Former U.S. President Bill Clinton used a trip to China on Friday to criticize Beijing over its territorial disputes with smaller countries in the South China Sea.
According to Fortune, Bill Clinton was in Guangzhou in southern China to deliver remarks at a conference hosted by Pacific Construction Group, a Fortune 500 infrastructure company. During a question and answer with Pacific’s founder Yan Jiehe, Clinton was asked for his opinion on China’s ongoing disputes with the East and South China Seas.
According to the Fortune report, Clinton drew a distinction between China’s row with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, and Beijing’s disputes with smaller Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea. “It’s not necessarily the same for who has access to resources in the South and East China Sea and where territorial boundaries should be marked,” Clinton was quoted as saying.
Regarding to the East China Sea dispute, former President Clinton said: “If China and Japan are arguing over a couple of islands, the rest of the world can watch because we feel you’re arguing on more or less [on] even terms.”
However, when it came to China’s dealings with countries like Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, Clinton felt differently.
“The Chinese position is that it should resolve this bilaterally with other countries it disagrees with—and every one of them is much smaller,” Clinton said in reference to the Southeast Asian states with claims to the South China Sea. “Our position in the U.S. has been, ‘We don’t care what resolution is, but there should be a resolution … so that Vietnam, the Philippines, and other smaller countries aren’t overwhelmed by the size differential between themselves and China.’”
Clinton made similar comments earlier this week during an interview with CNN. In that interview, Clinton had said:
One of the big differences is the United States believes that we should have these issues involving natural resource claims in the south and east China seas resolved in a multinational forum where the small countries are not disadvantaged by being smaller than China. And the Chinese believe that all these things should be subject to what they call bilateral resolution, where the small countries believe they wouldn’t have a chance trying to negotiate against China, just one country against the Chinese.
Clinton just wrapped up an eight-day trip touring Clinton Foundation-supported projects throughout the Asia-Pacific. His trip began in India and also included stops in Indonesia, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Former President Clinton also visited Malaysia where he delivered remarks at the International AIDS Conference. His visit to China on Friday appears to be separate from his work with the Clinton Global Initiative, his non-profit philanthropy organization.
Former President Clinton’s remarks on the South China Sea are likely to add to the already strong aversion Beijing feels towards the Clinton family. Although China-U.S. relations were fairly strong during Clinton’s own presidency, Beijing is not a fan of his wife, Hillary Clinton. During her time as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton often took a rather hawkish position toward China. Most notably, she penned the Foreign Policy article announcing the pivot, and criticized China’s position on the South China Sea at the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2010.
China also banned Hillary Clinton’s new memoir in Hard Choices. The book features two chapters on the Asia Pivot and China, and is often critical of Beijing’s human rights record.