BY BRETT KELMAN • PACIFIC DAILY NEWS • OCTOBER 30, 2010
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood in front of a star-spangled backdrop yesterday and told hundreds of military troops that their crucial role in the Pacific is growing.
Clinton, who embarked on a two-week tour through Asia, stopped on Guam briefly yesterday afternoon and gave an address at Andersen Air Force Base. About 400 service members from the various military branches packed into the Global Hawk hangar to hear her speak.
To begin, Clinton called on each branch to make some noise.
"I can barely hear you all," she taunted, with her hand cupped at her ear. "Who's here from the Navy?"
In response, a mass of sailors in blue and brown camouflage stood up and roared. Next to them, at least 200 airmen sat silent, waiting for their turn to roar back.
"All right. And what about the Marines?" Clinton asked.
One woman in the middle of the crowd stood up with a "oorah," then peered around and realized she was alone.
"Well, I don't think you'll be lonely for too long," Clinton said, smiling and laughing.
So there it was, even when the Secretary of State was rallying troops and joking around, the footsteps of fast-approaching military buildup were inescapable.
The buildup will transfer about 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, and that shift is expected to trigger a total growth of about 41,000 people to Guam by 2016, and about 14,000 by next year, so the population boom alone has the power to reshape the island. So do the billions of dollars of buildup funds headed to Guam.
Before she spoke yesterday, Clinton met with Gov. Felix Camacho, Lt. Gov. Mike Cruz, Speaker Judith Won Pat and Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz, each of whom brought concerns about the buildup to the table. Won Pat presented a legislative resolution that details senators' concerns with the buildup process.
During the speech yesterday, Clinton didn't talk much about the buildup directly, but she spoke about the general increase in federal government activity and energy on this half of the globe. This is her sixth trip to the Asia-Pacific region as secretary of State, she said, since this region is "the center of much of the change and challenges of the 21st century."
"We are engaging ever more actively in this region," Clinton said. "With our allies, our partners, with emerging powers, with institutions that are being built in order to keep the peace, advance prosperity and stability."
Clinton added later in her speech that one of the goals of the President Obama's administration was to "re-assert" the American presence in Asia.
"You can see we are paying a lot of attention to what's going on in the Asia-Pacific region because the United States is both an Atlantic and a Pacific power ... Everywhere I travel on your behalf, I hear from leaders and citizens alike that they are glad America is back."
From Guam, Clinton will head to Vietnam, where she said the United States is building relationships that were "unthinkable" only a decade ago.
Journalists were not permitted to interview Clinton during her time on Guam, but Camacho made himself available for interview when her speech was done.
Camacho said he spoke with Clinton for about 15 minutes and most of the discussion was spent on buildup concerns and Japan politics. The Japanese government is helping to pay for the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to ease the presence of military troops in Japan.
A gubernatorial election in Okinawa could potentially alter the current path of the buildup, Camacho said.
The governor said Clinton told him she believed Okinawa would stay "on the right track."
Guam and Okinawa share many of the same buildup concerns -- such as the construction of a new military base -- Camacho said, and what happens in Okinawa has a direct impact on what happens here.
"She said, you know, that they were in discussions with the leadership -- the prime minister of Japan -- with regards to this, and there is a commitment to move forward," Camacho said. "But there is a bit of a conflict, in that, on the one hand, they recognize the concerns of the Okinawan people and the nation of Japan with regards to the building of additional military bases. On the other hand, they recognize the value and the need for America to remain as a resident power in this part of the world, as a deterrent to aggressive neighbors. It's conflicting, and they are caught somewhere in the middle."
Clinton spoke about one of those neighbors, China, during a speech in Hawaii on Thursday, before she flew to Guam.
In Hawaii, she said the military would remain "forward deployed" in this region, and urged China to work with the United States instead of against it.
"It is not in anyone's best interest for the United States and China to see each other as adversaries," she said.
Yesterday, Camacho said he also spoke to Clinton about a visa waiver program for Guam, which could allow tourists from China to infuse more tourism dollars into the local economy.
If a visa waiver wasn't possible, at least a "Marianas-only waiver" should be considered.
"Japan is a declining market ... and we see China as a growth market," Camacho said.
The governor said Clinton said the idea of a "Marianas-only waiver" was interesting, but she made no promises.