Transcript: Bangkok Press Roundtable (2)

Published: Tue 28 Mar 2000 11:00 AM
Transcript: Bangkok Press Roundtable (2)
(continues from previous story...)
Q: Has the U.S. Government made it clear to the incoming government in Taiwan in a very blunt manner, perhaps unofficially, that its security umbrella is conditional on them adopting some line on the question of independence?
Roth: I think that that doesn't capture the dynamics, because the process that we're seeing is a new man and a new party coming in and mastering a set of issues where they have to come to grips with the security implications of policies. It's clear that process has already started by statements that were made and the changes in party policy/platform that were made during the campaign. So, certainly, we will continue that discussion with them, but I wouldn't put that in the context of "bluntness, threats, leaning, pressure, arm twisting." Rather, I think it's important when you have new people after an election, to have these serious conversations about what the implications of various steps are. As you know, there is a prominent American citizen in Taiwan, in a private capacity, a former congressman and a former boss of mine, Lee Hamilton, who was there for some of these discussions. I think that this will be part of an ongoing process.
Q: You mentioned Burma in your introduction. Will you be talking with (Thai Foreign Minister) Surin about that and can we expect anything new on this, or will you be mostly listening to him?
Roth: I think that the major action recently has been in terms of the UN process. There was a major meeting hosted by the Republic of Korea. It is being called the Walker Hill process now. There was a decision to pursue a UN initiative to see if one can initiate a process of political dialogue that will ultimately lead to progress to break the current deadlock. But really the military in Burma has shown no movement towards a constitution, no movement towards political reform. The economy has continued to stagnate, partially as a result of their own policies, partly as a result of sanctions. So the UN process is very important. I think the next step is for the United Nations to name an individual to head this process, since Mr. DeSoto has moved on to other responsibilities, and then to undertake another mission: not just to Burma, but to the region, to try to see if one can put some life into this initiative.
Q: What do you see as the most useful way forward in terms of that initiative?
Roth: Well I don't want to go public with any specific proposals before anything's been presented to the government of Burma, but the notion is the big picture was laid out in the first mission -- which is that there is a different world out there; that Burma could choose a path where political reforms would lead toward greater economic cooperation, easing of sanctions, aid from the World Bank and the multilateral development banks. That's the ultimate vision-that there's something out there to do this process. The question is, how you do you get there--interim steps, confidence building measures? Since the grand bargain didn't fly on the first trip, the question is can you get there by phases?
Q: To follow up-when can we expect the new representative to be appointed? There has been some talk of a Malaysian for weeks now, but there is no official word...
Roth: I wish I knew. It's a decision by the Secretary General. I think it's imminent, but I can't tell you exactly what. From our point of view, the sooner the better.
Q: Does that mean that the UNSC does not enjoy consensus on this candidate?
Roth: It means that it is hard coming up with the right person, and particularly getting a person who would agree to do it.
Q: Do you see any changes or any new nuances in terms of the Burma situation from the U.S. point of view?
Roth: From the U.S. point of view, I don't think I would talk about nuances. I would talk about deterioration. If you look at 1999, this was a year that the authorities made it clear that they had no interest in dialogue, no interest in dealing with the NLD or Aung San Suu Kyi whatsoever. They thought that through their policies of coercion (getting NLD members to resign), of force (arresting people or harassment), that they could simply contain the NLD and hope that it would eventually fritter away. But there certainly was no progress in the constitution, no progress towards dialogue, no easing of any of the human rights abuses anywhere. Nor for that matter was there any significant economic reform that I am aware of. The World Bank issued a blistering study of their economy. So it was not a good year. Nuance is not the word I would choose.
Q: You took note on the recent incident in Laos, protests, in the annual report of the State Department and I believed the word that they used was "deteriorating" situation there. Will that have an effect on the bilateral relationship with the U.S.?
Roth: Unfortunately, I think that until we can resolve the matter of the two disappearances (of Lao-Americans), that it is going to be virtually impossible to envision the Congress extending most favored nation status. Furthermore, if it becomes apparent that the authorities in Laos are either not cooperating with the investigation or are impeding it, I think that could have spillover effects to other aspects of the relationship. Personally, this is something that I regret. I have traveled to Laos two or three times during this job. This country is a very poor, impoverished country. It could benefit from assistance. It could benefit from technical assistance, and certainly it could benefit from trade, investment and the like. And I think that there had been some tentative indications that the authorities were considering opening up on the economic side. I had hoped that it would have been possible to have a better relationship. But clearly, when you have an issue like this it has to be resolved first before there can be any progress. The failure to resolve it can lead to a deterioration even though we would rather not see that happen. So the burden really is on the government in Laos.
Q: On Cambodia, on the Khmer Rouge trial-this has been going on for months and months, if not years. Do you see any movement on this, or do you think the trial will actually be realized?
Roth: Interestingly the UN delegation came away not discouraged. It was not a confrontational set of meetings from the briefings that I've gotten -- although I've been on the road so the briefings aren't as extensive as I'd get if I were back at home. But my sense is that they did make substantive progress in narrowing down the set of issues and that the UN people still think it is possible to get an agreement. I would certainly agree that it has been a process that has taken a considerable period of time. On the other hand if this issue could get resolved in a mutually satisfactory way, this could be a major breakthrough. Again, what I said about Laos applies in the case of Cambodia. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, badly in need of assistance. The failure to make progress on this issue has greatly constrained the willingness of this Congress to consider any aid programs for Cambodia. If one could have a legitimate process of accountability for the Khmer Rouge, I think that would change the atmosphere and perhaps help us help the Cambodian people more.
Q: Is this something that you've also discussed in Japan where U.S. and Japan and other donor countries can combine forces to...
Roth: I must say I didn't on this trip but I've done it many times in the past. I'm going back to Japan a week from today and I do intend to talk about Cambodia and Burma. This last trip was pretty much focussed on China, Taiwan, Korea and UN.
Q: Would this be an issue at the annual donor conference as an issue, I wouldn't say a condition for further aid, but ...
Roth: The donors vary widely on this issue, with some not thinking it's a factor at all, some not liking to use leverage, some willing to use leverage. It's not a consensus item. I don't expect it to dominate the agenda. More importantly I'd like to get this issue over with. I'd like to get the agreement.
Q: Is there a problem, or an issue, or a change that you see coming up across Asia that you see has not received the attention that you think it deserves? Or, that we're missing?
Roth: Are you asking me where I think I screwed up? (laughter)
Q: No, where the potential difficulties are, we've talked about the obvious, China/Taiwan. Maybe there is a broader theme or idea?
Roth: Well, I think if you're looking across the region as a whole, I would say that probably the depth of the economic recovery is the issue that you have to look at. Obviously 1999 was a much better year than most of us, myself included, had expected, but there are still many people who say that this is not permanent or enduring, that there are factors that could put it at risk, including the U.S. economy. Although with the U.S. stock market over 11,000 again today I'm not sure how nervous we should be. But, nonetheless, the U.S. economy and our ability to take in such large quantities of imports from the region are crucial. The Japanese economy, whether it can get out of this current recession and particularly whether it can get back to robust growth so it might start taking in more imports from the region, (is a factor, as is) the external environment. Equally important is the willingness of countries to carry through on their reform process. We've seen mixed track records in different places. It's not a completed process even here in Thailand, which has already resumed a fairly impressive growth path. There is a lot left to be done on the path of economic reform. I would say that is the big picture that I look at. We've gone from one extreme to the other. On the one hand, extreme pessimism-had I been speaking here a year and a half ago, you would be throwing questions at me like: "Do you think its going to take 10 years to recover?" and "Do you think the Pacific Century was hype?" and "Is ASEAN finished?" And now look where we are, we are already talking about 10 percent growth in Korea, four or five percent growth here and overall positive regional growth. To me that's one set of issues.
Another issue -- although it's not one that we've ignored, it's not one we've talked about yet here -- is Indonesia. Clearly, it's not key to the whole region, it's key in South East Asia and to ASEAN. Indonesia must deal with its myriad of problems, ranging from re-starting the economy to how it handles Aceh, where the territorial integrity of the country is at stake, to accountability for the past, especially in East Timor where there is great international tension, to managing the refugee situation in West Timor. In addition, there is the whole issue of civilian supremacy over the military and the redistribution of both power and resources between the center, Java, and the outer islands. This is a huge menu of issues. Obviously, it's going to take a while to solve all of them, but how Indonesia proceeds is going to be very important. Not just for Indonesia, but for South East Asia as a whole. And that's something that needs to be watched.
Q: What is your sense in terms of China, in current willingness to carry on with reforms, and the ability of the government to continue with them, in terms of holding China together?
Roth: I think the very far-reaching steps that Premier Zhu Rongji agreed to in the WTO agreement with the U.S. suggests that the government is willing to undertake very significant economic reforms, despite the fact that this risks problems and dislocations in the short term. The indications are that President Jiang is fully behind this economic reform process and it is why passage of PNTR and getting China to the WTO is so important. It is very interesting that the Chinese are referring to this as a "win-win" agreement. Even though they have to take a number of steps that will open up their market to exports from the United States and others, they are not looking at it as a negative-something that hurts Chinese-but rather see this as a set of reforms that will promote competitiveness, efficiency, and improve the Chinese economy. And they are right. So I think this is nothing short of historic. This is a very important vote, because I think that the face of China could change over time.
Q: What's your assessment of President Wahid's handling of these issues that you've mentioned earlier?
Roth: Well, I usually try to avoid giving report cards, but I think that it is fair to say that it has been an impressive start. When you look at it, first of all, he and Vice President Megawatti are viewed by the people of Indonesia as legitimate. You haven't seen any kind of street protest or political unrest at the national level since the elections. That's a big deal. That was not an inevitable outcome. There's been dramatic progress on the political side. You have the first real parliament since 1955. You have the first real regional assemblies, provincial assemblies, all 27 of them. They are going to have to learn what it is they are going to do. You have a completely free press, so free that it has gone from one extreme to the other. You can print anything in Indonesian press without any standards of journalism at the moment. But that is not an unusual process. We saw that happen in the Philippines after dictatorship. As the journalists learn they will come back to a balance, but obviously free press is critically important. We've seen the release of just about all the remaining political prisoners, the beginnings of the negotiating process on Aceh, although it's way premature to know whether that's going to succeed or not. We've seen some important progress on gaining control over the military, including the suspension of General Wiranto. There has been an impressive start on the question of accountability, both the announcement that there was going to be a reopening of the investigation of President Suharto, the release of the Bali Bank report in terms of economic accountability, and the fact that the report on East Timor was very far reaching and hard hitting, going after senior officials and going after General Wiranto. These issues are not finished, obviously. One has to see what happens with the prosecution, but it's an impressive package. On the economic side, they've reached agreement with the IMF-it's led to new disbursements. There has been a resumption of World Bank funding. There was a successful meeting of the Consultative Group for Indonesia (CGI) that raised more than four million dollars in assistance. I think by any stretch that's not a bad start. At the same time, the point I made before is that we have to have reasonable expectations. All along, we have been saying that the election was a necessary but not a sufficient condition for solving the problems of Indonesia, that these issues are decades in the making and they are not going to be resolved in a hundred days or one year or any arbitrary period of time. It's going to be a very long time. In fact, I've been thinking about this a lot, having been in Manila yesterday. I can recall a period of in the 1980's after the people's power revolution when I used to despair and hold my head in my hands and say, "my God, now you've got a housewife president who doesn't seem to know how to govern, you've got a restive military, divided cabinet, two years of negative growth, two insurgencies, one communist, one in Mindanao, how are they ever going to make it?" And if you think about it, there was no one event where you could point to and say that "this was the turnaround." There wasn't one vote in parliament, there wasn't one dramatic action. It was a process that moved at different paces and different areas. But in fact, they did turn around their economy rather remarkably over a period of time. They did get control over the military, they rejoined the rest of South East Asia as a high growth country. Democracy survived and flourished. So my hope is that we will see something similar in Indonesia. Of course, I'd love it if we could get the type of progress I'm talking about in the first hundred days or the first year, but I don't think that's realistic and the U.S. government is not judging either Indonesia or Wahid personally by that standard.
Q: Two unrelated questions: I understand Wan Azizah is here in Bangkok and I was wondering if you would plan to meet with her? And how close is, you said you had discussions in Japan about the UN assessments and the reform and I was wondering if you can tell us how close is Japan to getting a permanent seat on the Security Council?
Roth: On the first, I had no idea, as you can tell from my reaction, and I don't know if it will be possible, given her (Azizah's) schedule and mine to arrange a meeting. I have met her before. I'm a fan; I think that she is an extremely impressive person, not to mention a tragic figure given the treatment of her husband. So I'll see, I just don't know.
On the second question, both the Japanese and the U.S. recognize that Security Council reform is going to be a long term process. It's not going to happen very quickly because there are many different countries that have to be taken into account. Each region of the world wants to be represented in greater depth on the expanded Security Council. And that's part of the problem because you have to have a trade off on representation and efficiency. At what point does the Council become so big that it's unwieldy and ceases to operate effectively as the Security Council--what Richard Holbrooke has called the most important multilateral institution in the world. There is the issue of the veto, what happens to the new members vs. the current perm members. There's a lot of work to be done.
Q: So is it ten years?
Roth: I don't know if I want to be that long ranging in my thinking, but certainly it will be a task that will spill over into the next Administration.
Q: What is your comment on the drug trafficking over here as compared to Latin America?
Roth: It's hard to generalize about the region as a whole. You have differences between countries that are the producers, and that's a different set of problems than the countries that are the victims. And then there are those countries that are just the transit points. And each of them requires different policy responses. Obviously we are very concerned about the narcotics traffic out of Burma. And this is an area where we share concerns with Thailand which is indeed a victim. I have watched the amphetamine problem grow out of nowhere and move to the top of the agenda because it is such a significant problem. And you've seen increases in addiction rates in Thailand. It's not just a transit issue, it's an internal issue now for Thailand and one that the government is spending a great deal of time on. So part of the problem is what do you do with the countries that are the producers? Unfortunately, the government is part of the problem in Burma. When you invite large drug traffickers to live comfortably in luxury in Rangoon, nothing that you say about your desire to fight narcotics trafficking is convincing. That's one set of issues. Trafficking is a very difficult issue because there are always multiple routes. When you crack down on one route, another route tends to be used, and so it's sort of the path of least resistance. So at different points in my career I've seen different places be the hot spots. That is something that is of concern to us as well. There is the question of trying to help the countries combat the effects of drug use-on the AIDS side, which is something we'd like to work with Thailand on. There's the police/enforcement issues of trying to combat trafficking, and then there's the policy issues of trying to get the producing countries to stop producing. There's enormous detail on this in the annual report put out by the U.S. government where you can get much more country-specific details than I have given you.
Moderator: I think that's all we have time for. Thank you Mr. Roth.
(end transcript)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

Next in World

Chilling The Warm Fuzzies About The US/China Trade Deal
By: Gordon Campbell
On the Iran aftermath
By: Gordon Campbell
Gordon Campbell on the recent upheavals inside Iran
By: Gordon Campbell
World screams out for action but climate summit whispers
By: Oxfam
Decade ending 2019 likely to be hottest on record
By: UN News
“Iran Must Begin Acting Like A Normal Nation,” Says Trump
By: Caitlin Johnstone
So The US Is Invading Iraq Again
By: Caitlin Johnstone
Full-Scale War Avoided, Trump Right Back To Warmongering
By: Caitlin Johnstone
“We Do Not Seek War,” Says President Who Just Started A War
By: Caitlin Johnstone
US Assassination Of Iranian Military Official May Ignite War
By: Caitlin Johnstone
US Empire’s Passion For Iraqi Democracy Magically Disappears
By: Caitlin Johnstone
Soleimani’s Successor Is Failing
By: Eric Zuesse
How Iran Can Checkmate Trump
By: Eric Zuesse
The USA’s System of Checks, Balances and Reality Crumbles
By: John Stanton
World Leaders Call on US To Resume Diplomacy With Iran
By: Julia Conley
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILEWe're in BETA! Send Feedback © Scoop Media