AS: There are some who respond to the case that you made about China’s somewhat unsavory foreign relations, particularly with Sudan, but others as well, that the same accusation has been, and could still be, levied against the United States and its relations with equally unsavory governments.
HILL: That would be a Chinese argument, a Chinese counter-argument, for those who criticize China’s relations with Sudan; the Chinese could probably find examples in the US past, Latin America for example. I’m sure there could be a lot of criticism levied at the US, which is why my approach is not really to wag fingers at countries, because they can come wagging them right back at you!
I think what we need to do is to identify the problems and understand that it is in all of our interest to resolve these problems. China has no interest in fostering genocide in Darfur. China has every reason to resolve that issue, so sometimes it’s a question of trying to get a common analytical framework and trying to deal with it.
I am not despondent about these things. I think we can work with China. China is a country that does have a famous pragmatism to it, and I think the US does as well. I think we should be doing a lot more with China, not less.
AS: So are you optimistic, then, using that line of reasoning, on the question of Tibet as well?
HILL: Well that’s a really tough one, that’s a real tough one for China, and I believe that China can do much better in dealing with it. I’m not sure it’s helpful if American diplomats publically admonish the Chinese for how they’re dealing with it. But I will say that I think there’s more scope there for dialogue than has been explored to date. I think there’s more scope for restraint than has been followed to date. I think China can think about what they’re doing and put to use that well-known pragmatism, but it would be wrong to just ignore the emotions here, and to pretend that there isn’t a history there. So let’s see if there can be some better approach to that in the coming months.
AS: On Burma, what actors do you think have some kind of leverage there apart from the United States? What are the partners that you would like to be working with more?
HILL: Well, Burma is a very interesting case, a very sad case because when I was growing up, when I was a kid, Burma was always considered a country that was going to make it. Something really we all knew about, World War II history, a lot of fascination. Well that’s all gone. And it’s very sad to see where Burma has ended up. It’s an enormous country with 60 million people, tiny foreign trade, falling behind its neighbors.
One of the problems is that in the US when we think of Burma, we usually think of the enormous human rights problem, which it is, but when you talk to countries in the region, the Indonesians, the Thai, and the Chinese, you see a kind of strategic problem there.
The Chinese really worry about a situation where the Burmese lose the ability to police their own borders. China is very concerned about the drug trade coming over from Burma into Chinese cities. So China worries about stability factors in Burma more than it worries about democratic factors.
Certainly Burma is a geostrategic problem and it’s a problem therefore that China has an interest in solving, India has an interest in solving, and ASEAN – which Burma is a member of – has an interest in solving. So I think we need to work together with all these countries with the understanding that if you just work with ASEAN you will have a situation where Burma will try to use that in order to coddle up to the Chinese, or if you just work with China, Burma will move over to India and see what they can get from the Indians. So I think we really have to do a better job of kind of tightening up, knitting up the diplomacy.
Burma, whatever they think they’re doing, creating this referendum process and excluding all the opposition including Aung San Suu Kyi, whatever they think that’s aimed at, it’s not working. You don’t have to be an expert in Burmese politics to understand that a process that ignores the opposition, that keeps thousands of people in jail, that keeps Aung San Suu Kyi in house arrest, is simply not going to get the country back towards some kind of normalcy. So I hope the Burmese will understand, will start getting the message not only from ASEAN or the US, or India or China, but from everybody together.
AS: I’ll just ask now, to conclude, a couple of general questions about American foreign policy. There has been some discussion about the extent to which American foreign policy institutions have accommodated themselves to a post-Cold War context. During the Cold War, it was clear there was one monolithic threat, the Soviet Union, and institutions -- academic, foreign policymaking, research – were very much geared towards conceiving of a foreign policy directed at that. Could you say a little about how you think the environment in the foreign policy establishment has changed, or hasn’t, or ought to?
HILL: Well it’s obviously much more pluralistic. I mean there’s no organizing concept here of anti-Soviet hegemony and that sort of thing that sustained the community in days past. I would be careful though to think that there would be another single organizing concept. I would be careful to think that what we in the United States have developed in terms of our own traditions, our own democratic traditions of which we are justifiably very proud, but I would be careful to assume that those are what every other country wants immediately.
So I think we need to do a little more listening maybe to understand that this desire that every American has, it’s basically deep in our DNA, to proselytize and to talk about our successes, I think we have to be a little careful about choosing the issues on which we make those points. I mean I am a strong believer that the natural condition for people is freedom. The natural condition of people is to participate in their government, to be able to express their views with no fear; I have no problem with that. The problem is how to convey that without wagging a finger at people and otherwise threatening people who are not quite imbued with that spirit. So I would worry a little about how the United States is perceived. I think probably the best thing we could do to address that is to set the best example we can. I think there’s a lot to emulate in the United States, a couple of hundred years of democracy. Anyone who has read about the founding fathers in the United States in 1776 can feel very proud of all that, but I think we need to continue to work on that, and let other countries look at our example, and follow our example.
So I think we are in a transformational age where we do not have the organizing principle of this great divide, this Cold War; we have to think in terms of other organizing principles. We have to think in terms of tolerance, and certainly the whole issue of Islamic intolerance, this phenomena of terrorism really does need to be taken on, and I think we’re trying to do that but I think we need to be very careful about how we push our weight around in the world.