The U.S. and Southeast Asia - Christopher Hill
The U.S. and Southeast Asia
Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Remarks to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
May 22, 2006
Good afternoon. Thank you very much and I will resist the temptation to give this lecture in Albanian. (laughter) Good afternoon, and thank you very much to Dean Mahbubani. It is a great honor to be here at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. I'm delighted that you invited me today. It's one of my first visits to Singapore, and I must say what a pleasure it is to see this city. Singapore is a city that really invented the concept of globalization, and that was long before that word started putting people to sleep in international conferences. So I was very pleased yesterday to have the opportunity to walk around in Singapore and be a tourist. I had the occasion to go the Asian Civilizations Museum, and it really drove home to me what a crossroads Singapore is, not only as a transportation hub, but also as a home to very diverse populations representing many ethnic groups and religions, and to a huge business community -- it's truly remarkable the number of international businesses there are here. I think the richness, variety, and antiquity of the treasures at that museum really reflect Asia's vast and varied geography, its history, and the accomplishments of its peoples over the centuries.
And I would say what Singapore has accomplished over the past decades is truly remarkable. I think many of you know much better than I that Singapore's success was by no means a certainty in the early 1960s. It was a tiny piece of land, a small population, with virtually no natural resources. Out of that, on the basis of some very good policy choices and a lot of hard work, Singaporeans built a state that's become an economic powerhouse -- our tenth largest trading partner in the world and an international commercial hub. You created unity out of many and a state that celebrates its ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity. I am particularly impressed that Singapore has four languages, and I'm not even counting my favorite, which is "Singlish." I'd like to learn that at some point.
We in the United States not only have admired the success of Singapore, but have benefited very much from the strategic clarity and understanding of the region that we receive when we talk to people from Singapore. A generation of senior American officials has found it important to include a Singapore stop in their regional travels, because they knew they could count on very clear analytical advice on regional developments.
So I would say that the relationship between the U.S. and Singapore is as strong as it's ever been. It's based on our friendship, common interests, and a shared strategic perspective. Our commercial ties are strong and growing -- fueled by a bilateral Free Trade Agreement that's produced more than a ten percent increase in trade since 2004. Incredibly enough, U.S. exports to Singapore and its 4.3 million people equal about one-half of our exports to China and its 1.3 billion people.
Our security cooperation is also impressive, from expanding military training exercises to collaborating in the fields of military science and technology. We are working closely together on the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Container Security Initiative, helping to protect both of our countries from weapons of mass destruction.
Frequent visits and discussions at all levels keep our relationship very strong. Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff visited Singapore in March. Senior defense officials regularly stop here, and we look forward to welcoming Senior Minister Goh to Washington in a week when he and President Bush will talk about ways to enhance our ties.
Multilateral Engagement -- ASEAN, APEC, and ARF
Our close ties with Singapore also reflect our close involvement as a Pacific nation, one that really dates back two centuries to the days of the China clippers. Our commitment to freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce has been constant through these centuries, and we see Asia as critical to our future and that of the international system. I think it's fair to say that the century of Asia, so long predicted, is indeed upon us and you can expect to see even greater U.S. engagement as we move forward.
We have a long list of alliances, memberships in regional organizations, high-level visits, trade and investment statistics, and regional initiatives. You already know the enormous commercial, political, diplomatic, and military ties that bind the United States to the region. This means the U.S. will remain deeply engaged in Asia for a long time to come. As Secretary Rice said in Jakarta just a few weeks ago, we share with the region an "alliance of peoples." The Asia-Pacific region is part of who we are.
The landscape of Asia is indeed changing, reflecting the region's success. But, we shall remain an important part of that landscape. Whether it's responding to natural disasters or the threat of avian influenza, the United States has continually demonstrated its commitment to this region.
While much of our deepening economic, political and military ties in the region tends to be bilateral in character, we are also fully engaged in the still-evolving multilateral architecture of the region, not least as a founding member of both APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum but also in other areas as well.
In APEC, the United States and 20 other member economies are working diligently to facilitate and promote free trade, economic growth, investment and cooperation in the Pacific region. APEC is also addressing critical transnational issues such as protection of intellectual property rights, fighting infectious disease and enhancing regional security.
The United States is also fully committed to boosting cooperation with ASEAN. Since 2002, we have pursued an active agenda of interest and benefit to both sides, especially on transnational issues of mutual concern, such as promoting health and the environment and as well as combating crime and terrorism. On the economic front, Southeast Asia is a leader in the global economy and one of the United States' most important trading partners. In 2005, U.S. exports to ASEAN were almost $50 billion, while we imported from the region nearly $100 billion -- the fifth largest market for U.S. exports in the world. U.S. direct investment in ASEAN exceeds that in China and Hong Kong. We are now actively working on taking our relationship with ASEAN to the next level.
During last November's APEC meetings in Korea, President Bush and ASEAN leaders announced the Joint Vision Statement on the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership. The goal of this partnership is to institutionalize the U.S.-ASEAN relationship and set a foundation for sustaining and expanding our ties well into the 21st century. We are currently working with ASEAN to develop an action plan to implement this vision. The Enhanced Partnership will be multi-sectoral in its focus, touching upon all segments of our expanding relationship, including economic, educational, cultural, and security. I expect to be discussing the Enhanced Partnership with senior ASEAN officials when I go to Bangkok tonight. We're hoping to finalize the details of the action plan so it can be presented to ASEAN ministers and Secretary Rice for signing at the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference in July.
Pan-Asianism v. Pan-Pacificism -- The EAS Debate
Our engagement with Southeast Asia continues to broaden and deepen. The dynamism of the region means that our relationship is in a constant state of evolution, which has given rise to renewed debate and discussion about regional fora, and whether they should be inclusive or exclusive. Correspondingly, the concept of pan-Asianism vs. pan-Pacificism has also re-emerged. It is entirely understandable that Asia is looking to strengthen its own regional institutions, just as other regional groupings in other parts of the world have done the same. This drive is a reflection of the remarkable and still growing pattern of intra-Asian economic and financial integration, and is not surprising -- and we welcome it.
But we need to think hard and clearly about the question of how we can integrate pan-Asian and trans-Pacific fora. We have heard much debate about the East Asian Summit. Before coming to any conclusions, we need to look at the whole landscape -- and indeed the seascape -- of proliferating regional fora -- ASEAN+3, APEC, ARF, and the EAS -- to determine how the pieces can fit better together. The goal should be to achieve synergy and avoid redundancy and duplication. Too often in Southeast Asia I've heard complaints about "meeting fatigue." Indeed, this year ASEAN and the European Union are in a race to hold more meetings. I understand the EU is still in the lead, but ASEAN is closing the gap.
With respect to the East Asia Summit, the U.S. continues to watch with interest how this forum will develop. As I mentioned earlier, APEC and the ARF are vital components of our relationship with Asia and Southeast Asia. We want to continue to work with you to ensure we don't dilute the effectiveness of these institutions and the important cooperation they foster. The United States is and will remain deeply involved in the transformation of Southeast Asia.
Our interest in the evolving architecture and the reinvigoration of our ties with ASEAN are an extension of very dynamic bilateral ties with partners in the Southeast Asia region. Bilateral ties are important and will remain so. It is important for people in Singapore to know how hard we are working with Singapore's neighbors because the better off Singapore's neighbors are, indded we believe the better off Singapore will be. The great majority of governments throughout the region -- with the exception of one -- are making the often difficult decisions needed to open up their societies so the aspirations of their people can be fully realized. Let me briefly discuss some of these bilateral relationships.
Indonesia is well on its way on the path of reform, as President Yudhoyono implements an agenda that seeks to reinforce democratic institutions and transparency. Indonesia is a country that has had many problems in the past decades, but we feel it has turned the corner and is very much heading in the right direction. We are proud to be working closely with the Indonesian people as they continue the process of systemic reform.
Malaysia, to name another of Singapore's neighbors, is a Southeast Asian country that has made impressive gains in recent years, both economically and politically. I'm going to go to KL on Wednesday to further our expanded dialogue, which includes an expanded economic relationship. As you may be aware, the U.S. Trade Representative's Office will begin negotiations with the Malaysians next month on a Free Trade Agreement.
We are also working closely with other countries in Indochina. A year ago, we had serious concerns over the direction of Cambodia's fledgling democracy: opposition party officials were being imprisoned and forced to flee the country, and civil society leaders were faced with a campaign of increasing intimidation. Now, we see Cambodia getting back on track, with the government allowing the opposition to become more engaged in governing the country, and civil society resuming an important role in advocating for Cambodia's citizens.
Vietnam continues to press forward with economic reforms that are producing growth rates reminiscent of the Asian tigers over a decade ago. Vietnam is clearly taxiing to the runway to begin its takeoff. The United States' recently concluded bilateral negotiations with Vietnam on its accession to the World Trade Organization will pave the way for its further integration with the global economy.
Thailand remains a close ally, working with us across a broad range of activities. We have worked together for years on scientific and health research collaboration, for example. And now we can use those links to collaborate and share information on avian influenza, with Thailand paving the way as a regional leader in AI detection and response. We also see increasing economic ties between our countries, which we fully expect to cement in an eventual bilateral Free Trade Agreement. In fact, I'll be going to Bangkok tonight.
With regard to our long-standing ally the Philippines, we are also seeing some real benefit from our close cooperation there to strengthen and reform the armed forces. We are working closely with the government in Manila to improve health, education and economic opportunities for communities in the southern Philippines, in Mindanao, which historically have been exploited by criminals and terrorists. These approaches are paying off and the region as a whole will ultimately benefit.
With regard to our long-standing ally the Philippines, we are seeing real benefits from several years of close cooperation to strengthen and reform the armed forces. We are working closely with the government in Manila to improve health, education and economic opportunities for communities in the southern Philippines and Mindanao, which historically have been exploited by criminals and terrorists. These approaches are paying off and the region as a whole will ultimately benefit.
Indeed, Southeast Asia is transforming. We fully support and encourage this transformation and the openness and cooperation it is inspiring. Promoting development, expanding economic opportunity, fighting corruption, combating terrorism, providing security, and ensuring the health of our citizenry are priorities that we increasingly agree on. We acknowledge the difficulties inherent in the effort to tackle these problems, but we are committed to working with the governments of Southeast Asia to help achieve these goals. We also support efforts throughout the region that seek to promote human rights and spread democracy, because this is the only way that people who are truly free can reach their fullest potential.
But finally, we have one country in Southeast Asia were there is a real, glaring exception to the positive trends and that is in Myanmar, or Burma. For over 40 years, the Burmese military has implemented inward-looking and rather misguided policies that have led to a precipitous deterioration in the political, humanitarian, and socioeconomic situation there.
It was once the star of Southeast Asia, and Burma is now the source of ills that pose risks for the entire region, including drugs, cross-border migration, and infectious diseases. The regime's refusal to recognize the results of the 1990 legislative elections and the May 30, 2003 attack on Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters by forces affiliated with the regime are constant reminders of the regime's disregard for human rights and democratic principles. The latest example of this behavior is found in the regime's intensified abuses of ethnic minorities in the Karen State. The only long-term solution to Burma's problems is real political reform that leads to responsible governance. And should the regime take steps in this direction, we and others in the international community would be prepared to respond positively.
But of all of these bilateral relationships in Southeast Asia, there is one relationship that could have an impact on all of them, and that is our relationship with China. First of all, I want to be very clear about China: more China in Southeast Asia does not mean less of the United States. We believe we can work with China. We can work with China throughout the world, including in Southeast Asia. China's rapid economic development and its rising political influence pose new challenges and opportunities to all the countries of Asia as well as to the United States. As President Bush noted last month during President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington, the United States welcomes the emergence of a China that is peaceful and prosperous, and that supports international institutions. We are engaged with China on many, many different levels -- on almost every issue that affects our broad strategic and economic interest. We have found many areas in which our interests and policies converge and, as importantly, we are able to engage candidly in those areas where we have found differences. For seven consecutive U.S. administrations, we have supported and encouraged China's integration into the global system. We have succeeded in that effort. China is a member of nearly every security and economic organization you can think of -- from the United Nations and the ASEAN Regional Forum to the WTO and the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum. Now, as Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick noted in a speech last September, it is time for all of us to encourage China to take on a greater role as a responsible stakeholder in the international system, a system from which China has benefited greatly.
In other words, we expect to have a constructive engagement with China on issues of significance to all of us, from Iran's nuclear ambitions and North Korea's nuclear weapons to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. On the economic side, China is no longer just a participant in the WTO and global financial markets. China's treatment of domestic economic issues, such as those relating to intellectual property protection and currency, help shape the global system. And, we have seen how China's management of public health threats, such as SARS or avian influenza, and environmental issues -- including the benzene oil spill on the Songhua River last year -- can impact its neighbors and the rest of the world. China, like the U.S., has a responsibility to help build a better future for all of us. We are all in this together, both sides of the Pacific. So you can count on us to continue to work with China in a constructive way to expand prosperity and promote peace and stability throughout the region.
Taiwan is also an issue that we must maintain a very close interest in. Maintaining cross-Strait peace and stability is vital not only for the security and prosperity of the people on both sides, but for the rest of the region as well as the U.S. Our "one China" policy is familiar to all of you here so I won't repeat it, but it's important for you to know that we remain committed to it. Our policy has served the interests of the American people well, in addition to Asians throughout the region. We respect Taiwan's democracy and are pleased to see the 23 million people on Taiwan flourishing. The key, looking ahead, will be direct dialogue between authorities in Beijing and Taipei. And while we have welcomed China's engagement with members of Taiwan's opposition, we urge Beijing to undertake dialogue with Taiwan's elected leaders in the Democratic Progressive Party. Only through these contacts can mutual trust and confidence become the basis for what we profoundly wish to see and take as an abiding concern: peaceful resolution of the issues between both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
In conclusion, I've gone through a lot of issues affecting Southeast Asia. It is indeed through these direct bilateral and multilateral contacts with the countries of Southeast Asia that we have managed to achieve the deep and respectful relationship we have today. After decades of engagement in the region, the United States is and will remain deeply involved in the transformation of Southeast Asia.We will continue to work together to see our regional ties deepen, our cooperation expand, and our nations flourish.
So with those remarks, I'm happy to take questions
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Thank you very much. I'm sure we'll have some questions from the floor, but if you don't mind, can I start by asking you the first hopefully difficult question. I was just in Tokyo about ten days ago having a discussion on the region, and after listening to the discussion it struck me that the relations between Japan and China seem to be going through a very difficult phase. And at the same time relations between Japan and South Korea also seem to be going through a difficult phase. So I was wondering whether there's any kind of pressure in Washington, D.C. for the United States to play some kind of role in trying to see what it can do to diminish tensions both between Japan and China, and Japan and Korea, because all three of them in a sense are good friends of the United States.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, first of all, let me make the point that Japan is indeed not only a very close friend, but also a very good ally. We have a very special relationship with Japan. We discuss issues throughout the world. We work together with Japan very closely in the United Nations. We work together with Japan on issues like Middle East peace. We work together with Japan on economic development questions in Latin America and Africa. It is a very special relationship for us. We want to see Japan have a good relationship with its Northeast Asian neighbors. It gives us no pleasure whatsoever to see the problems that have emerged between Japan and China and between Japan and the Republic of Korea. So the first point is we really want to see those relationships improve. The second point is these countries are adults. Japan is an adult. China is an adult. We believe that they should be able to work out these issues. We do not see a role for the United States as a mediator in these problems. We feel that these countries have a great stake in better relationships, and we feel they will follow their interests and find their way to improving these relations. And finally, I'd like to make the point that although you're correct that there have been some serious political issues, economically these countries remain very close. If you take a flight from Tokyo to Beijing, or from Seoul to Tokyo, you'll see the airplanes full with businessmen who are doing a lot of business with each other. So I think economically the countries are doing well, but clearly, politically they need to work on the issues.
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Thank you. Next question. Please identify yourself with a short question, please.
Question: Does the West promote human rights for altruistic reasons at a time when Europe is rewriting its Human Rights Act to combat terrorism, and which Richard Howard said would fatally undermine the West's moral authority to criticize regimes abroad. I took this question from a book called Can Asians Think? by Dean Mahbubani. Please comment. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, I see. I think the age-old challenge is always to balance the rights of the individual with the power of the state. And obviously, we have faced some enormous challenges to our well-being, and indeed, one could say to the very survival of our systems. So, we need to make sure that we can protect our citizens, protect not only their rights, but also their livelihoods and our ability to continue as the open societies that we are. So this is always going to be a struggle. There will never be a perfect solution to it. It probably is an ongoing issue that we can talk about ten years from now. But I do believe that speaking out about fundamental freedoms, speaking out about people's human rights -- human rights that are enshrined in the United Nations Charter -- I believe that is still the right thing to do and I don't see those rights as being constrained by our efforts to deal with terrorism.
Question: Good afternoon. Ambassador, I have two small questions. First of all, if I may play the role of the devil's advocate. Come the year 2008, hypothetically, if Mrs. Hillary Clinton goes to Capitol Hill as the president, how do you think that Mrs. Hillary Clinton would sit well with China, which is practicing a polity unique or peculiar to itself, and that is the political superstructure is firmly in the hands of the communists whereas the economic infrastructure is anything but communism. Now, how well do you think she will sit with a China of that polity? Question number 2: Ambassador Hill, do you think the realpolitik of the future allows for a compromise between America and China? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Okay. First of all, with respect to the Hillary Clinton administration, I'm a career diplomat and I don't interfere in internal political matters, especially my own. So, I'm not sure I can help you too much on the results of the 2008 elections. And don't forget we have a by-election in 2006 coming up in November, and then after that there will be lots of advice and analysis of what 2008 will be, and I don't know if Hillary Clinton is even running. What I do know is that we have had quite a long succession of U.S. administrations with a policy toward China which involves fundamentally a willingness to engage. And I am sure that the next administration -- whoever comes into office in January of 2009 -- will follow such a policy. I anticipate the U.S. will be very engaged with China. As I tried to suggest in my formal remarks, we have a great interest in making sure that we can work with China across the board. China is a very important partner of ours. So, I'm sure whatever administration comes in, you'll see a real continuation. There will be lots of different opinions about China. And even today, with the administration we've had for almost six years, you can get different opinions about China. It's no secret. China is a very complex subject and many Americans have not really formulated their views on China. China is very dynamic. And often some people see the glass half full and others see the glass half empty. So what I can assure you is we will be continuing to engage with China. I think 2008 is going to be a very important period for China because of the Olympics. China is really going to be on display. China's domestic scene will be on display with the Olympics in 2008. So I think we can look forward to some really interesting times with China. But I can assure you whatever U.S. administration there is in January of 2009 will want to engage.
Question: The New York Times has reported that the U.S. is bringing a new formula to the Six-Party nuclear talks, namely giving the carrot of a peace treaty. Is that accurate, or is there any new formula you are bringing to the negotiating table?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, first of all, the basis of our approach toward the D.P.R.K. is the Six-Party negotiations which resulted in a September agreement in Beijing where we laid out a set of principles. So what we would like to do is see that set of principles implemented. One of the principles there has to do with the desirability of replacing the armistice that has prevailed on the Korean peninsula with a peace mechanism to be worked out by appropriate players at an appropriate forum. So we very much stand by that. And so, I would say -- with due respect to the New York Times -- that it was really not new 'news' that the United States is prepared to see the full implementation of the September agreement. Our problem was, the day before that article appeared, and remains -- the day after that article appeared -- that the D.P.R.K. has currently refused to attend the talks. They've essentially boycotted the Six-Party process and they've done so on the basis that the United States has continued to really protect itself against financial irregularities, against illicit activities carried on by the North Koreans. It never said in the September agreement that we would stop trying to protect ourselves against these illicit activities. It never said that it would be okay for the D.P.R.K. to, for example, counterfeit the U.S. dollar. So we have pursued these issues. And for the D.P.R.K. to use these issues as a reason not to come to the denuclearization talks, I think is really unfortunately an excuse. I think what the D.P.R.K. is concerned about is whether they are in fact prepared to implement the agreement, and the agreement calls for the D.P.R.K. to get rid of all of its nuclear programs. So, in answer to your question, there is nothing new in this article that was in the New York Times.
Question: How hopeful are you to resume the Six-Party talks this year?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I don't like to make bets in games that I'm a part of, so we'll have to see. In know that the Six-Party talks make a lot of sense, not only to us, but also to the D.P.R.K. We're prepared to go there. I'd be prepared to go there this afternoon. I know all the other parties are prepared. But we need all six, and to date, the D.P.R.K. has not accepted the invitation of the Chinese government to attend the next session. And that is the problem. And I think we should stay vigilant on that problem, that the D.P.R.K. is essentially boycotting the next round of talks.
Question: Ambassador Hill, I am focusing back to North Korea. First of all, there are some quarters that are saying the Six-Party Talks are not going to resume until the Bush Administration ends, so can I have your views on that? Secondly, today in the Financial Times there are some reports saying that there seems to be a widening of different views between South Korea and the U.S. on how to deal with this North Korea problem. Can I also have your comments on that? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, we are prepared -- the United States is prepared, the Russian Federation is ready, Japan is ready, the Republic of Korea is ready, China is certainly ready to start the Six-Party Talks. But if you add that up, you will see there are only five countries. We need number six to be there; so why the D.P.R.K. is not coming to the talks is something you are going to have to ask them. I believe that these talks, the implementation of this agreement is very important to the D.P.R.K., but it's not for me to tell them that. They can just come to that conclusion on their own. They are not going to get a better deal two years, three years from now. This is a proposal put together by six countries, and the notion that somehow waiting around for two or three years is going to give them some benefits is something I find hard to understand. D.P.R.K. needs to get on with things. They need to get going, opening their economy; they need to start to deal with some problems that I think have bedeviled them for years and the best time to get going with that is now. Their nuclear programs have done a lot of damage to their economy and, the logic of the situation is for them to get moving on this now. Why they haven't come, I think you going to have to ask them.
Moderator: (inaudible) there are differences between the United States and South Korea
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, you know that we work very closely with the Republic of Korea. In fact, I will be there later this week. I think we have really a unanimous view on the need of the D.P.R.K. to get rid of these nuclear programs as soon as possible in context of this agreement. If you look at the agreement that was reached, the statement in Gyeongju last November after the meeting with President Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun, you'll see an awfully lot of similarities in our views. Obviously, as a country right up on the border with the D.P.R.K., the R.O.K. has a broad policy toward the D.P.R.K., a policy that is at times quite apart from the nuclear issues. There is a North-South Dialogue and we have greatly supported that dialogue. So, I think, our issues with the R.O.K. -- we work very well with them. I think what's important for people to understand is that our problem is not the R.O.K., our problem is the D.P.R.K. Again, I feel we have an excellent relationship with our friend and ally, the R.O.K. and I think what we need to do is to keep the focus on the D.P.R.K., the country that is refusing to come to the talks.
Question: I would like nothing better than China to have a good relationship with its neighbors. And yet -- was it last year -- that the U.S. and Japan acknowledged Taiwan as a joint security concern. Now, knowing what happened during the Second World War when Taiwan was a part of Japan and the Chinese feel that there has been no acceptable official apology, how does that help China mend its relations with its neighbors?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, first of all, I think you misstated what was the statement that was made last year. I don't recall this being a joint concern. I think obviously we have had concerns. Many countries have concerns about cross-straits relations. Many countries have concerns about the Chinese military build-ups, specifically missiles on the Chinese side of the cross straits. So, I think, many countries have had this concern. At the time of that statement back in 2005, there was a lot of concern about the direction of the P.R.C.-Taiwan dialogue, the lack of dialogue. There had been the anti-secession legislation from Beijing earlier in the year. So there was a lot of concern, and we continue to have that concern. And Japan also has a right to express its concerns about what is going on in the region. So I don't think that statement -- or the fact that we have consultations with Japan to discuss issues, not only in East Asia, but all over the world -- in any way should be construed as something that would prevent China from trying to reach some sort of dialogue or some sort of process with the government in Taipei.
Question: My question regards the approaches the international community is taking to facilitate positive change in Burma. The United States is currently using economic sanctions as one of the tools to change the behavior of the Burmese generals. I think Burma needs an infusion of U.S. technology and management and capital investment to develop the economy and join the club of Asian Tigers. What are the other strategies or approaches the U.S. government can take -- besides economic sanctions -- to facilitate positive change in Burma?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Thank you very much. Clearly, we're very concerned about the direction of political events in Burma. We're very concerned about the fact that the government has -- to date -- not shown an interest in trying to reach out to a broad opposition and to try to find a way to develop some sort of political consensus on the way forward. We cannot be more concerned about Burma than Burma is. We cannot be more concerned more about its future than the people in Burma are. We need to see from the leadership there a willingness to reach out. As I said in my prepared remarks, we are prepared to respond if they reach out and begin to do the right thing. We are prepared to meet them with a response. But we have a situation where a Nobel Peace laureate has been kept under house arrest for years. The Burmese junta simply puts us in a position where there is not a lot we can do with them. They have come up with this so-called 'constitutional process' which is simply not going to develop the broad consensus necessary to move forward. We need to see some movement from the authorities there. We see on the one hand they refuse to have an ASEAN emissary see Aung San Suu Kyi, but then they allow the UN emissary to see Aung San Suu Kyi. It is clear that they have a sort of tactical notion of how to proceed, but do not want to proceed with a strategic notion. I think it is difficult to look for us to be changing our policy, when in fact what we need from them is some statement of interest, some indication, that they are in fact interested in joining the international community. I don't think it's in Burma's interests just to have relations with China and India. If they are really interested in opening up, they need to open up to the rest of us. So I think they know what they need to do, the question is whether they are prepared to do that.
Question: My question is that U.S. is, of course we understand that the U.S. is using economic sanctions as a leverage to --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Our economic leverage is very small in Burma. We have very little economic trade. Investment levels from U.S. companies would be very small in Burma, so I would not look to the economic measures that we've taken as being measures that are that fundamental to the regime there.
Question: In this case, because since the amount is small, and maybe the Myanmar generals think they can survive with India and China, and they may not take positive steps that the U.S. would like to see. So, in light of that, I was wondering if there any more or any others approaches that U.S. is thinking of taking?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, first of all, we are working very actively with partners. We are working very actively within ASEAN. We are working very actively with the Chinese and the Indians, and we have also, back in December, actually taken the issue to the U.N. So there is a lot of discussion going on, but, ultimately, we have to have Burmese authorities who really want to make some changes. And, that has been the problem.
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Before we end, I hope you don't mind if I pose to you one more question on Southeast Asia, because I think it's important to ensure that to remind us that we are in Southeast Asia here. The big question I will say for the American policy in Southeast Asia, is how successful China has been in its foreign policy in Southeast Asia. There used to be time when America was far ahead of China in terms of regional influence. But now the Chinese have been remarkably imaginative, proposing a free trade agreement. Trade links within China and Southeast Asian countries have grown by leaps and bounds. I wonder whether anybody in Washington, D.C. is thinking of some big bold American initiative, in a sense to regain maybe some political ground by either proposing a free trade agreement or a U.S.-ASEAN summit, or something equally bold as China. Is that being thought about in Washington, D.C.?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I'm not sure what we really need is big and bold. I know that's very un-American of me to say we don't need big and bold. But I think, really, what we need is what I tried to describe, which is a long-standing U.S. interest in the region. And I think we've got that. Now, with respect to summits, in fact, as I mentioned, my president met with ASEAN leaders who are members of APEC in Pusan in November. We would anticipate a similar type of get-together coming up in Vietnam in November. We have an on-going U.S. dialogue with ASEAN. In fact, the reason I'm going to Bangkok tonight is to do my part in that dialogue. Secretary Rice will be coming to Kuala Lumpur for the ASEAN Post Ministerial in [July]. And, with respect to free trade agreements, which are important, what's equally important is free trade agreements be real. And so, the first was with Singapore. And as we had hoped, that Free Trade Agreement with Singapore has begun to open up some thinking about free trade agreements elsewhere. And, as I mentioned, we will begin to have negotiations with the Malaysians and we hope to do the same with Thailand. So, I think what you see from us is that we are prepared to work on a long-term basis in Southeast Asia to ensure that we continue to have what I think has been a very special relationship with Southeast Asia. But, what I want to caution against is an implication that somehow we are in some sort of competition with China for the hearts and souls of Southeast Asia. In fact, we want Southeast Asia to have a good relationship with China. We do not see this at all as opposed to our interests. China is an engine of development for Southeast Asia. I think a very welcome engine of development. And much of the good economic news in Southeast Asia can in fact be traced to the strong Chinese growth. So we have no problem with this. And, as I said, I think having more China does not mean less U.S. in Southeast Asia. So, I don't look at it as a competition, rather, I think we look at as an area of the world where we work on together. The one area I must say is of concern deals with the previous question in Burma. Because we see a lot of problems in Burma. And we see a China willing to deal with Burma without maybe seeking to work with other countries in the world, without working with countries in the United Nations or countries in ASEAN on trying to affect some sort of change for the better in Burma's political situation. And by the way, it's entirely appropriate that China have a good relationship with its neighbor Burma. But we'd like to see some effort by China to work more with us in trying to effect positive change in Burma to put Burma on a stronger platform for growth in the future.
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Thank you. I must say that's a very nice optimistic note on which to end our discussions: to say that more China does not mean less United States. Most of the journalists' speculation is that if one wins the other loses, so your win-win approach is very encouraging for all of us. I must say it is a great privilege to have Ambassador Hill here with us. You can tell how great it is a privilege, by the way, by the amount of media coverage. We've had many good speakers here, Tom Friedman, Mayor Ma of Taipei, but we've never had this kind of media coverage. It shows how much weight your words carry.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: About North Korea, though.
KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Well, maybe some, they might pick up some things about Southeast Asia and also report that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Thank you very much.