Pickering speaks on U.S.-China policy
Ambassador Thomas Pickering '53 spoke in Pickard Theater
last Friday night to an auditorium filled with students, faculty, and
members of the community. In a speech entitled "U.S. and China Now,"
he illuminated the complexities of relations between the two nations based
upon his diplomatic experience.
He further stated that, because of several factors, "[The
United States is] working hard to see China as a regular player in the
system; to include China in regional and global institutions...[Things
such as] China's membership in the nuclear club, its permanent seat on
the UN Security Council, and its sheer size make it a hard player to ignore."
While Mr. Pickering asserted that the nation has full access
to weapons of mass destruction, he also said that China "is not yet
a world strategic power."
At several instances, Mr. Pickering wove some humor into
his mostly serious speech. He drew laughs after saying that "Mao
would be rolling in his mausoleum" if the late Chinese leader knew
of the nation's recent political changes.
After speaking more generally about progress in China and
international leaders' need to "base talks on a common acceptance
of realities," Mr. Pickering summed up his planned speech by saying
that China is "an extremely important country for the U.S.A, [one
that] will help to determine what happens in Asia" and in many other
parts of the world.
Following his speech, the Ambassador fielded several questions
from the crowd, answering inquiries ranging from his view of 'new' issues
in China (environmental concerns and the like) to comparing the Soviet
and Chinese Communist Party machines.
When asked about his most valuable career experience, Pickering
cited his United Nations work during the Middle East crisis. Calling it
an unprecedented international incident, he said that "...perhaps
the greatest opportunity and greatest challenge I've had was at the UN
during the Gulf War."
Mr. Pickering's experience in conflict-ridden nations like
Jordan and Israel also drew a question regarding the current ethnic and
political situations of the region. The United States, according to the
ambassador, needs to use its influence in "a particularly perilous
time in the Middle East," especially given the United States' record
of "leadership in the past and our tremendous role at present."
According to Pickering, Americans "should never be
complacent-we should continue to think about where we're going and not
rest on our [economic] laurels...We need to see the globe as something
that can represent great challenges for us."
Mr. Pickering also spoke about issues such as human rights
violations, the United States' 'One-China' policy, and environmental problems.
"China is still heavily dependent on coal as a major power source,
which is a huge and difficult problem," he said.
One audience member's question addressed current politics
in China, and Mr. Pickering indicated that he feels much can be improved:
"The political system remains hierarchal, autocratic, and rigid,
despite economic growth," he said. "The question is, will China
exist economically more free and politically more bound forever? Will
rapid economic development produce demand for political change?"
Mr. Pickering graduated cum laude from Bowdoin, with high
honors in history. He earned Masters degrees at Tufts and Melbourne Universities
and also spent time in the Navy before embarking on a career in international
diplomacy. Mr. Pickering has held more ambassadorial posts in his career
than anyone in United States history. Posts in Russia, India, Israel,
El Salvador, Nigeria, and Jordan line his resumé. He speaks many
languages including French, Spanish, Swahili, Arabic, and Hebrew.
Mr. Pickering's recent career includes positions as the
United States' United Nations representative from 1989-1993 and the Undersecretary
of State from 1997-2000. The ambassador currently holds the office of
Senior Vice President for International Relations at Boeing, Inc.
Ambassador Pickering's talk was sponsored by the John C.
Donovan Lecture Fund, and was, as he stated, suggestive of "some
great themes for term papers" for Bowdoin students.