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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Media Roundtable at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo

Press Availability
Kurt M. Campbell
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Tokyo, Japan
October 6, 2010


ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Thank you. First of all, I’m very sorry to keep you all waiting. Our meetings ran a little longer here at the Foreign Ministry. I'll just begin with just a quick statement if I could and again thank you all for coming. First of all, just as a general personal level, it’s very good to be back in Tokyo. We had excellent meetings in New York with Prime Minister Kan and President Obama, and Secretary Clinton had the opportunity to make her acquaintance with the new Foreign Minister Maehara, and I'm here in Tokyo to begin a process of frankly deeper dialogue and discussion on a range of issues. We believe that the upcoming visit of President Obama here to Tokyo is very important. It begins a process of commemoration of 50 years of close alliance partnership. I think there is increasing recognition on both sides of the importance of our alliance as we together face significant changes in the political and security environment in Asia, and today had deep discussions with Vice Foreign Minister Sasae-san and will be meeting with Foreign Minister Maehara and others in the chief cabinet secretary’s office later today. I think we expect meetings on a weekly basis going forward culminating in the President's visit in November at the time of APEC.

We today talked about the full range of issues: recent developments in Northeast Asia, the Korean Peninsula, issues associated with areas of common pursuit such as Afghanistan and piracy. We also talked about our respective efforts to deepen relationships with a variety of countries including India, Vietnam, Australia, and a number of bilateral initiatives the United States and Japan will be considering and announcing at the time of the President's visit. That's a general overview.

I'm happy to take whatever questions that you have and I’ll do my best to answer them. We obviously also discussed many of the critical bilateral issues that we are working on, including on Okinawa, Host Nation Support, and also the questions, the difficult issues associated with what we call in the United States the “left behind parents,” so very full, deep discussions. I congratulated Sasae-san on his assumption of the critical job of Vice Foreign Minister. I can’t imagine a better partner to work with over the course of the coming years. For those that I don't know, please just introduce yourselves.

QUESTION: Thank you. Campbell-sensei, it’s always nice to see you back here.


QUESTION: Thanks for giving this opportunity. I’d like to ask first of all the relations with China. China’s rapid expansion of aggressive and sometimes uncivilized, irrational behavior is rather escalating than de-escalating, and we witnessed in March of last year the U.S. survey ship Impeccable faced similar rough situations in the South China Sea. At that time Japan saw it as a kind of a “fire across the river,” but now we have the Senkaku issue…

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Sorry, “fire across the river”?

QUESTION: A “fire across the river,” someone else’s incident. A Japanese way of saying.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Oh, I see. Sorry, I wasn’t sure of what that meant. I apologize. Thanks.

QUESTION: So I think the Chinese expansion of maritime activity is escalating not only in actual behavior, but also in concept by saying the so-called “core interest” declared by Chinese officials. So I want to ask you: What is your interpretation of so-called “core interest” declared by Chinese government, whether you accept or acknowledge it, and what is your recommendation for our allies that U.S. and Japan to deal with the expansion of the Chinese behavior?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Takahata-san, there may be a few elements of your question that I would perhaps conceptualize differently, but let me try to answer the general scope of the question which is: How does Asia deal with issues associated with maritime security? I think as you no doubt know at the ASEAN Regional Forum earlier this year, Secretary Clinton laid out a very careful and what we think is a comprehensive approach for how to go about dealing peacefully with the issues associated with the South China Sea. We fully recognize that we are not a claimant. We have no territorial ambitions of our own. We have long-standing interests in the maintenance of peace and stability, the maintenance of peaceful commerce, and freedom of navigation. What Secretary Clinton attempted to lay out was a process, a peaceful diplomatic process whereby issues could be dealt with in a constructive manner.

There’s also the case that we have seen in a variety of circumstances increases in tensions in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and I must say some of those involve incidents against fishing vessels, against other kinds of scientific craft and the like. Ultimately, we think that a process of open diplomacy and dialogue is the best way to create clear expectations and rules of the road. I will say also at the ASEAN Regional Forum, and in subsequent discussions, the United States has never once mentioned a particular country. This is a larger effort, and at the ASEAN Regional Forum, the majority of states, more than half, spoke out in support of a process where maritime security is taken very seriously by all the ocean-going states of the Asia-Pacific region.

Two weeks ago in New York, also at the U.S.-ASEAN summit, very clear common statements about freedom of navigation, the importance of dealing with these disputes diplomatically and peacefully, and also some very direct discussions about the South China Sea. So that has been the primary effort and focus on the part of the United States associated with these particular issues. Now I must say, obviously in Japan, you have been focused on the issues surrounding the Senkakus. I must say, it’s obvious that this has been a very difficult issue for Japan. The United States has stated very clearly that we think, given the circumstances and developments, that Japan and Prime Minister Kan in particular and Foreign Minister Maehara handled this issue with statesmanship. And I think in retrospect, that will become clearer, and we are hopeful that recent bilateral efforts both in Europe and hopefully subsequently in Vietnam will lead to greater dialogue and I think a rebuilding of trust and ties between the two great countries of Asia, Japan and China. As both countries are increasingly reliant on freedom of navigation, freedom of the oceans, it seems to me that coming to terms with these issues will be essential going forward, and I think the United States wants to facilitate these dialogues involving a number of states in the Asia-Pacific region.

QUESTION: John Brinsley, Bloomberg News. Since you have praised repeatedly Japan’s handling of the Senkaku dispute, is it fair to infer that you do not approve of the way China has done so?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I would simply say that, obviously these circumstances have the potential to spin out of control. At critical moments, they require a leader to take stock and recognize the potential for long-term harm. I think in this circumstance that’s exactly what Prime Minister Kan did. I think he saw the potential for a dramatic degradation in relations, recognized that was not in the interest of Japan, frankly of China or other countries in Asia, and he took the necessary steps and we praised him within that context.

QUESTION: If I may pull out one of those questions on the Senkaku Islands, at the meeting in New York on September 23, Secretary Clinton reportedly told Minister Maehara that Article V of the Security Treaty would apply to the Senkaku Islands, which are under the administration of the Japanese government. Now some members of the Japanese Diet have called for, both DPJ and opposition parties, have called for conducting a joint naval exercise between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and U.S. land forces in the waters near the Senkaku Islands to demonstrate the strength of the alliance. Do you believe this is something that the two countries should do, if the United States would fulfill the alliance responsibilities as Secretary Gates said? Or, do you believe that U.S. forces should stay away from the Senkaku Islands, as you have repeatedly said that the U.S. government does not take a position on the territorial disputes on the Senkaku Islands?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: First, let me just try to state clearly and unequivocally what the United States said. Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, myself, Secretary Steinberg, stated very clearly about the applicability of Article V in this circumstance. I believe that these are the strongest statements from U.S. officials in a substantial period of time. They are very clear, and they indicate a very strong and consistent policy on the part of the United States. Beyond that, my good friend Rich Armitage once said that, to be successful in these jobs to keep two things in mind: don’t answer hypotheticals, and don’t talk about currency. I’ll try to keep both those in mind as I make my way here today. I would simply say that the United States and Japan conduct exercises on a very regular basis. We will continue to do so. I don’t think there’s any question about the strength of our alliance or our mutual commitments, and I would say in the current environment, what’s most important is for cool-headed diplomacy to prevail, and that’s where I think the United States has focused in our open, public statements.

QUESTION: Martin Fackler with the New York Times. Nice to meet you. Thank you for this chance to talk with you. We are now one year into really the first non-LDP administration in living memory, and at times the relation between the Obama administration and this DPJ administration has not always gone well, to put it mildly. I’m wondering -- you mentioned in your introductory remarks about the increasing recognition of the alliance in weekly meetings, and it seems that one of the issues in the past was perhaps that the two sides were talking past each other. There was a problem with communication. I wonder if you could talk a little about what you think the problems were, if there were any, until now in learning to deal with the new administration in Japan, and what sort of steps are being taken to remedy those problems.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Well first, I think your general point at the outset about a new government clearly applies. This is the first fundamental transition of political power that’s taken place in Japan in generations, and we experience political transitions in the United States every four or eight years. They are very difficult in themselves, so one can only imagine what such a fundamental reorientation of political power in a country like Japan might mean. With my colleague and friend Jim Steinberg I wrote a book on political transitions in the United States and how difficult they are. I think we fully recognize that there would be some inevitable challenges associated with the new government, and I believe that we have managed those as effectively as possible. I think there has been a clear desire on both sides in recent months to step up our diplomatic engagement. I think there probably has also been a learning process on both sides of the Pacific. That learning process is not confined just to Tokyo; it is also clearly involving the United States as well. I think when we have faced difficult challenges – which we have in the course of the last year – it is a reminder to the United States how badly we need a good relationship with Japan. It is very hard to operate effectively – diplomatically, politically or strategically – in Asia without a strong relationship with Japan, and it is critical for this generation of American policymakers to in no way take Japan for granted. And I think that has been – if I may say – a feature of our diplomacy going forward, and that’s one of the things that we’ve tried very hard to convey in our interactions with Japanese friends. And I am confident that the underlying fundamentals are such that the trend for U.S.-Japan relations will – over the short- and medium-term and ultimately the long-term – be upward.

QUESTION: Yuka Hayashi from the Wall Street Journal. Closely related to the point that Martin made, you have mentioned that there is an increasing recognition on both sides of the importance of the alliance, and you explained the change of the government and all that. But is it also happening because of the geopolitical environment in this part of the world? That’s my first question …

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: How about if I answer that one, and then you can do your second one? Is that alright? Because if I get four or five questions, I can’t remember. So I think the truth is that we’re living through a period of very consequential developments, not just in Northeast Asia but Asia as a whole. And it’s extremely important that the U.S.-Japan relationship not be left behind, and that we focus attentively on the changing security environment. And I would say that there’s now full recognition in both Washington and Tokyo of the task at hand. I believe that we’re well at work at taking steps to modernize, to have a forward-looking strategy to make sure that the U.S.-Japan alliance is as influential and significant over the course of the next 20 years as it has been over the last.

QUESTION: And a smaller point: You’ve mentioned that the U.S. is willing to facilitate dialogues between countries having maritime disputes. Was there any incident during the Senkaku dispute where the U.S. actually facilitated some kind of dialogue between Japan and China?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: No. And let me just say that I think our primary role for most of these complex issues associated with territorial issues – there’s not a desire for a facilitator, to be perfectly honest. And so I think what we are suggesting is a different – to facilitate an environment where claimants can feel more comfortable in dialogue. So I don’t think it would be appropriate for the United States to play a direct role, and I must say for instance in the South China Sea, there is no desire of any of the claimants for the United States to play such a role. And in fact, what they want is for the United States to support a process. And so the process that we see that could be quite significant is that in 2002, China and the nations of ASEAN agreed to a statement of conduct, and now there is the beginnings of a dialogue again between China and countries in Southeast Asia about the way forward to codify some of these potential steps that could be helpful in dealing with issues associated with maritime security. And I forgot the other part of your question …

QUESTION: Whether you facilitated any dialogue between Japan and China?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: No, we did not. We listened carefully to the positions of both sides. Our public statement is one that we stand by, which is that we wanted this issue to be resolved peacefully and diplomatically, and we have said subsequently that we believe that Prime Minister Kan managed this in a very statesmanlike way. It is also the case that we did hear some criticism of our strong support of our Article V commitments as well.

QUESTION: Chico Harlan from the Washington Post. North Korea-related question: With basically a week now that Pyongyang sent out multiple signals that a succession is under way, what if anything changes about policy toward them or the risk, the threat that they pose?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: What we’ve tried to do is have a very consistent policy about what our objectives are on the Korean peninsula. First and foremost, quite frankly, is to have the closest possible partnership with South Korea and work with them constructively on a whole manner of issues. You will note that in the recent period we’ve been very focused on taking the necessary steps to see the Korea free-trade agreement into effect. We are also taking steps to delay OPCON transfer, a number of military exercises, very [inaudible] political engagement, and obviously preparing for the G20. So I think what we have seen in many respects is a renaissance in U.S.-South Korean relations.

We have also stated quite clearly – given the outrages, frankly, that we’ve seen from the North in terms of both the sinking of the Cheonan and recent provocative steps including nuclear acts and the like – that we need to see a couple of things from the North in the period ahead if we are to see progress on both denuclearization and aid, a move toward a more peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula. The first is that we need to see some kind, some signs of re-engagement between North and South Korea. We think that in the current environment, the most important bilateral component for resumption of dialogue has to be between the North and the South. And I will be traveling to South Korea to be in close consultation with our friends in Seoul about where that particular process stands. Second obviously is that since we’ve been down this road in the past, we need to see clear signs from the North Koreans that they are prepared to take the steps that they have committed themselves to in the past, particularly in the 2005 statement on denuclearization. Obviously there are important developments under way in North Korea. It’s probably too soon to make any judgments yet, and I’m looking forward – that’s one of the reasons why I’m here in Tokyo is to discuss what we see developing in North Korea, with both Japan and South Korea.

QUESTION: What about in North Korea – there seems to be some activity in Yongbyon, where according to the image of the satellite which was released by a U.S. think tank …

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I forgot to give you the third “Armitage” thing – don’t comment on intelligence. I only gave you the first two …

QUESTION: I just want to hear your assessment of the activity of Yongbyon, and have you seen any indication of whether North Korea is likely to launch any provocative actions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I have nothing to add beyond that we don’t comment on these sorts of intelligence things. Obviously we are watchful, and we continue to send a very strong message of resolve against any provocative acts.

QUESTION: With regard to the child abduction issues, would you expect any good sign from the Japanese government, like the GOJ will get ready to join the Hague Convention?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Yes, I’m hopeful. I have seen a substantial change in recent months in Japanese attitudes about the parental custody and abduction issues, and I’m struck – you know, Japan is a compassionate nation, and the more that my Japanese friends and colleagues are exposed to the truth of these parents who have been separated forcibly from their children, the more that they understand the horrible challenges that this issue produces. And I think we have seen a very consequential diplomatic effort, not just from the United States, but from a very large number of industrialized democracies who have come to Japan and said, “Look, you’re an outlier on this issue. Join the Hague Convention. It will bring you in alignment with the other countries who face these difficult issues.” And I believe a process has begun in Japan.

But I just want to say I’ve been struck at how this issue is gaining currency in the United States, on Capitol Hill I’m getting more calls from senators, from congressmen, from interested people, and I am a person who believes deeply in the U.S.-Japan relationship, and what I’ve urged Japanese friends to do is to do this in a manner in which Japan receives credit for doing the right thing. Don’t wait until the situation has become so tense and so difficult that it appears that Japan is only responding to pressure from the United States. That’s not in the best interest of this alliance. I think Japanese friends know that signing the Hague Convention is the necessary and logical step for a proud, compassionate, law-driven country like Japan to take. So yes, I am much more hopeful. But I am also hopeful that the process will go more quickly in the time ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Nami Inoue from TBS. What specific progress are you anticipating between the U.S. and Japan, for example the issue on Host Nation Support, the basic agreement? Any progress before the President’s visit in November?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Look, I can say we have a very dedicated working-level effort on this. It’s very important to the United States. I think we are of the view that this is an important, critical contribution on the part of Japan to our alliance. We think it’s necessary, and we are looking forward to the process concluding in a way that frankly meets the needs of both the United States, and is responsible in terms of Japan’s fiscal interests. So overall, we are working hard on this. I don’t know if I’m able to give you a timeline on expectations, but I will say that the U.S. side believes that this is a critical signal on the part of Japan about how it feels about the centrality of the alliance and partnership with the United States going forward.

QUESTION: Linda Sieg. No discussion with the media would be complete without Futenma, sorry. So is there some sort of timeline here for the 2+2 at which the details will be ironed out? Is it post the President’s visit?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I think the United States and Japan have had a very good working-level dialogue on these issues over the course of the last many months. We have laid out clearly what our expectations and hopes are in terms of progress. I think as I stated earlier, there is a deep recognition that the security and political environment in Asia is changing, and that the United States and Japan need to be able to take the necessary steps to make sure our alliance is in good working order. And so I think the desire to successfully conclude an agreement and move forward is high in Washington, and we’ve conveyed that sense of urgency directly to Japanese colleagues. There are obviously some political steps underway, elections. All that being said however, I think the impetus is clearly to try to take steps to really move the ball forward in the coming months. That’s about the best I can give you right now.

QUESTION: Sorry to go back a little to the South China Sea issue. A few days ago, United States Ambassador to the Philippines stated that the United States is ready to help the negotiations between ASEAN countries and China to establish the code of conduct in the South China Sea. Do you agree with this idea?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I tried to clarify that a little bit earlier today. I think the fact is that most of the countries of Southeast Asia and China believe that they are able to deal directly on these matters, and that the best that the United States can do is to help provide an overall context and a strong statement of enduring U.S. interests. And that’s our primary contribution. Secretary Clinton in her statement in Hanoi did indicate we would be prepared to help facilitate in workshops or other things an overall process, and I think the Ambassador in the Philippines was simply restating what was in Secretary Clinton’s original statement. We are seeing some encouraging signs about the beginning of a diplomatic process between ASEAN and China, and we encourage and support that effort very much.

QUESTION: Back to Futenma, last week Secretary Gregson told us that the United States expects the final plan of Futenma relocation by the time of the next 2+2 meeting, early next year. Early next year, is that the deadline for the United States? And he also said, either of the two possible plans is good for people in Okinawa. Does that mean the United States government is not sticking to the “V” plan, the two-runways plan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Ultimately the operational matters associated with Futenma relocation belong with the military and with the Department of Defense. I’ve worked on these issues for many years. My overarching objective here is to ensure that the United States and Japan are working together to strengthen a partnership, an alliance, that is effective not just in Northeast Asia but increasingly globally. I think the truth is that we have spent an enormous amount of time and effort on this particular matter, and what Secretary Gregson was trying to lay out was his hope and expectation of when we’d be able to conclude effectively an agreement and move forward. And I would support him 100% in what he said when he was in Tokyo last week.

QUESTION: The United States does not stick to the “V” plan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I am not charged with letters of the alphabet, V, X, Y, L, I understand those are really for the operational guys to decide. Ultimately my interest is to see that we successfully conclude this agreement in a manner that maintains our operational capabilities, deals with the necessary political issues in Okinawa, and frankly also begins the process of easing the burden, which has been longstanding on the Okinawan people.

QUESTION: If I could take the conversation to another location in Japan, that’s Hiroshima. Is there any discussion of President Obama visiting Hiroshima in November? Has this been talked about at all, is there a possibility?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I don’t think so, but frankly I’d refer that question to the White House. We normally don’t comment on the President’s movements. I will say that we were enormously pleased by the reception, the statesmanship in which Ambassador Roos managed that very delicate mission when he went there earlier this year. And he has served the United States with great distinction since he has arrived here.

QUESTION: Is the United States government demanding North Korea apologize to the South Koreans for the sinking of the Cheonan before rejoining the Six-Party Talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: think I’d just stand by my earlier statement. We need to see a reengagement, an improvement in North-South relations in a fundamental sense. The details of that, frankly, are up to the South Korean leadership. We feel that in the current environment, South Korea is led by an extraordinarily able president in Lee Myung-bak, and on these and other matters, we fundamentally trust his judgment.

QUESTION: Just one more follow-up in that case. There are some conflicting signals, I guess you could say, that maybe the North-South relationship is, in fact, improving. Certainly improved over what it was three months ago. So, is there already something that the U.S. draws promise from there? Or has it just not even come close to being enough yet?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: First of all, there clearly have been some preliminary steps: the release of the fishing boat, some steps on North-South family reunions, some other issues associated with humanitarian assistance. But I would still say some of those efforts are tentative, and one of the reasons that I’m going to Seoul tomorrow, one of the reasons that Ambassador Bosworth and Ambassador Sung Kim have had recent close consultations with South Korean friends is to get their own assessment about that process. So I wouldn’t really at this stage want to characterize it, but we are of course, the issues that you have mentioned, we have focused on as well.

QUESTION: May I rephrase my first question?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Let me take another question.

QUESTION: Hiroyuki Akita from Nikkei. Sorry to ask you a very journalistic question, but when President Obama comes to Japan, do you expect both leaders to issue some joint statement to illustrate the future vision of the U.S.-Japan alliance on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing? Or will we wait until the Futenma issue gets solved?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I frankly don’t know the answer to that question at this juncture. I do know that we very much want to begin a deliberative process that reflects on where the alliance has been, and more importantly, where it’s going.

QUESTION: Very quickly?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: Are you going to ask the same question again? It’s the fourth one. (Laughter.) Ask it again, let me see if I can do it.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. interpretation of China’s so-called “core interest” concept? Do you generally approve them, or depending on the elements…?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: All countries have issues of sensitivity and national interests, that’s not unusual. I think the key for the United States and China, for instance, and also increasingly for Japan, is to develop rules of the road and greater understanding between the two sides about areas of sensitivity. And I think we’ve sought to do this, and at the same time, sought also to signal very clearly where our own principles and deep national interests come into play. And that frankly is the fundamental challenge and art of diplomacy in the 21st century, is ensuring that these deep national interests of the great powers are in alignment.

Thank you.

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