MODERATOR: Greetings from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub. I would like to welcome journalists to today’s on-the-record briefing with Daniel J. Kritenbrink, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. We’ve had a change in the program; Edgard D. Kagan from the NSC will not be joining us today. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink will discuss the May 1st meeting between the U.S. President Joe Biden and Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., at the White House, the U.S.-Philippine alliance, and shared efforts to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.
With that, let’s get started. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thank you, Katie, and good evening or good morning to everyone. It’s always a pleasure to be with you. Again, I’m Dan Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Really delighted to be on the line tonight to talk about the very successful visit to Washington of Philippine President Marcos. It’s been quite a busy couple of weeks here in Washington, where we’ve had a number of significant engagements. But I think we’re particularly honored to have hosted President Marcos here in Washington, which really highlights, I think, the incredible momentum in U.S.-Philippine relations.
As Katie indicated, I’ll provide some general remarks and then I’ll really look forward to diving into the question-and-answer session.
President Marcos’s five-day visit to Washington comes during a consequential period in our engagement with our Indo-Pacific allies and partners, and further demonstrates our commitment to Southeast Asia. It’s clear that the Indo-Pacific remains vitally important to this administration as we drive forward with development of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and advancing our APEC priorities as this year’s host.
For example, during his historic visit to Washington in January, Prime Minister Kishida increased Japan’s defense commitments, another sign of strength in the U.S.-Japan alliance. During last week’s state visit by Republic of Korea President Yoon, we announced significant efforts to bolster extended deterrence and substantial investments of Korean companies in the United States. And of course, this week we were particularly proud to have additional discussions with another vitally important Indo-Pacific ally.
The historic visit this week by President Marcos reaffirms the longstanding, ironclad alliance between the United States and the Philippines, which has contributed to peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world for more than 75 years. The visit is also a culmination of a series of engagements that emphasize the importance of our alliance and the strength of our ties. For example, President Biden was the first foreign leader to call and congratulate President Marcos shortly after his election. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff led a presidential delegation to attend the inauguration of President Marcos. Secretary Blinken visited Manila in August 2022, and President Biden then met President Marcos in New York the following month. Vice President Harris traveled to Manila in November 2022 and had productive conversations, as did Secretary of Defense Austin at the end of January of this year. And just two weeks ago, the U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Tai visited Manila to discuss our important bilateral trade relationship.
Back here in Washington, this visit comes on the heels of our third U.S.-Philippines 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, which was held here at the State Department last month. As Secretary Blinken noted at the 2+2, the Philippines is the U.S. – is the United States’ oldest ally in the Indo-Pacific. Our relationship is based on the shared interests and values of Americans and Filipinos, including our abiding commitment to democracy and ensuring that our economies work for our people. For decades, we’ve worked together to promote peace, prosperity, and stability across the region, and we’re growing that effective partnership in scale and scope every single day.
Yesterday I was honored to have joined President Biden and President Marcos’s meeting at the White House for wide-ranging discussions on many of our key issues of cooperation, covering food security, climate change and renewable energy, trade and investment, as well as defense cooperation and developments in the South China Sea, and our commitment to working together there to uphold international law and the rules-based order.
The United States and the Philippines enjoy deep bilateral economic ties as well, an enduring security alliance further bolstered by our Mutual Defense Treaty, the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and a partnership ready to address today’s greatest challenges. And we’re expanding our work together on transitioning to clean energy, boosting bilateral investment, and developing resilient and sustainable infrastructure. We work hand in hand in numerous multilateral fora to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, including in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum as well as through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework negotiations.
We also have incredibly strong people-to-people ties. This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Scholarship program in the Philippines, which is the longest continuously operating Fulbright program in the world. More than 22,000 Filipinos have come to the U.S. through Fulbright and other U.S. exchange programs, enriching American communities with their perspectives and experiences, innovating and launching businesses, and building enduring bonds between our people.
President Biden and President Marcos also announced major deliverables during the visit, including promoting trade and investment; strengthening the Philippines’ innovation economy; bolstering security, labor rights; and building resilience to climate and health security challenges as well.
Throughout these discussions, we reaffirmed our commitment to our robust and deepening partnership with the Philippines, as well as charting an ambitious path forward for how we’ll make this essential relationship even stronger in the months and years ahead.
So with that, I would imagine that you all are eager to get into the question-and-answer portion of our briefing. So let me stop there and I would be absolutely delighted to take your questions. Thank you. Katie, over to you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink. We will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. Our first question was submitted in advance, and it goes to Karen Lema of Reuters in the Philippines, who asks: “This visit is the first for a Philippine president in more than 10 years. How significant is that in terms of what it means for the U.S.-Philippine alliance? What kind of message does that send to China?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Well, thank you very much for the question. Look, I’ll just reiterate: We think that President Marcos’s visit to Washington was truly historic and represents a milestone for the bilateral alliance. And as I indicated earlier in my opening remarks, this was the second time for the two presidents to meet in person, and it’s quite remarkable that those two meetings have taken place during President Marcos’s first year in office.
Look, as I hope I made clear in my opening remarks and I hope as you’ve seen through the joint statement and the fact sheet that we’ve issued in conjunction with the visit, the U.S.-Philippines alliance continues to contribute to peace, stability, and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific region, as it has for 75 years. This is an alliance that delivers benefits for both of our peoples, and it remains absolutely rock solid. And I think as you may have noticed yesterday at the top of their meeting in the Oval Office, President Biden and President Marcos both underscored that our alliance has continued to evolve as we face the challenges of this new century.
So again, in the conversations yesterday you can really see the breadth and depth of our partnership on everything from growing our economic and trade relationship to celebrating our strong people-to-people ties, reinforcing our security cooperation, and then focusing on some of the new global challenges on which we’ll work together, including global food security and the climate crisis. So again, we think this was an incredibly successful and historic visit.
And as for what kind of a message it sends, I would hope that President Marcos’s very successful visit to Washington highlights just how enduring our alliance is, how important it is not just for the two countries but for peace and stability across the Indo-Pacific. And I hope that’s a message that all of our friends and other counterparts across the region will take: that the United States of America is committed to peace and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific, and we are particularly committed to our closest treaty allies, including the Philippines. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Our next question goes to JP Soriano of GMA News in Manila. JP, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Hi. Good morning from Manila. Yes. As President Biden and President Marcos both affirm commitments under MDT, and can you provide more details about the planned joint patrol operations between the two countries and other allied nations like Japan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: JP, thanks for your question. I guess I’d say two things. I think that, again, you’ve seen in the course of the visit and the documents that we issued that we’ve reiterated the enduring strength of our alliance commitments. But look, as two longtime allies and given the historic and very close bonds between the Philippines military and the U.S. military, I think it will – it should come as no surprise that we’re cooperating on a daily basis, and we’ve already engaged in recent weeks in joint maritime activities.
As far as other future maritime activities or exercises are concerned, probably safer for me to refer you to our Department of Defense colleagues for details on that. But the point again I’ll just reiterate here: We work and operate together almost every day, and we’re already conducting joint maritime activities. Thanks very much.
MODERATOR: Okay, our next question goes to Nirmal Ghosh of The Straits Times, who’s based in Washington. Nirmal, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Got it. Thank you very much. Thanks for this. You mentioned briefly the months and years ahead in terms of further developing this crucial relationship. So are there any specific plans for what lies ahead that you could share? Is there a long-term plan? Where will the relationship be in 10 years from now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Nirmal, that’s a fantastic question, and I always enjoy encountering a clear, strategic thinker like you. I think what I would say, Nirmal, and I don’t – I don’t want to try to predict the future too much, but here’s what I can say: we’re exceptionally confident and optimistic in our future together, the United States and the Philippines. And I think reflecting on our past together, on the incredibly close ties between our peoples, I was so proud to hear mentioned both at the White House yesterday and yesterday evening a real celebration of the more than 4 million Filipino Americans who live here in the United States and make such an outstanding contribution to the well-being and the prosperity of our great country, and all of those enduring bonds between our two countries.
When I reflect on all of that, together with our shared values, including a commitment to democracy and human rights in a region that is based on the rule of law, where countries large and small all play by the same rules and large countries don’t bully the weak – when I reflect on all of that, Nirmal, I am incredibly optimistic about our future together.
I think you’ll continue to see both through our leader-level engagements and our other engagements at lower levels, I think you’ll continue to see further development of the alliance to the benefit of our two peoples and the broader region.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question goes to – it was submitted in advance and it goes to Tristan Nodalo from CNN in the Philippines, who asks: “We would like to ask for your comment on the near collision incident that happened between the Philippine Coast Guard and Chinese Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea. How can similar incidents be prevented from happening again?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thanks, Katie, and thanks to our friends from CNN for asking the question. Look, this is – this is really a very important issue, and we remain deeply concerned by the PRC’s continued intimidation and harassment of Philippine vessels as they continue to undertake really routine patrols within the Philippines exclusive economic zone. And such actions and behavior on the part of Beijing are truly unacceptable.
I think as many of you may have noted, we did issue a statement on April 29 on this matter, and here tonight I just want to reiterate: We stand with the Philippines in the face of the PRC Coast Guard’s ongoing infringement and harassment of the Philippines’ freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
And look, the best way to prevent such incidents in the future would be for the PRC to make a commitment to uphold the rules-based international order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and to abide by the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling, which of course is binding on both parties. We again call upon Beijing to desist from its provocative and unsafe conduct. The United States will continue to track and monitor those interactions closely, but most importantly, we’ll continue to stand with our Filipino allies. We’ll continue to operate together. We are happy to assist with the ongoing modernization of the armed forces of the Philippines, including in the maritime domain. And the United States also remains committed to operating regularly in the South China Sea so that we can demonstrate the principle that all countries should be able to and are able to fly, sail, and operate anywhere where international law allows. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question goes to Sui-Lee Wee of The New York Times, who’s based in Bangkok. Sui-Lee, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Great, thank you. Can you tell us whether the issue of Taiwan was discussed during the talks between President Biden and President Marcos? And if so, can you provide any specifics? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Sui-Lee, thanks. Thanks very much for your comment – your question, rather. I’m not in a position to comment definitively on whether that matter came up, but what I can state, I think with some confidence, is that the United States together with partners, including our allies in the Philippines, recognize the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. And that is something that I think is increasingly evident to partners around the world, and I’m confident that friends in the Philippines share that concern as well.
And I would refer you, Sui-Lee, to the joint statement that President Biden and President Marcos issued yesterday, and you may have noted there is a line in the joint statement of the two presidents in which they stated they “affirm the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element of global security and prosperity.” Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Our next question was submitted in advance from Duy Linh Hang of Tuoi Tre newspaper in Vietnam, who asks: “When will the joint U.S.-Philippine patrol plan in the South China Sea begin? Is the U.S. looking to establish a new Quad in East Asia based on treaty allies, including the U.S., the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thank you, Katie. Always a pleasure to hear from my old friends in Hanoi at Tuoi Tre newspaper. I’d say a couple of things. As I tried to indicate in responding to the previous question, I think that I’d refer you to our Department of Defense colleagues for any comments on future operations together, including in the maritime domain. But I will just reiterate: Our two militaries cooperate on matters each and every day, and we’ve already conducted joint maritime activities and I’m confident those will continue.
On your question I guess regarding what you called a new Quad, I would say no. We’re not looking to establish a new Quad. I think what we are trying to do is, again, in every way possible demonstrate the strength and the credibility of America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region and to our allies, partners, and friends – including, of course, our treaty ally the Philippines.
I think it’s important to note here, too, that an important element of our engagement as well, though, is that I think it’s important to identify synergies between likeminded partners and explore ways in which informal cooperation might be conducted on a trilateral or other basis. I think as both President Marcos and President Biden noted yesterday, I think there may be opportunities in the future for such close allies as the United States, Philippines, and Japan to look at ways that maybe we could expand our cooperation. Similarly, the United States, the Philippines, and Australia may be able to do the same as well.
But that – we’re not looking to establish any new formal mechanisms in the Indo-Pacific at this point. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: All right. Our next question goes to Si Yang from Voice of America, based in Washington. You should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Hi, Si Yang from the Voice of America. So the Chinese official media quoted the Chinese expert saying that the United States is dragging the Philippines into the potential conflict over Taiwan. So I’d like to hear your comments on that. Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Well, thank you, Si Yang. Well, look, here’s what I would say. If you look at the joint statement from yesterday, in many ways it celebrates the 75 – the more than 75-year-old alliance between the United States and the Philippines. And in that joint statement, we outlined again a joint vision for a region that is peaceful and stable, where all countries big and small play by the same rules, where large countries do not bully the weak.
So the fact that friends in Beijing would issue a statement somehow expressing concern about that I think is noteworthy, but also somewhat puzzling. I’m confident that the United States and the Philippines, again, share a vision for a peaceful and stable region. That is what we’re focused on. And I think I’ve commented on this many times, as have other American officials: The U.S. position when it comes to the cross-strait situation and our own “one China” policy remains unchanged, as it has for more than four decades now. We support the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo by either side. And we insist that cross-strait differences be resolved peacefully.
I think it’s very clear to us, and I think through a range of joint statements over the last couple of years it’s also increasingly clear to a number of partners around the globe, that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is a matter of international concern. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Our next question goes to Phil Heijmans from Bloomberg, based in Singapore. Phil, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Hi there, and thank you very much for doing this. I wanted to ask you, the White House highlighted in its report this week the major investments in the Philippine telco space, hundreds of millions of dollars in the semiconductor industry there. Could you please go into some detail about whether the U.S. sees the Philippines as a hub, whether it’s trying to develop the Philippines for this?
And also secondly, just real quickly, the Philippines has been very defiant regarding saying it won’t cooperate with the ICC investigation into Duterte-era killings for his drug war. I wonder if this was discussed with President Marcos and what the U.S. stance on this issue is. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: All right, Phil. Let me try to take your questions one by one.
I guess on the first question, I think what I would say is that in the context of this visit, we really had an opportunity to highlight the close economic ties between the U.S. and the Philippines. And if you look, for example, at the fact sheet that the U.S. side issued on the alliance, we really tried to highlight some of the close cooperation, the deep trade ties and investment ties.
And you are right that the Philippines economy is quite vibrant, and I think both in the tech sector and the telecoms sector. Look, there are important opportunities there. And I think reflecting that, I hope you noted that President Biden has decided to dispatch for the first time a presidential trade and investment mission to the Philippines on his behalf. We’ve decided to bring the next Indo-Pacific Business Forum to Manila, where the U.S. and the Philippines will co-host that event together with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. And we’ve also decided to open an open RAN 5G interoperability lab, and also we’ve taken steps to promote our infrastructure and transportation links and even our space cooperation.
So I think that the main point I would make, Phil, is that this is a broad and deep relationship. I think given our history and the strength of our alliance, there’s often a focus on the security relationship. But I hope that this week’s visit also really highlighted just how important our economic and trade ties are as well.
Now, look, on the ICC issue, I’m not aware that that issue was addressed. But what I would say is that, look, this is one of our closest alliance relationships and partnerships that we have in the world. We do have the opportunity to discuss a range of issues, including human rights, and we do so on a regular basis and I’m confident that we’ll continue to do so going forward. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. We have time for one last question, from Ahyoung Kim in – at SBS in Seoul, who asks: “What would you say to those who say the Washington Declaration has been announced, but extended deterrence measures are still not enough?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Well, Katie, thanks very much, and always delighted to take a question from our friends in the Korean press corps as well. I’d say just a couple of things. Look, as we had the opportunity to discuss at great length last week, again, the visit of another vitally important treaty ally – the visit of ROK President Yoon last week – was just a tremendous success, and again, further, I think, demonstrates the strength of America’s commitment to the region and to our allies. Again, we thought that the President Yoon visit was incredibly successful for both countries. We thought the Washington Declaration is an historic document that should make absolutely crystal clear the strength of America’s commitment to our security treaty obligations and to the security and the safety of the Republic of Korea.
I think the Washington Declaration in particular is an historic document because it outlines for the first time some of the extraordinary measures that the United States has agreed to undertake together with our ROK allies to make crystal clear for all concerned the strength of our extended deterrence commitments. And what I would say is that no one should question – under those commitments no one should question the ironclad commitment of the United States to the security of the ROK, and no one should question our commitment under those agreements to use all elements of American national power and all aspects of America’s deterrent capability to defend our ROK allies. And I hope that is absolutely clear.
MODERATOR: All right. Now, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, if you have any closing remarks, I’ll turn it back over to you for the last words.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Well, Katie, again, I’ll just thank you and particularly thank all the members of the press corps for whom we have such great respect for joining me this evening, or early your morning depending on where you are. I’ve enjoyed our conversation. We have tremendous respect and appreciation for what you do, and I look forward to our next opportunity to engage. Thanks so much for arranging this.
MODERATOR: All right. That’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for your questions, and thanks to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink for joining us. We will provide a transcript of this briefing to participating journalists as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another briefing soon.