Clinton speeches hint at tougher US posture toward China
Newly-disclosed transcripts of speeches by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton several years ago reveal the democratic nominee could be tougher on Beijing if she wins the election for president next month.
The off-the-record speeches made in June and October of 2013 include the assertion that the United States could “ring China” with missile defenses if Beijing fails to rein in threatening North Korean nuclear and missile program.
The former secretary of state also accused the Chinese military of backing Pyongyang’s frequent military and other provocations.
“The biggest supporters of a provocative North Korea [have] been the PLA,” she stated in June 4, 2013 remarks. “The deep connections between the military leadership in China and in North Korea has really been the mainstay of the relationship.”
Other Chinese leaders, she stated, were seeking to rein in North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and send a message to the North Korean military at the same time they were attempting to keep North Korea within the Chinese “orbit.”
Unless China did more to stifle North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Clinton said, the United States would build up missile defenses and naval forces in the region, a move opposed by Beijing.
“We all have told the Chinese if they continue to develop this missile program and they get an ICBM that has the capacity to carry a small nuclear weapon on it, which is what they’re aiming to do, we cannot abide that,” Clinton said.
“Because they could not only do damage to our treaty allies, namely Japan and South Korea, but they could actually reach Hawaii and the west coast theoretically, we’re going to ring China with missile defense,” she said.
The speeches were sponsored by the financial firm Goldman Sachs and had been kept secret by Clinton during her presidential campaign despite calls for their release by her main democratic opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
They were disclosed in hacked emails stolen from the personal email of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and posted on the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. The U.S. government has accused Russia of obtaining the emails in a bid to influence the U.S. election.
The speeches are an indication that Clinton as president could take a harder line toward China than current U.S. President Barack Obama, who has done little to push back against Chinese aggression toward disputed islands in the South China and East China Seas.
Clinton said the message relayed to China regarding North Korea, was “you either control them or we’re going to have to defend against them.”
Since the 2013 speech, however, China has done little to prevent North Korea from building up its arsenal. This year alone, Pyongyang conducted two underground nuclear tests, the most recent one in September was assessed by intelligence agencies to be twice the size of earlier blasts – an indication the regime is making progress toward a warhead capable of being carried on a missile.
North Korea also has begun rapid development of a submarine-launched missile capability since 2013, conducting numerous static and flight tests.
After a delay of several years, the Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to deploy the highly-effective missile defense system known as THAAD, for Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, that Beijing had tried to derail in pressuring the government of South Korea.
Naval missile defense ships also are deployed in the region and are coordinating with both Japanese and South Korean ships.
In a second speech in October 2013, Clinton said one of her “greatest arguments” in talks with Chinese officials was over China’s vast claims to the South China Sea. Beijing is claiming 90% of the sea under an ill-defined Nine Dash Line circling most of the strategy waterway.
Clinton said China “basically wants to control” the South China Sea through a questionable Chinese historical claim of having found “pottery shards” from a Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground on one of the disputed islands.
“I said, by that argument, you know, the United States should claim all of the Pacific,” Clinton told her Chinese counterparts. “We liberated it, we defended it. We have as much claim to all of the Pacific, and we could call it the American Sea, and it could go from the West Coast of California all the way to the Philippines.”
The Chinese then threatened to claim Hawaii as Chinese territory, to which Clinton replied: “Yeah, but we have proof we bought it. Do you have proof you brought any of these places you’re claiming?”
The speeches also provide a detailed assessment by Clinton of Chinese leader Xi Jinping who she described as “more sophisticated” than his predecessor Hu Jintao.
Clinton believes Xi is “more worldly” and experienced, and he moved to consolidate power since becoming Communist Party general secretary in November 2012, including taking more control over the People’s Liberation Army, that Clinton said were acting independent of civilian leaders in making Chinese foreign policies.
“One of the biggest concerns I had over the last four years was the concern that was manifested several different ways that the PLA, the People’s Liberation Army, was acting somewhat independently; that it wasn’t just a good cop/bad cop routine when we would see some of the moves and some of the rhetoric coming out of the PLA, but that in effect that were making some foreign policy,” she said.
Previous Chinese leader Hu Jintao, “never really captured the authority over the PLA that is essential for any government, whether it’s a civilian government in our country or a communist party government in China,” she said.
Clinton also disclosed that Xi’s daughter studied in the United States at Harvard University, a fact that is kept secret in China.
“They don’t like you to know that, but most of the Chinese leadership children are at American universities or have been,” Clinton said.
She then recalled how she mentioned to one “very, very high ranking Chinese official” in 2011 that his daughter attended Wellesley College and the official demanded to know who told her.