Assoc. Prof. Simon Tay, SIIA Chairman and Schwartz Fellow (The Asia Society) was interviewed by Susan Li and Steve Engel of Bloomberg on Clinton's Asia visit.
Transcript as follows:
Susan Lee (Bloomberg): Let's revisit that Korea tour that she did. What did you think of North Korea's provocative statements during Clinton's visit, threatening all-out assault on their Southern neighbour?
Simon Tay: Well I think it's quite normal, in a way - if you can consider anything in North Korea "normal" - whenever America takes a step forward, and builds on whatever Christopher Hill has done in the previous administration - the "naughty boy" wants to make noise to know that maybe it's not enough - they want to keep provoking America. And in a sort of very strange game, the nearer that America gets, the more they'll have to make some noise to pull back.
Steve Engel (Bloomberg): Speaking of provoking, where do you see Hillary bringing the tact in bringing the issues that Obama wants to raise to the Chinese in her trip this time. Yuan revaluation is one, and also of course human rights is top of the agenda. Is she going to be offending her host here?
Simon Tay: Well, I think, China is the most important relationship that America has got across the Pacific. It's vital to them, and it's vital to everyone, and there are a couple of nasty missteps that could be made.
I think the currency issue after the Tim Geithner confirmation statement would be one of the trickiest things to do. I think the downturn in China has been understood in America. The Chinese have their own domestic audience, their own domestic concerns, and if I were Clinton's advisor, I would tell Clinton, please don't go there too hard and too fast.
I think that the human rights issue is similar. I think the America-China realtionship needs to go beyond these hotspots, whether it's Tibet, or currency, and really start off on something more positive. I mean, the tradition is (that) every (US) President starts off China wrong, and spends the next six years or so trying to get it right. It would be nice to see Clinton do something different and get it right from the start.
Susan Lee (Bloomberg): So Simon, you're saying that Hillary should start off with a softer topic like climate change, for instance, but is she going to make any headway on that regard as well?
Simon Tay: Well, climate change isn't quite soft as well. However, I think it's an area where both sides have reasons to move positively. China, in the last two years, has actually made some positive noises about climate change, and in this area, the Asia Society report shows that there clearly are areas of low-hanging fruit - energy efficiency, alternative energy, sharing of technology and investment - there's a lot that these two largest emitters in the world can do together for the good of their own economies, but also for this very vital issue, which Obama has identified very early on, on the campaign trail as a vital issue for America.
Susan Lee (Bloomberg): So Simon, when SHOULD America tackle the currency issue, and also the human rights topic with the Chinese?
Simon Tay: Well, undoubtedly it's going to come up - the question is whether it's going to be the main thing. I think myself that when we start thinking about the G20 meeting coming up in March and April, preparations for that - it will go where it should go, with the Financial Secretary, and Clinton realy should focus more on the general politics - setting the right atmosphere.
Susan Lee (Bloomberg): Well okay. Simon, with Clinton's decision to come to Asia first, and with Obama inviting the Japanese Prime Minister as the first visiting foreign leader to the white house, why has Asia leapfrogged Europe in importance in this administration?
Simon Tay: Well, of course, Vice-President Joe Biden has gone to Europe, with the security team, so it's not completely all Asia. But I think it is a very timely recognition that Asia is of a new importance. Asia's often been just a rag-tag of different hot-spots, and really now the Obama team, in seeking a multilateral engagement with the world, wants to come back to Asia, and we're well served by wanting to raise that debate (and be) talked to more about global governance. And I think that not just Japan, but the visit to Indonesia, is profoundly interesting and very significant because of the popularity that Obama enjoys there, in opening engagement with a core member of ASEAN.
ASEAN has often been off the map, and I think that this is a mark that Hillary Clinton wants to do things a bit different from her predecessors.
Susan Lee (Bloomberg): Well Simon, thank you for your time.
Simon Tay: Thank you.
Transcribed by Lim May-Ann