Episode 17: Standing With Japan Part II: General Wright & Ambassador Schieffer On Japan, North Korea And China, US Leadership Today & Australia’s Friendship On 9/11

Amb. McCarthy:            00:00                Welcome to part two of our conversation with Ambassador Tom Schieffer and General Orville Wright in the series The General and the Ambassador. Our focus will be on their joint work in leading our diplomatic and military missions in Japan and addressing the challenges of North Korea and China. My name is Ambassador Deborah McCarthy and I am the host. And now here is part two. I wanted to turn now to the issue of the Six Party Talks, which are a series of negotiations involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and obviously the US, to dismantle North Korea's nuclear programs. Can you explain to our audience the importance of these talks and how you worked with Japan, in particular the issue of the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea?

Amb. Schieffer:             00:53                The talks were an effort on our part to bring the five powers that are concerned about North Korea having nuclear weapons to get together and sit on one side of the table. The Chinese were somewhat reluctant to do that because they didn't want to get in the position of distancing themselves from an ally. But they did. And it worked pretty well in the sense that we did get some dialogue going and we did get an agreement that the North Koreans would destroy the nuclear power plant that they had there, which was an engagement. And then they did that, they did that on CNN and and all that kind of stuff. But then they violated the agreement shortly after that, and that's the history of dealing with North Korea. We've all made the same mistakes with North Korea. We've always tried to give them something to come to the table. They have a business model, it's a kind of a Mafia model of I'll throw a brick through your window if you don't give me some money. And we've done that. So it's very difficult to get them to the table and say, "This is different. This is a different situation." And we've all suffered from that. But the abduction issue was one that was a sticking point with the Japanese in particular. The abduction issue was something that had happened, started in the 1970s and there was a 13 year old girl that had gone to volleyball practice after school and then she and two of her friends walked home, and it was not a long walk, but after the second one peeled off to go home, then the one little girl, Migumi Yokota, was by herself. Many years later, we learned that the North Koreans had kidnapped her and taken her.

Amb. McCarthy:            02:28                Right off the street?

Amb. Schieffer:             02:28                Right off the street and put her in a submarine that was on the coast and took her to North Korea. And the reason was they wanted to have a native Japanese to teach their intelligence officers the right accents and all that kind of stuff. It was bizarre beyond belief. Then they wanted a companion for her, so they kidnapped another young woman and took her over there. And they denied this, denied this, denied this. And the original theory of what had happened to the girl, her father was the president of the local bank and they thought that she had been abducted to hold for ransom. There was even a phone call asking for money, obviously a hoax. And so it's that kind of heartache and that kind of tragedy. It's going on for I think 30 years at that point in time. And then, I think it was 2002, it leaked out from a defector that they had kidnapped these people. Well, they had kidnapped almost 30 people to do this. They would do bizarre requests, like they wanted a young couple and then, so they abducted them off of a lover's lane and took them to North Korea. And they denied, denied, denied, and then it turned out it was true. In the initial reaction in Japan, the Asahi newspaper, for instance, editorialized this is terrible, this is a hoax, they couldn't have done that. Well it was, and Prime Minister Abe really came to public prominence because he was the first Diet member to really believe that it happened and he brought that issue up. So this is an issue that goes right to the soul of the Japanese people and they wanted it addressed in the Six Party Talks and we believed it and we believed that it should be addressed as well. Now, every prime minister that I dealt with in Japan on the Six Party Talks would always say, "Look, we know why the Six Party Talks are there. The nuclear weapons are the reason that they're there and we have to deal with that. But we have to have some answers here as to what happened to these people and are they alive?" And five of them actually, were alive and Prime Minister Koizumi went to North Korea as Prime Minister inand the North Koreans admitted it. Kim Jong Il said, "Yes, we've done that."

Amb. McCarthy:            04:37                They let them go?

Amb. Schieffer:             04:38                They let five go on the condition that Koizumi would send them back in six months. Well guess what? They didn't go back in six months.

Amb. McCarthy:            04:47                Of course not.

Amb. Schieffer:             04:48                But they got out and confirmed all that. This is an issue, and Mrs. Yokota, who is Migumi's mother, she came to the United States, she met with President Bush in the Oval Office and he told me afterwards that it may have been the most moving moment of his presidency to hear this mother describe what had happened to her daughter and her husband there too. It's just beyond belief of how touching the story is. She met with Vice President Cheney in Japan and Vice President Cheney is not a huggy sort of guy, but he was moved almost to tears because, he said, "But she would have been the age of my granddaughter." And when you think about things like that, you realize why this is an important issue to the Japanese people.

Amb. McCarthy:            05:38                And this little girl never came back? She was not part of the five?

Amb. Schieffer:             05:40                She's not accounted for yet. They did send back ashes. They said that she had committed suicide and they had cremated her body and they sent ashes to Japan. And of course the ashes turned out to be ashes of four other people. They didn't match the DNA of Migumi. It's that kind of treachery, and that kind of evil that people in Japan really respond to. And of course we had to have some sort of help to give to those people, what had happened here. And so it is an incredibly important issue in Japan. It's not in the rest of the world, but it's one we had to deal with and we got some help on it, not much, but it continues to this day.

Amb. McCarthy:            06:23                Well, the fact that the US raised it at very senior levels, I mean that carries a lot of weight.

Gen. Wright:                 06:28                There are often discussions in Washington about the cost of forward deployed forces. The strength of the alliance, when you deal with a ruthless regime like North Korea makes it absolutely mandatory that we have real force in the eyeballs of these guys. We all grew up in a nice neighborhood called the United States of America. It's, it's almost impossible, and I'm reminded in this discussion today, almost impossible to understand. Treachery is the right word, the ruthless nature of a regime like North Korea. And so again, forward deployed military forces, I think, are essential in dealing with that, so that you can have some sort of productive discussions. And I think this administration, calling Kim Jong Un's cards on this, that, "Rocket Man" or whatever you want to call him, has helped. It also reminds me that, it validates or, or even reaffirms the importance of forward deployed military forces. The new US Ambassador to South Korea, Harry Harris, I'm really glad to see him over there because he brings not just a good diplomatic mind, I think, to this and background, the North Koreans know, as do the Chinese, that he knows about military force and how it can be used. And that in and of itself, one leader there brings its own sort of credibility to our deterrence in that, in that part of the world and hopefully over time, a better solution in dealing with such a ruthless regime called North Korea.

Amb. Schieffer:             07:48                And the chances of having to use the military are reduced when you have a credible deterrence. We don't have all of this military because we're anxious to go to war. We have all this military because we don't want to go to war. And people who have a different view in the world need to know that, and they need to know that with certainty, because we are dealing with some pretty bad characters in that part of the world. I had gone to Niigata where she had been abducted and I'd had a news conference there, and it was the strangest news conference I've ever had because as this tale was told and as we interacted, the reporters started crying. I've had a lot of news conferences in my life. I was a head of a major league baseball team and I was in Australia and I was at, the first summit I attended was September the 10th, the next day was 9/11, but this was a news conference in which the reporters started crying. And I went home that night, and, I mean I took the train back and I was sitting there on the train and I told the country team the next morning, I was sitting there thinking about what I had just seen and what I'd heard and all that. And I thought, we meet here every morning to discuss what American foreign policy should do today. And I realized that someone, some group of people in North Korea had sat down and one day had decided that the best way for North Korean foreign policy to be executed was to kidnap a 13 year old child. And that's the difference between the United States and North Korea. I don't want us to be in a confrontation with North Korea, but I think we have to be aware that we're not dealing with a group of people that see the world the same way we do.

Amb. McCarthy:            09:32                They don't negotiate the same way we do.

Amb. Schieffer:             09:34                They don't negotiate the same way, and they do understand survival.

Gen. Wright:                 09:38                We spent a lot of time, and I spent a lot of time trying to understand the military leadership in both North Korea and China, and maybe even more so China when I was there. And one of the most descriptive sort of academic sessions I had on how Chinese military leadership views the world really came from that same discussion with the two senior military leaders from South Korea and from Japan. They talked about a 2000 year history in China of peasant revolts, no history at all of representative governments, and predictable peasant revolts almost in a synoptic curve. That's their history. When the revolt happens, those relatively few in power put down the revolt and those kind of revolts happen today. 5,000 or 10,000 farmers somewhere in China have a revolt. And so these two leaders, the Japan senior military leader, South Korean military leader, tried to help us understand through their lens that while we have shared values with South Korea and Japan, don't plan on ever finding those values or think those values might be in a country with a 2000 year history of no representative government.

Amb. McCarthy:            10:42                Well, I did want to turn to Japan's relationship with China. I mean they have enormous economic ties, but they have their political difficulties and now they're also involved, it's not new, but the territorial dispute over the islands in the East China Sea. What can you tell us about the relationship, as it stands today, between those two and how it affects our interests in the region?

Amb. Schieffer:             11:03                A very knowledgeable person once advised me on the situation between the three countries. If it's like a seesaw and the United States and Japan are on one end of the seesaw and the Chinese are on the other, you can reach a balance. But if you have a situation where you have each capitol looking after its own interests without alliances, you've got three different centers of power and they're never in balance. So that's what we're trying to do, is to keep that balance. But until the Chinese elect leaders, like the United States and Japan do, we're going to be different. A very high ranking Chinese told me once, and it was, I thought it was great advice, "One thing that you need to understand, the United States needs to understand, is that the Communist Party is more interested in being in power than they are in being communist. And if can remember that you will understand us better." But what we have to do with the Chinese, and I totally support the idea of military to military relationships because you have to sit across from somebody to get a feel for where they're coming from, and if our military officers know their military officers, they can provide incredible insight as to what is happening. And it's the same thing on the diplomatic side, when we talk to other people, we can size them up, we can take a measure of them. But what you don't want to have in foreign policy, in my judgment, is questions as to what the other guy's going to do. That's where we have to be careful right now. There is no question that there is a changing international order, but we have to have good knowledge of what each other is about here. And if you don't know what the other side might do if this particular action is taken or this line is crossed, that's where it's really dangerous. And this international order that is changing is going to reshape what everybody's feelings are and we want to be sure that the United States, in my judgment, is still the leader of the international community and not the bystander that's waiting for somebody else to make the big decisions. That doesn't work.

Gen. Wright:                 13:10                I'm also struck, you know, in listening to Ambassador Schieffer about the importance of State Department and DoD Country Team sharing of intelligence information. There are some realities in the Chinese military integration of advanced technologies into their weapons systems, stealth fighters, for example, long range ballistic missile systems, and that sharing of the best possible intelligence between the diplomatic leadership in the region, certainly here in Washington, but even more so for deployed forces, are really essential as we continue to engage with the Chinese. Because right now, those advanced military capabilities need to be up front as we address the threat, the reality of the threat, in that region, and negotiate from a position of strength, that strength brand, we know what you're doing and we're serious about deterring that capability and being able to fight and win at a time and place of our choosing. And again for Ambassador Schieffer, you know, good news, I can't thank him enough opportunity to be his wing man because he understands that. That sort of Texas view of strong fences, but we're going to be serious about calling your cards on what we know you're doing.

Amb. Schieffer:             14:11                Colin Powell used to say, "We're not looking for a fair fight. We're looking for winning, if it comes to that." The Chinese couldn't figure it out because we would do naval visits or whatever and we would let them take pictures of some of the ships and stuff. They would have never let us do that, but the reason they wouldn't let us do it was not what you would think, it's because they couldn't match us. We wanted them to know what we can do. Now. We don't tell them classified information and that sort of thing, but we want them to know the consequences of a misstep here so that there's no misstep.

Amb. McCarthy:            14:43                We've talked about our partnership on military issues related to Japan, but we cannot ignore the huge economic relationship. Japan is the second biggest investor in the US creating many, many jobs. What role did these economic ties play in your work in Japan?

Amb. Schieffer:             15:01                It's a big role. The Japanese are pretty good at analyzing things and they understand that if you don't have the economic resources to be the leader of the international community, you're not going to be the leader in the international community. And I recall when the financial crisis happened in 2008, At the end of my tenure there, but the Japanese came to me and said, does this mean that United States was going to withdraw from Asia because they won't have the resources? I said, no, it does not mean that and we're going to be able to get through this financial crisis. I think you make a big mistake if you say somehow that you just separate the military and the security of foreign policy from the trade policy. We have to lead, but leadership to me is not telling other people what to do. It's persuading them, and we have the ability to persuade people to follow our leadership and we've done that since the end of the war. It's worked pretty well.

Amb. McCarthy:            15:57                And that's what diplomacy is all about.

Amb. Schieffer:             15:59                That's what diplomacy is all about. I learned that early on. I'm not a career ambassador. I was a political ambassador, but I came back from a meeting and one of my staff assistants, so young first tour, I came back and I said, "You know, I think I figured out this diplomacy." And he said, "What's that Mr. Ambassador?" And I said, "W"ell about 95% of it is asking, not telling, and the other 5% is not being a jerk when you do it. And that seems to work.

Amb. McCarthy:            16:27                It does.

Amb. Schieffer:             16:27                And I think it seems to work in a lot of places, and why we would want to abandon that is something that is problematic to me.

Amb. McCarthy:            16:36                Well General, you spent most of your career overseas in key military theaters, Desert Storm, Provide Comfort in Iraq, Deny Flight in Bosnia Herzegovina. When, in your view, is diplomacy needed in facing major crises and when is military might required.

Gen. Wright:                 16:54                I think it's, it's always a partnership and it's a team. Sometimes it's minute by minute. There are good examples for keeping your powder dry early on in any kind of interaction with an increasingly hostile government, wherever it is. Be ready. And then there's a shift, and this is defined in most of our operational planning, you gotta be ready to go to the shooting phase, but even in the shooting phase, you have to stay very close to your diplomacy partners because rules of engagement for example, can be problematic. We need to be able to fight and win decisively and have our young professional soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, joint war fighters, empowered to do that. And if the ROE, rules of engagement, are too complicated, which can get tied up, and if there's a fractious relationship between State and DoD, can get tied up there. And so we can't exercise together enough. We can't build trust enough, socialize enough, share intelligence enough. We Really have to work it hard at every opportunity. And then very simply, and you can look at the national defense strategy, I think that Secretary Mattis came out with, which is excellent and follows national security strategy. We want to get back to the negotiating table as quickly as possible. So long wars, or long combat operations are not good for anybody and are expensive among other things. And so there's always an opportunity for stronger partnership in between State and DoD at the deployed level. And we didn't talk about our consulates, but boy, well, we had great consulates and consul leadership in Japan. We worked mostly peacetime dramas, but we tried to keep them very involved in exercises, field exercises, command post exercises. And I think that was a real help so that we all got educated on both sides. So you should never have an exercise, and I think most combatant commanders understand that, they've got a political advisor and some of those partnerships are better than others, but, but where they're good there's a real payoff for international security and stability, deterring bad behavior, and then if you have to fight, fight and win decisively.

Amb. Schieffer:             18:53                When I was Ambassador to Australia, and after 9/11, the Australians came to our defense under the ANZUS treaty.

Amb. McCarthy:            19:00                And you were in the States when it happened and then you flew back with the prime minister the day after?

Amb. Schieffer:             19:05                Yes, I was. Right.

Amb. McCarthy:            19:05                How did the plane get up in the sky? I thought everything was grounded.

Amb. Schieffer:             19:08                It was grounded and he had come over on a Quantus plane.

Amb. McCarthy:            19:11                I see.

Amb. Schieffer:             19:12                The Australian plane was in for maintenance and so he couldn't take it, so he had to come with public transportation. And of course all those planes are grounded. So the Vice President loaned us Air Force Two and so we flew out to Honolulu and we caught a Quantus plane from there to Australia. It was an amazing moment to be on that flight. And in the process of that flight, Australia began the process of coming to the aid of the United States under the ANZUS treaty. Now when the ANZUS treaty was first started 50 years ago, nobody ever thought Australia would exercise it coming to our aid. They always thought the United States would come to their aid. And this is a story I tell, because sometimes Americans think that we've got this burden and people don't like us and all that kind of stuff. The day was incredibly difficult and we'd gone up to the House because that was the first opening of Congress and there were only four of us sitting in the gallery because the Capitol had sandbags around it and it was evacuated and only the Congress was there and the Prime Minister went up to pay his respects. And so we saw the Congress, the House open, we went over to the Senate. It was unbelievable. But we come back from Australia and we're, bureaucracies everywhere assert themselves at the oddest times, we were flying into Canberra and it was about 5:30 in the morning and the Canberra airport wouldn't let us land because they didn't open until 7:00. Now this is...

Amb. McCarthy:            20:43                No, you've gotta be kidding. It's Air Force Two is coming...

Amb. Schieffer:             20:47                Well it's the Quantus plane at that point.

Amb. McCarthy:            20:50                Oh, this is the Quantus plane?

New Speaker:               20:50                Yes, but it has the Prime Minister on it, and it's not, it's not a secret. It has, the chief bureaucrat of Australia is on it, who I might say was not happy.

Amb. McCarthy:            21:02                I'm sure at five in the morning, he's not happy.

Amb. Schieffer:             21:04                So, so we can't land and we're running out of fuel. So we have to divert to Sydney. And so we land in Sydney and Ansett, the number two airline in Australia, had gone bankrupt that morning and they had not bothered to tell their employees that they were doing that. Then they just posted a thing on a glass door that says, "We filed for bankruptcy, you can go home." They didn't just go home, they got some signs and they knew the Prime Minister was coming in and it was the angry mob...

Amb. McCarthy:            21:38                That greeted the plane and the Prime Minister?

Amb. Schieffer:             21:38                That greeted the plane. And so the prime minister said, "I've got this, to deal with this, we'll get you a plane to go back to Canberra." And so he stayed there and dealt with the demonstrators, and it was an ugly thing. And so we're going to Canberra then, and the security detail met me out at the tarmac and said, "We've got an angry mob here." The Ansett employees are out there. And you could see them on the tarmac. You could see them over there with the signs going up and down and you could hear them hollering and all that kind of stuff. And he said, "We don't know what's going to happen here, but we may have to kind of move through there pretty fast, but we just want you to know what is going on." So I got in the car on the tarmac and they were flying the flags on the car. And when I got up, all of a sudden, the demonstrators laid down,their signs, parted ways, and applauded as I went by.

Amb. McCarthy:            22:31                Oh, what a moment.

Gen. Wright:                 22:32                The American flag.

Amb. Schieffer:             22:33                The American flag.

Gen. Wright:                 22:34                Perfect.

Amb. McCarthy:            22:34                It means a lot.

Amb. Schieffer:             22:35                And that is the essence of what America is to people. America is an idea as much as a country. When we were in that kind of situation, those people who had their livelihoods on the line, they'd lost their jobs, they were mad about it, it had been handled terribly, but they thought so much about America at that point in time that they applauded the American Ambassador. And it's something that I have a difficult time telling even now without becoming emotional. It's what America is to people in the world. And that's what you want America to be.

Amb. McCarthy:            23:13                Gentlemen, this has been an extraordinary conversation. Thank you for your insights. Thank you for talking about your friendship. Thank you for talking about our interests, especially about the values of America and what we stand for.

Amb. Schieffer:             23:28                Thank you Deborah. It was a great opportunity. I appreciate it.

New Speaker:               23:30                Thank you. Madame ambassador.