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Bill Clinton's Remarks at the Asia Society Annual Dinner 2003

William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America

William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America

That would make the past repeat itself, which is what happened in the early eighties after the Soviet Union left and so did we. But, we can't afford to stay all by ourselves, so we need cooperation in the security area in Afghanistan, just as we need to cooperate to help our friends throughout Asia fight terror, narco-trafficking, and organized crime. Which is why I strongly support what President Bush has done in trying to work with the Philippines in that regard. At the same time, we can't ignore what you might call the old flash points of Asia, the Korean peninsula, Taiwan, the troubles between India and Pakistan, so I’d like to mention those just for a moment.

North Korea is the most perplexing country on earth. Its only cash crops are bombs and missiles. It’s the only place in the world that can't grow food, but can grow bombs and missiles. And they’re quite good bombs and missiles. Negotiating with them is not easy, but it is profoundly important. We can't take force off the table, and if we don’t, we can probably make a deal. In 1994 we reached an agreement with North Korea to end their plutonium nuclear program. They intended to build power plants that ran on plutonium, and then when the fuel rods were spent, because they were still highly radioactive and useable for bombs, they intended to make bombs. We ended that program. And if we hadn't, as the State Department, both Secretary Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Armitage have said, North Korea would have dozens and dozens of nuclear weapons today, somewhere between fifty and a hundred.

Now, in 1998, it turns out the North Koreans, in the same year they agreed to stop testing their long range missiles, started a much smaller nuclear program using highly enriched uranium in a lab. Enough to, perhaps, give them a bomb or two. But, we can't have that. Not because we think North Korea wants to bomb South Korean, I don’t think they do, and the South Koreans don’t either, that’s why they want to continue the rapprochement policy. What do they want? Why in the wild world are they doing this? Why would they aggravate everybody if they don’t want to use these bombs? Well, I think North Korea wants three things. First of all, I think it wants not to be East Germany. And I think it does not want to disappear from the world’s stage. Lucky for them, South Korea doesn’t want to be West Germany, it’s too expensive.

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And the third thing they want is the recognition and respect of their neighbors in the United States. That’s why they’ve asked for this non-aggression pact. Now, the Bush administration, I think quite properly, has not wanted to pay them twice for the same thing, and has argued that this nuclear program in the lab, even though it’s much smaller than the one they ended, in effect, at least violates the spirit of the former agreement, and furthermore, they threatened to start the other one. They said they did, and then they said they didn't, and then they said they might. But it would be a disaster. I can just tell you that from my point of view, under whatever circumstances, neither the United States nor Japan nor any other power in Asia can responsibly allow North Korea to become a nuclear arms arsenal. Not because they will use them, but because they can't feed themselves. And the pressure, if we isolate them, for them to sell those weapons and missiles will become overwhelming. Therefore, a diplomatic solution that involves the Chinese and the Japanese and the South Koreans and the Russians and everybody else that we can get involved is imperative. But we have to be involved in it.

And I think this time we’ve got to try to end all the nuclear programs with verification, and the missile production and sales for good. In return for food and medicine, food and energy, and the continuing reconciliation with South Korea, and I would give them a non-aggression pact, because we’re not ever going to be aggressive against them unless they do something which would void the pact. It would not bind American in any meaningful way, but it would give them the notion that we respect an agreement with them. Furthermore, I think we have to do something to try to help them become more self sufficient, which would inevitably require them to adopt more liberalization. You can have a state dominated monopoly over enough scientific and technological base to produce bombs and missiles, but it’s hard to get much beyond that without having some greater competition over openness and ownership. So that’s what I will hope will happen, and that’s what it seems to me that our government and our allies are trying to achieve.

With regard to China and Taiwan, I think it is sort of the opposite of the Middle East, where, in the Middle East, if we do nothing, it gets worse. In China and Taiwan, if nobody does anything, it’ll get better.

Because they’re all investing, and making money, and ignoring the politics, and the politicians stand up and say what they have to say, and the people, they’re growing together anyway. They are one culture, they are, in profound ways, one nation, they have separate systems, and they’ll figure it out if nobody does anything stupid. And America’s policy should be designed to make sure that nobody does anything stupid. I remember once I had to send the fleet into the straights there because of the missile testing. And I never said a word. And I didn't really want many headlines. And everything got all right, nobody did anything stupid. If nobody does anything beyond the bounds that everyone clearly understands there, that’s going to come out all right. But we should be very careful with that, because it’s profoundly important.

And the final thing I’d like to talk about a little bit is the problem between India and Pakistan, and the not unrelated sectarian violence within India itself. Rajat [Gupta] talked a little about our trip there, and the fact that I’ve been privileged to work with him and Victor Menezes who is here, and many others, to raise a few million dollars at the request of Prime Minister Vajpayee to help re-build Gujarat after the terrible earthquake there. And when the prime minister asked me to do this, we set up a separate foundation, the America India Foundation, which I hope will some day do for India what all the American Jewish organizations have done for Israel over decades and really make a significant difference.