Interview With George Stephanopoulos of ABC's Good Morning America

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 18, 2011

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning. The White House is really rolling out the red carpet for President Hu, but I think a lot of Americans, especially those having trouble in the job market, are having a hard time figuring out how to think about China. Are they friend or foe, ally or adversary?

SECRETARY CLINTON: George, one of the reasons why we are rolling out the red carpet and having President Hu Jintao come for a state visit is because we think that we’ll be able better to answer such a question as we move forward. And my hope is --

QUESTION: You don’t know yet?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, my hope is that we have a normal relationship, a very positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship, where in some areas we are going to compete – there’s no doubt about that – but in many areas we’re going to cooperate. And we’ve seen that pattern in the last two years and it’s a pattern that I think reflects the reality and the complexity of our relationship.

QUESTION: It’s tough competition on the economic front especially. Your senior senator in New York, Chuck Schumer, has said America is getting fed up with the way China is manipulating its currency, closing down its markets, and he says that at times they are seeking unfair economic advantage. He’s actually proposed legislation that would sanction them, have tariffs if they don’t stop manipulating their currency.

Can you see a point where the Administration would get behind something like that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, George, let me say first that I think Americans need to put this relationship into perspective. Our economy is about three times the size of the Chinese economy, where they have four times the number of people. So our standard of living is much higher, our innovation, our creativity – all of that is really to America’s advantage.

They have a huge labor market. They have lower costs. And they are going to be a really tough competitor. And what we’re looking for is a competition where nobody’s got their thumb or their fist on the scale. So --

QUESTION: That’s the way it is right now, though.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No – we agree. That’s why we continue to raise issues of currency, of what they call indigenous innovation, which could be a disadvantage for our firms; of the failure to protect intellectual property, which is really our bread and butter because we are at the forefront of creating intellectual property.

So we are very clear in raising a lot of these issues. We do it continuously. We will be doing it during this visit. And we see small steps. I think it’s important to realize that we’re going to stand up for our values and our interests and our security. They’re going to stand up for theirs as they see it.

So part of what this dialogue is about is making sure that there’s no doubt in the Chinese mind that we think it’s in our interest, but it’s also in their interest, to have a freer market economy, to create more indigenous innovation, if you will, but not at the disadvantage of American creativity, intellectual property, and businesses.

So this is an ongoing discussion. We’re not going to be able to change their behavior overnight. But we think as they continue to develop, if we can create some bilateral trust, they will begin to see that a more open economy is actually in their interest, and that will advantage America.

QUESTION: We also have to see on the issue of security whether they’re going to do more to crack down on the North Korean nuclear program and stop undermining efforts to stop the Iranians from building nuclear weapons. Are we seeing any progress there, because it doesn’t seem like it from the outside?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think I see it a little differently. On Iran, for example, China joined with us in the tough sanctions. The Israelis just said about a week or so ago that they see a slowdown in the Iranian program. We believe that sanctions have had an impact. In North Korea, they also joined with us on sanctions.

So I think you have to look at the steps that we have taken to date and the fact that we need to be doing more. We are still --

QUESTION: You don’t believe they’re undermining the sanctions in Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We think that there are some entities within China that we have brought to the attention of the Chinese leadership that are still not as, shall we say, as in compliance as we would like them to be. And we are pushing very hard on that and we may be proposing more unilateral sanctions.

Now, the Chinese response is they are enforcing the sanctions they agreed to in the Security Council; they did not agree to either European, American, or Japanese sanctions that were imposed unilaterally. Our response to that is, look, we share the same goal, we need to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state; so therefore, even though technically you did not sign up to our unilateral sanctions, we expect you to help us implement them. Because what is the alternative? Some kind of conflict in the Persian Gulf which would disrupt oil supplies, which would have a terrible impact on your economy? So it’s that kind of very clear-eyed, realistic discussion that we are having. And I think that we’ve made progress, we have a ways to go.

And similarly with North Korea, we have the same goal – the Chinese and the U.S.: We want a denuclearized, peaceful, stable Korean Peninsula. The Chinese have, obviously, many more years of experience in dealing with the North Koreans. They are very straightforward in saying here’s what we think you, South Korea, and Japan need to do to try to change their behavior. Well, we are exploring their recommendations and we are giving our own recommendations. But we’re engaged in a very intense discussion about this.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about Vice President Cheney. He gave an interview where he said – where he wondered whether President Obama has the absolute commitment to stopping another terror attack that both he – he said – and President Bush had. What do you make of that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that is really unfortunate language. I was certainly taken aback by it. I don’t know how anyone who was in the White House before or now could doubt any president’s absolute commitment to stopping the terrorists from attacking us. And I think you’ve seen in the last two years that President Obama and our entire team is single-mindedly focused on that, and we’ve had some successes in preventing terrorists from wreaking havoc on our own country and working with our friends and allies around the world.

I don’t think it’s useful to make such a statement and I certainly reject it completely.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a question coming out of that tragedy in Tucson. It’s pretty clear that Americans are fed up with the tone of our political discourse. We just had a poll at ABC News showing 82 percent don’t like the tone right now. You’ve been in the middle of the political fray for so long, I’m just wondering if you had any concrete ideas on how we might ratchet down the rhetoric. And for example, if you were still in the Senate, would you sit next to Republicans at the State of the Union?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. I think that it may be a symbolic action, but symbolism matters. And I think we need to be doing more of that. I also think we have to be very careful about demonizing what are political disagreements by personalizing the people who hold different views. And I think everybody in politics, as I have been, gets carried away in the heat of the moment from time to time, and maybe says things about the person as opposed to the policy that we would think better of the next day.

So I think we need to continue to hold the opinions – that goes back to the beginning of our great debate in this country. And certainly we don’t all agree on the best way forward, whether it’s economics or any other issue, but let’s try to keep it on the policy. And one of the things that I regret, George, is what I call an evidence-free zone in our political debate, where people say things without ever being held accountable. And I don’t care whether it comes from one side or the other; if people make statements that are factually untrue in order to push their political point, there needs to be some way, through the media or elsewhere, to really call them on it.

Because let’s have a legitimate, fact-based debate. We all love our country. We all know that our country has some challenges. We want to maintain the standard of living. We want to create jobs. We want to give our children the same kind of future that we inherited when it was passed on to us by our parents and grandparents. And so let’s come to the table with that sense of good faith and sincere commitment, and let’s have a civil conversation where, yes, we can have differences, but we search for common ground.

QUESTION: We’re out of time. One final question. You seem awfully fulfilled on the professional front. How are you doing on the grandmother front?

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, I will only get in trouble however I respond to that, but let me just say I love babies so maybe I’ll have more in my life someday. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, good luck with that. Madame Secretary, thanks so much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks, George. Good to talk to you.

QUESTION: Bye-bye.

PRN: 2011/074