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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Media Roundtable in Tokyo, Japan


Interview
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
U.S. Embassy
Tokyo, Japan
October 15, 2012

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DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you very much for coming today. It always is a great pleasure for me to visit Tokyo. During this trip, as you know, I saw a number of senior government officials, including the Foreign Minister and Defense Minister, and had a very useful and friendly exchange of views on a range of issues of shared interest to both of our governments. During my meetings, I had the opportunity to reaffirm the strong partnership that exists between the United States and Japan, and between Americans and Japanese. Japan is an essential world leader; our governments and our people stand side-by-side to meet the most important challenges of our time. Our wide-ranging partnership includes – but is not limited to – an Alliance that has sustained the security and prosperity of the East Asia-Pacific region for more than five decades. We discussed recent steps that we have taken to enhance our Alliance, and how we can continue to strengthen it while reducing impact on local communities. We also discussed our continuing cooperation with other friends in the region, such as the Republic of Korea, supporting stability on the Korean peninsula by confronting the threats posed by North Korea. On global issues, we agreed to continue consulting closely on the way forward on Iran and on Syria.

We also seek to help move the region and the world toward greater political and economic openness and prosperity. The United States and Japan are working together, for example, to stop international trafficking of persons; to empower the people of Afghanistan; and halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. We are also exploring the farthest reaches of space and pushing back the frontiers of knowledge in medicine and technology. In this vein, let me congratulate Japan’s most recent Nobel Laureate, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University. The fact that Dr. Yamanaka has worked in both Japan and California really bears out the incredible benefits both of our nations, and indeed, all nations, receive thanks to the many ways Americans and Japanese work together in all fields of human endeavor.

I can also say that the United States remains as firmly committed as ever to stand as a partner and friend to assist the Government of Japan and the people of Tohoku as the rebuilding continues. That’s why we have created a private-public partnership, the TOMODACHI Initiative, to bring young people from both countries together and cultivate young Japanese and American leaders. TOMODACHI is emblematic of our strong, enduring, and forward-looking commitment to Tohoku and the U.S.-Japan relationship writ large.

Now I’d be very happy to answer your questions. Thanks again for coming.

QUESTION: So, I’ll start. We imagine that the topic discussed between the Foreign Minister of Japan, the likely topic, was the Foreign Minister of China/Republic of Korea territorial dispute. And, so, would the United States play a role? Or, what kind of role would the United States play to cool down the present situation regarding Senkaku and the Takeshima?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The American position on these issues is clear, consistent, and unchanged over many years, as Secretary Panetta re-emphasized during his visit to Tokyo last month. The United States, as you know, does not take a position regarding the question of the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkakus. But what we emphasize, very strongly, is the importance of taking a calm, measured approach to this issue; to focus squarely on dialogue and diplomacy; and to avoid coercion or intimidation or use of non-peaceful means. And so we firmly believe that the focus needs to be on dialogue and diplomacy. That’s something that we will continue to emphasize, simply because we’re convinced that that’s in the interest of everyone involved in this issue – it’s certainly in the interests of Japan and of China, given the importance of the relationship between those two countries, and in the interests of all of us, given the importance of the Japan-China relationship to the global economy.

QUESTION: Actually my question is to follow up his question about the Senkaku issue again. So I understand the U.S. position as you stated; it is very well-known in Tokyo, too. And based on that, my question is: what kind of measures – as for the U.S. side, what kind of concrete measure or action is the U.S. willing to take in order to calm down the tension between China and Japan over the Senkaku dispute? Because China has been suspending many exchanges between Japan and China, and also cultural exchanges, academic exchanges, and so on. So, for example, is the U.S. willing to propose, for example, U.S.-China-Japan trilateral dialogue, which Secretary Clinton a few years ago proposed?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: What’s most important at this stage, as I said before, is to emphasize the value of dialogue, to emphasize the importance of a calm and measured approach to this issue, to avoid actions or statements which might escalate the situation. And that’s a message that the United States will continue to stress, because a resort to intimidation or coercion or threats of non-peaceful means will mean an outcome in which everyone loses. And what we seek is, as I said, to lower the temperature and to create an atmosphere in which it’s possible to avoid any further escalation.

QUESTION: So, will you also urge the Chinese side?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, and our message has also been clear and consistent in Beijing: and that’s the value of a calm, measured approach to this issue, and to emphasize dialogue.

QUESTION: My question is about Myanmar.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Yes.

QUESTION: You plan to visit Myanmar. And, what are the essential conditions to lift the import ban to Myanmar goods? And if they meet the condition, is the U.S. prepared to lift import ban immediately?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We’re encouraged, as the President and Secretary Clinton have made clear, by the process of change that’s underway. We have made clear that we will meet actions that are taken with actions of our own, which is why we’ve moved in quite significant ways to relax sanctions. We’ve begun to take steps to end the import ban. We’ve taken steps to allow international financial institutions to act. We’re looking at ways in which we can be supportive of this process. We were encouraged, also, by the successful visits that both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi recently made to the United States, and so what we will continue to do is encourage that process, recognizing that it’s only just begun – that there are many challenges that remain along the path. But that there’s a great deal that’s possible.

QUESTION: So the essential conditions are?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: What we want to see is a continuation of the progress that’s already been made; further steps on reform; obviously there are continuing significant concerns about conflicts with ethnic groups and the rights of ethnic groups and minorities; and it’s very important to see those kinds of questions addressed as well.

QUESTION: Release of political prisoners?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Release of political prisoners – again, we saw a further step in that direction before President Thein Sein came to the United States, which was encouraging. But obviously, we want to see the release of the remaining political prisoners as well.

QUESTION: So at the meeting, that condition, the U.S. is ready to…

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We want to see a continuation of the process in all of the areas that I mentioned. And as I said, we’ve been very clear that we will match actions with positive actions of our own. And we also look forward to continuing to consult carefully with our partners in Japan, because Japan obviously has a very important stake in that country, and very important contributions to make as well.

QUESTION: Quickly follow up on that: I’m also interested in U.S. engagement with Myanmar’s military. Some people say if Myanmar’s military continues to support the transition to civilian rule and observes cease-fire in the ethnic minority areas, the U.S. should begin to consider joint military exercises with the Myanmar military, and provide some access to U.S. International Military Education. And do you think it is feasible? Do you think it is a feasible option to increase this kind of engagement with Myanmar military in the future?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We’re considering a wide variety of ways in which we can support the process of change that’s underway, and to meet actions with actions. That includes the military-to-military sphere. And so we are considering steps that could be taken in that area as well.

QUESTION: So it could be an option?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: It’s certainly one of the areas in which we’ll consider taking further steps.

QUESTION: Going back to the territorial issues. For the upcoming East Asia Summit in November, of course the South China Sea issue will be a topic. But do you anticipate that, along with South China Sea, the Senkakus and also the Takeshima disputes will be discussed during the meeting? And is the United States willing to raise the issue during that particular meeting?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: It’s hard to predict, at this stage, what individual participants in the East Asia Summit will raise. Our broad concern, whether it’s with regard to the South China Sea or the East China Sea, is, as I stated before, the focus on dialogue; a focus on resolving issues in a calm, measured way. We believe that’s deeply in the interests of all the various players who are involved. Specifically, with regard to the South China Sea, we’ve encouraged the beginnings of discussion between ASEAN and China over a code of conduct, which we believe would provide a valuable framework for dealing in a predictable and fair fashion with many of these issues as they arise. The United States, to repeat, doesn’t take a position with regard to questions of ultimate sovereignty. What we do clearly take a position on is the way in which these questions are dealt with: in other words, they must be dealt with through dialogue and peaceful means -- and that’s there’s no place, and no one has an interest, in intimidation and coercion.

QUESTION: About the Takeshima issue: now the Japanese Government is preparing to bring this issue to the ICJ. And that Japanese Government believes that this is peaceful means, and calm measures, to ease the tension or avoid unnecessary dispute. Does the U.S. Government support this action by the Japanese Government?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: What the U.S. Government supports, as I said before, is an approach that is focused on dialogue. On that particular issue, I think South Korea and Japan, for many years, have demonstrated an ability to manage this responsibly. And our hope and expectation is, they’ll continue to do that. So I don’t have a specific comment to offer on what choice is made; all I would say is that our hope and expectation is that both sides will find a way to deal responsibly with this issue through dialogue.

QUESTION: I see. So, in short, maybe the U.S. position, specifically on this ICJ issue, is kind of like neutral?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Our position is not neutral with regard to the focus on dialogue and finding diplomatic means to address these issues. The precise choice of which of those kinds of means is, obviously, up to the parties themselves.

QUESTION: I also would like to repeat the same question: what about the proposal to set up a framework like the U.S.-Japan-China trilateral dialogue in this context, in order to ease tension and push forward dialogue?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: At this stage, the United States is not seeking a formal mediation role. I think there’s a lot to be gained from conversations between the United States, Japan, and China on a whole range of issues. But on this issue, I think what we’re trying to do is simply to encourage the two parties to deal with this issue in a calm and measured way.

QUESTION: There was a big demonstration of one million people in Okinawa against the deployment of the Osprey, and some experts, even in the U.S., are saying that Okinawa anger is reaching levels unseen in recent times. And some people say, one single accident of the Osprey is going to be like setting a match to a tinder box, and could damage the Japan-U.S. Alliance. So what’s your view on it?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: The reality is that the Ospreys have an excellent safety record. We recognize that there were questions raised by our Japanese partners and by the local community. That’s why we set up, by mutual agreement, a very thorough, careful process to sort through the questions that were raised. And I think we were able, through that process, to reassure people about the questions and the concerns that they had raised. More generally, with regard to the Alliance between the United States and Japan, we continually seek ways together to strengthen that Alliance, and to make sure that we’re applying the strongest capabilities that we have, given our mutual commitments in dealing with a range of contingencies – whether it’s disaster relief or humanitarian assistance or natural disasters around the region. But we’ve also been very careful to take into account the concerns of local communities, and to try to take these steps in ways which minimize any potential negative impact on local communities. Obviously this is an extraordinarily sensitive issue in Okinawa; that’s exactly why we’ve tried to be so attentive to those concerns, and why we’ll continue to be in the future.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up the Senkaku issue? Some Chinese experts and officials say that the Senkakus will be an epicenter of the territorial disputes in this region, rather than the South China Sea. What’s your view?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I won’t characterize Chinese views on this issue, because I haven’t seen the precise ones that you mentioned. What I would say is that I think the opportunity here, for all the tensions which obviously exist, is to create an example of how you can deal with an issue in a calm and measured way. And to try to make clear that, whether it’s in the South China Sea or the East China Sea, that that is deeply in everyone’s interest. And that alternative means – coercion, intimidation, non-peaceful means – are only going to work to everyone’s disadvantage.

QUESTION: Maybe, just a simple question. So, the U.S. Government has been stating that the U.S. will respect its obligation, defined by U.S.-Japan Security Alliance. And this could also apply to Senkaku. I just want to clarify: does it mean that, after the effort to push forward dialogue fails, but eventually we fail and there’s going to be a conflict, does it mean that the U.S. will intervene to this conflict?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I learned a long time ago, in this profession, that hypothetical questions are not ones that I should answer. I truly do believe that diplomacy and dialogue can produce a much better set of circumstances for everyone concerned here, and that’s what we’re going to continue to emphasize.

Thank you.



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