MR DINARDO: Good morning, and thank you. Thank you for joining us for this call to preview the Secretary’s upcoming travel to Indonesia. Our briefer today is Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink. Today’s call is on the record, and is embargoed until after the conclusion of the call.
And now I’ll turn it over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink for opening remarks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Nick, thank you very much, and I really want to thank all of our friends in the media for joining us. It’s a pleasure to be with you today, as always, to discuss the Secretary’s upcoming travel.
As we announced this morning, Secretary Blinken will visit Indonesia July 13 and 14 following a few days of travel with President Biden to the United Kingdom and Lithuania. Of course, I’ll focus my remarks today on the Secretary’s engagements in Jakarta. There are two parts to that part of the trip by the Secretary that I would like to address in some detail, including, first, his multilateral engagements with our ASEAN allies and partners, and then, secondly, the bilateral meeting that he will hold with our Indonesian friends.
First and foremost, Secretary Blinken will be in Jakarta to participate in the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the 13th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and the 30th Annual ASEAN Regional Forum. As we have made very clear, the United States is a proud Indo-Pacific nation and we’re committed to the security and prosperity of this vital region. Deepening connections with our allies, partners, and friends is at the core of our Indo-Pacific Strategy as we work to create and support a latticework or network of mutually reinforcing relationships that enhance our collective capacity to tackle shared problems and to resist coercion. That is why the Secretary has been so active in the Indo-Pacific, including launching the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy in February 2022, and leading our engagement with a region that will shape the trajectory of the world in the 21st century. This will, in fact, be Secretary Blinken’s 12th trip to the Indo-Pacific region.
As President Biden has stated, ASEAN is at the heart of our Indo-Pacific Strategy. Our enduring relationship is based on shared principles reflected in both the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. The Secretary’s conversations during the ministerial meetings will build upon the historic U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit that was hosted by President Biden in Washington, D.C., in May of 2022, and the November 2022 upgrade of the U.S.-ASEAN relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
At each meeting, Secretary Blinken will emphasize the U.S. commitment to ASEAN’s centrality and its successful implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. He will address economic cooperation, the fight against climate change, the ongoing crisis in Burma, and Russia’s war against Ukraine. Our collaborative efforts and presence at these meetings in Jakarta, as well as the series of high-level engagements with our ASEAN partners and allies in recent years, demonstrates the United States’ enduring commitment to ASEAN. The United States recognizes and supports ASEAN’s central role in delivering sustainable solutions to the region’s most pressing challenges as we celebrate 46 years of U.S.-ASEAN relations.
Of course, we’ll also discuss how we can further bolster our vitally important relationship with ASEAN and its members. Our relationship with ASEAN is a partnership for prosperity, one that has resulted in over $505 billion in trade in goods and services in 2022 alone, supporting more than 625,000 U.S. jobs. More than 6,200 U.S. companies operate across ASEAN’s member states, employing nearly 1 million people. In addition, over 50,000 students from Southeast Asia study in the United States each year.
So we very much look forward to having these conversations with our ASEAN partners.
Now, the second important piece of the Secretary’s travel will be a bilateral engagement with his Indonesian counterpart, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, including for the second U.S.-Indonesia Strategic Dialogue. This dialogue is our first since August 2021, and serves as a sign of our deep commitment to our Strategic Partnership with Indonesia – which, as you know, is the world’s third-largest democracy and the largest Muslim-majority country. Indonesia is a critically important U.S. partner. We continue to work together to expand good governance and strengthen shared democratic values while deepening our bilateral relationship.
The Secretary and the foreign minister will discuss a range of issues that the U.S. and Indonesia work closely together on, including tackling the climate crisis, maintaining and protecting the rules-based international order, and promoting sustainable economic growth. The Secretary and foreign minister will also discuss ways that our two nations can address the crisis in Burma, build our economic ties through our APEC host year and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, and further strengthen our robust people-to-people connections.
Of course, we recognize and thank Indonesia for its leadership both as chair of ASEAN this year and as a major advocate for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. We look forward to strengthening our partnership with Indonesia through this visit and in the months and years ahead.
Nick, why don’t I stop here. I very much look forward to taking everyone’s questions. Thank you.
MR DINARDO: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, for those remarks. Operator, if you can please repeat the instructions for asking a question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, you may – if you have a question, you may press 1 then 0 at this time.
MR DINARDO: Great, thanks. Let’s go with Shaun Tandon at AFP.
QUESTION: Dan, thanks for doing the call. First question probably you were expecting, which is whether you anticipate any engagements between the Secretary and his Chinese or Russian counterparts in Jakarta.
But also a broader question on Burma, Myanmar. What is the United States hoping will come out of this on Myanmar? Is there – is a possibility – is there a possibility for a way forward from ASEAN and pressuring the junta? And more specifically, I was wondering if you had any take on the recent diplomacy by Thailand’s outgoing government with the junta. Was that at all helpful or did that hinder the unity in ASEAN regarding – for the attempts at unity within ASEAN regarding Burma? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Shaun, thanks very much. Always good to hear from you. Look, on the first point, I think you may not be surprised to know that I don’t have anything to announce today about who Secretary Blinken may or may not meet with at or on the margins of the ASEAN meetings. Of course, it’s quite natural, as you know, in the course of these meetings to hold a range of bilateral engagements, but I certainly don’t have anything to announce today, and presumably we’ll have more to say on the rest of the Secretary’s schedule once we get closer to the event itself.
On the issue of Burma, thanks very much for raising that. Look, there’s no doubt, as I indicated in my opening comments, that Burma, or Myanmar, will be, I think, one of the key issues discussed at the ASEAN-related meetings both, I think, in ASEAN’s own ministerials and then in our engagement with ASEAN and, of course, in the context of the EAS ministerial and the ARF.
And look, our approach is going to continue to be what it has from the very beginning, following the really unfortunate coup and its violent and bloody aftermath. We continue to support the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus. We support ASEAN leadership on this issue. But we’ll also continue to make clear the depth and the strength of America’s concern as well.
As far as a way forward, we do expect our friends and partners in ASEAN to stick to their Five-Point Consensus, to continue to downgrade Myanmar’s representation in the ASEAN ministerials, and we also look forward to finding ways to increase pressure on the regime to compel the regime to end its violence and return to a path of democracy. And again, ASEAN and its member states will be central to that effort, and as I’ve stated, this will be a prominent part of the agenda in the week ahead. I’m confident of that. Thank you.
MR DINARDO: All right. Next we’ll go over to David Brunnstrom from Reuters.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thanks very much for doing this, Dan. I wanted to actually follow up on some remarks you made last month. You spoke of there having been a clear and upward trend of Chinese coercion in the South China Sea. Have some ASEAN countries been receptive to U.S. suggestions that they get on the same page in dealing with China over the South China Sea? And I wonder if you can also perhaps talk a little bit about the ASEAN military drills which are planned off Indonesia, I think in September. I see that Indonesia has moved them away from the South China Sea. Is that a good thing? The fact that these drills are being held, is that positive in itself? Many thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: David, thank you. Nice to hear from you as well. Yeah. Look, David, I’ll reiterate the comments that I made when I delivered a speech on the South China Sea just last week. We have seen an upward trend of unhelpful and coercive and irresponsible Chinese actions in the South China Sea. You asked whether ASEAN is receptive to, as you put it, getting on board with or getting on the same page with the U.S. I think I would frame the question differently, David. I think that many of our friends in ASEAN, particularly the claimant states, we share a common view of the kind of region that we want to live in, and particularly when it comes to maritime issues. I think we all believe that countries should base their maritime claims in international law; that maritime disputes should be resolved peacefully; that all countries should enjoy freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight and unimpeded commerce.
So in our view, it’s not a matter of getting countries on board with the U.S. view. It’s a matter of working with our ASEAN partners to advance our shared view and vision for the region, and to push back on behavior that runs counter to that vision and to those principles, including the many irresponsible acts that we’ve seen carried out by China over the last several years and in the last several weeks.
David, on the ASEAN military drills – sorry about that – on the ASEAN military drills, I really don’t have any commentary for you today. We would expect all of our partners – we would expect all of our partners in the region to act to advance their own interests and in defense of their own interests, including in their maritime domain. But I don’t have a specific comment on the drills themselves. Thank you.
MR DINARDO: All right. Next we’ll go over to Michael Birnbaum of Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. Just to go back to that question about Chinese influence, I mean, to what extent are you receiving pushback, either from China or from some of the other countries in ASEAN, on that effort to build a shared vision of security and stability in the region? And given that this trip – separately, given that this trip is coming out of Vilnius or after Vilnius, to what extent are you going to be talking about NATO outreach to the Indo-Pacific region while you’re there? Thanks a lot.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Michael, thank you for your question. On the issue of Chinese influence in the region, I just want to underscore, Michael, that our focus when we engage with our partners in ASEAN and our focus for the Secretary next week will be on building and strengthening our partnership with ASEAN as an institution and our important bilateral relationships with the 10 – soon to be 11 – ASEAN member states.
Again, the focus of our strategy in the Indo-Pacific is building the collective capacity of our partners so that we can advance our shared vision. We have a regional strategy of which China is a part, and not the other way around, and what that means is, again, our focus is on building our partnerships, strengthening our relationships, and that’s what we’ll continue to work on going forward. We’re not asking countries to choose. We’re simply ensuring that countries have choice and the ability to make their own sovereign decisions free from coercion. I don’t know that I’m aware of any country with – within ASEAN who would oppose that shared vision. I think all countries in ASEAN want to make their own decisions; they don’t want to be pushed around or bullied by anyone.
And so while we’re there, we’ll continue to focus on how do we build out and further strengthen our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with ASEAN, how do we collectively deliver benefits to our peoples, to our shared one billion people. That’ll be the focus of our efforts while we’re there. And I think if you look at the agenda that our Indonesian hosts have put forward for ASEAN, I think it reflects the vision that I’ve outlined here.
I don’t – on the NATO question – really not my place to speak on the President’s or the Secretary’s engagements with NATO. I would just say – if you take a step back and you look at the statements issued by NATO over the last few years – I would say that there’s a growing recognition on the part of NATO of the importance of the Indo-Pacific region and the importance, again, of supporting the rules-based regional order.
But that’s not the case – that’s not just the case for NATO. I think if you look at statements that the U.S. has issued with a range of partners and with other multilateral bodies over the last couple of years, I think you’ll see a trend there where all of us recognize the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region. And I think everyone shares the view that the region will be most peaceful and stable when it’s based on a vision that’s rooted in international law and – that applies to all countries equally. Thank you.
MR DINARDO: All right. We’ll have time for one or two more questions, so we’ll go with Tetsuo Shintomi of Kyodo News.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. I would ask regarding ASEAN Regional Forum and possibly bilateral engagement. North Korea is one of the member countries of ARF and have sent delegation to the ministerial meeting in the past. So I’m wondering if you are trying to persuade DPRK to have dialogue with you, specifically in Indonesia. And also, to what extent would ARF meeting discuss about DPRK nuclear and ballistic missile program this time? Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thank you very much for the question. You are correct; DPRK, of course, is a member country of the ASEAN Regional Forum. They have sent delegations in the past to the ARF. I think it’s probably not my place today to try to speak authoritatively or to speculate on who may or may not be sitting in the North Korean chair for the ASEAN Regional Forum.
But what I will say is this. I’m confident that the Secretary will reiterate our stance on the DPRK; he will underscore the strength of our commitments, including our ironclad security commitments to our treaty allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan; he’ll underscore our determination to counter the threat posed by the North Korean nuclear and missile programs; and he’ll reiterate our commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
At the same time, as has been our position from the beginning of this administration, we are open to – and I’m confident the Secretary will reiterate this – we are open to engagement and diplomacy with the DPRK. But as you know, the only response that we have received from North Korea on – in that regard has been an increase in missile tests. So in the face of that, we’ll continue to take the steps that we need to, again, to defend the United States and our treaty allies. And we will of course continue to strictly enforce a range of UN Security Council resolutions and continue to implement our own sanctions, again, to design – designed to counter this threat. And no, I do not anticipate any meeting between the United States and North Korea at the ASEAN Regional Forum meetings.
As for whether DPRK will be on the ASEAN Regional Forum agenda, I think what I would say to that is I think you can anticipate – given the importance of these issues to peace and stability in the region – I think you can anticipate that the United States and others will likely raise these issues. Beyond that I’m not sure that I can say that North Korea is formally on the agenda. I hope that’s helpful. Over.
MR DINARDO: And we’ll have time for one last question, so we’ll go with Ryo Kiyomiya from Asahi newspaper.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for taking my question. Can you hear me?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Loud and clear.
QUESTION: Great. Thank you. So my question is about U.S.-Japan-South Korea cooperation. In Indonesia, do you expect foreign ministers from U.S., Japan, South Korea will have a trilateral meeting? And also, do expect some preparations will be made for upcoming U.S.-Japan-ROK summit in the U.S.? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thank you very much for your question. Look, I’ll reiterate what I said at the top. I’m not in a position today to really make any announcements about any specific meetings that the Secretary may or may not hold while he’s in Jakarta. And I would say, again, we’ll have more to say on the Secretary’s specific schedule once we’re closer to the trip dates themselves.
But I do think it’s worth underscoring – on this topic of trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and ROK – I think it’s worth underscoring the historic progress that we’ve made over the last couple of years, and particularly in the last year. I think – we truly do commend the historic progress that’s been made in rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo. We commend the courage and determination shown by both our treaty allies in the ROK and Japan. And we are particularly gratified to see how that has helped further strengthen our trilateral cooperation, including our work together to counter the growing threat posed by the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs.
So again, this trilateral cooperation is really vitally important, I think, to all three countries. I’m confident it will continue to grow. I – again, I don’t have anything to announce today on either the Secretary’s or the President’s upcoming schedules. Thank you.
MR DINARDO: That’s all the time we have for questions this morning. As a reminder, this call was on the record and is embargoed until the call’s conclusion, which will be momentarily. Thank you all for joining us today.