Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said in a private speech to bankers three years ago that she would “ring China with missile defense” if Beijing failed to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, while also blasting “nationalist forces” in Japan for stoking the Senkaku row, a hacked email has shown.
The excerpts from a 2013 speech were part of a trove of documents from the hacked email account of the Clinton campaign chairman released by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks earlier this month.
It was not possible to confirm the authenticity of the leaked email, which contained a number of excerpts from Clinton’s private speeches — including several focusing on China and Japan. The former secretary of state’s campaign has neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of hacked emails.
China has ripped into a plan by Washington and Seoul to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to South Korea to protect against North Korean threats. Beijing says the powerful system will harm its security and do nothing to lower the temperature on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test last month, and experts say it is making steady progress toward developing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.
According to an excerpt of a speech delivered after Clinton left her post as secretary of state, she told an audience at a Goldman Sachs conference that allowing the North to get such a weapon is not something Washington can accept.
“Because they could not only do damage to our treaty allies, namely Japan and South Korea, but they could actually reach Hawaii and the West Coast,” Clinton said in a speech dated June 2013, according to the email.
If the North gets such a weapon, she added, “We’re going to ring China with missile defense. We’re going to put more of our fleet in the area. So China, come on. You either control them or we’re going to have to defend against them.”
China is widely seen as the closest thing North Korea has to an ally. Beijing provides Pyongyang with an economic lifeline and has been roundly criticized by Washington for not doing enough to rein in the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
For its part, China says that curbing its neighbor’s atomic push is not solely its duty. It has also said that it lacks influence with the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, who has yet to visit China.
The leaked email also saw Clinton recount in a speech conversations she had with top Chinese officials about Beijing’s relationship with wartime enemy Japan.
“In my last year, year and a half of meetings with the highest officials in China the rhetoric about the Japanese was vicious,” she said. “I had high Chinese officials in their 60s and 50s say to me: We all know somebody who was killed by the Japanese during the war. We cannot let them resume their nationalistic ways. You Americans are naive. You don’t see what is happening below the surface of Japan society.”
In a separate section headlined “Japan,” Clinton also apparently had words about “nationalist pressures” in the country and leaders in gubernatorial and mayoral posts who she called “quite far out there.”
Clinton said the actions of these forces had moved the formerly shelved dispute over the Senkaku Islands — which she referred to as “the Senkakians” — to the forefront of the Sino-Japanese relationship.
“Part of the reason we’re in the mess on the Senkakians is because it had been privately owned,” she said. “And then the governor of Tokyo wanted to buy them, which would have been a direct provocation to China because it was kind of like: You don’t do anything. We don’t do anything. Just leave them where they are and don’t pay much attention to them.”
Located in the East China Sea, the Senkakus are administered by Japan but claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu Islands, and Taiwan, which calls them the Tiaoyutai Islands.
Japan purchased three of the five islets from a private owner in September 2012 after Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo’s right-wing governor at the time, slammed the central government’s handling of the issue and announced a plan for the metropolitan government to buy the islands.
In another hacked speech excerpt, this one from October 2013, Clinton criticized Beijing’s stance on the disputed South China Sea.
“China basically wants to control” the strategic waterway, she said. “You can’t hold that against them. They have the right to assert themselves. But if nobody’s there to push back to create a balance, then they’re going to have a chokehold on the sea lanes.”
In another excerpt, apparently taken from the same speech, Clinton slammed Beijing’s claims to the waters, saying that by China’s logic, the U.S. should have claimed all of the Pacific.
“We liberated it, we defended it. We have as much claim to all of the Pacific,” she said. “And we could call it the American Sea, and it could go from the West Coast of California all the way to the Philippines.”
China has used a massive land-reclamation program to create several outposts in the South China Sea, building military-grade airstrips, radar facilities and hangers for Chinese fighter jets on some of the islets.
In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued a ruling invalidating China’s claims to the waters, a decision Beijing has lambasted as “waste paper.”
The hacked document also detailed that Clinton had heaped praise and scorn on China’s current and former leaders.
Referring to current Chinese President Xi Jinping, Clinton called him “a more sophisticated, more effective public leader” than his predecessor, Hu Jintao.
The emails also appeared to highlight U.S. concerns that the Hu-led government had been unable to effectively control the military.
“One of the biggest concerns I had over the last four years was the concern that was manifested several different ways that the … People’s Liberation Army was acting somewhat independently … that in effect (they) were making some foreign policy” decisions, an excerpt of Clinton speech read.
Hu, she went on, had failed to assert authority over the military. But Xi, she said at the time, “is doing much more to try to assert his authority, and I think that is also good news.”
Under Xi’s leadership, China has embarked on a plan to transform the world’s biggest military into a leaner, more capable fighting force. Xi has also embarked on a campaign to stamp out rampant corruption in the military’s ranks.