THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. My name is Jen McAndrew. I am the new program officer at the Washington Foreign Press Center covering the East Asia and Pacific portfolio. I want to welcome you all today for this on-the-record Zoom briefing on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and the strong partnerships between the United States and our Northeast Asian allies. Today’s briefer is David R. Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and we really appreciate him giving his time today for this briefing.
A few ground rules: The contents of this briefing are embargoed until the end of the briefing. We will post the transcript and the video later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. If you publish a story as a result of this briefing, please share the story with us by sending an email to email@example.com.
A couple of things to keep in mind while using Zoom: We have muted all of the participants and turned off your videos. Please ensure that you have clicked on the participant list and changed your account to reflect your name and news outlet. This will help us during the question-and-answer portion of the briefing.
Assistant Secretary Stilwell will give short opening remarks and then we will open it up to questions. We do have a hard stop time today of 12:55, so we’ll just have time for a few. If you have a question, you can also go to the chat box. This is a feature there that allows you to virtually raise your hand. At that time, we will unmute you and call on you so that you can ask your question.
And with that, I will pass it over to Assistant Secretary Stilwell.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Thank you, Jen. Hey, everybody. I’ll get to the point here because I want to hear your questions, but thanks for taking the time to join today. 2020 is a really important year in the history of our alliances. In January we celebrated 60 years of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This month we’re both recognizing the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War and we’re also noting 75 years since the Battle of Okinawa. Similar timing, two very different events.
It’s fitting that today, June 25th, marks 70 years since the beginning of the Korean War. As the President mentioned in his statement earlier, we’ll never forget those who fought alongside us, both from the Republic of Korea and those under the United Nations Command, as well as those who laid down their lives in the name of our shared values of freedom and democracy. The U.S. commitment to defense of the Republic of Korea remains ironclad.
We must remind ourselves of the origins, right? If we forget our history, we are doomed to repeat it, as Santayana said. The war began on the 25th of June 1950, when North Korea thought they had the opportunity to invade and take over South Korea, uniting the peninsula under authoritarian regime. This was supported by the Chinese, and since we’re talking about history, the failure of the PRC to acknowledge the history, as evidenced by the museum in Dandong on the border of North Korea which still states that the war began when the U.S. and allied forces with the ROK crossed the 38th Parallel to the north after the invasion, is problematic and we all need to help them understand the importance of seeking truth through facts.
At the same time, 75 years ago, we also recall the Battle of Okinawa and the legacy of sacrifice that gave birth to our cornerstone alliance with Japan. It was formed out of a shared commitment to freedom and democracy. Today these alliances are key to combating authoritarianism and totalitarian ideologies in the Indo-Pacific region that we – that seek to undermine the global order. As we often say, those who share values magnify each other’s strengths. We all see the world the same; we understand the importance of human dignity and giving people a voice and a choice through democratic processes, and we know that this is the way to govern.
We share a common vision with the Republic of Korea and Japan for the region based on security and prosperity that includes democracy, freedom of expression, open markets, and inclusivity. Based on these shared interests, we are encouraged Japan and the ROK are building a positive relationship that will come to terms with the past and move together – move forward together into the future.
We are all challenged by the corona pandemic, but as Korea, Japan, and others in the region like Taiwan have showed us, it is possible and it’s even preferable to deal with the pandemic in ways that stay true to democratic norms and respect human dignity. We trust our people to do the right thing. We don’t lock them in their homes, we don’t weld them in their homes, we don’t separate them from their families. We tell them how to manage this, we give them information, and we allow them to deal with it in that way – again, respecting human dignity.
In the midst of all of this disaster, you’ve seen Korea execute national legislature elections, and then again, recently, elections in Okinawa. These are both testaments to the power of democracy even in the midst of the pandemic.
We’ve cooperated together to help all of us in the face of the coronavirus challenge, with Korea’s provision of 750,000 test kits at a very critical time and as we’ve provided ventilators to Korea. We have repatriated each other’s citizens. We’ve made supplies like PPE and masks and medical equipment available to each other, supporting each other where we have little and then offering help where we have surplus.
As democratic nations, we will do whatever we can to make certain that the region is safe for democracy and self-determination. We applaud both of our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea, for strongly condemning China’s national security law related to Hong Kong. And as we commemorate the past, we are reminded that freedom isn’t free, but that mutual trust emboldens us all to face common threats together. We will continue to stand with our allies as we confront the evolving (inaudible) knowing our strength lies in the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
And with that, I look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Okay, just a reminder to please raise your hand in the chat box if you have a question, or you can type your question in the chat box and we will call on you.
Yes, Ben Marks from NHK, Japan, I see your hand raised.
QUESTION: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Stilwell. Thanks for speaking to us. Nice to see you again. I have two real quick questions. The first is: In your opening remarks you mentioned Japan and South Korea resolving their past history for the sake of security in the Indo-Pacific. Can I just get your reaction to South Korea filing a complaint in the WHO protesting export restrictions by the Japanese Government earlier this month? And then real quickly, my second question is: The Japanese Government has scrapped plans to install the Aegis Ashore. What alternatives are there for Japan in defending against North Korean missiles, if not Aegis Ashore?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Hey, Ben, thanks for that. On the second question, I’m going to let you talk to the Defense Department about that. I would rapidly get out of my depth, being an Air Force guy, retired, commenting on another service. So let me push you over to those folks.
As far as the – WTO, I think you meant, not WHO – look, these systems are out there for all of us to use and to have a discussion on resolving trade issues or other things. So these processes are there for a reason and allow two sides to have a discussion on that, and again, I can’t – I mean, we support the use of these mechanisms to have the – to have – to resolve these differences. Again, I encourage both sides to maintain the dialogue as we have all along, and we look forward to getting these contentious issues, if not fully solved, at least having a conversation.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Do we have another question? I don’t see any other raised hands. Is there a written question? Oh, here we have a question from VOA Korean. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, hi. Thank you for doing this. I just have a question about North Korea. Are you still hopeful that this North Korean issue can be resolved in the near future? We remember the last time the U.S. met with the North Koreans in their working level was back in October, and since then there is no sign for the two countries to resume talks. So I just want to ask you what the current stage is and where – what your plan is in regards to bring the North Korea back to the negotiating table. Or are you even willing to resume talks? Because I think like the U.S. is satisfied with the current stage where there is no nuclear or missile tests.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Thank you for that question. Again, I don’t – I’m happy to discuss things that are in my portfolio, but Aegis Ashore is Defense, and North Korea is in the special representative channel, Alex Wong and Deputy Steve Biegun.
But what I will note is that if you look at policy on North Korea in this administration, we have had the – we’ve created the environment to have a productive conversation. You point to Singapore and even Hanoi, where it was – we made clear our positions and we heard the North Korean position. And the ball is in their court. We stand ready to continue that discussion.
But as far as details as what’s next, these are things that the special representative, the SDPRK Office, will handle. And I can’t – unfortunately, I will point you to them so I don’t get out in – I don’t stay focused on this one because that is their line of work.
MODERATOR: Thank you for that. I think based on the limited time, we just have time for one more question. If we have somebody who would like to raise their hand or submit it in the chat box.
Yes, I have another follow-up question from Ben Marks, NHK.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hi. Thank you, Secretary Stilwell. If I could follow up on the Japan-South Korea question, in your discussions with the two countries, are you seeing an improvement at all? Can you just talk about whether you’re hopeful that things are getting better, or are they getting worse?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Hey, Ben. I’m an eternal optimist, but I’d also point to the necessity to cooperate against a significant threat in the form of the pandemic. And we have seen positive interaction on that. These are saving human lives, and it tends to focus one’s attention on what’s really important. So we have seen cooperative outreach on both sides related to the pandemic, and we will continue to work at that.
And our cooperation with Japan on this has been – you mentioned Korea earlier, with the test kits and the rest. But we also had very good cooperation with Japan, dealing with the cruise ships, sharing ideas on drug treatments and other things. We’ve noted that in dealing with the pandemic, we are all in a race to getting a vaccine, finding a treatment for this. And again, we have very positive cooperation across all fronts. And especially with our allies in the region on using each other’s strengths, research we have already conducted, and the rest.
So I would just point to the world’s focus on an avoidable pandemic that has got us all just simply trying to survive, trying to keep our economies afloat. And these are areas where cooperation is not just essential, but ongoing.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks for that. We just have one more question – this will be the final question – from Jung Eung Lee from Channel A. This will be the last question.
QUESTION: Hi. Do you hear me? I would like to ask questions about the book written by the former national security advisor John Bolton, in a sense that we need mutual trust for the alliance. So recently Chung Eui-yong, the director of national security at Blue House, said in a statement that a considerable portion of his book is distorted. And he said it represents a violation of the basic principle of diplomacy, which could harm the sincerity of future negotiations very seriously. So what would be the response from the U.S. or the Trump administration? And then can you explain a little about what you think about this issue? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: That’s easy. I have not looked at it or seen it. I’ve been so busy dealing with the – mostly with the pandemic, with China movement into Hong Kong, South China Sea issues. My entire focus has been on the China problem. I can tell you that in entire, complete honestly. I haven’t looked at it. I haven’t tracked it. I really am not tracking that subject, so I’m sorry I can’t offer you more on that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll just go back to the topic of the briefing. We do have one final written question, and that is from Scott Stewart of The Sankei Shimbun. The question is: “Yesterday’s Country Reports on Terrorism mentioned the North Korean abduction of Japanese citizens, which had been omitted in the previous report. Is there a reason this matter was included in this year’s report?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that. Sorry I can’t offer you more on that, except for the fact that this is an issue that has been ongoing for a long time. Has – we raised that in our interactions with North Korea, as trying to find a resolution to that. We understand the pain that has caused to Japanese families over time, and we will continue to keep that in our discussions.
MODERATOR: Okay. I think that’s all we have time for. I want to pass on my thanks to the Assistant Secretary for this briefing, and to all of our participants for your good questions. A transcript will be emailed to all the participants later today. Again, thanks to the Assistant Secretary, and good afternoon.