Interview by Metro TVChristopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
April 4, 2008
QUESTION: Mr. Assistant Secretary, you were just from South Korea where there is a lot of tension right now because of the accusations that both sides are throwing to each other. Do you think it’s just a war of words at this point or could it escalate into a military threat?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, first of all, a couple of points. There’s not really now a lot of tension. The South Koreans are quite relaxed. They’re in a good position. They have a very strong government, a lot of popular support. They have good friends, good allies. So they’re not in a bad position. Secondly, they’ve not been hurling accusations back and forth. These are accusations that are coming from the North Korean side toward the South Koreans, including some reckless statements that the South Korean president is a traitor. They said that by name. So that sort of stuff is not very helpful at all to the process, and I think that’s the view of the South Koreans. But frankly, it’s the view of most people, including us.
QUESTION: So do you think the South Koreans could retaliate with a military action?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I don’t think we’re talking about military action. I think what the South Korean President said to the North Koreans is that they ought to calm down a little and start focusing on things that they need to focus on. So far the North Koreans haven’t been putting the Six-Party process in jeopardy or anything, but let’s see what they’re planning to do.
QUESTION: Another area where there’s a lot of tension is Tibet. Is your intelligence saying that there are going to be continuing demonstrations, or will China plan a stricter crackdown?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I don’t know what the future will be in Tibet. I don’t think anyone can predict the future in Tibet. Certainly we’ve been very concerned about the violence, very concerned about the loss of life. And we have really called on all sides to show greater restraint. I think the United States also believes that this is the time to step up dialogue. There has been some dialogue between Dalai Lama’s people and the Chinese over recent years. We think now is the time for more such dialogue and to see if something positive can come out of this latest, very difficult period.
QUESTION: And if China is not doing anything that would make it easy for a dialogue to happen, is the United States considering anything like boycotting the Olympics or anything like that?
QUESTION: Well, my President has been pretty firm that he is not interested in boycotting the Olympics. Secretary Rice in fact spoke to that the other day. And she said, you know, we’re talking about Chinese people who are very proud of these Olympics. So to boycott the Olympics would really be a statement of disrespect to the Chinese people. And Secretary Rice made that very clear.
All that said, we really want to see some improvement in the situation in Tibet. And we would like to see some resumption of dialogue, and we hope that the Chinese will consider doing that.
QUESTION: Next for you is a trip to East Timor. What do you think is the future of East Timor after the attempted assassination?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think we have to view some of the events in East Timor with some concern. Certainly, any time someone’s President is ambushed and then almost perishes in that ambush there are reasons to be very concerned. I haven’t been back to East Timor for a couple of years, so this will only be my second trip there. But I want to assess where they are and how they’re doing.
You know, East Timor has many, many problems. I mean, they need to develop institutions. They need to strengthen their democracy. They need to deal with the problems they’ve had of these displaced people living in tents and camps in the middle of Dili. So I’m looking forward to getting a better sense of what is going on there, because East Timor needs to get into a better situation.
QUESTION: But a U.S. military presence in East Timor is not something that you --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: We are not talking about any military presence there. A number of countries have stepped forward, Australia being the main one there, and we very much support the work of the Australian mission. We also support the work of the UN mission there as well. I think there are a lot of problems there that need to be dealt with, and the people in East Timor need international support.
QUESTION: A recent State Department human rights report seems to indicate that there has been progress in the situation of human rights in Indonesia. But around the same time, two U.S. Congressmen wrote letters to the UN Secretary General and President Yudhoyono expressing their concern about the situation in Papua. In your meeting with Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, did you express the Congressmen’s concern?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No, I didn’t. The Congressmen wrote the letter together. I mean, that was their decision. That’s a separate branch of government. It’s not a letter that the executive branch, the State Department, was in any way behind or supporting. We believe the best way to work with Indonesia is the way we’re doing it, which is with a lot of engagement and an open dialogue, discussion of problems that Indonesia has. Frankly, we’re talking about problems the United States has as well. So we see a lot of progress in Indonesia. We know that things are not always easy in Indonesia, but there is definitely progress in this country, progress across all kinds of fields.
It was very interesting to see, just recently, Indonesia, the parliament, considering the issue of a Freedom of Information Act. Very few countries have this kind of democratic process. So we think there are a lot of very positive things in Indonesia. Whenever I talk to people in the U.S. Congress I convey those views.
QUESTION: So, would you say that Congressman Eni Faleomavaega was wrong in saying that Indonesian Government is not allowing sufficient public access to Papua?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: It is not my place to be telling you whether I think U.S. congressmen are right or wrong. I’ll just tell you from the State Department’s point of view, we believe that Indonesia is really trying to take on difficult problems and doing it in a very positive way.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary, thank you so much for your time today.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Thank you.
Released on April 4, 2008