Condoleezza Rice's first visit to Asia as US secretary of state has confirmed the policy shift in President George W. Bush's second term that many mainland analysts had expected. During the trip, Dr Rice sketched out her strategic vision of America's interests in Asia, and it was not comforting for Beijing, analysts said. She adopted a moderate tone, befitting the role of the United States' top diplomat, but there was no mistaking the hard-edged realpolitik behind her words. In an interview with the Washington Times, and again in comments made in India and in Japan, Dr Rice delivered the unambiguous message that in the face of mainland China's rise, the US would support Japan exercising more influence in the world and would assert its influence on the direction of the mainland's development. In a speech in Tokyo on Saturday on America's vision for the region, she appealed to Washington's allies to maintain strong ties with the US in order to create an atmosphere that would encourage Beijing to adopt democracy. She also expressed concern about the mainland's military build-up, noting the need to 'make certain that America's military forces are second to none'. 'Rice had delivered all the key messages before coming to China and the visit [to Beijing] was an anticlimax,' said Niu Xinchun, a researcher at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. Addressing the Anti-Secession Law, Dr Rice restated America's disapproval of unilateral changes to the status quo in relations between Beijing and Taipei, but put the responsibility for reducing tension on both sides, he said. As for the North Korean nuclear crisis, an expert on the Korean Peninsula noted Dr Rice had repeated the US offer, first made nine months ago, of a verbal security guarantee and energy aid in return for Pyongyang ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons, but had not offered much in the way of new concessions or addressed North Korea's proposal for a phased dismantling of nuclear programmes. The secretary of state had also implicitly blamed the mainland and, to a lesser extent, South Korea for not working hard enough to bring Pyongyang back into six-party disarmament talks, the analyst said. 'Rice has sent a signal that the US is contemplating the next step,' he said. A Shanghai-based analyst said Dr Rice's vision for the region was 'not comforting'. He said her remarks in Japan amounted to a US declaration of intent to use its alliance with Tokyo to check the mainland.