02/18/2009, 00.00
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Secretary Clinton in Jakarta to show new attention for East and Islam

by Mathias Hariyadi
Closer relations between the two countries are possible. For experts, Obama administration is expressing new interest in Asia and a different relationship with Muslim countries. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Hillary Clinton has arrived in Jakarta, the second stop in her first foreign trip as US Secretary of State. Her visit to the most populous Muslim country in the world is being closely monitored by experts who want to see what directions US foreign policy is taking under President Barack Obama.

Ms Clinton was welcomed by a group of 50 schoolchildren, waving US and Indonesian flags and singing traditional Indonesian folk songs. They are from the President Obama’s old school, which he attended during his four-year stay in Indonesia.

In personal notes President Obama has called Indonesia “a special country,” where “various people from different cultural and ethnic groups could live peacefully in harmony,” Ms Clinton said after meeting with her Indonesian counterpart, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda at the Foreign Ministry in Pejambon, Central Jakarta, late in the afternoon.

The friendly atmosphere aside, security around the visit was tight with some 3,000 police agents in place.

About a hundred radical Muslims organised a rally against Clinton’s visit, attacking the “US dictatorship” and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater).

In her maiden speech as secretary of State Ms Clinton openly acknowledged that “Washington had previously neglected Asia,” said Trias Kuncahyono, a senior editor in Jakarta. On this trip “Clinton wants to show [. . .] a ‘real break’ between the Bush administration and Obama’s.”

“Japan, China and South Korea (the other countries on Clinton’s Asia trip) have been very long American allies in East Asia. That’s why” US attention has now turned to “Indonesia as the largest Muslim country in the world,” he added.

Experts agree that Clinton’s Jakarta trip is a sign that the Obama’s administration has a new perspective on hot issues like the relationship between Christianity and Islam.

For Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, Clinton's visit reflected US recognition and appreciation of Indonesia as a strategic partner. In his view East and West can build their relations on fresh, new bases.

Although she is not scheduled to meet any Muslim religious leaders, many Islamic figures have been invited to the dinner prepared by the US Embassy in her honour.

Ms Clinton is also scheduled to meet Indonesian President Yudhoyono at the State Palace.

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