Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has warned Australia to be wary of Chinese interference in domestic political decision making.
“I think Australians need to be for Australians, Americans need to be for Americans, and whether it’s Russia in a secret way interfering with our election and producing more than 3,500 ads to try to confuse our electorate, to try to damage me, or the Chinese looking to try to influence policy, we should say no,” she told 7.30.
“I don’t care what side of the political aisle you might be on, in either Australia or the United States. We have an interest in making sure that decisions that are made by our governments are not the result of some kind of influence peddling by a foreign power.”
But Ms Clinton, in Australia on a speaking tour, does not think that means the relationship needs to be confrontational.
“Australia has a lot of interests with China, certainly your economy is intertwined with China. But I do think that Australia, along with other liberal democracies around the world, have got to take the threat of foreign interference seriously,” she said.
“I know from just reading that there have been instances of exposures concerning political efforts by Chinese interests, through contributions and other influence efforts to really direct certain policy outcomes.”
‘A lot of smoke’ in Trump probe: Clinton
Despite the bitter disappointment of losing the US presidential election, Ms Clinton refused to be drawn on what the outcome might be of the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“There is certainly a lot of smoke,” she told 7.30.
“How much fire it turns out to be, we’ll find out when the investigation’s completed.”
With a recent poll indicating that more than 60 per cent of Republicans think the FBI is framing President Donald Trump, Ms Clinton backed the integrity of the investigation.
And she said those Republicans’ view may change once any evidence is made public.
“Our only recent historical experience is with [former president] Richard Nixon, and until the very end he had a solid base of support within the country, predominantly within the Republican Party,” she said.
“But once the evidence was actually presented it forced him to resign.
“So I don’t think any of us can tell where it’s going.
“Maybe all these stories and all of the finger pointing will add up to some perhaps unethical or unsavoury behaviour but nothing illegal. We don’t know.”
In October 2016, just days before the presidential election, then-FBI director James Comey announced the bureau was reopening investigations into Ms Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, a decision Ms Clinton partially blames for her subsequent loss.
She is at a loss to explain why Mr Comey failed to also reveal they were investigating Mr Trump’s campaign.
In an interview with 7.30 in April, Mr Comey said he felt “sick” at the thought that his handling of the Clinton email affair may have affected the 2016 US election and that he acted as he did in the interests of transparency.
“That’s hard to square with the failure of either he or the FBI to disclose to people that there was an active investigation going on about potential Russian interference in our presidential election, and the potential involvement or at least association, in some way, by supporters of then Mr Trump,” Ms Clinton said.
“I don’t understand why he did what he did in 2016 but I will continue to follow what goes on in the investigation of which he is now a part.”
‘We’ve been down this road before’ with North Korea
Ms Clinton said that was looking too far ahead.
“Look, if there is a positive outcome that can be verified, particularly with respect to the North Korean nuclear program that has built-in safeguards, so that it is sustainable, not a one-off announcement at a summit, I will join in the applause,” she told 7.30.
“Because that is something that will be good for the world if it can be brought about.
“But it’s way too soon to tell and even if there is some kind of an announcement coming out of such a meeting, you have to wait and see.
“We’ve been down this road with the North before, where they’ve made promises and then within a year or more it’s determined that they have broken those promises.
“It’s certainly hopeful, but I can’t be either optimistic or pessimistic at this time.”
She credits leadership in China and South Korea for helping to create the climate that allowed the Singapore meeting.
“I think the change in leadership in South Korea is significant,” she said.
“The new President came in with a very public view that he wanted to see if there could be a rapprochement — the dream of the South has always been reunification.
“I think the Chinese have come to the conclusion that they need to play a more active role in trying to manage the behaviour of Kim Jong-un. And they’re looking for ways to do that.
“There have been two meetings between him and Xi Jinping in the lead up to this summit in Singapore.”
And what does she believe has brought Mr Kim to the point where he is now willing to talk?
“I think that the view among some experts is that Kim Jong-un is finally understanding that there is a way for him to maintain power but also to modernise his economy,” Ms Clinton said.
“And the other might be that he has succeeded in developing the pieces of a nuclear weapons program. His intercontinental ballistic missile tests have been convincing that they could reach the United States.
“We know he can produce bombs because he’s tested them and if he’s mastered the, what’s it called, miniaturisation, so that the warhead can fit on the missile, he doesn’t have to do any more.
“So perhaps he’s exploring what else he might get.”