Interview With Greg Sheridan of The Australian
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thanks so much. I wonder if I might start by asking you, this year we’ve seen a lot of really tough, and some would say provocative actions by China – the rare earths matter that you referenced the other day, the South China Sea claims and the way they’ve preceded, the warning to the U.S. not to send its aircraft carrier into the Yellow Sea. How do you feel about that? I mean, why are we seeing such strident negative – I promise you that that noise is harmless.
PARTICIPANT: Sorry, (inaudible).
QUESTION: It is, it is, it is. Why are we seeing that and how do you assess those moves?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Greg, let me start by saying the Obama Administration decided very early on to reengage vigorously with Asia. The first trip I took as Secretary of State was to Asia, and obviously China was on that agenda, and this is now my sixth trip. And our goal has been to develop what we call a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship, where everything is on the table, and where if there are hiccups or challenges in the relationship it doesn’t upend everything else that we are doing. So to that end, Secretary Geithner and I co-chair the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and we have upped the involvement on our side and seen a comparable level of involvement, government-wide on the Chinese side. So we’re having conversations that are in-depth and very substantive on a range of matters.
Having said that, we know there are the usual challenges that we’ve had to navigate, including Tibet and Taiwan. And in so doing, we’ve made it clear to the Chinese that we will not agree with them, but we’re going to continue to press them. And with some of these recent activities, we think it is part of the testing process that countries go through. And when China first told us at a meeting of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that they viewed the South China Sea as a core interest, I immediately responded and said we don’t agree with that. So they were on notice that if they were –
QUESTION: Was that Dai Bingguo that said that to you?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, yeah. So if they were in the process of extending their efforts to claim and control to the detriment of international law, freedom of navigation, maritime security, the claims by their neighbors, that was a concerning matter. And therefore, we worked with a lot of the ASEAN countries who are directly impacted and 12 of us raised it at the ASEAN Regional Forum last July to make it clear that issues like that have to be resolved in accordance with the rule of law. And I think you just have to be constantly making clear that, speaking for the United States, we support the peaceful rise and the economic success of China, but in so doing, we expect China to be a responsible member of the international community whose actions are in accordance with their size and stature and in the context of the international rules of the road. So – I think you see that as part of the ongoing relationship between us and China and between others and China.
Now, with regard to the rare earth issue, the Chinese claim that they did not in any way interfere with the delivery and the continuing exporting of rare earth minerals. Whether or not their motivation was as they describe it or as the Japanese fear it, the fact is they control the vast majority of the supply. That’s not healthy. So in effect, the Chinese action was a wake-up call to the rest of the world. Now you see Japan and Vietnam cooperating; you see Australia moving forward; the United States is looking at our potential deposits. I think that’s a good outcome of what may have been an inadvertent effort to send a message to Japan.
QUESTION: Yes, yes. Madam Secretary, at the sort of – at the broadest level, the U.S. has sustained security in the Asia Pacific for 60 years. It’s been a big call on the U.S. budget. With the Iraq and Afghanistan commitments with the budget re-pressure the U.S. is under, does the U.S. have both the will and the budgetary resources to continue to sustain that forward military deployment in the Asia Pacific?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Speaking for this Administration, yes we do. And we are committed to doing so. Here, for the AUSMIN, are our Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and our Pacific Commander Admiral Walsh. And we are looking for ways to modernize and update our presence in the Pacific, working with allies like Australia, looking for opportunities to partner with new countries that are assuming more active roles in the region, like Vietnam. So I think you will see the United States committed to its role as a Pacific power. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve made six trips, why Secretary Gates went to the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ First Meeting – to make it clear that we’re here to stay; that our role in stabilizing and providing the context for peace and prosperity in the post-World War II era may not look exactly the same as it did for the past 60 years because the threats have evolved, the needs have altered, but we will be here and we will be very active.
QUESTION: Yes. Madam Secretary, one of the striking developments which you’ve over seen is the U.S. joining the East Asia Summit. That means the American President is committed to two Asia Pacific summits a year – the EAS and APEC. There is some level of skepticism about whether a president can actually do that. Do you think that’s completely realistic? And I guess the Administration really profoundly thought all the implications of this through before they did it.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we did. I strongly recommended to the President that we join the East Asia Summit, because APEC and EAS have different memberships and somewhat different missions. And if we are going to be sustaining and strengthening our leadership role in the Pacific, then we need to be part of the architecture that is developing in this part of the world. I feel similarly about ASEAN which is really at the core of the East Asia Summit, which is why I recommended accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
Presidential schedules are incredibly difficult. I will not imply anything other than that. But the President is committed to the East Asia Summit next year in Indonesia; APEC will be in Hawaii in 2011. And we should work out scheduling so that those who have to travel the furthest perhaps could have their needs taken into account. But however the logistics work out, the United States is very pleased to have joined the East Asia Summit and we look forward to being at the table when political and security and other matters are discussed.
PARTICIPANT: I think we have time for one more.
QUESTION: Well, Madam President – sorry, Madam Secretary, I think I heard you call Kevin Rudd prime minister the other day.
SECRETARY CLINTON: You know what, I didn’t know I had, and it was the last thing I said to him at the end. Yeah.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Madam Secretary, my last question is I guess a two-parter. The Australian commitment in Afghanistan, you’ve been very complimentary about, but at the end of the day, the U.S. has 80,000 odd troops there or more; we have 1,500. We had even few in Iraq. My specific and then my general – my specific is: Isn’t the truth really that we’re doing a disproportionately small amount of heavy lifting, and you kindly Americans are just being very polite about the weakness of our effort? And secondly, is Australia contributing everything it needs to keep this alliance vital between the U.S. and Australia going forward in the decades ahead? And I apologize about that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s okay, don’t worry about it. Well, first Greg, I want to underscore how much we value the Australian contribution. You’re a nation of 22 million people, we have 300 million. Your 1,550 complement is certainly proportionate, but also more importantly qualitative. If you speak with our commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, they are very impressed by what you’re doing in Uruzgan and your special forces that work literally hand-in-hand with our NATO ISAF efforts.
So we, number one, are impressed by the commitment and the quality of the presence that you have sent to Afghanistan, but that’s not all you’re doing. I mean, you are training police in Australia; you are working with Malaysia to train teachers for Afghanistan; you are very helpful with embedded military and civilian experts in both NATO ISAF headquarters and working with the Afghan Government. So the commitment from Australia is highly regarded and very necessary. And, in fact, we’ve just finished the first hour or so of our AUSMIN dialogue, and I think the Australian people would have been quite gratified by the praise that Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen heaped on your troops. We know it comes with a sacrifice. You’ve taken casualties, and we’re deeply sorry for your losses. And I want to extend through you my condolences to family members.
But Australia understands that we are in this fight together because we have to take a stand against the forces of terrorism and extremism in the very place where they emanated from and where they continue to threaten on that Pakistan-Afghan border the well-being of people in my country, your country, and so many others. And I followed the debate that you had in your parliament. I thought it was a vigorous, intelligent, well-informed debate, and we appreciate the bipartisan support that we get from your political leadership on behalf of this mission.
QUESTION: And the alliance overall, you think is going to go forward, hopefully --
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am very high on the alliance. We are used to working with our Australian friends. We see your diplomatic and security efforts as being first rate. We want to cooperate even more closely because you taken the lead in some places that you are much more knowledgeable about and more effective than we could be from far away. So --
QUESTION: Would you have in mind there the South Pacific?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think the South Pacific is exactly right. We want to really learn from you what more we can do to improve the life of the people in the small island nations, but also to make sure that when it comes to climate change or terrorism or the plethora of issues that we deal with together between the United States and Australia, we are leveraging and taking advantage of the strengths that Australia brings to our alliance.
QUESTION: Sure thing. Madam Secretary, thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Such a pleasure. Thank you, Greg.