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Larry Wilkerson says the U.S. should push China to settle territorial disputes in international venues, and also pursue a cooperative relationship that seeks to solve global crises rather than dominate the world

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of The Wilkerson Report.

Now joining us is the man behind the report, Larry Wilkerson. He is the former chief of staff of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary and a regular contributor to The Real News.

Thanks for joining us, Larry.


DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, this week, President Obama is going to be beginning his trip to East Asia. He’s going to be meeting with several officials in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. While the trip will deal with economic issues, it’s mainly seen as an effort to control the influence of China in the region. So I want to get your thoughts specifically about this–I’m going to run this soundbite of U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, what he had to say about China and Russia while in Japan.


CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: –that in the 21st century, this will not stand. You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force, coercion, and intimidations, whether it’s in small islands, in the Pacific, our large nations in Europe. And nations must be clear on this and speak plainly. It takes courage from leaders.


DESVARIEUX: So that was Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Larry, I want to ask you, what are your thoughts?

WILKERSON: Well, I’ve known Chuck Hagel for, I guess, 20 years. I respect him, I like him. I know that some of what he said is pro forma.

But I have to say also that the hypocrisy of the United States is beginning to grate on me. We just invaded a sovereign nation called Iraq. We didn’t ask anybody. We fly drones every day across international borders without asking anyone.

That said, it is a serious situation in the South China Sea. The Chinese need to quit bullying countries like Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam. These countries have legitimate claims to properties the Chinese are very grandiloquently claiming. And these problems, these dilemmas, should be resolved in the international venues. So there’s fault both on both sides.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s pivot and talk about the Asia pivot. And specifically I want to ask about a militarization or an increased military presence that the United States could potentially put in and around–around China, I should say. Do you think that an increased military presence will ease or exacerbate tensions with China?

WILKERSON: Well, it’s going to be very difficult for the United States to do anything very substantial, because we’re going to be drawing down forces, not increasing them. And whether we move an extra carrier to the Pacific, bring troops out of Afghanistan and put them, perhaps, somewhere else–Okinawa, Guam, Japan, Korea–it’s really not going to be a formidable move.

I think the more formidable moves are alliances with India, maybe Japan’s getting rid of its pacifist constitution and becoming, as one Japanese person put it to me recently, a more normal country, open parentheses, including with a full-up nuclear weapon arsenal, close parentheses. I think these are far more disturbing or destabilizing moves that might cause some problems in the Pacific. And my long-range view is out to these moves and the trouble they might cause.

DESVARIEUX: Then what kind of relationship should the U.S. be pursuing with China, then?

WILKERSON: I think we should be trying to develop a great-state relationship. Now, let me give you a little history there. The peace of Westphalia, 1648, was such a relationship, which brought a lot of peace and stability to what was basically a monarchical world–monarchs, kings, princes. Then we had in 1689, probably more relevant, the Treaty of Nerchinsk between the last of the Qing dynasty and the Romanovs in Russia that brought 200 years of stability. And then, in more modern times, in 1940 we had the Atlantic Charter, which was an agreement between the British Empire and the United States that essentially led to the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and brought sort of a Pax Americana.

We need a similar arrangement between China and United States to meet the challenges that we are confronting now and to include things like global warming. And this would be a consortium where we would recognize each other’s desires, cultures, and so forth and quit, more or less, accusing each other of things and cooperate on the issues that we can cooperate on.

Admiral Locklear, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, recently said that we have a lot of issues on which we converge, in fact the majority of them–not a large majority, he said, but a majority. There are some issues on which we diverge. The task is to manage those issues on which we diverge with minimal friction and to maximize those issues where we converge.

And that’s what I mean by a great-state relationship–not where China and United States gang up to run the world, but where we lead the way to meeting the environmental, the sustainability, the water, the energy–you name it. Huge challenges confront us that we both and the rest of the world confronts, too, and that we all have to cooperate in order to meet in this century. That’s what we need.

DESVARIEUX: But then how do we handle territorial disputes? Because as you mentioned, China has disputes with Japan and the Philippines. What role should the U.S. be playing?

WILKERSON: I think we should be encouraging–and I know we are, but we aren’t putting a whole lot of emphasis on it–the settlement of these disputes in the tribunals, in the international fora that are available for the settlement of them.

And one of the things that we need to do–my gosh, we haven’t even done this; we tried to do it when Powell was secretary of state–is to sign and ratify in the Senate the UNCLOS, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We’re one of the few countries that hasn’t done it. And we’re being held up, Jessica, we’re being held up from signing this important document, under which all these matters will be adjudicated, by the big corporations in this country, like ExxonMobil and others, who want to mine the seabed floor–of which, incidentally, we own more than any other nation in the world–for private profit, their profit, not for the common good, not for what we might call the global commons. This is absurd. We need to get out of this corporate complex we’re in, throw off this oligarchy, and begin to run this Republic like it was a democracy again.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. That concludes our Wilkerson Report. Thank you so much for joining us, Larry.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And, of course, you can follow us on Twitter @therealnews. Please send me questions and comments @Jessica_Reports.

Thank you so much for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.