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Christopher Hill, at ESADE: “I worry that China is too weak, not that it will become a superpower”

A former US ambassador to countries such as South Korea and Iraq discussed Trump’s foreign policy approach with Javier Solana: “He’s more interested in meeting with Kim Jong Un than in working with his allies”

“I worry that China is too weak, not that it will become a superpower.” With this frank statement, Christopher Hill, a former US ambassador to four countries who is currently a member of the faculty at the University of Denver, responded to a question about China’s growing power. Mr. Hill took part in a conversation with Javier Solana, President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics (ESADEgeo), at the most recent session of the Big Challenges debate series, held at ESADEFORUM. According to Mr. Hill, China will not be able to play the role of a global leader in the coming years due to “internal problems”, “high levels of corruption”, and the “clumsy” way in which the country has interacted with its neighbours.

Mr. Hill went on to highlight the growing influence of China. Ever since Xi Jinping ascended to the presidency, he explained, China has adopted a more “aggressive” strategy. At the same time, he added, China has become a central issue in American politics, with a significant portion of the US populace coming to believe that China is to blame for the loss of jobs. This “victimhood” discourse, in which certain countries and governmental institutions are seen as “conspiring to reduce the power of the United States”, has motivated the US government to adopt a bilateralism-based foreign policy.

According to Mr. Hill, the victimhood discourse is not unique to the United States. “The Russians, and Putin in particular, are traumatised by the fall of the Soviet Union,” he explained. “Russia’s sense of victimhood is a thousand times greater” than that of the United States, he added. In Mr. Hill’s view, the fact that Russia is in decline makes the country “more dangerous”. He further argued that it was a serious mistake for the United States to suspendthe Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty without first developing an alternative deal that included China.

A return to internationalism

Mr. Hill, who led the US delegation to the six-party talks for the denuclearisation of North Korea, criticised the way in which the recent meetings between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have been prepared and managed. According to Mr. Hill, at the meeting in Hanoi last week, Trump should not have immediately rejected North Korea’s request for sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling its plutonium production centre. “North Korea was offering to do something permanent in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, which could have been temporary, so I think Trump should have accepted,” he explained. He added that it was a mistake not to invite China or South Korea to take part in the negotiations, since both countries are key players in the conflict.

Clashing with the official Trump line, the former ambassador argued that the multilateral agreements reached by the United States in recent decades have benefited Americans greatly and called for a return to this political approach. “We do not dominate international organisations, nor should we. We have to work with them,” he declared. “And Americans need to understand that these organisations are useful for our interests and should trust them more.”

“In recent years, many Americans have confused interventionism with internationalism,” commented Mr. Hill. “Internationalism is the ability to work with other countries, whereas interventionism means acting without taking anyone else into account.” He described the US invasion of Iraq as “disrespectful” towards international institutions. Dr. Solana, who expressed total agreement with Mr. Hill on the subject of multilateralism, pointed to the lack of political leadership as an underlying cause of the current situation. This lack of leadership, he argued, has forced major powers such as European Union and the United Kingdom to contend with “errors” such as Brexit.