Tuesday, July 19, 2011

SENATOR WEBB: Floor speech on US engagement in East Asia and preventing human trafficking


Floor speech on US engagement in East Asia and preventing human trafficking

July 18, 2011

Mr. President, we spend probably the majority of the time when we discuss foreign policy on this floor talking about the crises in places such as Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. If we talk about East Asia at all, we generally are discussing our economic situation as it portends to the future, especially with China.

But I would like to make a strong point here today: if we do not get it right with our relations in East Asia, we are in very serious trouble as a nation. It is vitally important for the United States to continue to invigorate our relations with all the countries in East and Southeast Asia on economic, security, and cultural levels.

Today, I would like to talk about a few of the issues that are affecting our relations in that part of the world. This weekend, there will be a regional forum for the ASEAN countries in Bali. Our Secretary of State will be there.

This forum is coming at a pivotal moment with respect to our relations in Southeast Asia and the rest of East Asia. The recent military provocations by China against the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, which this body passed a resolution deploring, affect the mood of the entire region at this moment. There also have been political transitions in Thailand and in Burma and there are consistent ecological threats along the Mekong River, with hydropower dams up river beginning in China and now also being proposed in Laos.

All of these issues underscore the need for vigorous multilateral engagement in this part of the world, the development of new strategic relationships and the continuity of balance that the United States has been bringing to this vital region since the end of World War II.

We are going to be reauthorizing a piece of legislation called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in this session of Congress. I have an amendment to this act. I think it is an extremely important amendment in terms of our relationships with friends and allies, particularly in East Asia, and with representatives of highly developed governmental systems that have a lot of problems with the way we have implemented this act in the past.

I, like everyone here in the Senate, fully support the intentions of this legislation and the intentions of the State Department to prevent human trafficking and to assist trafficking victims. But under our present policy, we have a great deal of confusion and, quite frankly, resentment from many of the more developed governmental systems. This present policy requires that a country be ranked against the progress it has made in the past year. In other words, a country is ranked against itself. This practice does not provide countries with a consistent standard by which they might truly measure their efforts against human trafficking versus other countries around the world, and it creates a lot of misunderstandings.

The criteria used to judge a country's efforts are difficult to estimate with any precision. They are often very subjective. For example, by placing prosecutions for trafficking over the protection of victims and the prevention of acts in the first place, we get a total misreading of the success that many of these governmental systems actually have been able to bring about.

This is an excerpt from a press release that came out of Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 28th of this year, talking about their ranking under this Trafficking in Persons Report:

“We note that the United States has again unabashedly awarded itself a Tier 1 ranking. Yet the New York Times observed that teenage girls coerced into prostitution in the United States are treated not as trafficking victims but as miscreants who are arrested and prosecuted. This is directly opposite to Singapore's approach. The United States also suffers from serious problems with illegal immigrants, many of whom are trafficked by well-organized criminal gangs which seem to operate with impunity.”

Singapore, our friend, our ally, and an advanced governmental system by any determination, then says: “On any objective criteria, the United States has a more serious TIP problem compared with Singapore.”

Why are they angry? Why do they feel they have not been fairly evaluated? Because they are evaluated against themselves by standards that may not apply. Singapore is not alone.

The last year's reporting showed Nigeria got a Tier 1 rating. Japan, another highly advanced governmental system, got a Tier 2 rating. Singapore got a Tier 2 Watch List rating, which means that they could be in danger of losing a lot of the governmental interactions between our two countries if this continued.

How would they rate if we had a standard where we were evaluating all country systems against one another, rather than the approach we are now using?

Here is a good objective way to see if we can answer that question. These are the worldwide ratings from an organization called Transparency International. This is the Corruption Perception Index from the same year. From the country rankings for corruption perception, internationally, Singapore is tied for first as the most transparent governmental system. The United States is down here at number 22—below Japan. I mention Japan because under the TIP system, Japan got a Tier 2 rating. Nigeria is over here tied for 134th. This is not meant to be critical of the attempts of the Nigerian government to fix their problems, but clearly, if we were evaluating these countries among each other rather than by this very confusing standard, you would not be seeing Singapore with a Tier 2 Watch List category and Nigeria as a Tier 1.

I will have a simple but I think very important amendment to the legislation when it comes forward. It basically will require the State Department to categorize countries as either in compliance or not and then to rank countries on a single scale rather than by year-to-year progress against themselves, and to eliminate the Special Watch List category. It maintains all the other existing criteria we have used in terms of examining whether trafficking in persons is being addressed in these different countries; the extent to which a country is a country of origin, transit, or destination; the extent of noncompliance by the governments, including government officials; and what measures are reasonable to bring the government into compliance.

This may seem a small matter on the floor of the Senate, but I can assure you this is not a small matter to countries that have been our friends and allies and have advanced governmental systems and believe they are being wrongly categorized for the rest of the world to see.

I would like to raise one other point today with respect to this part of the world regarding issues of sovereignty and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and recent activities which could quickly reach a level of volatility that we would not like to see. I would like to emphasize again that our country is the number one reason we have had the kind of stability that has existed for the most part in this very volatile region since the end of World War II.

The red lines on this map are the areas over which China claims sovereignty in the South China Sea. These lines go all the way past the coast of the Philippines, down into Borneo and Malaysia, up the coast of Vietnam, and back into China.

Over the last 10 years, we have seen incidents that people in the United States, including military officials, too often seem to view as tactical challenges rather than strategic data points in terms of the ongoing issues of who actually controls these areas.

These areas are claimed by many different countries. They are the most highly trafficked sea lanes, in terms of trade, in the world. Just in the last one and a half years, we have seen an incident off the coast of Okinawa, with a dispute between the Japanese and the Chinese governments. We have seen a military incident, a provocation by the Chinese off the coast of the Philippines, which was protested by the Philippines. We have seen two incidents off the coast of Vietnam, one in May and one in June. If you look at where these incidents have occurred, they mark the boundaries of the sovereignty claims that have been made by the Chinese.

This body unanimously passed a resolution condemning this use of military actions in disputes that should be resolved in a multilateral way. I am very hopeful that Secretary Clinton will reinforce our concerns in this area.

When I was on “Meet The Press'' a couple of weeks ago, I said we could be approaching a Munich moment in this region. That comment has been widely circulated. Let me explain what I mean by that. That does not mean I see a Hitler out there; that does not mean I see a Neville Chamberlain here. What this means is when you have an expansionist power that is making claims that it owns land in disputed areas and is provoking these other countries through the use of military force, you are reaching the edge of a country unilaterally claiming sovereignty over areas that require multilateral solutions. That is not healthy internationally.

This region historically has been very volatile, and the United States is the most important ingredient in making sure these issues are resolved multilaterally and without the use of force.

Again, I strongly hope our Secretary of State will reinforce the comments she made last year to the effect that the United States does have a vital interest in resolving these issues in a multilateral way--just as we do in resolving the issues with respect to the Mekong River--rather than having a strong, powerful country insisting only on bilateral adjustments with countries that it totally overpowers. We are the essential ingredient. No one wants to see this issue go the wrong way.

We have the potential of resolving this with China and resolving our relationships with the Chinese government in a positive way in the future, but it is going to require clear, consistent comments and a credible approach by the U.S. government.


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