Sunday, November 27, 2022

Interview with Ambassador Bernadette Meehan: “We are not asking Chile to choose between the United States and China” – Nation World News

Two weeks ago, United States Ambassador Bernadette Meehan visited Punta Arenas. It was his first time doing so since landing in Santiago on 13 September, but not his first time in the city. At age 17, he traveled there from Rio Gallegos on his first trip to Chilean territory. Due to this, during his recent visit, he was able to meet the family with whom he was on that occasion. In his meeting with President Gabriel Boric after his arrival in the country, he remembered what he imagined as “the future president of Chile and the future ambassador of the United States met in that little town in the south of the world.”

With his arrival in the country, just two months earlier, ended an absence of three years and eight months without a diplomatic representative of that level from the United States to Chile. The longest period without a US ambassador in Santiago since the return of democracy. For this reason, Meehan has had an intense schedule in these months both at the official level and through social networks, where he has been concerned to mark his presence, keeping an active record of both his official and private activities. “I had an incredible trip to Punta Arenas where I was able to relive old memories!” He tweeted on November 7 during his visit to Magellans.


You are the first US Ambassador to Chile in more than three years. Do you think the absence of a representative at that level in Santiago has affected the bilateral relationship in any way?

The honest answer is yes, it is difficult to keep the relationship going when there is no confirmation from the ambassador in the senate. But even so, I would say that the delay in confirming the ambassador here has nothing to do with our relationship with Chile. This was a result of US domestic policy and was in no way a reflection of the importance the US attached to relations with Chile. But yes, it is an unfortunate side effect, which of course includes all of us.

During these years, China has had an active presence in the country. Is there concern on the part of the United States, particularly about the presence of that country in strategic sectors in Chile such as energy or mining?

I would say a few things, the first is that many times when I am asked about the relationship between Chile and the United States or Chile and China, it is addressed in terms of trade and investment. I look at our bilateral relations with Chile in a broader sense. When I say we have a common values ​​approach to our foreign policies, I’m talking about that commitment, commitment to human rights, to democracy, to environmental standards, to labor rights, to general To ensure that the decisions that countries make about commitments do not involve the use of coercive economic practices in trade, exchange or investment. We are not asking Chile to choose between the United States and China, we are not asking any country to choose between the United States and China. President Biden just met with President Xi. This is the sixth meeting with him, the first after he was elected as the President. The United States has a strong trade with China. I think it is not correct to say that we want to force Chile to hold elections. What I would say is that what the United States can offer Chile is a partnership based on common values. When it comes to making decisions on national security, as you stated in your question, they are sovereign decisions that each country should discuss and choose for itself. In my meetings here with the various interlocutors I want to say that in the United States we use an investment review mechanism, we call it CFIUS, Committee of Foreign Investors in the United States, but many OECD countries use a similar mechanism Let’s use This makes it possible for a country like Chile or any other country to have a transparent and non-discriminatory way to analyze foreign investment proposals and make decisions that are not only based on the commercial aspect, amount and funding, but also on national security. have an impact on. It allows a country to identify critical sectors like minerals, port security, power grid, data security, telecommunication and be able to say what about national security if we allow foreign investors in these sectors. concerns will be affected. It is a non-discriminatory mechanism. It’s not something that specifically looks at China, in the case of Chile I would look at investment from the United States, European investment, Canadian investment, anywhere in the world. What we are asking Chile to do is not an option, we are simply saying that we believe that what we offer in terms of value is a very attractive option and opportunity. This is not a binary option. There is room for both.

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But President Boric said in Thailand a few days ago that Chile was under pressure, though he did not say from whom. Do you deny that there is pressure from the United States?

Every time we raise concerns in a conversation with Chile about certain investments or investment options, it is because we are concerned about untrustworthy companies and their implications. Again, this is an option for the Chilean government, but every time we have raised concerns it has been about the possible presence of untrustworthy companies. What does this mean now and what should Chile be worried about? This is why the United States and other countries have these different mechanisms, because when you’re involved with untrustworthy companies, you can’t be sure who will have access to the information. This is the case for telecommunications, when we talk about 5G, it is also the case when we talk about home security services, communication between each other, etc. For example, if the United States is sharing information, because we have a very close relationship with Chile, and there are incredible companies that are building the networks through which we’re going to communicate, we share that information. Wouldn’t be very inclined to do that. , because we know who will eventually have access to that information. The private sector in the United States is separate from the government, and this is not the case in all countries. Maybe Chile decides it’s a risk it wants to take, that’s Chile’s decision, but sometimes it has an impact on our abilities to cooperate.

And if Chile believes that this is a risk it is willing to take, what will be the response of the United States?

Our relationship with the Chilean government allows for open dialogue. They are always willing to listen and communicate our concerns, but they also make it clear that they will make a sovereign decision. Sometimes it’s a decision we agree with and sometimes not, but we understand it’s a decision only the Chilean government can make and we respect that. All we can do is present our proposition and say, based on our common values, these are the reasons why we think we offer a great option. Sometimes that argument prevails and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the nature of these types of transactions. , If cost is the only concern, then something that looks very cheap and attractive in the short term may turn out to be very expensive in the long term.

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President Xi Jinping of China and Joe Biden of the United States during the G20 meeting.

Do you think the Chilean government is taking the necessary precautions on this issue?

I would say that the Chilean government has always been open to listening to our concerns on this issue and we respect that they make their own decisions. I would never say that the choice is yours to make. It is up to each government how it treats its core sectors. The United States has one mechanism, other countries have a different mechanism, and we can only explain why we think we have a good proposal.

Could all this affect the Visa Waiver Program? Is the future of the program in jeopardy?

Chile’s participation in the program has not changed so far. In my meetings with members of the government, we have said publicly and privately that there are three areas where cooperation with the Chilean government should be increased. We have an action plan and I’m sure the Boric Administration is doing everything it can to meet those needs. The collaboration has been excellent. The collaboration has been excellent, we have seen a lot of progress in recent months. There’s a member of the Department of Homeland Security working with the government right now, so I am hopeful that together we will reach those goals to continue Chile’s participation in the program.

But can we expect the Visa Waiver Program to continue?

All I can say is have an action plan and Chile will have to meet the requirements of that action plan and if it is not able to do so, we will have to re-evaluate Chile’s participation in the programme.But at this point I’m hopeful that the progress they’ve made will allow Chile to continue in the program.

In connection with the pension reform introduced by the government, Chile’s pension sector includes many companies from the United States. Have you contacted these companies, are they concerned?

One of our responsibilities as an embassy is to stay informed of any changes that may affect the market and legal requirements for companies operating in Chile. It is the same everywhere in the world. We maintain a very open relationship with the private sector operating here in Chile. And it is fair to say that we have heard the concerns of American insurers operating in the AFP industry. American companies have invested $4 billion in the financial sector in Chile, a large and significant investment. President Biden has been very clear that one of his priorities in the world and in the United States is to promote inclusive economic growth, and this is a priority he shares with President Borik. So in the US we understand that pension reform is something that Chile has wanted for a long time and we support that and we also recognize that it is a sovereign process. This is a decision that should be discussed between the government and Chile. At the same time, it is our job to ensure that our investors here understand how these proposed changes may affect their investments. What we’re trying to do is support the Boric administration’s desire to reform pensions, to make them more equitable for women, for people who can’t work in the formal economy. These are very positive aspects of reform, and at the same time we want to do everything possible so that American companies can understand and have an opportunity to engage with the government to express their concerns and exchange information. That’s why we encourage the government to engage with companies and continue to have those conversations.

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