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Christie tests overseas diplomacy with Mexico trip

September 4, 2014

MEXICO CITY (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a spin on the international stage Wednesday, bringing state business to Mexico City and testing his diplomatic savvy as he considers a run for U.S. president in 2016.

During three days of meetings with dignitaries, speeches on international trade and a walk among the locals, Christie was giving Americans a glimpse at how he might represent the nation overseas — and whether his signature blunt-talking style can be harnessed effectively in such a role.

Christie is just one of the Republicans trying to beef up his foreign policy credentials for a possible general election showdown against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former secretary of state. America’s role in international affairs is likely to be a key issue in the 2016 contest regardless of the candidates. After consecutive elections focused largely on the American economy, foreign affairs has returned to the forefront with the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq and the Russian-backed rebellion in Ukraine.

Sen. Rand Paul, an eye doctor, recently returned from Guatemala, where he performed eye surgeries with news cameras in tow. Former Sen. Rick Santorum just returned from Israel; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is there now. Two days after Christie returns from Mexico, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to head to China and Japan.

Christie began his mission on a safe note, with scripted remarks in front of an investment seminar convened by one of his state’s economic organizations, Choose New Jersey. Speaking at a lectern and sounding tired after an early-morning flight, he stressed the economic relationship between Mexico and his state.

Christie acknowledged that the visit is a learning experience and stuck to economic issues, speaking of a “North American energy renaissance” in which the U.S., Mexico and Canada ramp up investments and do away with “foolish” regulations.

“Too often,” he said, “our neighbors in Mexico and Canada have felt that they were an afterthought in U.S. foreign policy. Let me be clear about my view: My view is they should be our first thought, not an afterthought.”

But there was no acknowledgement of the need for a sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, the thorny issue that has vexed Congress and riled American politicians for years. About 70 percent of Latino voters chose President Barack Obama in 2012, and deep divisions remain among Republicans and Democrats over what to do about the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally, as well as a tide of children flowing across the border with Mexico.

As governor, Christie has had few opportunities to interact with world leaders. Many people are watching closely to see how the Republican, who made his name as a brash, no-nonsense showman, adjusts to a more disciplined and subtle role.

Christie announced a partnership with ConnectAmericas.com, a new social media platform designed to connect people and businesses in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States. New Jersey will be the first U.S. state to partner with the platform.

Christie began his trip with a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Wayne, and Sandra Fuentes, the consul general of Mexico in New York.

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