Bill Richardson photo

Speech: US-Asian Relations in the 21st Century: The Choice is Ours

April 18, 2007

David, thank you for that kind introduction.

I would like to talk to you today about the future of US-Asian relations.

Because we have choices to make, and the stakes are very high.

Both Asians and non-Asians will make decisions in the coming years that determine whether our future is one of common endeavor or of geo-political tension. Whether our economies prosper together or stagnate separately behind protectionist walls. Whether we tackle urgent common challenges like global warming, or fail to act.

To build a future of cooperation rather than contention, we need to be realistic. There will always be rivalry among great powers, and nations always will have, at times, conflicting interests and different values. We cannot eliminate all rivalries and conflicts and differences, but we can choose to be judicious and far-sighted in how we manage them.

There are steps we can take, and I am here today to share with you my vision for the future of U.S.-Asian Relations.

  • The United States should lead Asia toward balanced multi-polar security arrangements.
  • We must develop a realistic approach to China's economic growth. This includes using trade agreements to incentivize human rights improvements.
  • India and Japan should become members of the G8.
  • We should consider new multilateral trade talks to address financial, environmental, and human rights issues.

Succumbing to nationalism and fear is easy. Overcoming such impulses is hard. Diplomacy does not just happen. We need to make it happen. And because the stakes are so high, we need to make it succeed.

Nowhere are the stakes higher than in North Korea. I was there last week, at the invitation of the DPRK, and a bipartisan delegation headed by myself and former US Secretary of Veteran Affairs Anthony Principi.

Our job was to bring the remains of six US servicemen home. We did our job and the remains of these honorable men, who gave their lives to defend our country, will soon be returned to their families.

During our trip to North Korea, we also made progress on several issues related to the six-party talks and timeline for shutting down the Yongbyon reactor. We agreed to the following four points:

  1. The DPRK reaffirmed their commitment to the Feb. 13th initial actions agreement.
  2. The Treasury and Macao BDA announced the release of all DPRK funds.
  3. The DPRK committed that within a day of receiving the funds will invite the IAEA to Pyongyang to draw up the terms for shutting down the reactor.
  4. And finally, I impressed upon the DPRK the need to resume the six-party talks—to finish the 60-day Initial Actions phase, and to draw up the final phase of disablement and declaration.

Now, I've been critical in the past of the Bush Administration (and I will be critical again). But on this mission of National Security, politics stopped at the waters edge. I believe that by directly engaging with North Korea, we took a step toward a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

It's this type of tough talk and direct engagement that is the basis of my approach to American foreign policy—an approach I call "New Realism" I believe we need a new realism for the 21st century that understands that diplomacy without power is weak, but power without diplomacy is blind.

The paradox of America's power is that we cannot solve our problems without friends and allies. Terrorism, global warming and nuclear proliferation, for example, do not threaten just us -- they threaten everyone. And many dangers today come not from states targeting us with missiles, but rather our own consumption of fossil fuels. Not so much from hostile states as from hostile individuals and networks.

In such a world, every nation's security has become tied to every other nation's security. Every nation's prosperity depends on the health of the global economy. And we all share the same fragile and stressed planet, whose ecological limits need to be respected.

Not just the dangers, but also the opportunities of the 21st century, increasingly are global. For the first time in history, we have a chance to eliminate hunger and extreme poverty. Will we have the wisdom and the skill to harness this power?

We also have the opportunity to combat the apocalyptic fantasies of Jihadists, by providing a billion Muslims with a positive vision of hope and jobs. We have the chance to construct an environmentally-sustainable post-carbon economy. And we have the possibility to integrate all of the great powers into a stable international order.

America's moral authority has been damaged in recent years. We must restore our reputation as a nation which respects human rights and international law, and which values the opinions of others. Only by so doing can we recover the capacity for moral leadership which for decades served us so well.

Building a safe and prosperous 21st century will require vision and hard work from established powers like the US and Japan, and from rising powers like China and India.

For many years now, Chinese leaders and strategic analysts have stressed that China's rise as a global power will not threaten others. Others disagree, they believe that China's rise will threaten other Asian nations and perhaps even lead to a new Cold War between China and the US and its allies. We need to be realistic. There is a risk that China's rise will threaten its neighbors. There is the risk of a new Cold War. But this is NOT inevitable.

I believe that the Chinese leadership is sincere in their desire to rise in a responsible, peaceful way. Their prosperity, after all, is based upon globalization and exports – and a belligerent foreign policy would place the very engine of their growth at risk. At the same time, China must end it's history of provocative statements and action on Taiwan that place the stability of the region at risk.

We must do our part, and they must do theirs.

China must also improve its human rights record and respect the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In my experience as a diplomat, public scoldings do not work, but economic incentives often do.

  • Accordingly, we should negotiate firmly with the Chinese on human rights, and develop trade agreements should be used to incentivize human rights improvements.

I would stress, however, that the single most important thing that America can do for human rights globally, is to be impeccable in our own behavior. We need to end Bush administration policies which are inconsistent with the Geneva conventions and international law. And we need to join the International Criminal Court.

We should always encourage China to moderate in its relations with its neighbors. There are signs that China wishes to participate in a stable, peaceful Asia, and America should show its support. We should work with China, as Sudan's top trade partner, to end the genocide in Darfur and restabilize to WesternAfrica. And we should with all of East and South Asia to end the military occupation of Burma.

Chinese military modernization, of course, makes everyone nervous. The best way for China to reassure its neighbors and the US, that it is not seeking hegemony over the region, is to be transparent about what it is doing, and to work with others to reassure them that its modernization is not aimed at them. To prevent the kind of spirals of distrust that lead to wars and Cold Wars, all parties need to be talking to one another and answering one another's questions.

The United States can play a useful balancing role in Asia in the decades ahead, reassuring all parties that no single Asian power will become dominant. The U.S.-Japan alliance, which has been a cornerstone of U.S. security policy in Asia for six decades, serves not just Japan and the US, but also all of mainland Asia, as it assures others that the United States, not Japan, will play the key role in East Asian security.

As Governor of New Mexico, I made it a priority to develop strong ties between my state and Japan. I believe the US-Japan alliance could provide a foundation for solving the world's energy crisis and show how we can promote stable relations in Asia. That's why, I invited the Japanese Government and several Japanese companies to work with New Mexico to establish a multi-disciplinary research facility in our state devoted to solar power.

The US-India relationship presents both great opportunities and great risks. Handled properly, this relationship can help stabilize strategic relations on the Asian continent, deterring Islamist extremism and enabling India and China to manage a joint and peaceful rise to prosperity and power. But if we mismanage this friendship with the world's largest democracy, it could provoke a disastrous nuclear arms race in Asia.

India can play a useful role by providing an economic counterbalance to China The US can help through our own even-handedness.

  • We should promote greater Asian representation in key global institutions. India and Japan should become permanent members of the UN Security Council and the G-8.

In India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, large Muslim populations mean that political relations will be affected for years to come by the war against Jihadism. East and South Asia Muslims have been less responsive to the Jihadists than have Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis. An intelligent US foreign policy can help keep it that way. This means addressing the Palestinian problem, getting out of Iraq, and showing the world's Muslims – through our deeds as well as through our public diplomacy – that America is their friend.

  • America should spearhead a multilateral Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa. We should invite Japan, China and other Asian countries to join us in this fight against poverty. For a small fraction of the cost of the Iraq war, which has made us so many enemies, we could make many friends. To those who say we cannot afford an aid program to build pro-American sentiment in the developing world, I say we cannot afford not to.

But for trade agreements to be fair, environmentally-beneficial, and politically-sustainable, they need to take account of the huge gaps in levels of development around the world.

  • Trade accords must have enforceable mechanisms to insure respect for core ILO standards, including work conditions, minimum wages, occupational safety, child labor, the right to collective bargaining and the prohibition of compulsory and slave labor.

Trade agreements also must incorporate environmental protections.

  • The United States should not enter into trade agreements with countries that do not sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
  • The US also must join the Kyoto Protocol, negotiate a new global warming agreement that goes well beyond Kyoto, and make participation in it a condition of future trade agreements.

The United States, like all countries, has the right to enforce trade agreements. This means using the WTO and U.S. trade remedy law to prod trading partners when they violate their commitments. With respect to China, the United States has the right to impose countervailing duties on subsidized exports, so long as we do it in a fair and reasonable manner and in accordance with our WTO commitments.

Global multilateral trade talks have been the backbone of the world economy since WWII, under GATT and now WTO.

  • I hope that Doha can be revived, but if Doha fails, we need to do our best to promote freer trade, and we should consider bilateral and regional approaches in Asia -- so long as they do not undermine the prospects for global progress.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of environmental sustainability. Asian growth will eventually come to a screeching halt if it is based upon fossil fuels, and other unsustainable technologies. Essential resources like water also cannot bear the brunt of rapid Asian growth using 20th century technologies. If China, India and the United States continue to increase coal-generated electricity without cleaner technology, they could produce as much as an extra 2.7 billions tons of CO2 by 2012. This would dwarf all the CO2 reductions called for by all signatories to the Kyoto Protocol.

Such a catastrophe can be prevented if the United States takes the lead with other developed countries in advancing alternative technologies, and partnering with developing Asia to construct, rapidly, a sustainable development model.

  • If I were President, I would convene an Asia Energy summit with China, India, Japan, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the United Nations Environment Program, to adopt a ten-year strategy for a major energy transition in Asia.

The stakes could not be higher. We must implement alternative technologies, on a global scale, as if our lives depended on it – because they do.

The many economic, environmental and geo-strategic issues I have discussed today are, of course interrelated in complex ways. A world less dependent on fossil fuels, for example, would be less prone to conflicts over fossil fuels. A world with fewer carbon emissions would be a world less subject to terrible climactic events – such as flooding of low-lying countries like Bangladesh. A world of free and fair trade would be a world less prone to financial imbalances and to war and conflict. Perhaps most fundamentally, as nations work together to address and solve common problems, they develop the skills and the trust to address and solve other common problems.

The United States has a key role to play in the coming years in forging the partnerships and reforming international institutions, so that China, India and other emerging states can be brought into a new concert of great powers which can address our shared problems.

It is up to all of us to work together to achieve a stable, multi-polar Asia which can meet the great challenges of the 21st century. The alternative is unacceptable. The choice is ours.

Bill Richardson, Speech: US-Asian Relations in the 21st Century: The Choice is Ours Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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