Palin reappears, boosts finances with Asia speech

WASHINGTON (AP) - Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin emerged from a two-month absence from public view in an unlikely manner: with a closed-door speech, heavy on foreign policy, to a group of investors in Hong Kong.

Her 90-minute speech, delivered Wednesday to an investment conference, touched on issues from financial markets to health care, Afghanistan and U.S-China relations. It was generally considered more moderate in tone than those Palin delivered during her 2008 campaign for vice president as Republican John McCain's running mate.

Still, a Democratic congressman chastised Palin for criticizing U.S. foreign policy during her first visit to Asia.

"Leaving aside the propriety of criticizing the president while on her first trip to Asia, the assertion that the United States is ignoring areas of disagreement with China is flat wrong," said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The administration regularly discusses a range of issues with Chinese officials, Berman said.

Palin, who stepped down as governor July 26, is widely believed to be pondering a run for president. In a straw poll this month, she finished in a four-way tie for second-place among religious conservatives, trailing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Palin was paid an undisclosed amount, said to be in the low six figures, for the 90-minute speech at an investment conference. She has said one of the reasons she resigned was to pay legal bills that have topped $500,000. The speech was closed to reporters, but Palin later posted lengthy excerpts on her Facebook page.

As to whether the speech helped or hurt Palin's prospects for a run for president in 2012, one prominent Republican said that is the wrong question.

"This speech had very little to do with advancing her political career and more to do with advancing her financial career," said former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Fleischer, press secretary under President George W. Bush and a self-described Palin critic, gave the speech generally good marks.

"She's fortunate that she can have a soft landing like this and figure things out from here," he said. "She can take care of her financial future - which she's entitled to do - and figure out policy later."

In her speech, Palin urged China to "rise responsibly" and said the United States "cannot ignore areas of disagreement" as the two countries move forward.

Fleischer called Palin's remarks well within the GOP mainstream and said receiving barbs from Democrats is a net plus for Palin. "It keeps her front and center in policy debates, and eyes on her," he said.

Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, called Palin a galvanizing figure and an influential voice in the GOP.

"Sarah Palin is a big draw for a reason: Her message resonates with Americans. Right now she is doing what she feels she needs to do to add her voice to the national debate," Gitcho said.

Before she quit with more than a year left in her first term as governor, Palin promised to keep her fans updated on the social networking site Twitter, but so far there have been no messages. Palin updates her Facebook page - which has about 900,000 followers - once or twice a week, with items that alternately lash out at President Barack Obama's health care policy or offer praise for Constitution Day or the Jewish high holidays.

But mostly Palin operates from behind a veil. Her spokeswoman won't even say what state she's in. The Washington Post reported that Palin spent a month in California working on her book but has since left. Spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton declined to comment.

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