'The future belongs to Asia,' says Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State seeks to woo Pacific Rim finance ministers, saying US is turning back on ailing EU

The 21st century will belong to Asia. That at least is the opinion of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who in a speech yesterday declared the countries of the Pacific Rim to be at the forefront of America's plans.

Speaking in Hawaii at a gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders, Ms Clinton dealt another blow to the rapidly waning influence of the western hemisphere when she said that the world's biggest economy was shifting its focus away from Europe's limping markets and towards Asia's high-growth powerhouses.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the world's strategic and economic centre of gravity will be the Asia-Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to western shores of the Americas," Ms Clinton said. "One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will be to lock in a substantially increased investment in this region."

The speech signalled an attempt by the American administration to build greater trade links with its Pacific neighbours. Following Ms Clinton's speech at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) conference, finance ministers from the region expressed anger at the economic chaos in Europe. "People are dismayed at the failure of the Europeans to get their act together," said the Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan.

The comments were echoed by the US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who said the world will now look to Asia for economic leadership. "We are all directly affected by the crisis in Europe. But the economies gathered here are in a better position than most to take steps to strengthen growth in the face of these pressures."

Many economists in Hawaii believe that Europe's economic problems will accelerate the rise of China, which holds more than $3trn (£1.9tn) in foreign exchange reserves, and other countries in the region. In September, Beijing promised to buy up some European debt but warned the developed world first to "put its house in order". Two months on, talks are in deadlock over China's insistence that it will only provide cash in return for a greater say in decision-making in the International Monetary Fund. "We are willing to help, but we are not a charity," Chinese sources told Reuters.

Nonetheless, Mrs Clinton issued a thinly veiled warning to China that Washington had no intention of ceding ground to the fast-rising giant, which overtook Japan last year as the world's second most powerful economy. Other markets in the region are almost replicating China's 9 per cent a year growth, underpinned by cheap manufacturing and low levels of debt.