Hillary Clinton discussed China in a frank and informal conversation at Chatham house whilst accepting the Chatham House Prize 2013 last week. She was awarded for her “great, significant contributions to international diplomacy” as Secretary of State of the United States of America and her activism promoting rights of women worldwide.
Her retelling of how both Wang Lijun and Chen Guangcheng’s asylum applications were dealt with is particularly fascinating and highlight the inner-workings of the Sino-American relationship. Widely regarded as a potential candidate for the US presidency in 2016, Clinton’s views on China could go on to seriously shape the future of global politics. Here are excerpts of the discussion:
On starting her first tour as the American Secretary of State in Asia:
“It was an important message to send, in part because China, which to this day has heavily invested in American debt, was raising questions and wondering about the decisions that would be made by the new administration.”
On China’s attitude to America’s rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific:
“We wanted China to realize that we were in the Pacific to stay. We were there not as an interloper but as a participant, and therefore we wanted to become more involved in the regional organizations…
I think there were certainly some areas of disagreement. We know about China’s historical interests (Taiwan, Tibet) which they always raise with the United States, their sensitivity about human rights – all of which were on the agenda … I think the Chinese would have been very happy to stay focused on the economic issues. In early 2009, part of that was: you guys are going to get your house in order, aren’t you? You’re going to make sure that our investments in your debt are good ones?
But also, we wanted to bring the strategic in, because there’s a long list: claims in the South China Sea, claims in the East China Sea, the conflicts that have occurred over assets and potential resources with Vietnam and the Philippines, the back-and-forth arguing with Japan. The continuing threat posed by North Korea, which is very much of a Chinese problem and potentially a solution. So we wanted to broaden the aperture so that we weren’t just talking about currency revaluation. We wanted to have a broader discussion and we wanted it made clear that the United States was there to stay.”
“I came to believe that the Chinese, for their own reasons and because of their own way of governing, believed that somewhere in Washington there is a master plan about what we intend to do to try to control their rise … So what we did was to tell him that he could not move into the consulate, that there were no grounds on which we could offer that to him. But he kept saying that he wanted to get the truth to Beijing, he wanted the government in Beijing to know what was happening. So we said: we can arrange that. So indeed that’s what we did. We were very discreet about it and did not try to embarrass anybody involved in it, but tried to handle it in a very professional manner, which I think we accomplished.”
On the activist Chen Guangcheng‘s asylum application:
“It was a very touching and touch-and-go situation. We were able to negotiate with the Chinese safe passage for his family – he hadn’t seen one of his children for quite some time – to Beijing … He loves China. He actually also very much believes that if he could just get his story to the upper echelon of the Chinese government, they would agree with him, because so much of the mistreatment he experienced was at the hands of local and regional officials. So our team did a great job negotiating all of this. He did have medical problems that needed further treatment so he left our embassy, totally voluntarily. He called me from the van on the way to the hospital and said: if I were there, I would kiss you. I said: I’m very happy you’re so happy.”
On United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Syria:
“If you’re Russia or China or the United States, you don’t want Syria to have a big chemical weapons stockpile, so you’d seize these opportunity and they agree and we go forward.”
Read the full transcript of the discussion here.
By Maea Lenei Buhre