12 official events, beginning at the Shinto shrine at 8 a.m. and ending with a 9 p.m. post-dinner meeting with Japan's main opposition leader.
In between, she greeted staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, met the Japanese foreign and defense ministers, signed a military agreement, held a news conference, had tea with Empress Michiko, gave interviews to three television networks and several Japanese newspapers, spoke to university students at a town hall meeting and ate dinner with the prime minister.