TOKYO U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke on Tuesday of promoting "balance and harmony" in U.S. foreign policy as she visited Japan, drawing an implicit contrast to the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Clinton began her first full day in Asia with a visit to Tokyo's Meiji shrine, where she took part in a purification ceremony at the Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, considered the father of modern Japan.
Making her first trip as secretary of state, Clinton plans to consult Japanese officials on how to deal with the global financial crisis, North Korea's nuclear programmes and the war in Afghanistan, a legacy of the Bush administration.
"I started this morning at the Meiji shrine and was talking to the head priest there who told me about the importance of balance and harmony," Clinton told about 200 U.S. diplomats and their families at the U.S. embassy.
"It's not only a good concept for religious shrines, it's a good concept for America's role in the world," she added, without citing Bush by name or the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which polarised global opinion.
"We need to be looking to create more balance, more harmony."
"We're going to be listening but we're also going to be asking for more partnerships to come together to try to work with us to handle the problems that none of us can handle alone," Clinton added, referring partly to the global financial crisis.
Japan has been especially hit hard by the economic slowdown. Its economy shrank in the final quarter of 2008 at the fastest rate since the first oil crisis in 1974, and economists bet on another big contraction in January-March.
"These are hard times economically for the Japanese people, just as it is in many places around the world," Clinton said. "I am absolutely confident we will navigate our way through these difficulties."
CONCERNS OVER NORTH KOREA
While the financial crisis is at the top of the agenda for U.S. President Barack Obama, Clinton will spend much of her time in Asia searching for a way to end Pyongyang's nuclear programme as she also visits Indonesia, South Korea and China.
Arriving in Tokyo on Monday, Clinton called the U.S.-Japan alliance "vitally important," a comment that resonated with the faltering government of Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose popularity has sunk as low as single digits.
"The fact that she is visiting Japan on her first trip as secretary of state shows the importance she and the U.S. government is placing on Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance," Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone told reporters. "We welcome that."
In addition to her talks with Aso and Nakasone, Clinton is scheduled to meet the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, a step that could fan anxiety in Aso's fragile government, now struggling with a plummeting support rate and a deepening recession.
Clinton's visit comes as Japan seeks reassurance that it remains Washington's closest ally and faces pressure to take on a bigger global role. It also coincides with reports that North Korea has made preparations to test its long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which is designed to fly as far as Alaska.
During her stay in Tokyo, Clinton plans to also have tea with the Japanese empress and to meet the families of Japanese citizens who were abducted decades ago by North Korean agents.