Stories from time as Spokesman

Told some stories and drew some lessons from my time as State Department Spokesman (and Deputy) 1989-1993 and 200-2005. Lots to say: the job is to advance policy. If it helps policy to shut up, you shut up. If it helps to talk, you talk. But it’s also an essential link for policy makers: if policy won’t fly at the podium, maybe it’s not very good policy.

Listen to the episode:

and the tag line: “Ever had that dream where you sit for an exam and you haven’t been to class once?  And you’re not wearing any pants?  Welcome to the world of the State Department Spokesperson, as told by Richard Boucher.  “

China imposing national security law on Hong Kong

Ming Pao in Hong Kong asked me for some answers about China’s latest move to stifle dissent in Hong Kong. I wrote up some answers here that they used (in Chinese) on the front page here and here.

The gist: While Chinese leaders seem determined to impose this law, they are provoking a strong and widespread reaction in other countries.

China under Xi Jinping has gone backwards from reform, emphasizing instead tighter control by security services, more party control in media and the economy, and more favoritism for cumbersome state enterprises.

The political consensus in the United States is solid and increasingly shared by the US business community which often sees Chinese entities as unfair competitors who benefit from closed markets, government subsidies and stolen intellectual property. China has few if any defenders in US debates and any concerns about Hong Kong are easily overshadowed.

There are strong feelings across the political spectrum in the United States that China under Xi Jinping cannot be allowed to assert its will and must abide by international rules in the South China Sea, with regards to Taiwan, with regards to Hong Kong, with respect to human rights, in business rules and any number of other areas. This sentiment has grown stronger throughout the world, not just in the United States.

The response in the US has become more determined and the prospect of international coordination on steps against China is growing –should the United States decide to take the lead.

Unfortunately, the response to China will create a political contest with scant regard for Hong Kong itself or for US business interests in Hong Kong.

Testimony on Afghanistan — It’s time to come home

Senators Rand Paul and Maggie Hassan held a Subcommittee hearing yesterday about our involvement in Afghanistan, spurred by the Washington Post series of Afghanistan Papers.  I joined Inspector General John Sopko, Ambassador/General Doug Lute and Colonel Daniel Davis in discussing where we’ve succeeded and where we’ve failed.

The gist: We rid Afghanistan of the Al Qaeda elements that attacked us, but failed to build stability.  We focused on building central bureaucracy without enabling the government of Afghanistan to take care of people at local levels.  We focused on accountability instead of delivery and spent the vast bunk of our money on contractors, consultants, security and accountants before it got to Afghanistan.  With the government not delivering benefits at local levels, the Taliban stepped into the gap. It’s time for us to come home, but also to provide funding for local efforts by the Afghan government.

Also talked about Pakistan: When we focused on Al Qaeda, cooperation was excellent. As we expended our demands to groups like the Taliban and others, our interests and theirs began to diverge.

This bigger lesson is that America must lead with diplomacy.  The effort to “eliminate terrorists and those who harbor them” will never be achieved by military means; it will be achieved by capable governments delivering services to their citizens.  We need more diplomacy, not more interventions. And, we must fund American diplomacy to lead.

You can read my whole testimony here:…11-february-2020/ ‎Edit

Or, see a Washignton Examiner set of excerpts of each of us here.


Hong Kong – November 2019

I’ve done a couple of events recently about Hong Kong, including last Monday this week with three other former Consuls General at University of Denver (video not up yet) and last night at a Brown Community discussion. The students who grew up on Hong Kong were most expressive and interesting, but I thought it might be useful to post what I said.  Here are my notes.  Summary:

  • unlikely to see a short term resolution.
  • Over time, repression might work, demonstrators may get tired, 
    • but still must solve underlying  problems — which are political.

Full text that I used is here.

Interview on Hong Kong with Ming Pao

A reporter from Ming Pao in Hong Kong asked me to answer some questions about the demonstrations in Hong Kong. I sent him written answers.  You can see the full text of what I sent here.   Key elements:

—   the US policy and Hong Kong policy act made clear that we would recognize one Chinese sovereignty and differentiate between the two systems for as long as the differences were real.

—  Hong Kong’s status as a separate customs territory rests at the heart of its special treatment.  In my view, it would be a major mistake to revoke this status to “punish” Beijing or Hong Kong’s leaders.  The people of Hong Kong and all their endeavors prosper because of the separate status. With them in mind, the US should avoid retaliatory moves that harm those who live in Hong Kong. 

Most Americans want Hong Kong to be stable and peaceful.  Both for our economic and political interests in Hong Kong, we would be content to do business, maintain relationships, and enjoy the wonderful city that we love so much.

— At the same time, we, like the demonstrators, have wanted to see steady progress towards the goals of the Basic Law: universal suffrage and respect for the rights of the people of Hong Kong.  Americans believe stability and openness can reinforce each other.

Ming Pao published three articles in Chinese based on the interview:

  1.  One about the general situation and demonstrations here
  2.  One about the Hong Kong Policy Act here
  3.  One about the Handover and relations with mainland authorities here


They also dug up a picture of me in those days with C.H.Tung, Donald Tsang and Alan Greenspan!!!


New York Times (Chinese) Interview on Hong Kong

I did an interview with the New York Times Chinese language edition (In English, they translated) about Hong Kong demonstrations.

The Gist: Hong Kong leaders lack the political skills to balance a Chinese administration that wants control and order in the city with an increasingly restive young population of Hong Kongers worried about their jobs, their future and their way of life.  Every push against civil liberties and rule of law in Hong Kong drives young people in Hong Kong and Taiwan to think more of autonomy and independence.  Foreign leaders and business people need to speak out for the open society and rule of law that make Hong Kong valuable to its citizens and the world.

It’s wrong to think that “the business of Hong Kong is business.”   The business of Hong Kong is integrity: of deals, of contracts, of regulation, of markets, of personal freedoms.  Anything that impinges on Hong Kong’s integrity is ultimately bad for Hong Kong, bad for Hong Kong investors, bad for China.  The young people demonstrate because they understand this fact. We should all listen to them

Here’s the Chinese version:

And, here’s the English Version:


Hong Kongers Demonstrate for Rule of Law — G20 leaders should support them

New article in on Hong Kong.   Millions of demonstrators turned out against the extradition law because it would undermine the very foundations of the common law system that Hong Kong was promised in 1997.   Indeed, rule of law brought people to Hong Kong –whether they swam to Hong Kong decades ago, moved their business from the mainland in recent years or set up a foreign company in the city.   The leaders at the G20 should tell Xi Jinping how important the rule of law in Hong Kong is to them.   No extradition law.  No security law.   Just Hong Kong common law.


Here’s the link for cutters and pasters:

US China Trade War: Overview and politics

Two China trade pieces I’ve just published.

The Internal Debates Driving the US-China Trade War

One, in, talks about the internal debates, trade negotiators and hard liners on each side, egging each other on.   Leaders want a deal but they’ll have to override advisers who want a strategic division.  You can find the whole thing here:


It’s time to gang up on China

The other, in, tries to lay out for those interested in how we deal with China particularly on these issues the opportunities to lead with diplomacy and tie China into a set a rules.   Rather than have to negotiate we can set the international standards to counter state-supported enterprises and theft of intellectual property.


Hope people find them useful.


If an expert appears on Fox Business News and there’s no clip, does he make a sound?

Just for the record, and so you can hold me accountable for what I predict, I appeared for about five minutes on Foxbusinessnews with Maria Bartiromo on Thursday (3/28/19).  We talked about the trade negotiations in China.  I said the spin (‘much progress made’) was pointing towards a settlement, but a deal not a solution.  The Chinese will have a hard time accepting a lopsided deal, so there’s still negotiating to do, but the Americans are ready to claim victory for deficit reducing measures.  That doesn’t solve the problems that both we and the Europeans are grappling with: safeguarding intellectual property and competing with State enterprises.   Only a united effort, led by the US, could really solve the issues with China.

Fox didn’t put up a clip –too much political and GDP news– but it was fun and interesting to me and I hope useful to the audience.