The U.S. is making a diplomatic push into China's backyard.
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is likely to receive a warm welcome in a new series of high-level visits to Southeast Asian states and regional bodies this week. From Vietnam, where she is signing agreements on education and business today, to tomorrow's meeting in Cambodia of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN], Clinton will continue the Obama administration's intensified diplomacy in a neighborhood where China has been the dominant influence.
The Obama administration has made a clear choice to re-engage with the countries of Southeast Asia during the past three years, primarily on the Southeast Asians' terms. Recognizing that Southeast Asian economic integration, and Asian integration overall, is proceeding with or without the United States, the administration has chosen to try to play a more central role in this process to avoid integration being dominated by China. This follows a period during the Bush administration in which ASEAN and its partners inked free trade deals with China, launched a free trade area within ASEAN, and made progress toward trade deals with Japan, India, and other actors. With the WTO round stalled and the West lurching into economic meltdown in 2008, the focus of trade progress shifted to East Asia, with ASEAN at the center.