Podium: Engagement is not endorsement

From remarks by the US Secretary of State to the Asia Society, Sydney, Australia
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FORTUNATELY, WHEN it comes to the Asia-Pacific region, there is no better example of cooperation built on shared values and interests than the relationship between the United States and Australia. On the map, we could hardly be further apart. But as defenders of freedom and advocates of the rule of law, we cannot be separated. For decades, we have stood shoulder to shoulder, both in time of peace and through five wars.

Obviously, we don't always see eye to eye. In some economic sectors we're competitors as well as partners. Globally, our roles are not the same. Regionally, Australia's perspective is sharpened by its proximity to the Asian mainland. But on the big things, on the central issues of democratic government, the pursuit of prosperity and the desire for peace, we are true allies, valued partners, and, I hope, eternal friends.

For example, in the aftermath of the South Asia nuclear tests, we agree that the nuclear non-proliferation regime must be buttressed and its value re-emphasised. Every effort must be made to reduce tensions and prevent a nuclear arms race in the region. And every nation in the world should agree, as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty provides, never again to conduct a nuclear explosive test.

Our countries both understand the strategic significance of China and the key role it will play in determining whether the Asia-Pacific remains stable. And we agree that China should be encouraged to define its interests in ways compatible with the stability and prosperity of its neighbours, and to observe international norms on proliferation and human rights.

President Clinton's recent trip to China reflected progress toward both these goals. He conveyed a message of freedom and friendship directly to the Chinese people. He drew the connection between individual liberty and competitiveness in the global economy. And he stressed the importance of halting the spread of dangerous weapons and technologies.

I was encouraged by the recent trend toward greater openness in China. At the same time, I have been disturbed by the recent detention of religious and political activists, and I said so to the Chinese Foreign Minister Tang when we met in Manila.

Engagement with China brings benefits to both our nations. But engagement is not the same thing as endorsement, and we should continue to speak frankly about the problems that remain.

Our nations also agree that it is past time for Burma to rejoin the family of democratic nations, and here your Foreign Minister and I had another chance to work together in Manila.

Regrettably, the Burmese regime is pursuing a policy not of dialogue but of denial. Today, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was marking her sixth day in a stand-off, was all of a sudden taken in her car by a military driver back to Rangoon and thereby forbidden from exercising a basic human right, which is the ability to travel freely in your own country. We have just heard this news and Foreign Minister Downer and I have spoken about it. We think that this is an unacceptable violation of her human rights, and it will only contribute to the further isolation of Burma, a country whose people are suffering because the government is not moving in a way to have the kind of dialogue and democratic discourse that is necessary. Aung San Suu Kyi is a remarkable person and has fought for the freedom of the Burmese people. She is entitled to be able to go on doing that in a way that strengthens democracy.

Finally, and perhaps most important, both our nations have an interest in seeing that confidence is restored to the troubled economies of East Asia. With today's global market, problems in one place can and do affect people every place. Nations that export to Asia - and both our nations export a great deal - are being hurt.

But the potential costs are far greater than lost exports. Misery can give rise to mistrust among nations; poverty can push desperate people across borders; economic despair can lead to disillusionment with economic and political freedom. Because of the financial crisis, these are not the best of times for the people of this region.

America's commitment to the peace and stability of this region and to the freedom and welfare of its people is not a fair-weather commitment. That commitment is grounded in our own interests. It is consistent with enduring principles of democracy and law. It is made secure by alliance with our closest partners, such as Australia. And it is animated by our hopes for a future far better than the past.