Winding down: Even with time short, Clinton remains the diplomat

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An 11-day, six-nation trip by Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton included stops in China and Russia to discuss issues in the sometimes difficult relationships.

She visited the Cook Islands, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Brunei, China and Russia between Aug. 30 and Sept. 9, which put her outside the country during her party's Democratic National Convention. It is a tribute to Ms. Clinton's conscientious conduct of diplomacy that she continues to travel as she draws near to the end of her tenure.

There is not a lot that she can achieve, however, over the next several months as America's diplomatic lame duck. Her foreign interlocuters know quite well that she has announced that she will be leaving office no matter who wins the presidency in November. Nonetheless, she is still very active and plans to continue to be so at the United Nations General Assembly this month.

China was Ms. Clinton's most important stop this time and, despite all the smiles and hospitality, the one that gave her the most grief. Dealing with China must always be done with the U.S. multi-trillion dollar debt to that country hanging over the head of any U.S. representative. The relationship is even trickier now as China itself, like the United States, is going through a major, once-in-a-decade leadership change. Furthermore, underlining the fact that in spite of its enviable economic growth rate, now at about 8 percent, China, too, is experiencing the same slowdown as Europe, the United States and even its neighbor, India. All of that makes its leaders prickly.

One bone of contention with the United States is China's relations with its regional neighbors over possession of some rocky islands in the East and South China Seas, claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam. Washington wants China to deal with the question of their ownership in the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. China says, no way, insisting on what it calls its "indisputable sovereignty" and telling the United States to mind its own business.

Ms. Clinton also found no resonance in China or Russia for U.S. policy toward Iran or Syria, suggesting the possibility of a frustrating, even possibly stormy U.N. General Assembly session later this month. As secretary of state, she keeps trying, but her string is running out.

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