WASHINGTON - US SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton will head next week on a visit to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand, the State Department announced on Friday.

Clinton will also travel to Hawaii where she will hold talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, whose government has been trying to weather tensions with China, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

President Barack Obama's administration has described South-east Asia as a key diplomatic priority, saying that the dynamic region was neglected by former president George W. Bush due to his focus on Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Obama administration has sought to build relations with Malaysia, seeing it as a potential force for moderation within the Islamic world.

Political relations were rocky when Malaysia was led by Mahathir Mohamad, who was known for his strident criticism of the West. The United States sometimes riled Malaysia with past calls to expand democratic freedoms.

Despite warm relations between the United States and Australia, Clinton will become the highest-ranking official from the Obama administration to visit.

She called off a scheduled visit in January to focus on relief after Haiti's devastating earthquake, while Mr Obama has twice called off trips to Australia due to domestic concerns.

Clinton to visit S-E Asia