THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s briefing on the outcomes of the U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit, which took place here in Washington over the past two days. My name is [Moderator] and I will be moderating today’s discussion. I want to thank our briefers for being available today and to our journalist colleagues for joining us on such short notice.
We are honored to be joined today, for your information but not for attribution, by [Senior Administration Official One]. We are also honored to welcome [Senior Administration Official Two].
As a reminder, today’s call is on background, and we ask that you attribute the comments of our briefers a senior administration official. I repeat: the comments can be attributed to a senior administration official. We will post the transcript and video of this briefing later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov.
Since this is a Zoom format, we ask that you please make sure that your Zoom profile has your full name and media outlet that you represent. Should you have any questions, which we hope you do, please submit them through the Q&A feature or in the comments section.
And now it is my pleasure to introduce [Senior Administration Official One]. Over to you, [Senior Administration Official One].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: [Moderator], thank you very much for the kind introduction. More importantly, thank you – excuse me – thank you for organizing today’s briefing. And to our friends in the media, really appreciate your making yourself available this afternoon. I’m absolutely delighted today to provide a bit of additional context and background information on really the extraordinary meetings we’ve had over the last two days with our friends from the Pacific Islands. And then, of course, I’ll be happy to take several of your questions.
We were truly honored that President Biden welcomed leaders from the Pacific Islands to Washington, D.C., on September 28 and 29 for the historic and first-ever U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit. This is a new milestone in U.S.-Pacific cooperation. It builds on our long history, forged in sacrifice in World War II and reinforced by shared values and strong people-to-people ties. The United States has a deep and enduring partnership with Pacific Island countries and the Pacific region, again, that is underpinned by shared history and values.
The summit reflects our broadening and deepening of our cooperation on key issues, to include climate change, pandemic response, economic recovery, maritime security, environmental protection, and advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Let me spend just a minute or two giving you a brief overview of the meetings that we had during the summit.
Secretary Blinken opened the summit on Wednesday, September 28, with a conversation on people-centered development in the Pacific. On that same day, Commerce Secretary Raimondo and USTR Ambassador Tai discussed economic and trade opportunities with Pacific leaders. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry then led a roundtable on climate action. And on the evening of the 28th, the commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Fagan, hosted an extraordinary dinner along with other senior U.S. officials to discuss our ongoing partnership in the Pacific to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
On the second day of the summit, on Thursday, September 28th, Pacific Island leaders engaged with a broad range of business groups at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and then met with Speaker Pelosi and several other members of Congress over lunch. And might I add that this lunch that was hosted by Speaker Pelosi was truly extraordinary. It was a large and impressive gathering of bipartisan members both from the House of Representatives and the Senate, and I think that Speaker Pelosi’s event really underscored the bipartisan and strong support across multiple branches of the U.S. Government for our engagement with the Pacific.
Then yesterday afternoon and evening, President Biden met with Pacific Island leaders at the State Department in a plenary session chaired by Secretary Blinken, and that was followed by the summit’s concluding event, which was a dinner hosted by President Biden for Pacific leaders at the White House.
I do want to say maybe just a word or two about the overall atmosphere during the summit. I would describe the atmosphere as being extremely positive and warm. I think leaders clearly felt heard and respected and honored, and it was quite striking that, in many of the interventions or presentations given by the President and other members across the Pacific Islands, that it was quite moving and inspirational to hear leaders note our close historic, religious, and cultural ties between their countries and societies and the United States. And of course there was a reflection of our history of shared sacrifice as well.
I was particularly moved, when at the Coast Guard headquarters for the dinner hosted by Admiral Fagan, that there was – prominently displayed in the lobby of the Coast Guard headquarters is a statue dedicated to Douglas Munro, and of course Signalman First Class Munro died in the World War II Guadalcanal campaign and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and I think he’s someone that is revered both in the United States and by friends in the Pacific, including in the Solomon Islands. And I think that moment together was something that was quite meaningful and that was remarked upon by leaders at the summit.
Maybe I can turn just to say a little bit more about some of the outcomes and other goals from the summit. I think it’s clear and obvious that a fundamental goal for this week’s summit was to enable Pacific Island leaders to engage with the President and the senior-most Cabinet, congressional, and U.S. business leaders. This was truly an all-of-government effort.
The summit was an historic opportunity to discuss our shared challenges, exchange ideas and perspectives, and achieve deeper understanding at the leader level.
As an outcome of the summit, the President and Pacific leaders endorsed the Declaration on U.S. Pacific Partnership, which is a forward-looking vision statement reflecting our shared commitment to expand and deepen our cooperation in the years ahead. I can say, in all honesty, that the declaration was a product of an extraordinarily productive, collaborative, and constructive negotiations that were held in a spirit of mutual respect and friendship, and which emphasized Pacific priorities. We are pleased to again have consulted closely and achieved consensus with all summit participants on the declaration. I encourage you to take a look at the document. We’re quite proud of it. And it is, of course, up on the White House website.
In that document and through other announcements at the summit, the Biden-Harris administration has made clear our commitment to implementing our shared vision. To that end, President Biden announced a slate of ambitious initiatives to meet Pacific priorities. The U.S. has directly provided over 1.5 billion U.S. dollars to support the Pacific Islands over the past decade. And at the summit, the President announced over $810 million in expanded programs. These initiatives seek to improve the lives and well-being of all Pacific Islanders by expanding diplomatic engagement, including through the historic announcement that the United States will recognize Cook Islands and Niue following appropriate consultations.
We also made clear that we will combat the climate crisis, launch a new trade and investment dialogue, provide development assistance, enhance maritime security, expand educational opportunities, enhance security, health, and digital capacity, and address the painful legacies of war. These new initiatives include the 10-year, $600 million economic assistance agreement request to Congress, which is associated with the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. Additionally, the administration’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment aims to deliver game-changing projects in the region.
Recognizing that geography links the Pacific’s future to our own and that U.S. prosperity and security depend on the Pacific region remaining free and open, on September 28th the administration issued the first-ever national strategy from the U.S. Government dedicated to the Pacific Islands, which, again, both reflects and advances our commitment to the region. The Pacific Partnership Strategy supports the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States and is fully aligned with the goals of the Pacific Island Forum’s own 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
As part of our Pacific strategy, the United States will pursue four objectives: a strong U.S.-Pacific Islands partnership; a united Pacific Islands region connected with the world; a resilient Pacific Island region prepared for the climate crisis and other 21st century challenges; and empowered and prosperous islanders.
So I hope that these opening comments have demonstrated to you really just how historic and consequential this summit was. Why don’t I stop there, and I very much look forward to your questions. I’m delighted, of course, to be joined by [Senior Administration Official Two] here, and of course, at the President’s direction, we carried out this summit. But I can underscore to you that this was, of course, a whole-of-U.S.-Government effort. Let me stop there. Delighted to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, senior administration official number one. I’m not seeing any hands up in the audience, so I will take a question that was submitted in advance by Mr. Matt —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: [Moderator], I can see a couple of hands, by the way. I’m not sure if you can see them on your screen.
MODERATOR: You can. Thank you very much for flagging that. I can see them now in the participant list. I see Mr. David Brunnstrom with his hand raised. David.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you very much. I hope you can hear me okay. I was wondering if you could expand a little bit about what we’ve been told about a – plans to expand undersea cable activities. Do you have any details you can give us on that, which companies are involved, which countries, and the timing? I’m also interested if you could tell us a little bit more about plans for enhancing maritime security. Do you have any specifics you can tell us about that? Will it mean more U.S. assets going out there and personnel, et cetera? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you, David, for your question. Look, I would say a couple of things. First, during the summit itself, there was not a specific focus on underseas cables. There have been a number of efforts, of course, related to this very important part of the Pacific infrastructure, but it was not something that was discussed at the summit. And I don’t believe that there are any specific cables-related outcomes coming out of this summit. But as you note, of course, there is important work undergoing – or ongoing there.
Now, in terms of maritime security, obviously, when you look through the outcomes of the summit, when you look at the Pacific Islanders’ own priorities, certainly maritime security is a key part of that. And I think we look at that issue writ large. It was not by accident, of course, that Admiral Fagan, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, held a very important event in which she and her impressive staff were able to talk about the capabilities and the capacity development efforts that the Coast Guard is undertaking, including our shiprider program and other activities which are designed to give countries the ability to understand what is happening in their maritime domains so as to combat the growing and serious problem of illegal and unregulated fishing.
Certainly you’ll note in the – in the declaration itself, in – a real emphasis placed on ensuring freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, and the respect for the sovereignty of the various countries involved.
I do wonder – on specific programs, I wonder if my colleague from the White House and NSC might want to speak in more detail to some of the specific maritime programs.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks so much, [Senior Administration Official One]. Yeah, and I can – just referring back to the first part of the question as well, undersea cables are always something we are very focused on in general and working with a lot of our other partners and allies, such as Japan and Australia and others – many people are aware of the East Micronesia cable project we’re currently doing with those two countries, and there are several other ongoing discussions in that realm. So that is constantly something we are working with the Pacific Islanders to see where those gaps are and how we can assist.
In terms of maritime security, I think [Senior Administration Official One] hit much of that. One of our main reasons for wanting to do something at the Coast Guard, besides just how popular and efficient and effective the Coast Guard is in the region, is really allow some more listening and hearing from the Pacific Islands on how we can use that Coast Guard capacity to assist in the region. And the commandant really wanted to hear that firsthand. We’re looking very hard internally on ramping up some of our Coast Guard capacity and how we might direct that in the Pacific and what that might look like, and we want to make sure we could do that the right way, in coordination with our Pacific Island friends out there.
So there’s a lot of work to do there. There’s a lot of ocean space, obviously a lot of EEZs. Another piece of that is going to be maritime domain awareness and how we enhance that capacity as well through existing mechanisms, and also bringing in potentially some new ones. So can’t go into too much more detail there, but there’s a lot of conversations happening in terms of how we enhance that capacity in the region so they can protect their maritime zones.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And – thank you very much. David, maybe one other question. I’ll point you to the fact sheet, of course, coming out from the summit. But there is a section there that talks about steps the United States is taking to bolster security cooperation and maritime protection. And I would just highlight some of the specific programs that are mentioned there involving the Coast Guard, the FBI; some of the framework agreements that are currently being negotiated with Fiji and Papua New Guinea that will help expand that cooperation as well. So that’s what I would point you to as of today.
But I think, again, a primary focus of the summit was to meet the Pacific Islanders where they live and to focus on what their top priorities are coming out of the PIFS’ own 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. Certainly maritime security, especially grappling with the fisheries problem, is a key part of that, and we’ve agreed that we’ll meet that challenge. Thanks very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for those insights. The next question will be from Ken Harada. And when you are asking your question, you are welcome to turn on your camera if you like. Ken, over to you.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
QUESTION: All right. Thank you for doing this today. Thank you very much. I want to ask you about – on declaration. Before the summit, there was a report that Solomon Islands was opposing to sign the declaration. And if it’s true, how do you see the action by the Solomon Islands? And could you help – I’m sure there was intense diplomacy, so could you help me out to understand how did the U.S. and Pacific Islands reach this declaration? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely, Ken. Thanks very much.
Look, Ken, I’ll be very clear with you. We’re extremely proud of this declaration and the process by which it was negotiated. We too saw much of the press play and coverage that you mentioned, and lots of speculation about what various friends in the Pacific may or may not do, and – for example, as you reference, what the position of the Solomon Islands may or may not be. But all I can say to you, Ken, is that in the course of the negotiations over the joint declaration, all of the participants in the summit engaged in very constructive and transparent and really collaborative negotiations, and that of course included our friends with – from the Solomon Islands, and we were honored that all the leaders were there at the summit, including of course Prime Minister Sogavare. And again, we were honored that all of the leaders at the summit signed off on the document, including the Solomon Islands.
So irrespective of the press play, what I can tell you – again, these were collaborative, constructive, really quite – I would say quite pleasant negotiations in which all participants in the room recognized we have a shared future and a shared objective, which was to lay out a roadmap for our work ahead.
So we’re quite pleased with the outcome and quite proud of it.
MODERATOR: Excellent. Our next question is from Nike Ching. Nike, over to you.
QUESTION: Thank you, [Senior Administration Official One], for the briefing. My question is: During Secretary Blinken’s meeting with the leaders from freely associated states, specifically with the Palau, was led discussion on alternative Pacific sea routes in an event of a military conflict that would make the Taiwan Strait unsafe? Would you like to comment on the proposal from the Government of Palau that U.S., Japan, and Palau should have a trilateral discussion on potential (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Nike, thank you. Can you repeat the second question? I didn’t catch all of it. Thank you.
QUESTION: Sure. The second question is: Would you like to comment on the proposal from Palau that U.S., Japan, and Palau should have a trilateral sit-down discussion on potential scenarios in an event of a military conflict that will make the Taiwan Strait unsafe, and then talk about alternative Pacific sea routes? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Hey, Nike, nice to hear from you. Thanks very much. Yes, I should underscore that, again, one of the benefits of having all of our friends from the Pacific Islands in town is that, of course, we were able to arrange some side events as well, and that included Secretary Blinken’s very productive meeting with our friends in the freely associated states from Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Yet during the course of that meeting – which I had the honor to attend as well, as did our Special Presidential Envoy for Compact Negotiations Joe Yun – the Secretary underscored our commitment to the Pacific writ large. He demonstrated our commitment to concluding the negotiations over the extension of the compacts with these three vitally important American partners. And they had an opportunity to talk about both our shared goals going forward and some of the issues that we’ll be discussing as we look to conclude our negotiations over the compact.
I think, Nike, I would say that there was – there was a broad-based discussion about our shared objectives in the region and some of the shared challenges that we face, but no discussion on the specific issues that you mentioned.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And I’d like to turn the next question to our esteemed colleague from the Turan News Agency. Alex, thank you very much for your patience, and the floor is yours.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, [Moderator], for doing this and thanks to the senior officials for making this available to us at the very end of a very – pretty busy week. Staying on the topic, my question is also about the joint declaration, more specifically about the point number seven in which all the sides make it clear that they will oppose all efforts to undermine the territorial integrity and sovereignty of any country, large or small. Can you speak to the importance of this paragraph, given today’s news coming out of RussiaUkraine? They did condemn, as they put it, all Russian aggression including Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, but do you view this statement as being enough or more than enough, less than what you were expecting? Thank you so much again.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you, Alex. I appreciate that. Look, I think one of the most moving and satisfying aspects of our summit with our Pacific Island leader friends over the past week has been further demonstration of our firmly held and shared values and principles. And I think particularly sacrosanct for all of us, again, is this bedrock of international peace and stability which is always working to support countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. And I was quite moved that many of the Pacific Island leaders spoke out very forcefully and emotionally about the fact that sovereignty and territorial integrity needs to be respected everywhere around the globe, and that includes in the context of Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine. So this was an issue on which there was virtually no disagreement.
There was universal recognition how important this principle is, and I think that you’ll see us working together with our Pacific Island – Pacific Island partners to uphold that principle. And you’ll see not just in the Pacific but given the key role, of course, that our Pacific Island friends in the UN, I think you’ll see us continue to work with them there as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. I am not seeing any more questions. I’d like to offer an opportunity to the briefers to offer any concluding remarks before we move on. Okay. So I want to give a special thanks to both of our briefers for sharing their time with us today and to those of you who have participated. This concludes today’s briefing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you, everyone.