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Clinton covers the bases on Tokyo visit

In Japan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton answers a student's question about playing on a baseball team with men. Clinton touches on topics across the spectrum.

February 18, 2009|Paul Richter

TOKYO — The young woman with pigtails asked in a tiny voice how to get along on a baseball team with lots of bigger, more powerful men.

"I've played a lot of baseball," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the woman and the other young people in an audience at the University of Tokyo. "I've played with a lot of boys. The most important advice is to do what's true to yourself."

Tuesday's 45-minute "town hall" meeting at the university gave Clinton a chance to project a softer America during her first road trip as the country's chief diplomat. She avoided the phrase "war on terror," which was standard terminology during the Bush years. And she touched on topics across the spectrum, from climate change to families, global poverty to the need for healthy habits among the elderly. And, of course, baseball.

Clinton faced some wariness in Japan as she tried to distance herself from her Republican predecessors. Bill Clinton's presidency is unfavorably remembered by parts of Japan's political class for a perceived pro-China tilt at Japan's expense. And there was some grumbling during Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year when she published an article on her foreign affairs priorities that dealt with China in detail but mentioned Japan only in passing.

As secretary of State, Clinton has already signaled a subtle break from President Bush's approach to Japan. With the governing Liberal Democratic Party badly weakened by a crumbling economy, she met with opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa, head of a party whose commitment to the U.S.-Japan alliance was viewed with suspicion during the Bush years.

But parts of the Bush legacy cannot be easily dismissed. Clinton spent about 30 minutes with the families of Japanese who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s, a highly emotional issue in Japan. Tokyo insists that the fate of the abductees, as they are known, must be resolved before there can be any normalization of relations with North Korea.

The Bush administration's sympathy on the abductees issue left Japanese leaders wrong-footed when the U.S. then struck a deal with North Korea on its nuclear program, an accord that led Washington to remove the country last year from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In their meeting, the families urged Clinton to return North Korea to that list as a means of pressuring the regime to provide information on what happened to their loved ones. But American officials said Clinton, though sympathetic, made no commitments.


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