Summary

  • Daniel J. Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs discusses the transit of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen through the United States.

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.

MODERATOR:  Good morning everybody.  And on behalf of the Foreign Press Center, I would like to welcome you to this morning’s briefing.  My name is Jed Wolfington and I will be moderating this briefing.  Our briefer today needs no introduction – Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink, who has briefed here many times.  Thank you very much, Ambassador Kritenbrink, for taking time to be with us this morning.  I’d also like to thank everybody from the Foreign Press pool who’s here and to thank you for your patience.  I know this is a briefing that was scheduled for Tuesday and rescheduled, so we appreciate your patience and your continued interest.

Ambassador Kritenbrink.  Great, so —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  There we go.  I had a little problem unmuting myself, but now the host has allowed me to do so.  So thank you, Jed, and good morning, everyone.  Thanks so much for joining me today.  I really look forward to an opportunity to have a conversation with all of you.  I’m going to deliver some brief opening remarks, and then I’d be delighted to take your questions.

I think as everyone knows, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is transiting through New York en route to Central America.  Taiwan has also confirmed that President Tsai will again transit through the United States on her return to Taiwan next week, this time via Los Angeles.  The facts regarding this transit are clear.  It is consistent with longstanding U.S. practice.  It is consistent with our unofficial relations with Taiwan.  And moreover, it is consistent with the U.S. “one China” policy which remains unchanged.  Transits by high-level Taiwan authorities are not visits.  They are private and unofficial, and they are not new.  It is Taiwan’s decision to make these transits based on their own travel schedules.  Such transits are undertaken out of consideration for the safety, comfort, convenience, and dignity of the traveler.

Every Taiwan president has transited the United States.  President Tsai herself has transited the United States six times since taking office in 2016, each time without incident.  President Tsai transited the U.S. once in 2016, twice in 2017, once in 2018, and twice in 2019.  Moreover, President Tsai has also transited through both New York and Los Angeles before.  And again, all of those transits occurred without incident.  Like many partners, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic limited President Tsai’s ability to travel from 2020 until now.

In previous transit, President Tsai met with members of Congress as well as with state and local officials.  She had public appearances, and she attended engagements with the Taiwanese diaspora.  President Tsai has also frequently transited both on the outbound and return legs of her travels.  As in past years, President Tsai was welcomed to the United States by the chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Institute in Taiwan, Laura Rosenberger, during this transit.  Of course, as I’m sure everyone knows, AIP is the organization that carries out our unofficial relations with Taiwan.  This is fully consistent with past practice.

Again, this transit is routine.  We see no reason for Beijing to turn this transit into something that it is not, or to use it to overreact.  For those of you who cover this closely, we have already seen the PRC’s critical language regarding this transit despite the fact that it is consistent with longstanding practice for Taiwan presidents to do so.

I’ll just reiterate yet again that our approach to Taiwan has remained consistent across decades and administrations.  We have a longstanding “one China” policy which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.  We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side.  We do not support Taiwan independence, and we expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.

From the point of view of both deterrence and diplomacy, we are working to preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, which is critical to regional and global security and prosperity.  This will require acting now to bolster Taiwan’s resilience against PRC pressure.  We have a proven track record of doing just that, from launching an ambitious new trade initiative to announcing around $5 billion in arms sales so far under this administration, including the largest number of arms sales in 20 years, and setting up efforts to accelerate delivery of arms to Taiwan.

We’ve included Taiwan in the first and now second Summit for Democracy, which is taking place this week, and we have increased international awareness of the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

However, maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait will also require direct and ongoing diplomacy with the PRC.  The United States and the PRC of course have differences when it comes to Taiwan, which we have successfully navigated for over 40 years.  President Biden and his administration have been keeping an open line of communication on this issue, and other shared issues of concern in the U.S.-China relationship, and we will continue to do so.

As the President himself has said, he expects to talk to President Xi soon.  We have discussed with the PRC the postponed visit by Secretary Blinken, and we urge the PRC to keep open channels of communication.

In recent years, we have all seen an increase in the PRC’s provocative activity in the Taiwan Strait, including increased incursions into Taiwan’s self-declared ADIZ and crossings of the median line.  Beijing has stepped up its pressure campaign against Taiwan in the military, economic, diplomatic, and informational spaces.  Unilateral attempts to change the status quo will not pressure the United States Government to alter our longstanding practice to facilitate transits through the United States.

So again, let me reiterate:  This transit is routine.  It is consistent with longstanding U.S. practice.  It is consistent with our unofficial relationship with Taiwan.  And it is consistent with the U.S. “one China” policy, which remains unchanged.

So I’ll stop there, and I very much look forward to responding to your questions.  Ned, I’ll turn it back over to you – Jed, I’ll turn it back over to you.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Good.  Thank you very much for those opening remarks.  I see that we have many people on the call, and we have asked some of you to submit your questions in advance.  We appreciate that.  But I will go first of all to Tetsuo Shintomi from Kyodo News.  Tetsuo, I will ask you to unmute yourself, and if you would please articulate your question.

QUESTION:  Hi, can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much for this briefing.  So you have been emphasizing the importance of avoiding any miscalculation when it comes to U.S.-China relationship.  So this time, how are you doing to avoid miscalculation or possible backlash from China, especially when Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen meets with Speaker McCarthy?  And are you trying to explain your position more to China after you saw tension when former House Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year?  Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  Thanks for that question.  Ambassador Kritenbrink, I’m going to ask you to unmute yourself.  I think we can hear you now.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Hey, thanks very much, and Jed, it’d be better if you’d let me have control of the mute button, but I’ll manage just any way you like.  But Shintomi-san, hey, thanks so much for your question.  Look, let me just reiterate what I said at the top.

The transit that President Tsai is currently undertaking is routine, reflects longstanding practice on the part of the United States.  There is absolutely no reason for China to overreact to, again, this longstanding routine practice.

I think it’s safe to say, as you know, that our policy and our approach to the PRC is crystal clear.  As Secretary Blinken laid out in his speech last year, we have an approach and a strategy which we refer to as invest, align, and compete.  We do see our relationship with the PRC as one being defined primarily by competition, but we are also open to exploring cooperation in those areas where our interests intersect.  And as you noted, perhaps most importantly, we’re committed to maintaining open channels of communication so as to prevent the risk of miscalculation.

I think what I would say explicitly in response to your question is we have many channels of communication open to PRC counterparts.  I myself have spoken with PRC counterparts frequently on this and a whole range of other issues.  I think both sides understand one another’s position well.  I’ll refer you to Beijing authorities if you want to hear their position.  But again, I’m here today to lay out very clearly that this transit is routine, reflects our longstanding approach, and there is no reason for China to overreact.  Over.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  So I’m going to go to an advance question that was submitted in advance of the event – Mia Chen, Radio Free Asia – and the question is – and Mia, if I garble this, feel free to correct me.  “Has there been communications between State Department and Chinese counterparts?  Any concerns about China’s retaliation, according to its official, if President Tsai meets with House Speaker?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Mia, nice to hear from you.  Yes, as I indicated a moment ago, I think there are frequent communications taking place between the United States and the PRC on this and a range of other issues.  Again, I’ll refer you to Beijing if you want to hear their view.  I want to again be crystal clear – the transit that President Tsai is currently undertaking reflects our longstanding approach.  It is a routine, private, and unofficial transit, and there is no reason for the PRC or anyone else to overreact to it.  Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  So the next question will be from WenHsin Chang from United Daily News Group.  I will —

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  We can hear you.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Yeah, hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  I have four questions.  First, what do you make of Taiwan’s President Tsai transit visit to the U.S. this time?

And second, this is the first time that Department of State hold a brief for Taiwan president’s transit.  Could you elaborate the special arrangement?  What is the reason, and what kind of signal that you’d like to deliver this time?

Third, do you think this is a positive gesture of de-escalation by seeing Speaker McCarthy in California rather than in Taiwan?  Speaker McCarthy has said that he will meet her, right?

And the last one:  Are there any officials from Biden administration planning to meet President Tsai personally, virtually, or by phone during this transit?  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great.  So Ambassador Kritenbrink, you should have control over your mute – there you go.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Great.  Thanks.  Thanks so much for the questions.  Let me see if I can – if I got all four of them correctly.

What do we make of the transit by President Tsai this time?  What we make of it is that this transit is routine.  It reflects our longstanding practice of facilitating the transit by senior Taiwan authorities of the United States for the convenience, the safety, and dignity of the traveler – could I ask whoever is unmuted if you could mute, please?  There’s a lot of background noise.  Thank you very much – again, this is a routine transit and reflects our longstanding practice.  We conduct such transits for the convenience, safety, and dignity of the traveler, in this case President Tsai.  And again, this is President Tsai’s seventh transit of the United States; all six previous transits occurred without incident.

And therefore, we believe that there is no reason for China or anyone else to overreact.  I am confident that President Tsai is going to have a smooth and successful transit of the United States, and as she does, I would anticipate that President Tsai will participate in a number of activities, similar to what she has done on her previous transits.  And just as her predecessors have done on their transits, we anticipate that President Tsai will have an opportunity to meet with members of the Taiwan diaspora.  We expect that she’ll have an occasion to exchange views and deliver remarks with various groups.  And we also anticipate, as has always been the case, that President Tsai will have an opportunity to engage with various members of Congress.

You asked – you noted that this is the first time for such a briefing like this to the Foreign Press Center on a transit.  I don’t actually know whether that is true or not, but if it is, I’m delighted to be here before you today.  I’ll simply say that, as is always the case, we absolutely believe in freedom of the press, and we also believe in making sure that we provide accurate, factual information to our friends, especially through the Foreign Press Center, for our friends in the global media.  And we thought this was a good opportunity to do that.

You asked me a question about Speaker McCarthy, and I think what I would say to that is I’d refer you to our friends in the Taiwan authorities and also to the Speaker’s office for any question regarding the Speaker.  I’ll simply remind you that Congress is an independent co-equal branch of government, and again, I’ll refer you to them for any comment.

And again, I’ll also underscore that we will conduct this transit as we always have.  There’s great precedent for conducting these transits, and as I noted at the top, my friend and colleague in the new chair of the American Institute in Taiwan, Laura Rosenberger, is in New York, where she greeted President Tsai and is accompanying her throughout her transit of the United States.  Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  So the next question will be from Nike Ching, VOA.  Nike, I will ask you to unmute.

QUESTION:  Sure. Thank you.  My name is Nike.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  I – thank you.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Good morning, Dan.  Thank you so much for this briefing.  My question is:  Is there any language in the Taiwan Relations Act, Six Assurances, and three communiques explicitly prohibiting a Taiwan president from transiting through a city in the United States?  And separately, if I may, do you have anything on the reported call between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Wang Yi?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Hi, Nike.  Nice to hear from you.  Thanks for your questions.  No, Nike, in response to your first question.  Not only am I not aware of anything that would explicitly forbid such transits, I’ll again reiterate what I said at the top, that for decades the United States has facilitated such transits of the United States by senior Taiwanese authorities.  We’re delighted to do so for President Tsai now on her seventh transit of the United States, and as always, we’ll do these in straightforward way in accordance with our longstanding practice, and we’ll focus on the safety, comfort, convenience, and dignity of the traveler, in this case President Tsai.

And I don’t have any comment or anything to say about your question on the purported call between the National Security Advisor and Wang Yi, and I’ll simply refer your question to the White House.

MODERATOR:  So thank you for that question, Nike, and thank you for correcting my pronunciation.  Please, anybody whose name I mispronounce, feel free to correct me.  I want to get it right.

The next question comes from Donghui Yu from China Review.  I will ask you to unmute yourself.  There we go.

QUESTION:  Hi, yeah.  Can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you.  I have two questions.  The first one:  Will any senior official from Biden administration meet or have phone call with Tsai this time?  Secondly, are you concerned that this transiting may affect scheduling Secretary Blinken’s visit to Beijing?  Because we know Deputy Assistant Secretary Rick Waters just visited China recently.  Did he talk this matter with the Chinese counterpart?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Donghui, thank you for your questions.  I’ll reiterate what I said at the top.  We intend to conduct this transit of the United States by President Tsai in accordance with our longstanding practice, and we’ll do so in accordance with the way we’ve conducted previous transits.  And of course, as I noted, that the AIT chair, Laura Rosenberger, is with the president now to help facilitate her travel.

On your second question, look, Donghui, here’s what I would say:  We’ve made very clear what our approach is to the PRC.  We’ve made very clear what our approach – what our approaches are to cross-strait issues and to our robust and very important but unofficial relationship with Taiwan.  There’s been no change to our stance on these issues, and we’ve made that very clear to counterparts in Beijing.

As I indicated, we have regular and frequent communications with our counterparts in the PRC, both here in Washington, D.C. and in Beijing.  And, of course, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve had clear and candid exchanges, as we often do, on issues related to the Taiwan Strait.  Yes, my colleague, DAS Rick Waters, was recently in Beijing, and while he was there for a routine visit to China he had a range of conversations with counterparts on an entire host of issues across the entire breadth of the U.S.-PRC relationship.

MODERATOR:  Ambassador Kritenbrink, do we have time for a couple more questions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Absolutely.

MODERATOR:  Fantastic.  So Jessica, Jessica from TVBS Taiwan.  Jessica, I am asking you to unmute – there we go.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thanks for doing this.  I just – I think my question was taken by others, but it’s okay, I got another one.  Although there’s Taiwan Travels Act in place, but Taiwan president or vice president, foreign minister still cannot visit or maybe we should say go to D.C.  So what are the restrictions about the senior officials from Taiwan, like president, vice president, that – where they can go to or cannot go to?  I mean, at what level of the seniority, or maybe the geographic limitations?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Jessica, if I understand your question correctly, let me just say this:  First of all, as I hopefully have made clear today, we’re conducting this current transit by President Tsai of the United States in accordance with our longstanding practice.  This is the seventh time that President Tsai has transited the United States, and in fact, as I indicated in my opening statement, she has transited New York and LA previously as well.  During President Tsai’s previous six transits, all of those were conducted without incident.  Again, there is no reason for China or anyone else to overreact to this longstanding and routine practice of facilitating transits of the United States.

And look, the other thing that I would say, Jessica, is that in accordance with our very important and robust but unofficial partnership with Taiwan, we have open channels of communication and frequent interactions with our many friends in Taiwan, and I’m confident that that will remain the case going forward.

MODERATOR:  Great.  So the next question will be from Alexander Willemyns from Radio Free Asia.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thanks for doing this, Dan.  I’m interested to know, has any U.S. official given guidance to Taiwanese officials about this trip?  And if so, what’s the substance of that?

And a related question:  Tsai is doing a few speeches – one I think at the Hudson Institute today in New York and then another at the Reagan Library in Los Angeles, and both of them seem to be closed door, as far as I understand.  Has there been any advice that she shouldn’t give public speeches that could be reported on?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Alexander, thanks very much for your questions again.  We are committed to making sure that President Tsai’s seventh transit of the United States is conducted smoothly and successfully, and we have worked closely with many of our Taiwan friends and counterparts to ensure that that is the case.  If you have any questions on the specifics of any event that will take place during President Tsai’s transit, I think I would refer you to the Taiwan authorities and to those associated with the event itself on the U.S. side.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great.  So we have about five minutes left of our briefer’s time.  I would like to give an opportunity to Ambassador Kritenbrink to offer concluding remarks.  So we’ll take one more question from Kohei Tsuji from NHK Japan.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you for taking my questions.  Can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I’d like to ask, Ambassador, that this is the seventh time that President Tsai has transited the U.S., but she is meeting – she’s expected to meet Speaker McCarthy.  Do you still think this is the same as visits that she has made before?  Because this is the part especially that China is not very happy about and expressed the anger about.

And just one more quick question, that U.S. is trying to have a summit meeting between President Biden and President Xi.  Do you think President Tsai’s visit have any impact on this talk to make this summit meeting happen, whether it’s online or not?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Kohei, thanks for your questions.  Again, I’ll reiterate what I said at the top.  This is the seventh time that President Tsai has transited the United States, and we have conducted these types of transits of the United States now for decades.  These are routine.  These are longstanding.  During such transits, it is of course commonplace and standard practice for senior Taiwan authorities to engage in a range of activities, including meetings with members of Congress, and that will certainly be the case this time.  And again, there is no reason for China or anyone else to overreact to this routine and longstanding  practice.

I would also say that the U.S. approach to the PRC, the U.S. approach to the cross-strait situation, and the U.S. approach to our very important and robust but unofficial partnership with Taiwan – all of those policies remain unchanged.  They are longstanding.  We intend to be consistent and resolute in pursuing our policies and our interests, and we’ll be clear, as hopefully I have been here today, in articulating what those policies are and what the intention is behind them.

MODERATOR:  Great.  So is there anything else you would like to add, Ambassador Kritenbrink?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Jed, thanks very much.  No, I’ll simply reiterate my thanks to you and to all of our friends in the media, especially those members of the global media.  Really grateful for the Foreign Press Center’s existence and your skill in arranging these kinds of briefings.  I’ve really enjoyed this.  And again, we scheduled this briefing today because as we always do, we believe in providing factual, accurate information to the global media on important events such as the ongoing transit right by President Tsai to the United States.  Thanks so much for having me today.

MODERATOR:  You’re always welcome, and we look forward to doing more briefings with you.  We apologize that we weren’t able to get to everybody’s questions, but we do appreciate your interest.  And again, look forward to the next briefing at the Foreign Press Center.  This concludes the briefing.  Thank you very much.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future