DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Good afternoon, Vice Minister Mori, First Vice Minister Cho. It is a private to host you for our first trilateral dialogue of 2023 and our fifth under the Biden‑Harris administration.
Before diving into what we discussed this morning, I want to speak to the ongoing human and humanitarian disaster that continues to unfold in the aftermath of the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria and the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, unfathomable destruction left in its wake. The death toll rises seemingly by the hour. Homes are decimated, transportation is unusable, recovery efforts are ongoing, and the road ahead to rebuilding houses, businesses, cities, and the economy will be slow, winding, and long.
In this moment the United States has joined our friends from the ROK, Japan, and around the world in sending search and rescue teams, specialized equipment, air support, tents, sanitation facilities, and anything we can to help. We stand in solemn solidarity with the people of both nations, and together with our partners we are committed to providing the aid necessary to those impacted by this horrific natural earthquake devastation.
Now, to the subject of today’s dialogue, a more optimistic story: the growth of our trilateral bonds. We are coming off a truly remarkable year in this partnership, one that featured two leader summits, regular communication, and the first trilateral defense exercises since 2017. Today’s dialogue built on that progress. Our trilateral relationship remains strong and it is only getting stronger. Our alliances are ironclad, and our bonds of friendship are critical to enhancing the security and prosperity of our citizens, the Indo-Pacific, and the world.
Our cooperation touches some of the globe’s most urgent challenges. These issues stood front and center in today’s discussions. Together, we are advancing our shared affirmative vision for an Indo-Pacific that is free, open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure. This region is home to half the world’s population and two-thirds of its economy. It is dynamic and growing. It is a leading priority for us all.
One year ago the United States unveiled our Indo-Pacific Strategy, and in conjunction with the ROK, Japan, and regional partners, we are putting that plan into practice. We are collaborating with Indo-Pacific countries on food security, energy affordability, humanitarian aid, and more. We are deepening our coordination with ASEAN to tackle major challenges such as pandemic preparedness, digital connectivity, and climate, and we are using multilateral exercises to promote stability across the region.
Throughout our meetings, our three governments reinforced the necessity of addressing the DPRK’s destabilizing behavior and achieving complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK continued to threaten the ROK, Japan, and its neighbors, and the world with the launch of an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles last year. Standing united, our nations will deter the DPRK and urge it to give up its nuclear weapons program and abide by its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions. We call for full implementation by the international community and encourage the DPRK to return to dialogue.
Our talks also touched on the challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China and the need to answer them with unity at home and abroad. Today’s dialogue reiterated our core message. We will remain aligned with the ROK, Japan, other allies and partners worldwide to push back on the PRC behavior that challenges the rules-based regional and international order. We will continue to counter the PRC’s destabilizing activities in South and East China Seas. We will keep working for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Alongside the ROK and Japan, we will find areas where collaboration with the PRC is possible and in fact vital to international security, from climate and global health to narcotics, nonproliferation, and beyond.
Moving outside our immediate region and this region that we were discussing in the Indo‑Pacific, our discussions included Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine and the ROK and Japan’s steadfast support, assistance, and cooperation in seeking to end the suffering endured by the Ukrainian people. Our countries’ actions alongside partners across the globe are an unmistakable sign that we will stand firm against any attempts by any nation to change international borders by force. We will hold Russia accountable. We will stay united in defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and fundamental rights.
Finally, our dialogue covered a wide range of issues that speak to the broad scope of our partnership. On security, the United States is firmly committed to the defense of the ROK and Japan; to enhancing our cooperation with partners like Australia, India, and New Zealand; to deepening ties between Indo-Pacific nations and NATO. On the broader region, we are engaged with ASEAN on law enforcement, transboundary challenges in the Mekong Subregion, renewable energy and health. We had productive discussions about supporting Pacific Island countries as they deal with climate change mitigation and adaptation. We are also coordinating with Japan and the ROK as partners in the Blue Pacific to tackle climate change; illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing; equitable access to infrastructure investment; and defense of the rules-based order.
On human rights, our three countries are focused on promoting gender equity across the Indo-Pacific, responding to gender-based violence, increasing women’s economic participation and entrepreneurship. As APEC host this year, we look forward to broadening this work with Japan and the ROK and others to bolster the international economic system and showcase the centrality of the APEC region to resilient, inclusive, broadly shared prosperity.
So you can see by my long opening statement we covered a lot of ground today, yet there’s still so much to do to uphold our interests, values, and vision which we all share. Together, I know we will.
VICE MINISTER MORI: Well, it was my great pleasure to have this Japan-U.S.-ROK Vice Ministers meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Sherman and First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho. For the first time in four months, I would like to thank Wendy and her staff for their warm hospitality.
A free and open international order based on the rule of law is being seriously challenged, to begin with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which will mark one year on the 24th next week. At the same time, the security environment surrounding Japan has become increasingly severe. Against these backdrops, coordination among Japan, the U.S., and the ROK is becoming increasingly important, not only in dealing with North Korea but also in maintaining peace and stability of the region and in realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Our leaders reaffirmed at the trilateral summit last November in Cambodia the importance of forging still closer trilateral coordination in the security field and beyond. Based upon our leaders’ commitment, three of us had a frank and strategic discussion today and renewed our resolve to further deepen our coordination. On North Korea, we share the recognition that North Korea’s intensified nuclear and missile activities, including ballistic missile launches with an unprecedented frequency and in unprecedented manners, pose a clear and serious challenge to the international community.
While North Korea has publicly stated its intention to further enhance its nuclear and missile programs this year, concerted efforts of the international community are critical. Under these circumstances, we concurred on continuing close collaboration among our three countries in enhancing regional security deterrence, cooperation at the UN – including the Security Council, where Japan is now sitting as a nonpermanent member – and diplomatic engagement towards the complete denuclearization of North Korea.
Regarding the abductions issue, I asked for continued understanding and cooperation of this issue and gained full support, again, from both U.S. and the ROK. I would like to once again thank both of you for your support.
On Ukraine, we shared our strong concern about the Russian missile and drone attacks that have resulted in civilian casualties as well as serious damage to the civil infrastructure. In particular, Japan is seriously considered about the threat of nuclear weapons by Russia. We concurred that Russia’s – such threat is absolutely unacceptable and Russia should never use nuclear weapons under any circumstances. We also concurred that it is important to continue to strongly support Ukraine and to keep imposing severe sanctions against Russia. Such a situation in Ukraine will be one of the most important issues at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, which Japan will be hosting in May.
We also had a discussion on regional situation, including in the East and South China Seas, and shared the recognition that we must not accept any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force. We also shared the view that it is important to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Furthermore, we discussed a wide range of challenges that the international community is facing, such as economic security. We agreed to further deepen our trilateral cooperation in these areas.
Based on today’s discussion, I look forward to continuing multilayered coordination among our three countries.
And lastly, I would also like to express my deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the massive earthquake that occurred in Türkiye and Syria, and emphasize our determination to provide necessary support to the affected areas. Japan is a country which has suffered from a number of natural disasters, including the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. It’s doing its utmost to provide as much support as possible to those people who were affected by this earthquake.
So far we have dispatched urban search and rescue team and medical team to Türkiye and also provided Türkiye and Syria with emergency relief goods. I appreciate that the U.S. and the ROK are providing support as well.
Thank you for attention.
VICE MINISTER CHO: Thank you. Good afternoon. It is a great pleasure to meet Deputy Secretary Sherman and Vice Minister Mori here in Washington, D.C. I’d like to express my gratitude to Deputy Secretary Sherman and her team for arranging today’s meeting.
Before my remarks on trilateral cooperation, I would first like to extend my deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathy to all the affected by the devastating earthquake in both Türkiye and Syria. All three of our government promptly dispatched teams to support rescue and recovery efforts and assist the victims of the earthquake, on top of the financial contribution we pledged individually. We sincerely hope for a swift recovery from the aftermath of this tragedy.
Over the past year, our three countries have strengthened our trilateral partnership to an unprecedented level, firmly rooted in shared values, including freedom, democracy, human rights, and rule of law. Exactly three months ago, our leaders jointly announced the Phnom Penh Statement on Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific, which reaffirmed our commitment to trilateral partnership and broadened the reach of our trilateral cooperation to new terrain.
Today, Deputy Secretary Sherman, Vice Minister Mori, and I explored ways to translate our leaders’ firm resolve into concrete outcomes.
First of all, we committed ourselves to respond firmly to any North Korean provocation and work toward complete denuclearization of North Korea. Indeed, peace without denuclearization is fake peace. North Korea has launched a record number of missiles last year, and is yet threatening further ICBM and military satellite launches.
In response to this threat, we will strengthen robust ROK-U.S. combined defense posture, and at the same time enhance our trilateral security cooperation with U.S. and Japan.
We will cut off the revenue supporting North Korea’s WMD development. Last Friday, the Korean Government introduced our first autonomous sanction on North Korea’s illicit cyber activities, which is one of its major revenue generators. We will closely cooperate with the international community for full implementation of the UN sanctions.
We reiterated that we are open to dialogue. We urge North Korea to return to denuclearization talks. We also expressed deep concern over the human rights situation in North Korea, and committed to stepping up effort to raise international awareness on this critical issue.
We also underscored our joint commitment to promoting peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. I appreciate that Deputy Secretary Sherman and Vice Minister Mori welcomed the announcement of our Indo-Pacific Strategy. We agreed to seek more concrete and tangible outcomes of our partnership based on the common aspect of our policies in the Indo-Pacific.
In this vein, we concurred on the importance of deepening our trilateral coordination on development policy. We will coordinate closely with ASEAN partners on a wide range of regional agenda, including climate change, digital connectivity, and public health. We also committed to further enhancing cooperation for the development of the Mekong region and the Pacific Islands.
Last but not least, our three countries will closely collaborate on responding to various challenges to the security of the region and the international community. The infringement of other countries’ territorial sovereignty can never be tolerated, against which necessary measures can be taken in accordance with international law.
We stand together as allies and partners. We strongly condemn Russia’s ongoing attacks, which are killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. We reiterated that it is crucial for the international community to keep a united stance and stand firmly with Ukraine.
We committed ourselves to continued provision of assistance to Ukraine so that peace and stability can be restored as soon as possible. In addition, we agreed on the urgent need to address economic security challenges, supply chain disruptions, and energy crisis. We reaffirm our shared commitment to strengthening strategic consultation amongst three countries, including the dialogue on economic security that our leaders announced in Phnom Penh last November.
We also closely collaborate in international organizations, including the United Nations, to bolster the commitment of the international community to addressing global issues. Today’s meeting were a true testament to our ever-growing partnership for the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula, the Indo-Pacific, and beyond. I hope to maintain close communication with both of you, Deputy Secretary Sherman and Vice Minister Mori, and look forward to seeing you again in Korea for our next meeting. Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thank you. We will take one question from each delegation. First is Shaun Tandon from AFP.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for doing this. I wanted to follow up on the remarks that you made about the PRC. Madam Deputy Secretary, the episode of the purported spy balloon, surveillance balloons – there have been a couple of shootdowns over the weekend. I was wondering if you could shed any light on that, and more broadly, whether you see a continuing threat from surveillance balloons by the PRC.
And also to Vice Minister Cho and Vice Minister Mori, the United States has said that 40 countries, roughly, have experienced overflights of surveillance balloons by the PRC. Are your countries among them? Do you perceive the threat in the same way?
And just briefly to everyone, in terms of dialogue with the PRC, have you had contact recently either on this specifically or more broadly? I know that Foreign Minister Hayashi will be going to Munich; Secretary Blinken, we’re expecting him as well. Could you see meetings there with Wang Yi or others from China? Thank you very much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you, Shaun. Shaun has just given us an example of how to ask three questions as one. (Laughter.) Don’t take his advice. (Laughter.)
So, Shaun, I would say to you that John Kirby just has spent more than a half an hour answering questions on the balloons, and so I would urge you to look at the transcript for the definitive word as of this afternoon on all of this. In terms of the original balloon that was taken down last week, we are absolutely confident that this was a surveillance apparatus of the PRC and that it was over our territory, and we had every right to take that balloon down, as we did safely in territorial waters off of South Carolina so that we protected the American people, protected our own military sites in the way that we did so during its flyover of our country.
As to the takedowns over this weekend, as you will hear from John Kirby, these were three objects that gave us concern because of their altitude that they were a potential risk to civilian aircraft, and we worked with the Canadians since at least one and the second may have fallen in the Canadian part of Lake Huron – to work with Canada and NORAD to address the risk that we saw. The President has asked the National Security Advisor to put together an interagency team so that we can do a better assessment of where we are, what’s up there, how we should respond to them; has asked us to go out to partners and allies around the world and get a better understanding of what’s surrounding all of us in airspace. But I would send you to that transcript for really the definitive word on all of this.
On the issue of dialogue, as Secretary Blinken has said consistently, and as he has said to Wang Yi, as we have all said to the PRC, we are open to dialogue when it is in our interest to do so and we believe the conditions are right. I know there’s been a report about a potential meeting in Munich, but I have nothing to announce today.
VICE MINISTER MORI: Well, concerning the surveillance balloon issue, and I first talk about the original surveillance balloon which was shot down on the 4th of February, I have to say that no country is allowed to infringe on the sovereignty of another country. So we are aware that the U.S. Government explained that China had committed an unacceptable violation of its sovereignty and that the U.S. has responded carefully and legally in order to protect its own sovereignty and the safety of its citizens.
I explained at the meeting today that Japan supports this position of the U.S. We will keep in touch and we look forward to receiving more information about the balloon issues, and we will further communicate in order to have a more profound insight on this issue. So right now, I do not have anything to add to this current status. Thank you.
VICE MINISTER CHO: One briefly. We have already made it clear that any infringement of other countries’ territorial sovereignty can never be tolerated, against which the necessary measures can be taken in accordance with international law. That is our clear position on this issue. And we also expect that there will be some opportunity for high-level dialogue with China and sit down together on this issue as well sometime in the future. Thank you.
MR PATEL: Next we’ll go to Ayako Echigo with Jiji Press.
QUESTION: Hi. Ayako Echigo from Jiji Press. Thank you for this opportunity. I have a question for Mrs. Sherman and another for Mr. Mori and Mr. Cho.
To Secretary Sherman, can you describe the current level of communications your office is having with China (inaudible) of Secretary Blinken’s trip, and when do you expect high-level meeting to resume? It’s been reported that Secretary Blinken considering meeting his counterpart in Munich, and can you confirm on that?
And to Mr. Mori and Mr. Cho, what is your response to China this morning accusing the U.S. of illegally flying its own balloon over China? Is there any support you can offer the U.S. to push back against state-level misinformation? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: So thank you very much. As I said in response to Shaun’s question, Secretary Blinken in his conversation with Wang Yi said that because of the surveillance balloon over U.S. territory that – and the actions that we reserved the right to take, which we subsequently did – that conditions were not right for the wide-ranging dialogue that we had hoped to have with the PRC, but that we remained open to conversation, discussion, and rescheduling a trip to Beijing when conditions were appropriate.
As far as Munich is concerned, I have nothing to announce today. Obviously, there have been reports of the potential of such a meeting, but I have no announcements today.
Before my colleagues answer your question, let me add a fact which is very important. As John Kirby, the NSC spokesperson, just said, there are no U.S. Government balloons over the People’s Republic of China – none, zero, period.
VICE MINISTER MORI: Well, the position of the Government of Japan concerning the balloon issue in general, I have already explained. And regarding the Chinese accusation about U.S. balloons over the territory of China, well, I have to say that, about American activities, Wendy has the right answer. Thank you.
VICE MINISTER CHO: Well, as you just heard from Deputy Secretary Sherman, we, as an ally of the United State, we trust what just United State officially stated on this issue. Thank you.
MR PATEL: And lastly, we’ll go to Min Seok Lee with Chosun Ilbo.
QUESTION: Thank you for the opportunity. I’m Min Seok Lee from Chosun Ilbo. My first question if for the Deputy Secretary Sherman and Vice Minister Mori. There’s been a report recently published by Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Indo-Pacific Strategy. It says, quote, “The U.S. and Japan should consider inviting Korea to join the U.S.-Japan Economic Policy Consultative Committee, EPCC, to meet in the 2+2+2 format to address specific economic security issues,” unquote. Does the U.S. or Japanese Government consider that suggestion?
The report also says South Korea could be invited to Quad+ dialogues on certain issues. Does the U.S. or Japan consider South Korea should be invited more regularly to Quad+ to better counter Chinese threat? Thank you.
VICE MINISTER CHO: (In Korean.)
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: So on the issue of the Indo-Pacific report that was put out by Chairman Menendez just this last week, I think you are seeing today the trilateral cooperation amongst the United States, Japan, and the ROK. This is happening in every domain that you can think of, and we have given you a long list in our joint statement of all of the areas and all of the ways in which we are working together. We are always open to new formats and to new ways that will effectively bring about concrete results. But what you are seeing here today is exactly what that Indo-Pacific report calls for. We are doing it, we will always be open to new formats, and I don’t think you could find a stronger trilateral relationship than the one that we have.
VICE MINISTER MORI: Well, completely agree with Wendy, and in all the issues of the international society, including the free and open Indo-Pacific, we very much would like to cooperate with ROK. We would like to restore and further advance sound bilateral relations based on the framework of friendly and cooperative bilateral relations that have been built since the normalization of diplomatic relations. I will see First Vice Minister Cho this afternoon and hope that we will have further productive conversation. Thank you.
VICE MINISTER CHO: All right, to me. Let me answer your second question first, the comparison between the previous government and the Yoon Suk-yeol government on trilateral cooperation. First of all, the number of vice ministerial meeting has increased significantly, from three meetings in five years in the previous government to three meetings in less than one year since the inauguration of Yoon Suk-yeol government. Furthermore, the scope of cooperation agenda has been expanded from North Korea to encompass regional and global challenges, economic security, and traditional and non-traditional security cooperation, including cyber security and even space cooperation.
It clearly demonstrate the trilateral cooperation has evolved into a core cooperation mechanism dedicated to peace and prosperity in the region and beyond. In addition, the ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral partnership will be a critical aspect of the – our Indo-Pacific Strategy that we announced last December.
On your first question on North Korea, our three leaders already agreed on strengthening our trilateral cooperation in response to North Korea’s continued provocation, including the enhancing the real-time information sharing on North Korea’s missile data. So we have discussed in details and we will continue to discuss this issue to explore the concrete ways to promote and enhance our cooperation to this end. Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thank you. Thank you, your Excellencies.