Secretary of State John Kerry was racking up the frequent flier miles this week as he visited China and Indonesia to discuss issues such as climate change, Internet freedom, and the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine. Kerry arrived in China this past Friday and discussed many issues with Chinese leaders. There was conversation about North Korea and its restarted nuclear program, as well as a “frank discussion” about human rights issues within the communist state. After this official meeting however, Kerry met with a group of Chinese bloggers who sought to address the issue of Internet freedom.
These bloggers pressed Kerry to use the influence of the United States to “tear down this great firewall” that is stifling the flow of information within China. They accused U.S. companies of cooperating with the Chinese government to restrict access to certain websites in China. They argued that those companies were more concerned with the potential profits than they are about the freedom of Chinese citizens. Kerry attempted to assure the bloggers that the U.S. considered free access to information a human rights issue and he would “look into” the accusations that U.S. companies were censoring websites in China.
The bloggers pressed Kerry further arguing that the censoring of the Internet was decreasing the likelihood of democracy emerging in China. Kerry attempted to be more optimistic, noting that “slow progress” was occurring in China, and that while the Communist Party obviously dominated national politics, he noted that local politics were much more open to debate and differences of opinion. Internet freedom was not the only issue John Kerry addressed on his trip. He also talked about climate change and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
His next stop after leaving China was Indonesia. Kerry called climate change the “most fearsome” weapon of mass destruction and said the world must unite in order to combat it. Echoing the comments made by President Barack Obama in his recent State of the Union Speech, Kerry categorized the debate on climate change as closed. He compared those who still deny human involvement in climate change to those who used to believe that the Earth was flat. Kerry argued that these people represented a small minority and that their views cannot be allowed to prevent addressing such a critical issue.
Kerry, and climate change scientists, view the cooperation of countries with growing economies as vital to addressing the issue. Countries such as China, Indonesia, and India are the source of much of the so-called “greenhouse gas” pollution that scientists argue contributes significantly to increases in the global temperature. Fully developed countries like the U.S. and those in Western Europe want these developing economies to curtail their pollution as they have attempted to do.
Those countries reply however that as they are still in the process of development, additional pollutants are inevitable and they should not be held to the same standard as fully developed economies. Kerry was able to secure a preliminary agreement from China on the issue, although no specific details were available.
Finally Kerry addressed the continuing tensions between Israel and Palestine. Both Kerry and President Obama would like to see the issue resolved during Obama’s final two years in office, but comments from both seem to reflect the reality that this is unlikely. Kerry himself recently attracted criticism by suggesting that boycotts of Israel were likely if the latest round of peace talks is unsuccessful. Kerry has insisted that these comments were taken out of context and that boycotts of Israel would not produce the desired effect.
Kerry went on to state that the U.S. remains committed to a “two state” solution in the region that includes a secure Jewish state of Israel, as well as an independent state of Palestine. There is still much disagreement about the specifics of such an arrangement, such as the presence of NATO or UN peacekeepers to supervise the transition of a Palestinian state. Israel remains firmly opposed to outside forces while the Palestinians are generally accepting of the concept. This is just one issue on which the sides remain far apart.
The role of Secretary of State is a busy one as they represent the interests of the U.S. in many places abroad. John Kerry was very busy filling that role this week as he visited China and Indonesia to discuss climate change, Internet freedom, and Israel and Palestine.
By Christopher V. Spencer