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; Imagine a World. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired October 27, 2015 - 15:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: while the United States weighs, quote, "direct action" on the ground in Iraq against
ISIS, no hesitation in the Pacific, where Washington sends a warship close to what China claims as territorial waters.
My exclusive interview with Beijing's ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai.
And the former Naval Commander of U.S. Forces in the Pacific, Admiral Dennis Blair.
Plus less than a month after one of its hospitals was bombed in Afghanistan, MSF says another has been destroyed in Yemen. I ask one of
the doctors about the rising toll on civilians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. NATALIE ROBERTS, MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES: . it starts to take its toll on the psychology of the population. People are just -- you know,
they can't cope with it much longer.
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.
Confrontation on the high seas? America flexing its military muscle near Chinese contested territory. Today sending the battleship U.S.S.
Lassen, which is seen here somewhere in the Pacific a year ago, within the boundary for territorial waters. That's 12 nautical miles off the Spratly
Islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing says the islands are theirs and it's been enlarging them and constructing military and air bases to prove that point. But America says
the waters are international and it is supported by allies in the region from Japan to Vietnam and the Philippines, who also have maritime disputes
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASH CARTER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have said and we are acting on the basis of saying that we will fly, sail and operate wherever
international law permits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did we send a destroyer yesterday inside the 12- mile zone of --
CARTER: -- there have been naval operations in that region in recent days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: China has now sent two of its own destroyers and airplanes to track America's ship and to warn it away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LU KANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): We strongly urge the U.S. side to treat seriously China's protests,
immediately correct its wrongdoing and not adopt any dangerous, provocative acts threatening China's sovereignty and security interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: America insists it will continue to carry out its operations in the South China Sea.
So what's the Pentagon's game plan?
Few understand it better than the retired admiral, Dennis Blair, who has served as commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific and he was director
of national intelligence. And I spoke with him moments ago about all of these developments.
AMANPOUR: Admiral Blair, welcome to the program.
ADM. DENNIS BLAIR, FORMER U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE; FORMER COMMANDER IN CHIEF, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND: Nice to be with you,
AMANPOUR: As former Pacific commander, how concerned are you -- or do you think it's a good thing that the United States is staking out its claim
for international waters?
BLAIR: I think it's a good thing. This is one of the two big issues that's involved in that part of the world. One is simply resisting
coercive diplomacy of the type that China is pursuing these days.
But the second one fundamentally for the United States, we need it to be able to send our ships and our airplanes to operate throughout
international waters. And we have to demonstrate to show that we can.
AMANPOUR: Are you not concerned?
Because obviously China has responded by tagging and tracking the U.S. ship and warning it to get out and to stay out, claiming these waters for
Given your own experience when you were Pacific commander, are you not concerned that this could escalate?
BLAIR: No, I'm really not concerned that this could escalate. I think what we're talking about here now are really staking out positions;
yes, we're using military forces to do that.
But both China and the United States recognize that this is not a reason for getting into higher levels of conflict with each other. So I'm
relatively -- I'm relatively sure that neither side will escalate but that both sides will record what's being done and stake their positions
AMANPOUR: Remind us, though, of the collision between U.S. and China over the area when you were Pacific commander in 2001.
BLAIR: Right. I was -- when I was there, a --
BLAIR: -- Chinese fighter that was intercepting one of our reconnaissance aircraft, the EP-3, did some bad flying and actually ran
into one of the engines. That Chinese pilot was killed; the U.S. airplane had to land in Hainan Island. That was a case of unprofessional flying by
the Chinese pilot.
It was clear from a very early stage in that crisis that China did not want to escalate it. It did not want to back down; it insisted that the
whole thing was the fault of the Americans and, as you know, we negotiated a statement which eventually had us expressing regret but not apology. And
that issue ended there.
I think if there were an issue, the same sort of sequence would follow and I would point out that there have been a number of agreements between
us and the Chinese on increasing the safety of interactions between our warships and, we hope, next, our planes when they do encounter one another,
so lessen the chances of a contingency and then manage it if it does occur.
AMANPOUR: And as you know, because CNN was aboard a U.S. flight, a spyplane, I guess, or some kind of military plane that was headed over
those islands, was warned away by the Chinese a few months ago; had to get out of that airspace.
Again, despite what you're saying -- and you're being very reassuring -- and despite all the agreements and the President Xi's recent visit to
Washington, why shouldn't this get out of control?
BLAIR: Neither side has the incentive to escalate it. And I think if an incident were to happen, due to unprofessional conduct, then I think
both countries would have a strong interest in resolving it, not fanning the flames.
AMANPOUR: Obviously China feels that it has a huge interest because it is building on these Spratly Islands, enlarging them.
It says that it doesn't have any military or any kind of offensive weapons there, but apparently the United States believes that some kind of
artillery, some kind of military hardware and equipment there.
You yourself have called -- or you did a few months ago, America's strategy in the region, whack-a-mole. You've seemed fairly critical of it.
Have you changed your opinion?
BLAIR: No, no. I don't think that we are taking proper coordinated action, diplomatic and military, to deal with this Chinese aggressive
We should also demonstrate that something that I've also said, that some have challenged me on, but I feel strongly, that these military --
militarily usable, if not already militarized islands, are of no value in serious conflict. It's basically a couple of hours at work to take care of
such places like that and put them, neutralize them, put them out of action.
And then in return for this militarily useless piece of -- pieces of real estate that China is doing, they have driven all of the other claimant
nations into the embrace of the United States.
Vietnam is requesting assistance and asking us to base forces there. The Philippines is leaning harder into their alliance. Malaysia has opened
up opportunities with us. Indonesia is suspicious.
So I really don't understand the Chinese game here in return for some militarization, potential militarization, which is not useful and serious
in serious conflict; they are losing the strategic battle within Southeast Asia.
AMANPOUR: Admiral Dennis Blair, thank you so much for joining us.
BLAIR: All right. Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So we are hoping to bring you, as I said, Washington's Beijing ambassador, that is Ambassador Cui Tiankai. We are having some
technical difficulties. We will take a break and have much more of the show when we come back.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
Now for more on a developing situation in the South China Sea where the United States has sent a warship inside a 12 nautical mile zone around
islands that China claims are its own territory waters, we have just heard from the former commander of U.S. Pacific Forces, Dennis Blair, and now we
will hear from the top the level of the Chinese government, Ambassador Cui Tiankai, who joins me exclusively from outside his embassy in Washington.
Ambassador, welcome back to the program.
CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you, the United States, the State Department has said that whatever is happening right now in the South China Sea should not
jeopardize the healthy relationship between Beijing and the United States.
Do you agree that this will not jeopardize the relationship?
CUI: Well, first of all, I think that what the U.S. is doing is a very serious provocation, politically and militarily. It is a clear
attempt to escalate the situation and to militarize the region. So we are very concerned about that.
I think that other people, all of the people who want to maintain stability there have good reason to be concerned. And I do hope that we
will work together to maintain this relationship, to keep this relationship healthy and moving forward.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, there's obviously been a -- I hate to say it but a war of words between both capitals in the last 24 hours.
The U.S. Defense Secretary says that they will continue to fly and sail and do whatever they want in that region, because it is international
waters and they are supported by all their allies; whereas, from Beijing, the foreign ministry has said, and I quote, that "if the U.S. continues to
create tensions," then Beijing might conclude it has to increase and strengthen the building up of our relevant abilities.
What does that mean?
CUI: Well, it is a very absurd and even hypocritical position to ask others not to militarize the region while one's self is sending military
vessels there so frequently.
So I think the people do have to think about it in a very serious way and we have to think about it. We have to make sure that we have
sufficient means to safeguard our sovereignty there, to protect our lawful rights there and we have sufficient means to maintain peace and stability
And nobody would have any more illusion that they could continue to provoke.
AMANPOUR: But what precisely do you think that means, sir, if the United States says that it is going to continue to do what it has, it
claims the right under international law to do?
CUI: I think that this is done in total disregard of international law. If we look at the convention of the law of the sea -- and, by the
way, the United States is not yet a party to that commission.
But if we are looking at the provisions of the convention, there are very, very clear provisions about safety of navigation, freedom of
navigation or innocent transit.
CUI: What the U.S. is doing is totally against the provisions, the letter and spirit of the commission.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea that you mention basically says that 12 nautical mile limits cannot be set
around manmade islands which are built on previously submerged reefs, which is, in fact, what China has done, built up reefs and called them islands
and claimed them as territory.
You know, is there not a way that there can be some political resolution of this with the United States and with allies around that
CUI: We have longstanding sovereignty over the islands in the region and the waters surrounding them. It is not something based on any so-
called manmade facilities there or feature there.
AMANPOUR: Except for that they are submerged reefs and certainly Admiral Blair, Dennis Blair told us that you can't really form policy today
based on very old and outdated maps of many, many years ago.
And he also said that China seems to be isolating itself, given that all the regional countries are also supporting the United States, because
they, too, have territorial and maritime disputes with you and they want to see these waters kept open.
CUI: Well, you can not say that because people have a longstanding position on something, positions that originated many, many years ago can
no longer be valid today. You cannot say things like that.
Of course, if we go back many, many years ago, there was no United States.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Cui, but there is a United States now and it is a superpower and the president of China just visited Washington and there
seemed to be a fairly warm environment.
The fact that this is happening so quickly after that visit, what does it say about the relationship?
And what do you think is going to happen next?
What, in your mind, in Beijing's mind, is the solution to what's happening?
CUI: I think that you have just asked a very good question and I hope the White House will give you the answer. We are also puzzled. We are
very concerned about this latest development.
But whatever is happening now, we are not change our position on the sovereignty in the region. We're not weaken our determination to safeguard
our sovereignty and we will not weaken our commitment to seek a peaceful solution to the disputes with the countries concerned.
And we certainly will not weaken our position and commitment to developing a healthy and strong relationship with the United States but we
see it as two-way traffic. We have to have a reciprocate action from the United States.
AMANPOUR: Well, President Xi last month told President Obama that China is not militarizing the islands but the United States says that its
surveillance shows that there is artillery there.
So how can you prove that this is just peaceful?
CUI: Well, I think that the fact is so clear.
Who is sending military vessels there?
Who is sending the military planes there?
It's not us. It's the United States.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Cui Tiankai, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
CUI: Thank you, thank you.
AMANPOUR: And now, turning from the Pacific to the Middle East, another Medecins sans Frontieres hospital has been leveled by airstrikes,
this time in Yemen. It comes three weeks after the shocking U.S. airstrikes on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. That one killed at
least 23 people.
Yemen has fast become the forgotten war but every so often one victim's story goes viral and the world focuses again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voice-over): That is what 6-year-old Fareed Shawky's story recently did.
Many people have seen that video of that 6-year-old boy begging the doctors, "Don't bury me," before he then died of his wounds. His house had
been hit by an airstrike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
More than 5,000 people last have been killed since this unfathomable war started in Yemen in March and I have been speaking to MSF doctor
Natalie Roberts about the dangerous situation and her very dangerous war zone work and of course about the unacceptable toll that it is taking on
AMANPOUR: Dr. Roberts, welcome to the program.
It is extraordinary for us to see yet another hospital in yet another country --
AMANPOUR: -- being hit, an MSF hospital.
What is MSF saying about this?
Are they calling for an investigation?
Are they calling it a war crime, like you all did about the Kunduz hospital?
ROBERTS: It's very early to say the situation here in Yemen because it only happened overnight last night in the context of a really very
complicated, difficult war. I mean, the war in Yemen has been going on since March.
And we've seen since March civilian facilities being targeted -- hospitals, schools, markets. So, yes, this time it's an MSF hospital that
I know that we gave the coordinates. I worked in this hospital over the summer and I know that we were giving the coordinates very regularly to
the Saudi-led coalition.
AMANPOUR: And looking back, there we see very clearly the MSF sign. You can see in our big picture in the wall, so all the world can see --
AMANPOUR: -- that this was, yes, a clearly labeled and clearly marked facility.
How many people were inside?
Miraculously, apparently, there were no casualties.
ROBERTS: Yes, miraculously, it does seem there were no casualties. I think there were at least 12 staff members inside and a few patients. It
happened overnight. It's a hospital in a very dangerous area. So we'd always try not to keep too many patients in that hospital overnight anyway.
We'd always been quite aware that that area had -- the hospital has sustained damage before from airstrikes in the vicinity.
AMANPOUR: What were you seeing when you were there in terms of the injuries that they were sustaining?
ROBERTS: About half the patients we were seeing that came into the hospital in emergency were injured patients from airstrikes, from war
So some of them have been quite horrific injuries, limb and trunk injuries sustained by usually pieces of shrapnel. So you see some horrible
wounds, sometimes some head injuries, even small children.
And I saw one small boy with an injury to his eye. He got a piece of shrapnel in his eye and ended up losing it. So it's just really quite
AMANPOUR: You know, this is almost the forgotten war. It's so complex; people don't know who's on whose side.
What do you need and does MSF, at least, have the wherewithal, the medicines, the surgical equipment, the logistics that they need to carry
out their medical mission?
ROBERTS: We've been managing up until now to get it into the country. But then it's not always so easy to get those medicines to where they need
to go. We're quite subject to whoever's on -- in control on the ground.
For example, in Thais (ph) in the south of Yemen, at the moment we don't have permission from the Houthi rebels there to bring our medicines
into Thais (ph).
AMANPOUR: We hear from UNICEF that some 39 medical hospitals, missions, treatment centers have been hit during this war since it started
We hear also of massive shortages, everything from medicines to food, water, electricity, fuel.
Paint a picture of the life for ordinary people there as far as you could see it when you were there.
ROBERTS: The life is just really horrific for these people, particularly in places where the hospital was hit, right in the far north,
in the mountains. It's very difficult for people to get around in that place anyway. They're terrified. The people are living in caves. They're
sheltering away from their towns and away from their villages.
If someone gets sick or a woman needs to have a baby or someone gets injured, they really try not to move on the roads because they're so afraid
of being caught in an airstrike. So it's such a complicated feeling for them because they're incredibly stressed; they need help. But it's so
difficult for them to go and access any help.
AMANPOUR: And it almost seems medieval, foraging for fuel, whether it be roots and wood and food and the like; apparently in some instances, just
one hour of electricity every five days.
ROBERTS: In that part of Yemen right in the north, there was no electricity the whole time I was there.
AMANPOUR: UNICEF says that some 10 million children are in need of basic sustenance and that a huge number are at risk of malnutrition.
ROBERTS: Malnutrition has been a problem in Yemen for a long time, even before this conflict. But now with the impact of the conflict, the
fact that food cannot move around on the roads, that markets are bombed; even if the food arrives in the town, people can't go and get it.
And then very little food is moving through the country, means that really there's a huge lack of food and food security.
AMANPOUR: It is extraordinary when you look around the world, whether it's in Afghanistan or Yemen, other war-torn places, even the crisis of
Ebola in West Africa.
MSF seems to be the linchpin of survival, the difference between life and death for so many people in these forgotten, God-forsaken situations.
How do you feel about the job that you're doing?
ROBERTS: It's really in our remit at MSF to be in these places. If we're not there, then who else is going to be there?
AMANPOUR: Dr. Natalie Roberts, MSF, thanks very much for joining us.
ROBERTS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now as you heard, MSF believes the Saudi air force was responsible for hitting their hospital in Yemen but the Saudi-led coalition
has just sent out a statement --
AMANPOUR: -- denying conducting airstrikes in the vicinity of that clinic.
Now natural disaster compounds war damage in Yemen, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. This week's earthquake struck Afghanistan and it is now
claimed at least 300 lives in hard-to-reach, remote areas. Look at these pictures of the suffering victims, as we take a break.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world forging hope in the light of an Olympic flame. In a tremendous act of good sportsmanship,
amidst the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the International Olympic Committee has just announced that refugees will be able to take
part in the Olympic Games for the first time ever.
The officially stateless athletes entering under the Olympic flag to the Olympic anthem.
Now it is not the first time these games have inspired by those who've been devastated by war. In the last grave human exodus to Europe, which
was during the Bosnia War, I reported on a young marathon runner from Sarajevo, Mirsada Buric, as she dodged rubble and sniper fire while
training for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
She may not have climbed on to the winner's podium but Buric did create a platform for what could be victims of war and refugees pursuing
their dreams going for gold.
And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can see all our interviews online at amanpour.com and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.