John Edwards on the Future of US-China Relations

John Edwards on the Future of US-China Relations

Senator John Edwards (edwards.senate.gov)

Discussion with Senator John Edwards

New York
October 31, 2006

Address to Asia Society

VISHAKHA DESAI: Good morning and welcome. Welcome to the Asia Society. I'm delighted that so many of you are here this morning. My name is Vishakha Desai, president of this wonderful institution. And it's my great honor to welcome all of you on behalf of the Asia Society as well as the National Committee on US-China Relations. This program, indeed, is co-sponsored by National Committee on US-China Relations and it has a lot to do with the fact that, in fact, our speaker has just come back from China from a trip that was organized by the National Committee. I'm delighted to welcome Steve Orlins, the President of the National Committee, and thank both Steve and Jan Barris for their great support for this program.

I'm not going to take a lot of time just to simply say that this particular program is part of a series that we have developed for American political leaders, to understand their views on Asia. As you can imagine, many of them have national aspirations and that's one of the reasons why we want to know how they're going to think about Asia, both in terms of importance of Asia in the global affairs, as well as the issues that arise from number of hot spots that, of course, we know are in Asia today.

Senator Edwards is going to speak particularly on the future of US-China relations but there will be a broader gauged conversation afterwards. I'm delighted that you are here. If you're not members we invite you to join and I hope that you will join us as we continue to do our work in arts, culture, business, policy and education. Without further ado, I'm going to turn over the program to Leslie Stahl, who needs no introduction. But before I invite both of them to come up, a few housekeeping rules - and that is, please turn off your cell phones. And secondly, we would be grateful if you would fill out the questionnaire that is with you so that you can also tell us how we can do these programs better.

Leslie Stahl needs no introduction but she's a great friend of the institution, of our Chairman, of mine and most importantly, of course, a celebrated journalist from 60 Minutes. She's going to introduce our speaker and moderate the discussion. Please join me in welcoming both Leslie Stahl and Senator Edwards. [APPLAUSE]

LESLIE STAHL: Nice to see you. Senator Edwards and I are veterans at the interviewee/interviewer game because I interviewed him - not once in 2004 for 60 Minutes, but twice. But I get ahead of myself. Henry Kissinger once said that no one should run for president unless they have had a major tragedy in their life or a major setback in their life and have learned how to weather and bounce back. And Senator Edwards is that person. He was a trial lawyer, a very successful trial lawyer in North Carolina, sort of humming along when he had a tragedy. His beloved son, Wade, was killed in a freak car accident. And through that healing he decided to completely change his life and go into public service. And that is when he ran for the Senate from North Carolina, was a Senator for one term, ran for President in 2004, was chosen by John Kennedy to run.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Kerry.

LESLIE STAHL:
Kerry. [LAUGHTER] We're in trouble. We're already in trouble. Can you hear us way in the back? Look how many people are here!

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Yeah, that was great. Can I just point out?

LESLIE STAHL:
Yeah.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Kennedy would have chosen me, too, but I was only eight at the time! [LAUGHTER]

LESLIE STAHL:
[LAUGHS] Kennedy definitely would have chosen you! But, anyway, obviously, the run for Vice-President is not the end of the story. By all appearances, it quacks like a duck, the Senator is going to try again. And we are delighted that he is here today to share his views with us on foreign policy issues. But you've just come back from China.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
I have.

LESLIE STAHL:
And we are anxious for your briefing to start us off.

SENATOR EDWARDS: Okay. Thank you, Leslie, very much. Thank you, Leslie, very much. And also let me say a thank you to Richard and to the Asia Society for their hosting this event and to my friend, Steve Orlins, and the National Committee on US-China Relations, who hosted me in my trip to China. I just came back, maybe about a week or ten days ago, I guess. We had a terrific trip. Short, unfortunately, but it was very valuable from my perspective. Let me begin. I'm going to speak for a short time because I want us to have a conversation and then I want to have a conversation with you. And by the way, I'm going to speak only about China and one other subject that's important to me personally now, but we'll broaden the discussion when Leslie starts asking questions and you start to ask questions.

You know, it was clear to me before I went to China and it became even clearer while I was there, that there is no more important relationship that America has than our relationship with China. It's a relationship that, from my perspective as a Democrat, has not gotten the attention that it should have gotten over the last few years, for obvious reasons - Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, other priorities of this administration. And I think the relationship has suffered some as a result and I think we have a reason to be concerned about that. What I want to do today is talk just about a few very specific things and then I want to talk very briefly about a trip I made to Uganda and a piece that's in The Washington Post today, that I wrote about what's happening in Uganda right now.

Let me talk first about the immediate issue with China, which is North Korea and North Korea's testing of both missiles and nuclear weapons. For those of you who may not have seen the news, the Chinese have just announced that the North Koreans have agreed to come back to the Six Party Talks. Haven't been scheduled yet but they made this announcement within the last twenty-four hours, which is encouraging. That's a good thing. There was also some news in the last few days. It came out as part of a regular reporting process. But apparently in September China did not sell any oil to North Korea. Now, the Chinese did not announce this so we don't know if it's part of their policy and we don't know if it's a sanction that China has imposed. There's no way to know at this point. There's a lot of speculation about it. But one of the things that we were concerned about while we were in China and meeting with government leaders was the extent to which the Chinese were actually willing to enforce the UN sanctions, how committed they were to the enforcement of those sanctions. I think a lot of us, including me, have some concern about their willingness to do that. When we met with the Foreign Minister, which was actually one of the best meetings we had while we were there, we spent some time in the room where the Six Party Talks have been going on. And what he said to me is, he said, It would be very easy for the Americans, if they were willing to do it, to come in the context of the Six Party Talks, and the American representative and the North Korean representative just go over into that corner. He said, It's very important to the North Koreans, not just as a matter of substance but as a matter of how the world perceives North Korea. A matter of some pride for them, he says. And from my perspective - and this is, again, this is the opinion of John Edwards - I think it is very important for America to be willing to negotiate directly with the North Koreans. I don't think it's a sign of weakness. I think it creates a greater possibility of us being able to resolve this situation. And I think it's certainly less likely for us to be able to address this issue in a successful way if we're not willing to deal directly with the North Koreans. The Chinese are very, very supportive of America engaging in a direct dialogue with the North Koreans. So there's some encouraging news. It appears the Six Party Talks are going to resume. I'd love to see America get more engaged and be willing to dialogue directly with the North Koreans. I think this is a very, very serious issue. I'm sure today, as Leslie told me before we came in, we'll also talk about Iraq, talk about Iran and how all these things are connected, because - at least in my judgment - they are.

The second subject I want to talk about briefly is the question of China's rise and what it means for America. And one meetings that I remember best was that we had a meeting with the Education Minister. And it was fairly startling to me - it won't be to most of you - that China is going to become the largest English-speaking country on the face of the planet because they require that their kids in school learn to speak English. And they are completely invested, both financially and emotionally, in closing the education gap that exists in China - both regionally and between the better off families and those that are poor. About half their kids major in science, math, technology - the areas which I think are critical to success in today's world. By comparison, they graduate somewhere around ten times the number of engineers that we graduate each year. So they're very, very focused. It was striking to me, both in terms of their domestic policy but also the way what I'm about to say informs their foreign policy. Basically, what they seem to want is, they want to stay focused on being successful internally, strengthening and growing their economy - not at any cost, but willing to take a significant amount of cost in order to accomplish that. And that includes things like environmental degradation and continuing their rise in the consumption of energy. But it also affects their foreign policy and you can hear it in everything they say. You know, I asked specifically about the genocide in Darfur in Sudan. A lot of people, including me, are concerned that the Chinese are providing some propping up of Sudan and the Sudanese government because they get a lot of oil from Sudan. And I think there's just some truth to that. Their energy demands are high. They're focused on developing their economy. They need this oil in order to strengthen and grow their economy. So they're willing to not put pressure on the Sudanese government, even when a genocide is going on. But I think, also, it's put of this whole notion that they are focused in, not out. They want the world to be a stable, relatively tranquil place. I think it's also one of the reasons that they generally are not supportive of sanctions. I mean, America is much more aggressive about sanctions than the Chinese are, I think because we are about projecting ourselves around the world. And they certainly have more influence internationally than I think they're willing to recognize. But they are clearly focused on being successful internally. And it affects not only their domestic policy but also their foreign policy.

They also have huge challenges. That became clear. We had a meeting with a gentleman who was in the equivalent of their Environment Protection Agency. He was in the environmental bureaucracy, which is relatively small, by the way, for such a huge country. And he talked about going out into the rural areas of China and trying to get the local public officials to do something about the extraordinary environmental problems - and they have huge environmental problems in China. And he said, It's virtually impossible to get them to engage on this issue because they are judged based on their economic development. And he said, It is not a perimeter of their success whether they're doing something about environmental problems. Just anecdotally, I know a lot of you - and maybe all of you - have been there, but Beijing has as bad a traffic as Moscow, where I spent some time a few months ago, which is virtual gridlock a lot of the time. You can barely move. So they're becoming a car society with very little control, huge traffic problems. And they have both environmental and energy concerns. They're now the second largest consumer of oil on the planet, after the United States. I think that's very important in our relationship with them. Because, as I said earlier about Sudan, I think it's also true about Iran - as long as they continue to have these energy demands, as long as they're focused on economic development and what's happening internally, it will drive the way they engage on these other issues, particularly Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, other countries that we care about. So the question is, What does America do? How do we engage the Chinese? How do we engage them in a way that strengthens this relationship over time? Because I think it is in our interest for that to happen. It's in their interest for it to happen. But I don't think it's an easy challenge. You know, I had a conversation with the Defense Minister about the EP3 incident that happened in 2001. And I said, In follow-up to that, do you now have a direct line to the Defense Department in the United States so that if something happens accidentally we have a way to communicate with you and communicate quickly? Because that was one of the problems that occurred back in 2001.

And he said, Well, it's funny you should say that. Rumsfeld was here recently and he suggested the same thing. And, you know, well, of course what I'm thinking to myself is, Now Rumsfeld's suggesting this? But the response was, We're considering it. Well, you know, in the interim we have no hotline, so to speak, with their Defense Ministry. And the result is, if something bad were to happen there's a great potential for misunderstanding and over-reaction. And it is a fairly startling thing to me. Their military operations are so opaque to us. And they talk about the cooperation - the Defense Minister talked with me at length about his cooperation, their military cooperation with the United States. I think that if you ask anybody in the Defense Department they would tell you we don't know a great deal about what the Chinese are doing militarily, what they're doing to strengthen their military and develop their military.

And then finally, on the economic front, which is the place that a lot of Americans are focused, I think it's encouraging that Paulson has engaged now at a high level in a dialogue about both our economic concerns - whether it's the protection of intellectual property, the fact that they peg their currency, all the issues that America is concerned about economically in its relationship with the Chinese. You know, again, it's a little late. You know, here we're in the sixth year of the administration and now we're engaging in these high level dialogues about our economic concerns - their holding of American debt, being another example. But it's a good thing and it's something we should encourage. And I think the fact that Paulson has sort of taken the lead on that is a positive sign. So the bottom line is, this relationship is enormously important, has not gotten the attention that it needs. I think that, by no means, is it pre-determined where this relationship is headed. There's great potential and there are great challenges. And we just need to engage this relationship with our eyes wide open in a thoughtful and visionary way. And I think there is great potential for success if we do that. Ignoring the relationship or not giving it the attention it deserves is a huge mistake.

And then, finally, on a completely different subject - cause I was just afraid it wouldn't come up - I was in Uganda a few weeks ago. For those of you who haven't followed what's going on in Uganda, they've basically had a twenty year civil war there. And in the northern part of Uganda there have been incredible atrocities committed against the people there. There is a group called the Lord's Resistance Army -- which is the rebel army, basically - that have done things like capture eight, ten year old kids, turn them into sex slaves, turn them into soldiers, hold a gun to their head while they're required to kill other members of their family. There is somewhere between a million and a half and two million people in northern Uganda who have been herded into camps for security reasons. It's a huge humanitarian crisis that's gotten very little attention. One of the reasons I bring it up, besides the fact that I care about it and I was just there, is I have a piece today -- for those of you who have a chance to go online - in The Washington Post on this subject, talking about both what we saw when we were there. We had a very distinguished delegation, including our former Ambassador to China, who participated in the trip. But also talking about what America needs to do because there's so much good we could do without that much effort. Because there are peace talks going on in southern Sudan between the rebel forces and the Ugandan government. We need to be engaged in that process - you know, offering mediators, providing public and obvious support for the peace process. I mean, anybody you talk to in northern Uganda, that's their primary concern. They want to get out of these camps and go home. I mean, it's not all that complicated. But it cannot happen without peace. And then America and the other large donor countries in the world need to help with the transition, if peace can be achieved. And my view about this is, this is not a do good thing. I mean, hopefully we'd do it for that reason but ultimately this is an example of where America needs to show some moral leadership. I mean, if we actually want to lead in the world and we're the most powerful nation on the planet, it requires more than power. It does require power, by the way, and we need to maintain and strengthen our power. But in order to be able to provide the moral leadership that the world so desperately needs from America - especially when crises occur - and Iran and nuclear weapons, to me, being the most prominent today - the world should naturally come to us. In order for the world to naturally come to us we have to show that we're engaged in issues that are beyond our own self-interest. And Uganda is a perfect example of that. The genocide in Sudan is another example. So I'm pleased to be here with all of you to talk about China, Iraq, Iran, anything you'd like to talk about - and honored to be your guest. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

LESLIE STAHL:
Well, on China - I guess one subject you did not touch in your opening remarks was the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. And I'm wondering if you felt, when you were talking to the Chinese, or if you have views on whether you, in the broad future, see an alignment between the United States and China against this march of Islamic or jihadism or whatever you want to call it. Do we have a common interest and would a President want to try to nurture that?

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Well, I think we have very much a common interest. And they would be concerned for their own selfish reasons, as America is concerned. They're concerned about their own security, they're concerned about disruption in the world which would interfere with what they're trying to do internally. It's one of the reasons, it's a perfect example, actually, of a place where America could engage with China in a positive, productive way. But I would add, I think if you step back and think about over the next twenty to thirty years, the possible ways that this relationship could go. One of the concerns I think that we have to have is we want the world's great powers - us, the Europeans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians to a lesser extent - we want the world's great powers working together to solve the world's problems, whether they're the softer problems like the spread of AIDS, et cetera, global poverty - to the harder problems - the spread of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, et cetera. There is, at least, potential - and I wouldn't exaggerate this. It's not right in front of us - but there is at least potential, if you look at what's been happening in Russia over the last six years. They've gone from a democracy to an autocracy, by any possible measure - there is certainly the potential that a rift could occur, that on one side it's the countries that have a values-based relationship with the United States, who embrace the values that America embraces - democracy, human rights, et cetera - us, the Europeans, the Japanese, being the obvious examples of that. And then on the other side, the more autocratic countries - Russia, China. And that rift is not good for America and not good for the world because if we have a strong, and to the extent possible, values-based relationship, as opposed to a case by case relationship, then what happens is - when bad things happen, when crises occur - these countries are naturally with us. And we need to do everything we can to foster our relationship with both China and, for that matter, with Russia so that that kind of rift never happens.


LESLIE STAHL:
So, as a President, what would be the common denominator with China if it's not going to be values? How do you make sure that they stay on our side of the interest line?

SENATOR EDWARDS: Well, we have many common interests. We have a common interest in security, we have a common interest in energy. They have the same kind of energy concerns and demands that we do.

LESLIE STAHL: Common, or do we fight on energy?

SENATOR EDWARDS: It's both, it's both. But we both have huge energy demands. Here's what I would say about that: we need to have an eyes-wide-open engagement with China. The things that we are in agreement on, our common interest in having the world be at peace so that both of our countries can continue to thrive. Our common interest in fighting terrorism, our common interest in stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction - North Korea being the closest example for China. On all those issues we need to work together. But we also need to be open and honest with them about the values-based things that we're concerned about - democracy, human rights, transparency. I mean, those are the kind of things that ultimately will strengthen our relationship in the way it needs to be strengthened.

LESLIE STAHL: I'm going to jump around. Iran - but let's talk about opening dialogue. I mean, clearly you said we should talk to the North Koreans.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Yes.

LESLIE STAHL:
I assume you disagree with the cold shoulder policy of never talking to our enemies, generally.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
I do, I do.

LESLIE STAHL: But I personally - I don't know how you all feel about this - I've been unclear for twenty years about who it is who doesn't want to talk in the US-Iranian relationship. I think we've been sending out feelers for years. Is it us or is it them who doesn't want to talk? And once you get in the room with them, aren't they there to humiliate us? So where do you stand? What is your thinking on what a dialogue with them would look like and how you'd go about even getting to the table?

SENATOR EDWARDS: Well, first, to frame the issue: my belief is that Iran's effort to get nuclear weapons is a more serious security problem for the United States and the world than North Korea, for a multitude of reasons. And I think we've gotten to this place - it's important to understand how we've got to this place. We got to this place because the administration was obsessed with Saddam Hussein and Iraq, fighting a war - a just war - in Afghanistan. And they essentially left responsibility for dealing with the Iranian nuclear situation, they abdicated responsibility to the Europeans. And the result is - and in part because of some of the weaknesses in the NPT - that Iran was able to walk right up to the edge of having nuclear weapons. They got to this place in part because of some flaws in the international proliferation regime. But in addition to that, because we weren't engaged. And we need to be engaged. So that's how we got to this place. I don't personally understand this notion that being willing to talk to somebody is a sign of weakness. I mean, is it some macho bravado? I don't get it. I mean, everyone knows we're the most powerful nation on the planet. Being willing to talk doesn't mean you're not tough. It doesn't mean you don't have a high level of demands. But when it's clear that - and it's clear right now that not much positive is happening with the Iranians. I mean, the Russians offered to control the fuel cycle to provide nuclear materials to the Iranians. They rejected that. They're clearly biding their time. Every time a proposal is made they ask for months to respond. Ahmadinejad comes to the United Nations and essentially denounces the United States of America. I mean, I think it's a very, very volatile, dangerous situation. And I might add, when I was in Israel just a few months ago, talking to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister - this was just prior to the outbreak of violence with Hezbollah - but their focus, without any question, was the issue of Iran having nuclear weapons.

LESLIE STAHL:
But go back to my question. Who is it who doesn't want to talk? I don't know that it's that clear.

SENATOR EDWARDS: Do you think the administration wants to talk?

LESLIE STAHL: I think they've sent out feelers and I think previous administrations sent out feelers. And I don't know. Every time I read something it's unclear who it is that doesn't want to talk.

SENATOR EDWARDS: Well, I see absolutely nothing wrong with a high level American official being willing to meet with a high level Iranian official, some place, on some neutral ground.

LESLIE STAHL: But do they want to talk to us?

SENATOR EDWARDS: I think they'd be willing to talk to us, yeah.


LESLIE STAHL:
And then you get there and…

SENATOR EDWARDS: I'm not - first of all, we shouldn't be naïve about it. I'm not suggesting for a minute that that's clearly going to solve the problem. All I'm saying is we have to exhaust every conceivable diplomatic avenue because this is such a volatile, dangerous situation.

LESLIE STAHL:
So the Europeans talk to them and they agree to something on Tuesday. And Wednesday they say, No, we never agreed to that.

SENATOR EDWARDS: It could happen again.

LESLIE STAHL: And then one guy says, Yes. And the other guy says, No.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
But isn't that the nature of these engagements? I mean, I think that's just the real world that we live in. But if America is not involved, if America is not engaged the chances of those discussions being successful are greatly diminished. Everybody should see that.

LESLIE STAHL:
If Osama bin Laden makes an announcement that we're a paper tiger and people begin to believe that and you say we're the most powerful nation on earth, how much of that is believed anymore around the world? How much power do we really have, in your opinion?

SENATOR EDWARDS:
It's been clearly affected by what's happened in Iraq. There's no doubt about that. It's not just, you know, how powerful is America. I still think most people would recognize we're the most powerful nation on the planet. But there's certainly been some erosion in the perception of the depth of American power. But I think it's more than that. I think it's also an erosion in the respect that the world has for the United States of America. And the next President of the United States is going to have an enormous responsibility. And it is the single most important responsibility of the next President. We have to restore American leadership - not just for us. We need to do it for us. But the world desperately needs our leadership and without it there's a huge leadership vacuum. And the chaos that we see in the world today is the direct result of that leadership vacuum.

LESLIE STAHL:
If you have a situation where the President of the United States says to the North Koreans, If you launch a nuclear test it's unacceptable - and so they launch a nuclear test. And if you enrich uranium, it's totally unacceptable. There will be a price to pay. So they enrich it and there's no pay to pay. And then they say, If you launch another test, that's completely, totally, it's unacceptable - which we say with a louder volume. And they launch another test. I mean, what can a President do?

SENATOR EDWARDS:
But see, the problem is you can't - what we have right now is reactive diplomacy. We react when bad things happen. We're not taking the long term steps that are necessary for the world to naturally rally around us, view us as the leader and as a result, isolate countries like Iran when they engage in the kind of behavior they're engaging in - or North Korea or whoever it is. I mean, if we, over the long term, are clearly viewed as the world's leader and the world sees us not just as the most powerful nation, which is critical, but they also see us as the natural moral leader in the world, then we have the capacity, when these crises occur, to isolate those people who are engaged in rogue behavior. And without it you see exactly what's happened with Iran, with our efforts in the Security Council. It's a very, very difficult situation.

LESLIE STAHL:
Iraq.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Yeah.

LESLIE STAHL:
There seems to be something out there in the ether that's suggesting that we may actually increase the number of troops going in there right after the election. And as Richard Holbrooke said earlier today, there seems to be two choices - increase the troops, decrease the troops. What's your view on that? Do you think we should send in more American troops?

SENATOR EDWARDS:
No. No, I think the choices are all bad, first of all. I mean, we're in a very, very difficult situation. And I think sending more troops in is a mistake. This is not news. I've said this before. I think we're now at the place where we're policing a civil war. And it is critical for America to make clear, both to the Iraqis and to all other countries in that region, that we intend to leave, that we don't intend to be there over the long term. The best way to prove that is to actually start leaving. And I'm not for setting an absolute time table but I think today we could withdraw forty to fifty thousand troops from the more secure sections of Iraq. And we have to start - and if I were President of the United States I would say to my military leadership, It's our intention to get our combat troops out of Iraq and I need a plan from you about how it can be done, over what period of time and what maximizes the chances of success. That's what I think we ought to be doing. And engaging the leaders of the other countries in the region so that they, at least hopefully, will help secure Iraq.


LESLIE STAHL:
Well, he's left a lot of meat on the table for you. I have one final question before I turn it over to you because there are lots of threads out there which I would love to follow up on but I'm leaving them for you. I have one final question before the audience takes over. You did run in 2004. I'm wondering what you learned about yourself and about the necessities of leadership and what changes in yourself you intend to present to the public if you run, when you run. [LAUGHTER] When you run!

SENATOR EDWARDS: Thank you for all those caveats! It's impossible to overstate the impact of going through -- as a candidate -- a national election. I ran for both the nomination. John Kerry won the nomination. Then I was picked by him to run with him as the Vice-presidential candidate. There is a maturation process that occurs from being in the spotlight constantly, eighteen hours a day. What I learned is that there is a natural tension between politics and leadership. And America desperately needs leadership today, much more than it needs politics. And that means having someone who has a clear idea of who they are, a clear set of convictions, a clear view of what America's role in the world is and should be, and is willing to stand behind it. And I think that that, because of the uncertain times we live in, because of the insecurity and uncertainty that many Americans feel - it's not fear. I think that that's overstatement. I think for most Americans it's not fear. But there is an uncertainty, an uneasiness about what's happening, in the world particularly. And I think they want a leader or leaders who understand that fear and are willing to stand strong and clear on their behalf. And I think that we have plenty of politicians. What we need are leaders.

LESLIE STAHL: Okay. Thank you. All right, how shall we do this? Just call? Are there microphones? Identify yourselves, there are mics. And raise your hand and we'll get the mic to you as fast as possible. Right here, there's someone right here, this gentleman. There you go.

MAN: Senator, thank you for your comments.

LESLIE STAHL: Would you identify yourself?

ALAN KINNOCK: Yes, my name is Alan Kinnock. And I'm a member of the Asia Society, and a happy member. I think most people in America agree that it would be wonderful for America to regain their respect and influence in the world that has - and some people feel, rightly deserved - What concrete things can our next leader do to regain that respect, to give it the moral influence to shape events?

SENATOR EDWARDS:
I can give you some very specific examples of the kinds of things that America can do. Some of them are the use of America's soft power. We should - well, I talked about one earlier, a small one. Not small for me, but small in comparison to what's happening in the rest of the world. But issues like what's happening in Uganda, the genocide in Sudan and Darfur, the issue of global poverty on which America has shown very little leadership are clear examples of a place where America could demonstrate to the world what our character is, what kind of leadership we want to provide to the world. And then I think the next President of the United States is going to have to devote himself or herself to traveling around the world, meeting with world leaders and making clear that we intend to follow a different path than the path that's been followed in the previous eight years, that that is not America at its best, that we are not naturally a fearful people, that we are an optimistic people who believe that we can help the rest of the world. And will there always be, always be dangerous leaders and dangerous people? Absolutely, absolutely. There are many examples of that now. But for America to be as secure as it can possibly be and for the rest of the world to be as secure as it can possibly be we have to both engage the leadership of the rest of the world and we have to demonstrate our commitment to the big causes, what I perceive to be the big causes that face the world. And it's some of those things I just used as examples are things we could do.

LESLIE STAHL: Maureen.

MAUREEN WHITE:
Thank you very much. Maureen White. Senator Edwards, I was glad that you had a few moments to share with us your thoughts after having been in northern Uganda this past month. But I wonder, for the sake of the audience here, if you could just elaborate a little bit in explaining the conditions in the camps there. When people call them IDP camps that sounds a little bit benign.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Yeah.

MAUREEN WHITE: Their conditions are actually much worse. And I know you were actually in the camps and saw it. And that would be helpful.

SENATOR EDWARDS: Yes, they were.

MAUREEN WHITE: And then the second part of my question is - I don't know if you're willing to do this, but could you explain a little bit what you think the reasons behind the current administration's willingness to give Museveni a pass on what is happening in Uganda?

SENATOR EDWARDS: Yeah, I'll be glad to talk about both. What's happening is, in northern Uganda, the argument that the government makes is that they can't tell the LRA troops from the citizens. And so what they do about it is they herd all the people up and put them into camps. They're called IDP camps because they haven't crossed an international border, they haven't come from another country. So they're internally displaced persons as opposed to being refugees. But the conditions are exactly the same. And the conditions in these camps are absolutely horrendous. I mean, you can just imagine. You herd all these people together. The spread of AIDS is a huge problem. There are lots of orphan kids wandering around who basically have no parents. Their parents have been killed by the LRA. There are some children who have come back to the camps after being abducted and kept for some period of time. And the living conditions are exactly what you'd expect them to be. I was there with the International Rescue Committee. That committee is doing heroic work there. They have five hundred - mostly young - people, mostly Ugandans - on the ground there, helping. And by the way - not to be too subtle about this - but the conditions get worse as you go further north. Lira, which is a little further south, Kitgum, which is a little further north - the conditions in those two places are not the same. Some people are actually leaving the camps as you come further south and trying to make the transition back into their communities. And some of them haven't been in the camps as long as they have in northern Uganda, where a lot of the families have been there for twenty years or more. Museveni is the President of Uganda. We met with Museveni when we were there. I think he would like to be seen as an historic leader. And he's been in power for a long time. And I think he is thinking about his legacy, as a lot of leaders do who are in power for such an extended period of time. So I think there's a huge opportunity. Except for being totally distracted by other things, I don't know the answer, Maureen, to why the administration is not engaged. Because it wouldn't take much. I mean, just a public support of the peace process alone would be an enormous step, which we just have not, we've done almost none of. And making it clear to the President that if he can achieve peace -- and the discussions are going on in southern Sudan. The southern Sudanese government is supporting the peace talks - then we will be there, along with other wealthier nations to help smooth the transition. You know, they're going to have huge problems with access to clean water and medicine and health care and education and all those things. And this is a place where America could make a real difference.


LESLIE STAHL:
Ambassador Holbrooke.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE:
Thank you so much for coming here today. And I have a two part question on China and Darfur. But first, Maureen's point: the reason both the Clinton and the Bush Administrations have given Museveni a pass is the economic growth rate, his AIDS program, which is the best in Africa and a sense that the LRA problem was intractable and remote and it was in the area of the Congo and Rwanda and it was --

SENATOR EDWARDS:
But that's not true anymore, Richard.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE:
I know, I understand that. And I just can't tell you how terrific it is that I think you went there, and particularly with the IRC, which, despite its Co-Chairman over here, is a great organization. Now, my question is about China and Darfur. First part: you alluded to the fact that China's Africa diplomacy tends to put them in the position of giving buffer protection to Zimbabwe, to Mugabe, to the thugs in Khartoum and also you can add Chavez, a lot of examples. And you also said Sino-American relations are the most important bilateral relations in the world, which we all agree with. How would you balance these two going forward in our diplomacy with China, which is indispensable to North Korea, Iran, the trade issues. How much pressure would you put on them? What would our goal be? And the second part of this question is even tougher, if I am may. If you were making American policy, and based on the fourteen to nothing Security Council resolution, China abstaining, which authorizes a U.N. force and the Sudanese say they won't let it in - would you advocate going in anyway, without the Sudanese government's support, which has only been done once in history, as far as I know - and that was in Kosovo.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Yeah.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And secondly, how would you approach this? Would you force our way in? This is a really tough one because the Sudanese are going to stall and stall. They'll commit a slow version of genocide.

SENATOR EDWARDS: That's right. Well, first, on our engagement with China on this issue. I mean, the starting place is something that we're not doing, which is to make it a priority - to make it a priority that the Chinese are propping up these governments and in the case of Sudan, allowing a genocide to continue. I think the first thing is we have to make it a priority in our relationship with China. And the Chinese have to know that it's a priority. Because we have effectively given them a pass on this up until now - for practical reasons. Because we're concerned about North Korea. We know how badly we need them on North Korea. We also would love to have their help on Iran. But all these things are connected. They don't operate independent of one another. I think the second question is a very difficult question because, you know, the question is - first of all, could you put American ground troops in western Sudan? No, I think you'd do more harm than good. But there are things like enforcement of a no fly zone - an option that's clearly available to us. We need to use every tool -- whether it's economic sanctions, enforcement of the no fly zone, everything that's available to us -- to put pressure on the Sudanese government. And only at the end of that would we have to make a judgment -- and we haven't done those things - about, you know, how and where the troops would come from. We may go in without the permission of the Sudanese government. But I think, honestly, it would do harm than good to put American troops on the ground in western Sudan.


WOMAN:
Hi, would that be me? I'm Janet Karmovski [SP] I'm a member of the Asia Society and I'm a career Chinese specialist. So I've spent twenty years of my life living and doing business in China. Hello, I'm back here in the corner.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Hello, there are you. I couldn't see you.

JANET KARMOVSKI:
It's obvious to me that the Sino-American bilateral relationship is the defining relationship of our time - geopolitically, economically and culturally, in fact. Describe for me your views of what it would take to shift an American mindset so that we could embrace and recognize the importance of this relationship. What is the resistance of the American electorate to coming out of denial and acknowledging the depth and the comprehensive nature of our interdependence with China, in effect? Thank you.

SENATOR EDWARDS: Yeah, there's a natural tension between political considerations in America and this relationship, which is so crucial - not just for the Chinese and not just for us, but for the entire planet. And it's based on some fairly simple things. I mean, a lot of Americans see China and the Chinese not as a potential ally but as a threat and a country that takes away jobs, a country that holds American debt, a country that takes advantage of a trade deficit with the United States - a whole range of things. But I think, honestly, the most powerful of those for most American voters are jobs. I mean, if you look at what's happening in places like Michigan right now, I mean, it is the huge issue in the Governor's race in Michigan, that's going on at this moment. I mean - just a quick aside on that -- I think Governor Granholm was being attacked because the economy was so much in the doldrums cause so many jobs had been lost. And I don't know the details of this but apparently her opponent, they discovered, had located some of his business in China. Is that correct? Somebody?

WOMAN: Yes.

SENATOR EDWARDS: Okay. And so she was able to attack him for that. So that was a huge issue and it's still a huge issue, I guess, in the Governor's race in Michigan. So I think you can't underestimate how powerful this issue is on the ground, politically. This goes, by the way, to the leadership issue that we talked about a few minutes ago. I think what's critical is for the President of the United States to make it clear, not just to the rest of the world but to America, why this relationship is important for us, why it's important for us in every conceivable way - to our safety, to our security. I mean, the most glaring example of that being North Korea and nuclear weapons right now. And why, over the long term, it's important to us economically. So I think on all those fronts it is the responsibility of the President to make it clear to our country why this relationship is so important - not to just go to China, meet with the Chinese leadership, tell them that it's important but make it clear to Americans. Because at the end of the day, you know, a lot of these efforts to engage with China not only go through the Executive branch, they go through the Congress. And if there's not political support for them you're going to see a lot of the things that we've seen happening in the Congress over the last few years.

MAN:
Gordon Robbins, from Marsh & McLennan. In our desire to improve relations with China should we ignore Tibet and Taiwan?

SENATOR EDWARDS: No, of course not. No, first of all, we have a commitment and a responsibility to Taiwan. Very sensitive issue for the Chinese leadership, by the way. I'm trying to remember if I ever brought it up. And I think someone in virtually every meeting - Steve, am I right about this? - brought up the issue of Taiwan. No, we can't. No, the answer is, of course, we can't ignore it. And the issue of Tibet is another example of how we have to, on the things where we already have common ground, we engage with them in a positive, constructive way. And we use that positive, constructive engagement and dialogue to have honest, straightforward conversations about the other things we're concerned about - Tibet, human rights abuses, piracy, all the other issues that America is concerned about. But we do both, is, I think, the right way for us to engage.


WOMAN:
Thank you. Could you say something about our relationship with China economically? The issue that you brought up of jobs, currency manipulation - if you think it does exist. What would you do that's different or are you satisfied with it as it exists?

SENATOR EDWARDS:
No, I'm not satisfied with it as it exists. You know, when we were there the whole issue of - just to use a couple of examples - the issue of protection of intellectual property, which is a huge issue in America's relationship with China. When we met with the Commerce Minister in China he described this great program that they have to stop piracy, to protect intellectual property. From my perspective, as I listened to him - and he was a very smooth, very Westernized politician, a very articulate guy - it all sounded like hocus pocus to me. I mean, it didn't sound real. And I don't believe that the steps that need to be taken to protect intellectual property are, in fact, being taken. It depends on what you describe as currency manipulation. I mean, they peg their currency - I mean, they fix it, basically. And I would certainly argue that that is - there are some, Steve, who went with me, I think doesn't agree with me about this - but I think that, I would describe that as manipulation. And I think it does have an effect on America's trade deficit with China. I don't think it's the primary ingredient but I think it does have some impact on it. And these are all, every one of these issues are issues on which we need to be talking to the Chinese leadership. It's harder and more difficult to do that when the administration is completely engaged in other places. And I agree with the woman who spoke earlier. Over the long term this relationship is at least as important and, arguably, the single most important relationship to America's economic security and safety over the long haul.

WOMAN: Senator Edwards, thank you. My name is Srabani Roy and I'm a member of the Asia Society and a graduate student at Columbia University's Journalism School. And thank you so much for your insights and your thoughts. And this is obviously a huge foreign policy issue. And I wanted to ask a somewhat off topic but definitely related question - and that is two years away from 2008 can you explain what your strategy is right now for planning and possibly running for a Presidential run in 2008? [LAUGHTER] And how successful you think that's been to date.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
No. [LAUGHTER] I very much appreciate the question. Listen, this is not rocket science. I'm obviously seriously thinking about running for President and I honestly haven't made a final decision. I've got to make sure my wife continues - I'm knocking on wood - continues to do well with her health. And she's doing great right now. Anybody who hasn't bought her book, Saving Graces, please buy her book. But she's doing great. So, that's honestly as far as I'd want to go about that. I will say that I think America desperately needs a different direction and the world needs it from us, badly - very, very badly.

WOMAN:
Mr. Edwards, thank you for coming. Your heartfelt thoughts not only is personally appreciated as an American who lived abroad but also as an American returning to the U.S.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Thank you.

WOMAN:
The great sage, Confucius, once said that you build a great state by building the individuals within the state. And you've mentioned the Chinese have clearly adopted a domestic focused policy in building its own strength, in being a more able global player. Looking around as an American I'm a little disheartened by what I see, having come home. And the poverty that you mentioned in your campaign, as I witness every day, how do you feel in terms of a person who has seen poverty reduced in China in such a dramatic way, how do you see in terms of our own policy in adopting some of that and perhaps in implementing it so there are American citizens who, in fact, enjoy some of the economic growth and development in China?

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Well, I think that the Chinese leadership would all both acknowledge their success and acknowledge their challenges. They have lifted hundreds and millions of people out of poverty. They still have a couple of hundred million, I think, who live on a dollar or less a day. So it's still very much a serious issue in China. Now -- a lot of you know this is not the topic of our discussion today - I mean, I run a Poverty Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And I have spent an awful lot of time, basically the bulk of my time over the last couple of years has been engaging in what's happening in the world and working on poverty here in America. And I think there is a concerted effort, clearly a concerted effort - both in education, in health care and in wages - to lessen the gap between those who are well off and those who are not, between the East and the West in China. I have not seen that kind of concerted effort in our own country in a long time. And I think you cannot address this issue in a serious way piecemeal. I mean, you hear a lot of discussion from politicians about raising the minimum wage. I strongly support raising the minimum wage. It will have some impact but it will not have the kind of impact that we all believe needs to occur on poverty in America. No, it takes a comprehensive approach to be successful. The Chinese have done a lot of that. They haven't done it all but they've taken some serious steps to alleviate poverty. But in this country we need, to use Bill Clinton's phrase, to make work pay in a whole number of ways - raising the minimum wage, strengthen the ability of unions to organize, particularly in particular sectors of the economy, the service economy. We need to expand the earned income tax credit and make it more available to single workers and get rid of the marriage penalty. We need to create incentives for people to save. By the way, it's not just poor families who aren't saving. America is not saving. And we need to create individual development accounts so that families have an incentive to save. Access to college is a huge issue. Billions of dollars being taken out of the federal budget for financial aid for kids to go to college. We actually have started a - and I'll stop on this. I could talk about this the rest of the time. But we have started a program in a small county in eastern North Carolina that's privately funded -- I raised the money for it - where we say to every kid in the county if they graduate from high school and they're qualified to be in college and they're willing to work while they're there, we pay for their tuition and books. Very simple, no bureaucracy. But it is insanity for America to not be investing in educating kids. I mean, it's just absolutely absurd. And the contrast, when you go China, is really dramatic - again, not that they don't continue to have huge challenges. They do. But they're very focused on educating their kids, very focused.

LESLIE STAHL: Vishakha. Oh, I thought. Did you raise your hand?

VISHAKHA DESAI: That's fine, I do have a question. Senator Edwards, you have talked very eloquently about America's sort of world power status. Most of the polls that we see now suggest very clearly that by 2050 most Americans even agree that America will not be a sole super power in the world. And we know that the current administration, with almost everything that they have said, that they have actually said that if that sole super power status is threatened by any country America has a right to actually work against them. What would you do as a leader to get America ready to share the super power status as you go forward?

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Oh, that's a very good question. I think all of the things that we have already talked about this morning fit into that strategy. First and foremost, we do everything in our power to strengthen America - everything from education to eliminating poverty to dealing with our health care crisis to maintaining our military strength and our capacity to use American power if it becomes necessary. But secondly, we engage the world in a way that the rest of the world looks up to and respects the United States of America and that we can work in cooperation with countries that are emerging. I mean, in other words, we compete in every conceivable way for success for ourselves but we marry that to a policy of engaging with the rest of the world in a way that allows for success of more than one country. And we have some dangerous enemies in the world. What's going to happen in our relationship with China is not yet determined. And we have tremendous capacity, although not sole capacity, to influence the way that relationship develops, particularly over the next two decades. And I think it's very important for other countries to see America as being strong and being moral and leading but recognizing that when the rest of the world does well it's not just good for them, it's good for America.

LESLIE STAHL: Have we run out of time? Well, I thought that was a wonderful presentation.

SENATOR EDWARDS:
Thank you.

LESLIE STAHL: Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Thank you for coming. And it was terrific.

October 31, 2006
by [email protected]