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Romney's World View; US-China Relations

Aired July 25, 2012 - 15:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Tonight Republican candidate Governor Mitt Romney has set off on what's become a traditional expedition every four years by American presidential hopefuls. He's gone abroad and his first stop, London, followed by trips to Israel and then to Poland.

It's all meant to burnish Governor Romney's foreign policy credentials. And since he doesn't have any formally yet, my brief tonight is what exactly can we expect from Mitt Romney's world view? And what specifically would he do about world crises, like Syria, the nuclear standoff between Iran and Israel, relations with Russia?

Governor Romney seeks to promote American assertiveness in the world, while polls show that Americans right now prefer his rival, President Obama, on foreign policy by 53 percent to 41 percent.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today every American can be proud that the United States is safer and stronger and more respected.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is very simple. If you don't want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I'm not your president.


AMANPOUR: So as I say, many candidates do travel abroad in this season before the primaries, and I covered then-candidate Obama's trip to Europe during the '08 campaign and a speech in Berlin, which drew more than 200,000 people. His aim then was to restore America's position in the world after the crisis caused by the war in Iraq.

Right now, the most immediate foreign policy question facing both candidates is what to do about the bloody rebellion in Syria, not to mention, as we said, Iran's nuclear program and the crisis that's triggered within Israel.

In a moment I'll speak with senior advisers to both candidates. But first a look at other stories that we're going to be covering tonight.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Protests in Tiananmen Square landed her in jail. Brains and talent took her to Wall Street. Now Tian Hou wants to use the international language of money to bring China and the U.S. together.

And Greenland's glaciers are melting, her rivers are overflowing. Is it an isolated event or a global warning?


AMANPOUR: But first, let's go straight to Syria and CNN's Ivan Watson, who's reporting from inside the country about the battle that's shaping up for the city of Aleppo.

Ivan, thank you for joining us. That is obviously Syria's second biggest country (sic). What are you noticing? Is it really shaping up as the critical showdown?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Every village that we travel through here in northern Syria, in rebel-controlled Syria, Christiane, has sent fighters to Aleppo to try to -- for this key battle.

And we passed through these villages, and we also see funerals for fighters who've been killed on the day of the battle and were so close that they can bring the dead bodies back for funerals with the families within hours after they've been killed in the battle for these neighborhoods of the commercial capital of the city.

And we're also seeing signs of the civilian population so dramatically impacted. And in some cases you have people who fled from villages, from fighting there, to Aleppo because it had previously been seen as a safe haven.

And now today we saw vans loaded up with people, with their goods, their belongings, fleeing Aleppo back originally to their village. So this has just turned a whole society in this country upside down.

AMANPOUR: Ivan, we're hearing a lot and we've been talking a lot about, you know, extremist Al Qaeda types, other militants coming in, filling the vacuum, frankly taking advantage of the situation that's been allowed to fester. What are you seeing there as regards this new phenomenon?

WATSON: Every village, every town has rebel brigades or battalions, and they all have different names. There are also revolutionary councils in the big cities as well that try to oversee all of these different militias that have sprung up.

Now some of these have a more secular face to them, and many of them are made up of defected soldiers as well as civilian volunteers. But some of the brigades also have a definite Islamist tinge, and you can tell by the names. You can tell that from the rhetoric of the fighters and the commanders. And there are certainly some foreign fighters.

Today I met a Libyan fighter, for example, who came across the border within the last 24 hours with four other Libyans and he said more were on the way. He was already kitted out in full camouflage regalia and carrying a Kalashnikov, when guns are a bit hard to find for some of these fighters.

And the foreign fighters, some of them are clearly drawn because they see this as an Islamic crusade, if I can turn that phrase around a little bit around, or more simply, as a jihad. So this is a magnet for jihadists, who see this as a fight for Sunni Muslims.

And that's definitely caused some concern among some Syrian revolutionaries I know, some Syrian fighters I know, who do not want an Islamist political agenda to be mixed in with their revolution.

AMANPOUR: Ivan, thank you so much, and obviously we'll be keeping a really close eye on that development. As we've said, this vacuum's open.

And now to Mitt Romney's view of Syria and to the rest of the world. Just moments ago, I spoke with Richard Williamson, who is Governor Romney's senior foreign policy adviser, and Vali Nasr, a former senior adviser to the Obama administration and who's currently the dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.


AMANPOUR: Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining me.

Mr. Williamson, let me get straight to you on the news of the day. And that, of course, is Syria, which is causing a huge amount of handwringing, really, by the United States.

What would a President Romney do in Syria, particularly now that we've seen that the lack of doing anything has brought in al Qaeda elements and violent jihadi elements?

What would Mitt Romney have done different than this administration has done?


As we know, this has gone on for 17 months. And early on, Governor Romney said we should have people working with the opposition, trying to identify the moderate forces, help them unify. And he has also gone further and said we should arm the moderate opposition.

The passivity of the administration, who are leading from behind, has contributed to this turmoil and chaos and the killing of 17,000 people in Syria and the committing of terrible atrocities.

We think this passivity is ill-advised. And Governor Romney has been quite clear on that.

AMANPOUR: I just want to ask, would Governor Romney have intervened, let's say, a no-fly zone?

WILLIAMSON: He's been reluctant and has not gone that far. He won't join his friend, John McCain and others, that are calling for no-fly zones and safe havens. But, clearly, that's something you can't put off the table if this goes on.

The first thing we have to do is try to arm the opposition so they can confront the forces of Assad that are killing innocent people.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you, Vali Nasr. You heard Mr. Williamson say that this administration has been mostly passive and we're all watching how it is degenerating in Syria, so that militant groups, perhaps al Qaeda, is -- are joining the fight. And this is something new. And it's happened the longer this has been allowed to fester.

Has the Obama administration done everything it could? Has it done the right thing in Syria?

VALI NASR, DEAN, SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: I think, largely, our position in Syria has been reactive. In other words, the conflict keeps metamorphosing into something worse. It goes in new directions and then we try to come up with answers to what is happening.

There is not a conception of how do we lead to get Syria to a better place. The danger now is that Syria is -- the situation in Syria is now deteriorating very rapidly. And if we're going to have a policy of merely reacting to the latest development, then we're going to be chasing this ball in whatever direction it's going to go to. And that's not where we want to be.

AMANPOUR: Let's move on, Mr. Williamson, to parts of the trip that Governor Romney is taking. England, of course, will be boilerplate. It will be standing shoulder to shoulder with the special relationship, the special allies. We know that. He's visiting the Olympic Games. His wife's horse is competing.

And why not?

Israel will be the most important part of this trip, potentially.

Let me play you what Governor Romney said about Iran. And I wonder whether he might say the same thing when he's in Israel, because it's clearly a matter of great interest to Israel.


ROMNEY: Look, one thing you can know, and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.


AMANPOUR: A President Romney seems to have put himself into the box of military action.

WILLIAMSON: No, I don't believe that's true. What he's done is recognize the truth that Bismarck once said, that diplomacy without the credible threat of force is like music without an instrument.

He's engaged -- Barack Obama has embraced an engagement strategy with a radical regime that hasn't led to anything because they are confident, unfortunately, that the U.S. won't act. And that's given them license to continue in their frantic chase to have a nuclear breakout.

The difference is when Mitt Romney is president, they'll understand that he -- that he believes a nuclear Iran is the greatest threat to the region, the greatest threat to world security. And the only thing worse than a nuclear Iran -- the only thing worse than using force would be a nuclear Iran. So he's going to have it on the table. And he's going to go in and he's not going to have these sliding positions.

AMANPOUR: The fact of the matter is that this administration has put huge sanctions on Iran. They are hurting the people. They don't seem to be achieving the goal of getting the regime in Iran to change its position on uranium enrichment.

What is going wrong? And does Mr. Williamson have a point on this issue?

NASR: Well, largely, the expectation that there would be a quick resolution to the Iran crisis was probably misplaced. This is a very complicated issue. The fact that Iran has now come to the table is already a major breakthrough.

But it's going to take a longer time for this to pay dividend, if it actually is going to, which means that, you know, this diplomatic strategy has to go into a new administration, regardless of who is -- who is president. But generally, I don't think their military solution is going to be an option.

We're going to -- anybody who looks at this closely is going to decide against it. We're going to be back to diplomacy. The question is how effectively you do diplomacy.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's talk about another issue of diplomacy, and that is inside Israel itself. I want to play for you both what Governor Romney said about President Obama, and particularly about his relationship with Israel.


ROMNEY: He went around the world and apologized for America. He addressed the United Nations in his inaugural address and chastised our friend, Israel, for building settlements and said nothing about Hamas launching thousands of rockets into Israel.

Just before Bebe Netanyahu came to the United States, he threw Israel under the bus, trying to negotiate for Israel.

The right course -- if you disagree with an ally, you talk about it privately, but in public, you stand shoulder to shoulder with your allies.


AMANPOUR: Threw Israel under the bus, Mr. Williamson.

WILLIAMSON: The real question is how do you make Israel feel safe, feel they have a secure, reliable ally? And the events of the last four years have not done that between the Obama administration and Israel.

And let me just say how silly some of this is. It's unfortunate that President Obama has not seen fit to go visit our most reliable ally in the Middle East, Israel, throughout his election. And then a couple of days ago, when Governor Romney's agenda was issued, all of a sudden they rush out and say, well, he'll visit Israel in the second term.

AMANPOUR: Vali Nasr, it's true that President Obama has a very fraught relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu. And it's true that the Israelis have basically swiped aside the U.S. and international demands not to build settlements.

Do you believe that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains paramount in that region? And do you believe that the president, if he's reelected, will engage with specific presidential power between the two parties?

NASR: Well, I think the issue is still very paramount in the mind of the region. Something has changed over the past two years. The Arab world actually, now, has real politics. Public option matters. We cannot govern our issues and interests in that region by relying on dictators. We have to engage these newly elected governments and their public.

And those publics are also part of the audience of what Governor Romney and President Obama are saying. They're listening to us and they want to see that the United States is going to take a position that is also favorable to them.

And I think a hardline position on the Arab-Israel issue will make it very difficult for a Republican administration to be able to deal with the Arab world at this point in time.

And I think President Obama is better positioned, exactly because of that. And then -- and, ultimately, he would have to bring the Arabs to the table, as much as he would have to bring the Israelis to the table.

AMANPOUR: And Mr. Williamson, Vali earlier talked about the need to cooperate better, more constructively, with Russia and China on issues like Syria, Iran, etc. But Governor Romney has said that Russia is the number one geopolitical foe.

WILLIAMSON: President Obama came to office and initiated a reset policy with Moscow and it's failed. Look, these authoritarian regimes are better if you speak the truth, not if you pretend to engage or are seen as weak. And, unfortunately, that's the record of this administration.

Yes, you work with them, but you don't allow Russia to determine how U.S. pursues its interests in Syria. And you don't allow Vladimir Putin to decide whether you're going to protect innocent people in Syria that are being killed in awful and horrific ways by a regime that's on its way out the door.

AMANPOUR: Richard Williamson and Vali Nasr, thank you so much for joining me.

NASR: Thank you.

WILLIAMSON: Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And whoever becomes the next U.S. president, a top priority will be competition with China. Back in 1989, Tian Hou was jailed for protesting in Tiananmen Square. She found refuge and reward in America, but now she's gone back to China, hoping to bring the two countries closer together. We'll talk to her when we come back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We've been talking about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's foreign policy and his campaign has taken a particularly hard line on U.S.-China relations. My guest is a Chinese businesswoman whose remarkable life has been a bridge over these troubled waters.

Tian Hou has gone from a Chinese prison to Wall Street and now back to Beijing. She is, in fact, now here in New York in our studio, and we're very happy to welcome you. Thank you for being with us.

We've been talking, not just about business and the rise of China, but about how China is so often used as a political punching bag in these political campaign seasons, where it was President Obama and now Candidate Romney.

Let's just listen to what Romney has said about having to stand up to China.


ROMNEY: We can't just sit back and let China run all over us. People say, well, you'll start a trade war. There's one going on right now, folks. They're stealing our jobs and we're going to stand up to China.



AMANPOUR: So from your perspective as a businesswoman, as an entrepreneur, what do you understand by "stand up to China"? Should the U.S. be tougher with China?

TIAN HOU, CHINESE ACTIVIST AND ENTREPRENEUR: See, I've been in U.S. for about 20 years. So I have seen several presidents, you know, candidates, when they start campaigning, they use China. They label China something, and not pleasant.

And however, when they become president, and label China something is not a message to get them elected for sure. But to work with China and it's just something they can get in stone. So --


AMANPOUR: How do you mean?

HOU: You know, focus on polls. You know, in Bush administration, we include China to have the six-country talk with South Korea --

AMANPOUR: And North Korea.

HOU: And North Korea, right. And you know, in Clinton administration, we have a great surge, you know, economic or financial relationship with China. So we get job growing here. We get China also growing GDP about 11 percent. It's a wonderful time. So it's when they were campaigns, they always say something --

AMANPOUR: Different.

HOU: Correct.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying, what, campaigning is much different from actually governing?

HOU: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying that engagement is really much better?

HOU: I think China is trying to grow in more and more importance worldwide. And we need engagement, not isolation.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, because coming from you, that's quite extraordinary. You were one of the human rights activists in the world- known infamous crackdown in Tiananmen Square. You know, so many of the world's nations, you know, sort of cut China off for a while in one form or another.

And now, though, you're talking about engagement. And you're also -- you went back voluntarily and China is actually welcoming back some of the Tiananmen protesters. Why is that?

HOU: I think you -- I also believe engagement is better than isolation. And now with campaigns for human rights, advancement in China, so one of the questions people ask me, what to do about most favored nation status before China joined (inaudible) Europe (ph).

And so I always believe we need to grant China most favored nation status and use it. We can actually make a lot of advancement in human rights fronts. And the integration, you know, you can actually change a lot of things.

And for example, in the U.S. capital markets, we brought back to China, we were able to grow Internet. And the Internet is the way we are going, is the way the regular residents and the freedom come from.

AMANPOUR: You know, there are many people who have all sorts of different views on this matter, but certainly people are watching the economy and the boom there. How is it different being an entrepreneur, being a businesswoman like yourself in China? What are the mechanics of it compared to how you practice here in the United States?

HOU: See, in China, it's much more state-driven economy.

AMANPOUR: State-driven?

HOU: Yes.


HOU: State-driven. Like for example, in China, when we see some slowdown, government jump in. When U.S. we have some slowdown, most of time, you know, market has correct itself. Occasionally government involved, like financial crisis. Not that often. Right?

So also in China, you have state-owned and non-state-owned. State- owned economy certainly, they tend not to support non-state-owned economy. For a lot of the company who I study --

AMANPOUR: So is it difficult to be an entrepreneur, a small business woman?

HOU: It's so difficult.

AMANPOUR: Because all we see are these, you know, stories of huge business people, men, women, who are worth billons of dollars, all the shiny new buildings, you know, all the -- all the manufacturing and exporting. But you're saying it's difficult.

HOU: It's very difficult. There are lots of difficulties, a lot of successful entrepreneurs will tell you how did it become so successful. And so many companies who are listed in U.S. are labeled successful companies but in new concept, new Internet, new technology. Those companies' success wasn't founded by Chinese government but rather by U.S. capital market.

AMANPOUR: Yes. Back to the human rights issue, we had the famous so- called blind dissident Chen, who came over here. Do you think he should have left China or do you think -- or what do you think?

HOU: I -- OK, if I were him, I stay in China.

AMANPOUR: You would have stayed?

HOU: Yes, since, you know --

AMANPOUR: Despite the persecution and the harassment?

HOU: And he went to U.S. embassy and, you know, at that time, since I don't -- I'm not in his position 100 percent, I can only talk about it from a, you know, from far distance. You know, been there, done that, myself, was, you know, after I left China, I couldn't return for a while, right? So I knew was exile (ph) life look like, feel like.

AMANPOUR: To be an exile?

HOU: Correct. So it's hard. And to be in China and after you went to U.S. Embassy, you pretty much get all the protection you needed. And stay in China, you're under same protection. You can continue what you are doing more effectively.

AMANPOUR: So basically you're saying that he could have lobbied for his human rights causes better inside?

HOU: I (inaudible) believe it.

AMANPOUR: Tian Hou, thank you very much for --

HOU: Thank you. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

HOU: Yes.

AMANPOUR: A thaw in U.S.-China relations is a good thing. A thaw in the Arctic Circle is definitely not. The world is skating on thin ice. We'll have that when we come back.


AMANPOUR: And a final thought tonight, imagine a world melting before your very eyes.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): That is a terrifying reality for the passengers on a boat in the waters off Greenland, as a glacier suddenly broke apart, creating a giant wave that almost sank their ship. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. NASA scientists have recorded an unprecedented thawing of the ice sheet that covers Greenland.


AMANPOUR: Just look at these satellite images. On the left, the white area represents the ice sheet as it looked from space on July 8th. On the right, just four days later, almost 97 percent of the surface ice had melted.

Researchers caution that it's too soon to connect this thaw to global warming. So in order to know for sure, they'll watch to see whether the glaciers continue breaking up and the rivers keep rising this summer and again into next year. If so, then Greenland may turn out to be a prophetic global warning.

And that's it for tonight's program. If you'd like to share those incredible satellite images of Greenland, log onto Thanks for watching. Goodbye from New York.