Clinton's worldview: part two

The second part of former US President Clinton''s keynote address to CLSA''s Investor Forum in Hong Kong this Monday

On Monday, former US President Bill Clinton spoke at the CLSA Investors' Forum in Hong Kong, answering questions posed to him from the moderator and the crowd in a 90-minute session.

As the questions wore on and he had already promoted his current pet projects, he became more relaxed, kicking back and stretching his legs, swigging a diet Coke and admitting that yes, he did look into whether or not an unidentified flying object - or UFO -- really did crash into the ground near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. And, if you want to question why the nuclear problem in North Korea has not been settled yet, you need to bear in mind the role in global politics that Yasser Arafat played over the years.

Below, is conclusion of a two-part series of his answers.

2006 is mid-term elections…Do you think the Democrats have a chance of making a come-back in the House of Representatives and in the Senate?

I think we'll pick up seats in both places. This is a bad time for us (Democrats) for two reasons. One is, the House of Representatives - and both parties are guilty of this -- has been redistricted so that almost all the seats are overwhelmingly Democratic, or overwhelmingly Republican and so almost no matter what happens it's hard to dislodge the incumbents. And that's a bad thing for the Democrats now because the Republicans have more members than we do. But we'll probably win some seats in the House assuming we have a credible plan.

We know that the American people are disillusioned with them (Republicans), and coming up in the elections in 2006 we'll have to say here's our economic plan, our energy plan, our healthcare plan and our Iraq plan. You know, we'll put forth a message. If we have a coherent national message we can win.

The other disadvantage we have is in the Senate. As all of you know every state gets two senators. And the Republicans rely on cultural issues to win elections. Now they have to get the voters to suspend their opinion about everything else, they have to get the voters to vote on abortion and gay marriage so they won't think about the economy, they won't think about healthcare, they won't think about energy, they won't think about anything. Just, you know, turn their brains off and vote on those issues.

And the culturally conservative voters are heavily concentrated in rural America and small states, which gives the Republicans an advantage in the Senate race. For example, last election, 2004, the Republicans picked up seats in the Senate. The Democrats won three million more votes than the Republicans did in Senate races. So we won the aggregate Senate vote by three million and lost Senate seats.

That's our party's fault. We've got to get ourselves into a position where we can talk to those folks again. I don't blame the Republicans. They're in business to beat us. We gotta be smart enough to figure out how to beat them because the public agrees with us overwhelmingly on our approach on most issues. And walls come down in these elections if you can just cut the thinking off with the more divisive issues, we just have to figure out how to deal with it.

Is the US ready to elect a woman president of the United States ?

The honest answer is I don't know. Depends on who the woman is. And it depends on psychological factors. And you won't know, 'til you try, that's the honest truth. You know, I'd like to say something else, but you don't know until you try.

I remember when Doug Wilder (D-Virginia) was elected the first African-American governor of a southern state. The exit polls showed him winning by 6% and he won by 1%. Now there are two explanations - the methodology of the exit polls could have been flawed or 5% of the people came out and they were ashamed to admit that they should have voted for him but couldn't bring themselves to.

So you just won't know 'til it happens. But sooner or later it should happen. You know, if you think of all the countries that have been headed by women, I'd hate for us to be the last one to step up.

But you must have a gut feeling - do you think if not 2008, the next time… is it getting closer?

You know the traditional theory is that women do better when the elections are about domestic issues and not foreign policy and national security, but that may or may not be true. Again, it depends entirely on the candidate and what she has to say and what the record is. You know, my gut is that a woman could be elected as president of the United States but I won't know until it happens. Or doesn't -- as the case may be. Until there's a contest, you won't know.

CLSA opens the questions up for the audience to ask, to which Clinton says:

That's the great thing, I don't care what questions are asked, I can say whatever's on my mind now that I'm out. That's the good news. The bad news is, nobody has to care anymore, but it's still fun.

What is your view on whether you believe whether Japan should re-arm and whether they will re-arm?

The question of whether they should re-arm depends upon how real the threats are they face. If they don't feel they face any kind of serious threat from China or some other source, then I think they would be foolish to squander a lot of money on military expenditures when they've got a chance to resume serious growth for the first time in 15 years.

The question of whether they will re-arm is a question, I don't know, that depends upon what they want to do. But I'd like to make a general point and a specific point, because this is very important.

I used to give speeches - in my second term I gave a lot of speeches, which almost no one in America paid any attention to, at least in the political press - in which I said, you know, we cannot forever be the only military, economic and political super power. This is an accident of the post-cold-war era. China is rising. India is rising. Europe, at that time, was still continuing to come together economically and politically, and all these places have more people than we do. And intelligence is evenly distributed throughout the world. And we shouldn't see that as a threat.

But what we should be doing is working as hard as we can to create a world that we would like to live in when we are a great and successful country but not the only military, political and economic superpower. That's what we should be doing. And that's what I tried to do.

So I never saw China's rising economic prosperity as a threat. I never saw India's rising prosperity as a threat. I thought it was a good thing. I don't think it's healthy for a country with 4% of the world's people to have 20% of the world's wealth. I don't think it's healthy to have a world where there are all these millionaires and billionaires and half the world's people live on less than $2 a day and a billion people live on less than a $1 a day and a billion people go to bed hungry every night. I think that's crazy. It's a misallocation of resources. It makes all of us poorer besides being immoral and inhuman.

But when a country gets rich enough, and I told the Pentagon this, as soon as a country gets rich enough, whether we're the only military superpower is their decision, not ours.

So now, you see, to get to the specific point, the American military is profoundly disturbed at China's acquiring all these diesel-powered submarines that are very quiet and go very deep and have very long range, and therefore are not credibly designed only to protect China's interest in Taiwan. So the military are very upset about this. But China's got the money to buy them. And they obviously feel that for whatever reason they should.

So again I would say, what that means is America should continue to modernise its military without sending out mixed-messages that we are somehow preparing for a conflict that in fact we hope and pray will never occur.

But, I don't know the answer to Japan. You just have to look at the facts. If the Japanese economy continues to rebound and they want to have a big military build-up and they can get the Diet to go along with it, and change the psychology of the Japanese people that they are far-enough distanced from World War II and the terrible things that they did then, then they will be able to do it. But I hope they won't do it because I hope they won't rationally be able to think that they need to do it.

But those are the thing that the Chinese government should also calculate in terms of what sort of military resources it develops and how they are deployed because these things tend to be self-fulfilling and sometimes the militaries in countries actually need an aggressive military in another country because what they really want is to get bigger and stronger and have more money to build up their military rather than for domestic uses…

Looking back, would have you done anything differently vis-à-vis North Korea 's nuclear capability?

Not unless I'd have known that in 1998 they started a small-scale enriched uranium programme in the lab. Otherwise, I thought our policy was quite successful.

Basically we were almost on the brink of conflict in '94. And I made it very clear that if there was anything I could do to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, I would. And that's why we got this agreement where they agreed to suspend their plutonium programme, which was the big programme. They had a reactor, which as I remember, had a 50-megawatt capacity. They were trying to build a 250-megawatt reactor and then use plutonium fuel rods to power the reactor to produce nuclear energy, but the spent fuel rods could then be used to provide raw material for atomic weapons.

If we had not suspended that programme, North Korea would have acquired the capacity to develop between six-and-ten nuclear weapons a year, and would have had dozens and dozens of weapons. The Bush administration, by the way, agrees with this…

Then in '98 we got North Korea to stop testing their long-range missiles. They didn't agree to stop producing them, but if you wanted to buy one, at least you had to buy one that wasn't tested, like buying a car without a warranty.

We were on the verge of getting them to end the long-range nuclear programme in 2000, but I would have had to go there. So if there is anything I regret it is, if I could have ended it by going there, I wish I had. But when the development occurred, I had less than two months left to be president, and you can't just drop in on North Korea, if you're the American president, for the first time since the end of the Korean War. You have to go to South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. So you have to spend two weeks on this trip and I was trying to bring the Middle East peace talks to a successful conclusion before I left office.

And (Yasser) Arafat begged me not to go and promised me that he was going to sign the deal. So Arafat costs us two big advances in human affairs, arguably.

Now, it later came out that North Korea had secretly started a small-scale nuclear enriched uranium programme in the laboratory, but scarcely enough to produce one weapon a year. So it's much smaller what they did.

Then all hell broke loose and we stopped communicating with them and we refused to deal with them in any way other than through the six-party talks because that problem got more pinned to the whole terrorism thing after 9/11 and President Bush saying that Iran, Iraq and North Korea were part of the Axis of Evil. So we couldn't say that and turn around and talk to them. So it cost us a lot of time. And that's why I said earlier that we are heavily dependent upon the Chinese to keep these talks alive and keep North Korea from going nuclear…

But with the evidence that I had at the time I don't know that I could have done anything else except maybe I could have told Arafat that I didn't believe him, and I didn't think that we could make peace in the Middle East and maybe I could have ended the problem in North Korea's missile programme. But we would have still have been back in the soups once we discovered that they had a laboratory in enriched uranium.

What single person has had the most impact on you in your adult life?

Well, let's just talk about when I was president because the other things are more personal. When I was president, the two people who had the most impact on me were Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin…

Rabin was a warrior who spent 30 years of his life fighting for Israel's survival in a hostile environment and then had the courage to sign this deal with Arafat, who he didn't even want to shake hands with, because he figured out that Israel's strategy was a loser.

He figured out that if they held on to the west bank in Gaza that it wasn't making Israel more secure. You could still hit them with missiles from without, as Saddam did in the First Gulf War with the scud missiles. And that the Palestinian Arabs would soon be more numerous within Israeli than the Israeli Jews. And so one of two things would have to happen if Israel was to continue to be a democracy and let the Palestinians in Gaza to vote the same way that the Palestinians in Old Israel could vote.

Pretty soon it wouldn't be a Zionist state. And if they didn't let them vote, then they would be an Apartheid state. Rabin got that and he was willing to risk his life and ultimately to give his life to do something different. Very few people when they are over 70-years old can make that switch. And he was a magnificent human being. And the day he was murdered was maybe the worst day of my presidency. I loved him very much.

Mandela was just the greatest spirit I ever met. I mean, you know, they kept the man in jail for 27 years and he lost everything - he never got to see his kids grow up, it ruined his marriage, his health was broken - and he walked out a bigger man than he went in. He not only invited his jailers to his inauguration - that was the sort of the public-relations deal, I don't mean it wasn't real, but that's what we could all comment on. The important thing was he had the leaders of the parties that oppressed him in his government. He gave them positions in his government.

And, ah, he was really a truly great man. He was the master of letting go of his anger and his resentments. And he became a better leader because he let go of all that. I'll never forget that when he told me, he said that…well, I said that, 'Now, come on, when you got to walk out of prison the last time, didn't you hate all those people all over again?'

He said, 'I did, briefly. But when I was walking to freedom, the last steps, I realised that they already had me for 27 years and if I hated them when I got out the door, they would still have me and I wanted to be free, so I let it go.'

Easy to say. Hard to do.

I never met anybody like him. I just went to South Africa for his 87th birthday and I hope he lives another 10 or 15 years. You can't be where he is unless you suffer like he did and come through it. He's basically a treasure of the earth.

Do you select charitable works for your NGOs now because you think you can affect the most change? Or are they the social issues to which you are personally most drawn?

A little bit of both. I think that this model that I have adopted, it suits me. But I also think it's the way I can do the most good because I can get all different kinds of people together, no matter about politics or whatever, because they agree on the mission I adopt. And I try to pick things to do - like this work I do on Aids - that I think the world needs that won't be done as well if I don't get involved in it, where I can make a critical difference and that's why I do it.

The reason I'm having this Global Initiative at the opening of the UN session is because I want other people to do it too. A lot of other people can do things I can't do. So we're going to have a meeting - I always tell people it's shorter and a lot less expensive than Davos and probably a lot less fun -- but over 800 people are going to show up and we're going to talk about just four areas that I think are important in dealing with the problems of the developing world: How to improve governance, how to use religious and other differences to bring people together instead of driving them apart, how to empower the poor and how to use the need for clean energy and an environmental future to grow the economies instead of shrink them.

The difference between my meeting and others is that first, we're only going to talk about four things, we're not going to talk about 40 things. And we're going to have a lot of different panels so you can spend the whole period from Thursday afternoon 'til Saturday morning on one subject if you want, following everything, or you can devote a half-a-day to each subject, as you choose. But at the end, everybody who signs up for my meeting has to make a commitment. They are going to actually fill out a form at the end saying what they are going to do in the coming year in one of these four areas. And now if they don't do it, I won't let them come back next year. 'Cause the world doesn't need another meeting.

But what I'm trying to do is to give people a way - 'cause a lot of people want to do things but they don't want to waste their money, they don't want to waste their time - so what I'm trying to do is to give people a framework where they can come and learn, and then they can say, 'Ok, so here's something that I can do to make a difference. And this is what I'm going to do.'

And so we're gonna collect the commitments then report on what is actually done every year. And I figure if we do this at the opening of the UN every year for 10 years - we're having somewhere between 40 and 45 heads of state coming to participate - after 10 years we will really make the world a better place if we do this. And I'm trying to keep the participation down because I want people to feel like they got time to interact, so I wanted somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people to come and we're at about 850 now.

I think we can really make a difference so one of the things that I try to do is to get people to do things.

I always kept score in politics, like that. If you read most political writing all over the world about who said what, who's mad at whom, who's in, who's out, who's up, who's down - the impact of what politicians do on the lives of ordinary people is often completely lost. But I really believe that's the only way to keep score.

What matters if you're in office when you finish - (is) two things. From a historical point of view, did you move things in the right direction, one? Two, are people better off when you stopped than when you started? And so I figure if we can do this for the 10 years, people will be a lot better off when we stop than when we started.

What are one or two things that the current President Bush is doing that you agree with?

I'll tell you one thing that might surprise you. I agree - not with all the details - in general -- I agree with his effort to involve religious organizations more in solving social problems because I think a lot of America's social pathology among the poor stems from isolation and disorganisation of their lives. They're too physically isolated, the desperately poor in America.

I tried when I was president, for example, to relocate a lotta people on public assistance in more mixed-income neighbourhoods so that we can not only move them into independence but put them into a culture of success. And I think involving religious organizations in that work, as long as it's not done for political purposes or for specifically religious purposes - that is to propagate a particular religious point of view -- is a legitimate thing for the government to be involved in. So I support that.

Another thing he's done that I support strongly is to stay with the Columbian government in its struggle to defeat the narco (narcotics) traffickers and their guerrilla supporters. We started a programme - and a lot of people don't know this, maybe, in Asia but… the biggest terror problem in my part of the world is in Columbia. Here one third of the land in the oldest democracy in Latin America is in the hands of the narco traffickers and their guerrilla supporters. And these guerrillas had a political agenda, once. Right now they're just on the take for the drug lords. They protect them and they get, depending on the varying price of cocaine, somewhere between $500 million and a billion dollars a year to do it…

So the previous President of Columbia, (Andres) Pastrana risked his life with a peace initiative, which I supported, and they stiffed him 'cause they were making too much money. So then he took a tough line and we enacted something called Plan Columbia in the United States Congress, totally bi-partisan, and we basically helped the Columbians to improve their police and military services, their courts system, and offer the coca farmers, who were basically innocent peasants caught up in all of this, a way to make a living in a more legitimate way. And we got tougher.

Then when the new President (Alvaro) Uribe (Velez) came in, and President Bush came in, they continued the policy and even broadened the use of American funds. And today, coca production is down a third, opium production is down two-thirds and 13,000 of the guerrillas and the paramilitary forces in Columbia have laid down their arms and rejoined civil society. It's been a stunning success, even though there are still many problems. And I'm very grateful to George Bush for continuing this, for doing this.

I love Coumbia… and I lost a good personal friend in this war down there, the cultural minister, who was a friend of mine, was murdered, and her niece succeeded her as cultural minister and her husband became a government prosecutor, because of it; they're very brave people. So I'm very grateful to him for doing that.

I also am grateful to him for increasing Aids funding. And while we have real differences about how to spend it…My foundation works very closely with the Bush initiative and all the African countries where we're both working. And I think that while I still have real differences in his approach, the fact that the American government put more money into it -- he certainly got more money out of the Republican Congress than I could have -- is a real plus. And more people will live because of it. And I'm grateful to him for that.

Regarding the Vioxx settlement, and tort reform, where do you think the right balance is between protecting individuals and companies' rights?

Well, the Vioxx case is actually a hard case -- and, I have a member of my family who suffered a long-term health problem from taking Vioxx by prescription - because we now know that the company knew, before they ever marketed Vioxx, what the dangers were. On the other hand, you don't want to create a climate where all companies are deterred from developing medicine…where all companies are deterred from going into business.

Uhm, I know more about the medical malpractice area, where we need some serious tort reform. We have a lot of people now who won't become paediatricians in America because they can't afford the medical-malpractice insurance. So I believe that we need some tort reform in America to cut down the more egregious cases. I think a lot of the cases are people are just filing suits that they know will be settled to save the money, that's what I'd say runs the insurance rates up and runs the cost of business up.

So I think the trick is if we pass a tort-reform thing which puts a cap on damages. Then there should be some alternative penalty which can be imposed if you can prove a company deliberately brought a product to market when its only experts told 'em not to do it, which is what happened with Vioxx. And a hell-of-a-lotta people got hurt on that deal.

You know I was excoriated by the Left in America for being -- one of my liberal critics once said -- I was one of the most pro-business Democrats since Grover Cleveland. And I thought to myself, yes, and Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were the only other Democrats that got two terms, too. I was rather proud of it; I kind of admired ol' Grover Cleveland.

So I consider myself to be pro-business, but I think that you have to have some constraint on wrong-doing, so I don't mind not enriching the trial lawyers too much. I don't mind not even enriching the plaintiffs beyond what their real damages were and some reasonable punitive damages.

But if there was a deliberate act of malfeasance - like in the Enron case for example… I don't care about sending these people to jail forever. That doesn't put food on anybody's table. It doesn't make up for all the people that lost their retirement money under Enron. So I would say to you since 95%, 99%, 99-plus% of all people that are in business are honest and honourable, and everybody makes mistakes and you oughta compensate people reasonably, but not unreasonably, for legitimate actionable mistakes; I'm not against tort reform. But when there was a deliberate attempt to gain the system in a way that cost people their lives, there has to be some other way of dealing with that. And that's what our society hasn't quite worked out…

By the way - an enormous percentage of medical malpractice is committed by a tiny fraction of doctors - and the real problem is the insurance market is fragmented. The University of Texas health system in Houston has 700 doctors. They decided to self insure. And they controlled who got in and who got out. They knew who the bad actors were. They built up their own reserve, in accordance with all self-insurance laws. They cut their malpractice payments by 90%.

So I think the real thing is, the people in professions, they can also help in addition to medical-malpractice reform, if you had insurance reform, so that people could self-insure across employee lines, and across state lines. Maybe we could solve the tort-reform problem and medical malpractice in that way.

With businesses I think you have to have some other legislative fix.

What should the US do, going forward, in regards to its relationship in India ?

Well I could have added that to the question the gentleman asked regarding what President Bush has done that I agree with. We had cold relationships with India for 40 years because India was close to the Soviet Union, partly because India was estranged from China, and we had this cascading the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend deal, so we were friends with Pakistan, India was friends with the Soviets, you know.

And I was able to put an end to that and President Bush continued that and he's done a very good job of continuing a warm friendship with India and maintaining good relationships with President (Pervez) Musharraf and the Pakistanis and I think he deserves a lot of credit for that, as well. I strongly support that.

Uhm, I don't know what I think about this nuclear agreement he's made with India. I think it recognises the world as it is, and, the non-proliferation treaty has a gap in it for the countries that have nuclear power but weren't recognised by it.

But in general, I think we should be trying to restrict the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. My own view is that we should do whatever we can to support the forces in India that are committed to building a future in which all Indians are a part. I think the sectarian violence in India could still destroy a lot of India's potential for growth, principally the tension between the Hindus and the Muslims.

But…also… when I was in India, 37 Sikhs were killed - murdered in Kashmir. And I know they were killed just because I showed up. Just to make a big point about the problems in Kashmir.

And so I think that that has to be fought. And I think anything that the United States can do, because of its friendship both with Pakistan and with India, to give the countries the confidence to keep improving relations and to put this Kashmir issue behind us, should be done.

Once before the end of my term, I was horrified when the Indian defence budget went up 20% in one year when the country had a per capita income of $500. And so I think that we should be working to help to bring the Indians and Pakistanis together because if they could reduce their future dependence on military expenditures and they saw themselves as partners and they built an alliance with the Bangladeshis, then South Asia could grow as rapidly as China in a way that would be positive for both. That's what I believe would happen if we could diminish the sectarian conflict within India and the conflict with Pakistan.

Are you concerned with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez supporting communist leaders throughout Latin America ?

Yes I am. Hugo Chavez is a complicated figure, you know, and I clearly disagree with his policies. And what got me really off of them, more than anything else, was not his anti-Americanism but that he was giving safe harbour to people who were determined to destroy Columbian democracy. And I found it unforgivable.

Having said that, we should ask ourselves -- it's always a mistake to underestimate or dismiss your adversaries or your critics - Why is Chavez popular? Besides the fact that he's gotta lot of money now that oil's expensive and he can spread it around.

He is popular because he defied America and because he defied the so-called consensus that I helped create for more free-trade in the Americas -- because the average Latin American citizen did not see his or her life improve very much in the 1990s when we strengthened democracy, we increased trade ties, we increased economic ties. And it's largely the fault of various national economic policies.

But the truth is those Bolivian miners, for example, that have brought down two presidents in Bolivia, they do have a legitimate beef, after all. And the people that said, 'They shouldn't sell the gas resources…' Well I don't agree with that, I think they needed the money. But what they (the critics) were saying was, 'You're going to give away our gas and no average Joe in Bolivia will get a nickel's worth of benefit from it.'

And I think we have to recognise that what gave us all enough money to get into this room today is the way the world works today. But half of the world couldn't get into this room, or even a small room, in a small town in South America, for a small chamber of commerce meeting. And unless those people believe that we are pulling for them, unless they think we're at least trying to give them a chance, we're giving Chavez all the ammunition he needs.

Chavez, I believe, I don't think he's a crazy man. I think he would turn on a dime and he would work with us, even though trying to maintain his own independence more - he certainly continues to sell oil to the United States, you know he's one of our biggest oil suppliers. But he knows he's got a festering sore in Latin America from all those people who are not getting any benefits from the world that we like and take for granted. And we just have to recognise that it's very hard to have a global economic policy without a global social policy that tries to continue to widen the circle of opportunity.

Now let me just tell you one little story here. I passed this Africa trade bill - another thing I could compliment President Bush on, he kept that and expanded it…And we increased our imports from several African countries, tenfold, a hundred fold. So back in 2001 I go to Ghana, to a meeting, and I'm leaving, I'm on the airport tarmac. No, it's 2002, 'cause it was after 9/11, and I'm on the airport tarmac. And this Ghanaian woman starts screaming at me, 'Don't go! Don't go!' And she runs up to me with a package in her hand. And she said, 'Because of you, I am one of 400 women who has a job in a shirt factory. And my children are in school. And I thank you. And here's you shirt.' (Laugher from the audience.)

So, I still got the shirt, in the package, in my closet, in a place where I have to look at it every day. I look at that shirt every-single-day for a real reason. That's the answer to Chavez. That woman knew good-and-well she wasn't as rich as I was. She would never have as much money as I did. But she thought we were on her side. She thought America was on her side. She didn't want her kid fighting in an African tribal war. Her child is less likely to get Aids. She wants her child to have an education and go on further than she did, and do better than she did. She's part of the spiral of opportunity that is the story of the lives I would imagine of most people in this room. You had parents who worked hard so you could do better and… brought us all together to this moment, in time. That's the answer to Chavez.

It's not worrying about Chavez, it's convincing those people that he appeals to, that we are on their side and they have a place in the world that we have created. And if we don't do that, he's going to continue to do real well, 'cause he's smart and he's got lots of money. And he knows how to spend it. And I'm no big defender of his. But we could make a deal with Chavez if he thought that we were gonna take the people he's playing to out from under him. And if he doesn't, if they don't, he's going to continue to make mischief.

The US doesn't focus on Southeast Asia nearly as much as it did during the boom days of the 1990s. How do you see the relations going forward in Southeast Asia ?

I worked hard, especially in Vietnam. We resolved most of the POW-MIA (prisoner of war, missing in action) issues and we had a trade agreement with Vietnam, which the Bush administration supported, by the way, and helped to implement. I think we should continue that.

We also did something with Cambodia that I'm especially proud of, which may play into what we could do in the future.

And I'd like to explain very briefly. We made a deal with Cambodia, because as you know they had a miserable history. And I wanted to get them some foreign investment. But I wanted to guarantee that it would get them some sort of social progress. So Cambodia made an unprecedented agreement with my administration to allow labour rights and union organizing in the workplace. And as a result, we were able to get some American companies to go in there and do business with them who otherwise would have been disinclined to do so.

It's been an enormous success. We got the kids out of the workplace, the kids in school, the parents in the workplace, and the living standards raised.

Now, one of the unintended consequences of the expiration of the multi-fibre agreement, which most of you know was started in the 1970s and expired, was to give China an inordinate competitive advantage over smaller countries that were producing textiles. And Africa, for example, I just mentioned that, we went from two to 40,000 textile jobs in Tanzania, from four to 50,000 jobs in Lesotho - and both countries have lost 10,000 jobs back to China with the expiration of the multi-fibre agreement, which is tragic, 'cause those jobs don't mean much to China and they mean a huge amount to the Africans. But, even though the African wages are lower, the Chinese efficiency is so much greater, the companies moved the jobs back.

In Cambodia they've held their own because the American companies like being identified with being part of Cambodia's success, departure from the past. They can say, 'Ok we're buying these goods from a poor country, but the labour standards are higher, the living conditions are better,' and all of that.

So one of the things that I think we should consider doing, and I talked to DeputySecretary of State (Robert) Zoellicke about this, who used to be the trade ambassador for President Bush. We oughta think about whether we can do some more things like that and whether we might actually get some consideration at the WTO for pushing that in the smaller Asian countries.

And if I were in China's position, with all this - boom -- I know the Chinese still have a big labour problem to manage and still a lot of poor people within this country. But China's trying to make inroads into Africa now, for energy purposes. And I think they would be enormously beneficial to keep the African employment rates constant and also to support Southeast Asia because I think five years, ten years from now, the Chinese will be moving out of a lot of these jobs because the whole structure of the economy will move up. And you could have a good base in a lot of these countries and help the United States to promote stability and prosperity in those areas in a way that I think would be immensely beneficial to China as well.

What incentives are there for economic growth of new industries, like alternative energy, in the US ?

Well, first of all there are some modest incentives for buying hybrid-fuel vehicles in America. But, they're modest and they're also going to SUVs (sports utility vehicles) which don't save any energy or reduce greenhouse gasses 'cause a lot of the companies are now producing SUVs with bigger horsepower motors that get even lower mileage but they don't use up more gasoline because they're hybrid fuel. Now why all these suburban mothers need to go from 0 to 60 from a stop light (laugher from the audience) in an SUV, faster than they otherwise could, is a mystery to me. And you know, it's madness. I wouldn't give any credit at all to those vehicles…

But, I'll tell you what I propose. I wanted to give a 25% tax credit for the production or purchase of clean energy, or energy-conservation products that met a certain standard. We have to help to create a market. We always have and we always will…

From president to president, do you pass along a list of secrets - you know like where's Jimmy Hoffa? What really happened at Roswell? Without giving away any state secrets, is there something that we can all look forward to in the future to read about that you know that we don't know that will make reading the National Enquirer required reading?

(Laughing and blushing) Well I don't know if you all heard this, but, there was actually, when I was president in my second term, there was an anniversary observance of Roswell. Remember that? People came to Roswell, New Mexico from all over the world. And there was also a site in Nevada where people were convinced that the government had buried a UFO and perhaps an alien deep underground because we wouldn't allow anybody to go there. And uhm… I can say now, 'cause it's now been released into the public domain. I had so many people in my own administration that were convinced that Roswell was a fraud but this place in Nevada was really serious, that there was an alien artefact there. So I actually sent somebody there to figure it out. And it was actually just a secret defence installation, alas, doing boring work that we didn't want anybody to else see.

So let me give you a serious thing, though. In 2000, I was able to participate with Tony Blair and representatives of the French, German and Japanese and Canadian governments in announcing that we had succeeded in sequencing the human genome. Perhaps some of you have investments in all these bio-development companies and now you know that we cloned Dolly the sheep and apparently they may have cloned a dog. And my own view is that assuming we don't do something stupid like burn ourselves up with the global warming or blow ourselves up with a military conflict that we could have just as easily avoid, I think a lot of these bio-technology issues will be the dominant sort of intellectual and ethical challenges of the lives of those of you who are 10, 20, 30 years younger than I am.

Because I think that we are going to be able to save peoples' lives that, you know, in my generation couldn't be saved. And we are going to come up against the limits of our own mortality in a way we never could before. And a lot of the things that happen - good and bad - will be stranger than anything ever written in science fiction. But I don't know the answers, which is one reason I would like to live to be 100 just to see what happens. (Laughter)

So that means there's a list? Or no list? (More laughter - that drowns out his question.)

What? What did you say? I don't know what you said, but you should have said, 'There's absolutely no risk of that. Given my misspent youth, I'm lucky to be here now.'

What I did say was, is there really no list? Or is there a list?

If there is one, I don't know it. The Roswell thing, I think, really was an illusion. I don't think it happened. I mean I think there are rational explanations and I did attempt to find out if there were any secret government documents that revealed things. If there were, they were concealed from me too. And if there were, well I wouldn't be the first American president that underlings have lied to, or that career bureaucrats have waited out. But there may be some career person sitting around somewhere, hiding these dark secrets, even from elected presidents. But if so, they successfully eluded me…and I'm almost embarrassed to tell you I did (chuckling) try to find out.

(Laughter and applause.)

I do believe, by the way - one more flaky thing - you can also be flaky when you're out of office. I believe that now that we know that there are not hundreds, not millions but billions of other solar systems out there, thanks to the Hubble telescope and what we know about black holes of the universe, and all of that, the dimensions of physics are such that I would be quite surprised if in the lifetimes of people that are no older than 30 years old, we don't discover some form of life in another universe.

It's pretty clear that there was something approaching elemental life on Mars at one time in the past, based on what we discovered there. So I say that, only to say this: I hope all of you, wherever you live, will continue to support space exploration, whether manned or unmanned, it's not so important, but that we keep doing it. And I'm afraid that there will be a waning interest in it, in the future. I think that's a great mistake. I think we should continue to explore the boundaries of our existence, both into the earth and beyond the skies.

When I was president we discovered in the bottom of the Amazon River, (we were just a small part of this, but we discovered) two previously undiscovered forms of marine life so deep in the Amazon that they had never been found, in all the efforts of marine biologists.

So I think that there are a lot of interesting discoveries - biological, on earth and other discoveries in the heavens that those of you who are younger will get to see unfold. You'll have all kinds of problems with them, but on balance it'll be a plus. And it'll make life much more interesting.

Share our publication on social media
Share our publication on social media