MR BROWN: Thank you, and thanks, everyone, for joining us this afternoon for this on-the-record briefing on Secretary Pompeo’s upcoming travel to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia from October 25th through the 30th.
In New Delhi, Secretary Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and their Indian counterparts will lead the third annual U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. And then in India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia, the Secretary will meet with friends and partners to expand cooperation and promote stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world.
Our briefers this afternoon are Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson and Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell.
Since this briefing is on the visit, I’d ask for you to limit your questions to that topic. As a reminder, the call is on the record. The contents are embargoed until the completion of the call. For the sake of efficiency, if you want to get into the question queue, go ahead and dial 1 and 0.
So with that, I’ll go ahead and turn it over to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson. Go ahead.
MR THOMPSON: Thanks, Cale, and thanks to everyone for joining us today. It’s a pleasure to be here to talk about Secretary Pompeo’s upcoming visit to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. We’re looking forward to strengthening critical relationships with our friends and partners, emphasizing our deep commitment to the Indo-Pacific and advancing our vision for long-term partnership and prosperity in the region.
We, of course, depart on Sunday and will arrive in New Delhi, India, on Monday. Looking at our relationship with India, the pace and scope of our cooperation with India continues to accelerate. Indeed, we have an outstanding opportunity to strengthen the U.S.-India relationship, which is vital to security and stability both in the region and in the world.
To that end, Secretary Pompeo along with Defense Secretary Esper will meet with Prime Minister Modi to discuss ways in which we can advance the U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. Secretary Pompeo and Defense Secretary Esper will then meet with their Indian counterparts, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and Defense Minister Singh, for the third annual U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.
The 2+2 format is reserved for our closest friends and partners and reflects our belief that the United States and India are stronger, more secure, and more prosperous when we work together. The 2+2 discussions will focus on global cooperation, on pandemic response, and challenges in the Indo-Pacific: economic space and energy collaboration, people-to-people ties, and defense and security cooperation. In all of his meetings, the Secretary will look for opportunities to expand the U.S.-India partnership in support of our mutual interests during these challenging times.
From New Delhi, we’ll travel to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the Secretary will meet with President Rajapaksa – Prime Minister Rajapaksa, and Foreign Minister Gunawardena to emphasize the U.S. commitment to a strong, independent, and democratic Sri Lanka. We want to partner with Sri Lanka on our shared goals of sustainable economic development and a free and open Indo-Pacific.
In the interest of strengthening our longstanding partnership with Sri Lanka and reinforcing our long-term commitment to the region, we encourage Sri Lanka to review the options we offer for transparent and sustainable economic development in contrast to discriminatory and opaque practices. We urge Sri Lanka to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long-term prosperity, and we stand ready to partner with Sri Lanka for its economic development and growth.
The Secretary will also emphasize the ties between our people, our shared commitment to democracy, and the importance of our ongoing regional maritime security cooperation. We’ll continue to urge Sri Lanka to advance democratic governance, human rights, reconciliation, religious freedom, and justice, which promote the country’s long-term stability and prosperity and ensure the dignity and equality of all Sri Lanka’s diverse communities.
From Colombo, we’ll travel to Male, Maldives, and we’ve enjoyed an increasingly close relationship with Maldives since we established diplomatic ties over 50 years ago. Secretary Pompeo will meet with President Solih and Foreign Minister Shahid, who’ve been instrumental to Maldives strengthened democratic institutions and civil society.
We’re proud to have supported these efforts over many years. We’re also proud of our partnership with Maldives on regional security issues and to combat terrorism. We look forward to additional opportunities to advance our relationship, including a significant milestone in the U.S.-Maldives relationship that Secretary Pompeo will announce during his trip.
After Maldives, the Secretary will travel to Indonesia, and I’ll turn it over to my colleague to discuss that stop.
Assistant Secretary Stilwell, please.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Hey, thanks for that. As he said, our last stop will be in Jakarta, where he will meet with the – both the president and his counterpart, the foreign minister.
Indonesia is important because – for a lot of reasons, none least that than it’s the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation and is a pillar of a free and open Indo-Pacific. It’s in a very key and strategic location. The United States and Indonesia share a vision of a rules-based order in Southeast Asia, and the United States is a stalwart supporter of Indonesia’s sovereignty.
Indonesia is an active and responsible member of the international community. It is an important partner in the United Nations Security Council and plays an historic leadership role in ASEAN. A powerful voice for Muslims around the world, Indonesia is an example of religious freedom and tolerance.
We have a strong bilateral defense and counterterrorism partnership as well. The Secretary last traveled to Jakarta in 2018. He has seen his Indonesian counterpart on numerous occasions since, including at the Afghan peace talks in Doha in September. In Jakarta, Secretary Pompeo will meet with President Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Those meetings will be an opportunity to underscore our shared values including support for human rights.
Finally, the Secretary will meet with representatives of U.S. businesses in Jakarta. In this and other engagements, he will explore how our two large economies can further deepen our bilateral trade and investment ties.
We’ve been in steady contact with Indonesian principals throughout the spring and summer. One of our bilateral priorities is assisting Indonesia in its fight against COVID-19, and we were proud to have donated 1,000 ventilators that will allow Indonesian hospitals to save the lives of critically ill patients.
Despite the challenges both of our countries face with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continued to deepen our strong partnership in the last few months. DFC, the Development Finance Corporation’s CEO Adam Boehler and representatives of other U.S. government economic agencies will be in Jakarta a few days before the Secretary, working to realize the DFC’s vision of a stronger bilateral economic partnership.
So thank you for your attention and joining, and look forward to questions.
MR BROWN: Okay. Great. For our first question, let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon.
QUESTION: Thanks, Cale. I wanted to ask Assistant Secretary Thompson a bit about the Sri Lanka stop. I think it was just today actually that parliament in Sri Lanka gave new powers to President Rajapaksa. There’s been some criticism in parliament this marks an authoritarian turn. To what extent are you concerned about the trajectory of human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka? To what extent do you think the Secretary will raise this? And to what extent do you think the Rajapaksas’ relationship with China might abet this trajectory? Thanks.
MR THOMPSON: Sorry, can you repeat the last part of that question?
QUESTION: Sure, sure. The relationship with China, to what extent do you think the warm relationship that the Rajapaksas have with China might allow them to take less democratic moves? Thanks.
MR THOMPSON: Yeah, thanks for the question. Obviously, we watch closely developments in Sri Lanka on these fronts, and the Secretary will, of course, be raising issues related to human rights, reconciliation, and our common commitment to democracy. Our partnership with Sri Lanka goes back a long way, through a lot of different eras, and right now, we think they’re at a point to make some choices about where they head.
With regard to your question on China in particular, I think we’re looking to frame a discussion with them about a more positive trajectory, as I mentioned in my opening remarks. So definitely we’ll be discussing where they’re headed and looking for ways to strengthen their commitment to human rights rule of law and democracy.
MR BROWN: Thank you. Next question, let’s go to the line of Yashwant Raj.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this call. About the Secretary’s India trip, could I ask if you expect the two sides to sign BECA and a maritime information sharing agreement that has been talked about or any other agreement that could happen during the visit?
MR THOMPSON: Yeah, thanks. We’re in the process of finalizing a lot of the discussions right now, and so I know that BECA and other agreements are in the works. I’m not going to, I think, commit to anything right this minute, but we do expect to have several items highlighted as we go through the trip.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR BROWN: Great. Next question, Humeyra Pamuk.
QUESTION: Thank you, Cale. And hello, David, hello, Dean. Thank you for your time. I have two quick questions. One is: Why is this trip happening now, literally a week before the election? What is the end goal here? And is that end goal actually to build a security grouping in Asia against China, given that the Quad countries will be launching joint war games next month? Is that fair to think about that?
And my second question is specifically on Indonesia. We reported two days ago that Indonesia rebuffed an unusual U.S. request to fuel its maritime surveillance planes there. As you know better than me, China is Indonesia’s biggest investor and trading partner, and it has recently promised to send millions of dozens of – millions of vaccines to Indonesia. So there is a view that while U.S. is weighing in on the regional allies heavily to counter China, Beijing is actually winning the ground with cash and vaccines. What is your response to that? What does U.S. have to offer to Jakarta on this trip? Thank you.
MR THOMPSON: Dave, you want to kick off, or you want me to kick off?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: You want to talk about 2+2 timing and all that?
MR THOMPSON: Yeah. Just to the first part of the question, the 2+2 had previously been scheduled, has been delayed, and this was an opportunity where schedules worked out to get together, so that’s really what’s driving the opportunity for this trip right now. There’s a lot happening in the relationship with India and with our other partners in the region, and so the fact that we could go now, that we could have this discussion, is driven by the situation in the region and what – where we’re headed. As I noted in the – at the top, one of the topics of discussion, a very important topic of discussion, will be COVID-19 response, and so obviously now is a good time to do that. And then to Dave for Indonesia and any other thoughts.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Yeah. A great question is: What is it the U.S. has to offer them, and what’s important about this? He related that to the maritime domain awareness and maritime security aspects of that. We’ve been very forthcoming on that topic in the region and in Indonesia. Cooperation continues. But again, I’ll note there’s been some strong actions out of the Trump administration of late that enable countries like Indonesia to assert their rightful claims to resources in their EEZs, and fishing has become one of those. You’ve seen Indonesia has pushed back on Chinese ships fishing in its EEZ illegally. And so there are things that we have done, again, that empower these countries to push back.
Here’s an example: Just today there was a report that China agreed with the Mekong countries to share water information. This is something we’ve been pressing for water. This information is critically important to the countries downstream of the PRC on the Mekong who need that water for crops, for fish, for just life itself. And the fact that the Mekong countries are now asking for that and China has committed to providing that information tells you what. When you ask what the U.S. has to offer, it’s security. It’s in a lot of areas. Over.
MR BROWN: Next question, let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. My specific questions were asked earlier, but I wanted to ask kind of a broad question on if – some specific goals that either one of you thinks of in your region, either the Pacific or the Indian Ocean. I mean, this trip involves a lot of island countries, and of course India has island possessions as well. What exactly are you looking for in terms of maritime security and freedom of navigation, free and open Indo-Pacific? If you can elaborate a little bit on that, on what it kind of means on the ground or in the water, I would appreciate it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Yeah, I don’t mind leading off on that one, and Dean, jump in. But you said it your last sentence: a free and open Indo-Pacific. Before I left my last job in Hawaii, it was the U.S. Pacific Command, and then, as you know, it was updated to the Indo-Pacific command. And this best describes the U.S. approach to security in the region. It doesn’t stop at the Straits of Malacca. I mean, the free movement of people and goods and all those things, it needs to be free all the way across to the southern tier.
And I’m not going to speak for India, but this definitely accrues to India’s interest as well as our own. This is not about trying to – it’s simply about asserting the rights and access that the UN and all signatories to UN agreements have agreed to. And so we are enforcing what has been long known as international law and preventing folks from trying to dominate or monopolize access to any particular area. Over.
MR THOMPSON: Yeah, I guess I would just add too that in addition to the big picture piece that Dave’s talking about, right, maritime domain awareness, maritime security involves other protections for countries, whether it’s interdicting smuggling or other things like that. So there are opportunities to talk about it from a law enforcement and other characterizations, so working with these countries to help on that front is also very important to us. Thanks.
MR BROWN: Next let’s open the line of Nike Ching.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you very much for this call. Just want to follow up on Indonesia and EEZ that you mentioned earlier. There is increasing Chinese vessel detected in Indonesia’s EEZ, the exclusive economic zones of the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. My question is: How does the U.S. want to achieve in Indonesia on this issue?
And separately on Maldives, I took note that U.S. and Maldives just signed a defense deal on this – on September 10th. What does the U.S. like to achieve in Maldives?
And finally on 5G, you can take the question if you like: How many countries in the Indo-Pacific region have joined the U.S.-led 5G Clean Network? And are those four countries members of the Clean Network? Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Hey, Nike. I’ll take the first one on EEZs. Yes, as you note, it’s not just Indonesia, but the Philippines has come on very strong of late, insisting on its, again, legal claims to waters 200 miles off of its shores and the resources therein. Indonesia – I mean, really all of the claimant states have been very supportive of what we’re trying to do there. Although Indonesia has no direct claims to territory, the Nine-Dash Line did overlap with its EEZ, and between the two, the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in 2016 agreed that the EEZ is legal and the other claim is not.
But I’d – taking this broadly – more broadly, it goes to a pattern of behavior that we saw most recently in the Galapagos, where you’ve got enormous fleets of fishing ships harvesting pretty much all the resources and fish not just in that area, but we see it everywhere. And this sort of rapacious violation of EEZs, it has to stop. It needs to – and you stop it by identifying it, by simply shining some sunlight on it, creating transparency, and letting countries – enabling them, giving them support to stand up and say something. Rules are what keep the countries working together without friction. Rules provide the grease between countries so we don’t have unfortunate incidents. So again, our support for not just Indonesia but all the claimant states in Southeast Asia and pretty much everywhere provides that, prevents instability and conflict. Over.
MR THOMPSON: This is Dean. On the 5G question, I think we may need to take that. I don’t have a full list in front of me. I would just note that we will take every opportunity to really advocate for a strong digital economy and partnership in the countries where we’re going and seek support of the Clean Networks, which we think works to every country’s advantage. But we’ll have to take the question.
MR BROWN: Thanks. We have time for a couple more, so let’s go to the line of Christina Ruffini.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, gentlemen. I’m hearing that both Secretary Pompeo and Esper’s spouses are going to be joining us in India. If that’s correct, please correct me, but I’m wondering what resources are going to be used to accommodate them and why their presence was deemed necessary or appropriate given complications, as we’ve all been dealing with, of traveling abroad during COVID and how hard it is to get these trips done right now. Thank you.
MR BROWN: Yeah, we don’t have anything to say about the finer details of who will be on the traveling party. Next question, let’s go to the line of Seema Sirohi. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: In the 2+2 dialogue, would you be discussing the border situation between India and China? And can we expect some kind of a statement or some kind of sentiment to be expressed in the joint statement after the dialogue?
MR THOMPSON: Yeah, thanks for that. Certainly, I think the situation on the Line of Actual Control will be – will probably be discussed at some point, and we’re watching the situation closely. I think both sides have expressed a desire to de-escalate violence.
As for the joint statement and what it might say, I don’t have anything to say about it at this point.
MR BROWN: Okay. Since there are no other questions in the queue, thank you, gentlemen, both for your time today. And thanks to everyone who dialed in. This is the end of the call, and so with that, I wish you a good afternoon.