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 Taylor Ruggles, Director for Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands at the U.S. Department of State, and Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, National Security Council Director for the Indo-Pacific. The speakers will provide a readout of the May 20th Quad leaders’ meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, and Secretary Blinken’s travel to Papua New Guinea.
With that, let’s get started. Director Ruggles, I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
DIRECTOR RUGGLES: Thank you, Katie. Good morning, everybody. It’s great to be speaking with everyone today on the heels of Secretary Blinken’s trip to Hiroshima, where he joined President Biden in the G7 leaders’ meetings, and Port Moresby. We’re excited to discuss the Quad Leaders’ Summit, key deliverables from the Secretary’s visit to Papua New Guinea, and engagements with Pacific Island leaders. I’ll provide some general remarks about the Secretary’s travel to Papua New Guinea and then I’ll turn things over to Mira to speak about the Quad summit and President Biden’s engagements in Hiroshima.
Following the conclusion of the G7 meetings, Secretary Blinken traveled to Port Moresby, where he met with Pacific Islands Forum leaders on behalf of President Biden. And of course, as you are tracking, ahead of the Secretary’s trip, President Biden did call Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea to personally convey his disappointment that he would be unable to travel to Port Moresby to meet with the PIF leaders and informed the prime minister Secretary Blinken would represent him.
At the U.S.-PIF Leaders Dialogue in Port Moresby, Secretary Blinken and Pacific Island leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Declaration of U.S.-Pacific Partnership that was issued at the White House summit last September. They discussed a range of issues, including shared priorities such as tackling the climate crisis and advancing inclusive economic growth for people in the Pacific Islands.
The Secretary also highlighted the U.S. commitment to realize a prosperous, resilient, and secure Pacific Islands region. As part of these discussions, the Secretary highlighted our commitment to working with Congress for over $7.2 billion in new funding and programs for the Pacific Islands region. Now, this includes over $45 million in new programming for Papua New Guinea, as well as $7.2 billion spread out over 20 years to extend assistance under the Compacts of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of Marshall Islands.
I’m happy to elaborate on some of the new funding and programming they announced in the questions-and-answers session later on, but in short, the Secretary announced updates on progress made since the September Washington summit, and those include opening new embassies and a new USAID mission in the Pacific, returning the Peace Corps to the region, supporting the PIF to address climate change adaptation, launching new people-to-people initiatives, and building trade and investment ties, including through a U.S. business delegation to visit the region in the coming year.
Now, the United States is also working with likeminded partners through the Partners in the Blue Pacific to collectively support Pacific priorities as outlined in the Pacific Islands Forum 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. Secretary Blinken also conveyed President Biden’s invitation to Pacific Island leaders to visit Washington, D.C., later this year for the second U.S. summit with Pacific Islands Forum leaders, and we look forward to continuing these important discussions with PIF leaders later this year in Washington.
Now, of course Secretary Blinken also met bilaterally with Prime Minister Marape on behalf of prime minister – sorry, on behalf of President Biden to discuss enhancing our bilateral partnership with Papua New Guinea on promoting inclusive and sustainable development as well as increased security cooperation. The Secretary signed a bilateral Defense Cooperation Agreement, which, when it enters into force, will serve as the foundational framework upon which our two countries can enhance security cooperation and further strengthen our bilateral relationship, improve the capacity of the PNG Defence Force, and increase stability and security in the region.
The Defense Cooperation Agreement builds on decades of defense cooperation with Papua New Guinea, and will update and modernize our bilateral security relationship, superseding the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, that dates from 1989. In addition, the DCA will allow the United States to better support our partners and allies across the region in times of crisis such as those involving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Now, the Secretary and prime minister also signed a comprehensive bilateral Agreement to Counter Illicit Transnational Maritime Activity through joint at-sea operations. This agreement will enable the U.S. Coast Guard’s shiprider program to partner with and enhance Papua New Guinea’s maritime governance capacity, enhancing their ability to exercise authority and enforce their laws and regulations where they have jurisdiction. Notably, this agreement will help combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated – or IUU – fishing by closing global gaps in enforcement, improving cooperation, coordination, and interoperability and building Papua New Guinea’s overall maritime governance capacity.
So you’re probably all eager to get to the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, so I’m going to stop there and hand it over to Mira.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Director Ruggles. So Dr. Rapp-Hooper, over to you for your opening remarks.
DR RAPP-HOOPER: Thank you both so much, and thanks to you all for being here. As you all know, the President just got back from a very successful trip to Hiroshima, where he attended the G7 and participated in a series of important engagements with our Indo-Pacific allies. The President expressed clear and consistent commitment to deepening collaboration with our partners in the region to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
While the G7 was obviously a significant portion of this trip, I’d like to focus this evening on the President’s other engagements in Hiroshima, to include his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Kishida of Japan, his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Albanese of Australia, his trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Kishida of Japan and President Yoon of South Korea, and the third in-person meeting of the Quad leaders. I’ll highlight just a few points about each.
I’ll start first on the President’s meeting with Prime Minister Kishida. On Thursday, the President held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan, where he underscored that the U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of regional prosperity and peace, reaffirmed U.S. extended deterrence commitments using the full range of U.S. capabilities, and committed to continue deepening the bilateral relationship to advance our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
On Saturday, the President held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Albanese of Australia, where they announced the U.S.-Australia Climate, Critical Minerals, and Clean Energy Transformation Compact, a landmark new joint initiative to accelerate the clean energy transition. The two leaders also reaffirmed commitments to a deeper cooperation on defense capabilities, emerging technology, and upholding the rules-based international order.
Also on Saturday, the President participated in the third in-person meeting of the Quad leaders. The Quad continues to be an essential Indo-Pacific partnership that is making tangible progress on pressing challenges contributing to regional peace, good governance, and prosperity. During their summit, which was chaired by Australian Prime Minister Albanese, the leaders shared strategic assessments and welcomed new forms of cooperation on secure digital technologies, submarine cables, infrastructure capacity building, climate resilience, clean energy, and maritime domain awareness, among other areas.
As noted in the Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement, they reaffirmed our steadfast commitment to a free, open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific; they reaffirmed their resolve to uphold peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific maritime domain; they expressed strong opposition to any destabilizing actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion; and emphasized the importance of adherence to international law. They also outlined a positive, practical agenda to act on pressing challenges like the climate crisis, sustainable infrastructure development, and making our cyberspace more secure. The leaders further emphasized these objectives and shared values in a vision statement, which underscored our shared commitment to delivering results for the people of the Indo-Pacific through major initiatives in key areas like infrastructure, maritime security, climate, health, and critical and emerging technologies.
Finally, the President held a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Kishida of Japan and President Yoon of the Republic of Korea, where the President commended Prime Minister Kishida and President Yoon on their courageous work to improve their bilateral ties, noting that our trilateral partnership and the Indo-Pacific are stronger because of those bilateral efforts.
Now, as I think you can see, the President’s engagements in Japan and Secretary Blinken’s engagements in Papua New Guinea show the United States’ continued focus on collaboration with our Indo-Pacific allies and partners across a number of critical fronts. The administration has spent the last two and a half years building and revitalizing the alliances and partnerships, and we believe this trip is an example of how that investment is now paying dividends for us all.
With that, I’ll stop and turn it back for some questions. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Rapp-Hooper. We will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. Our first question goes to Brent O’Halloran of Sky News, based in China, who asks: “What’s changed – if anything at all – since this G7 Leaders’ Summit? How have the communiques and agreements (or even remarks) affected the U.S. role in the region?” Over to our speakers.
DR RAPP-HOOPER: Thanks so much. This is Mira, and I’m happy to take that question. I’ll note before diving in that we are going to remain primarily focused on non-G7 engagements during this call, but happy to answer this question on a high level.
As I think you all will have seen, the White House and other G7 nations released a number of statements, fact sheets, and transcripts reflecting the G7 engagement, outcomes, and plans for future cooperation. The summit in Hiroshima showed very clearly that the G7 is more united than ever across a variety of fronts. The G7 is united on Ukraine, united on the People’s Republic of China, united on its vision for economic security, united on its drive to build clean energy economies of the future, united in its opposition to nuclear proliferation and nuclear use, and united on fighting poverty and responding to global challenges like the climate crisis around the world.
This unity, of course, is not just a focus of G7 nations, but extends to many of our shared commitments in the Indo-Pacific, where all of the G7 partners are now more engaged than they ever have been before.
The joint communique involved the leaders reiterating the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific which is inclusive, prosperous, secure, based on the rule of law, protects the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, peaceful resolution of disputes, and the fundamental freedoms of human rights. Given the importance of this region, G7 members and our partners have taken on a number of different initiatives and roles in the Indo-Pacific to help strengthen engagement.
I would also note that at the G7, leaders underscored their commitment to strengthen coordination with regional partners, including ASEAN and its member states, and of course reaffirmed our unwavering support for ASEAN centrality and unity, and our commitment to promoting cooperation in line with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.
I’ll note that the leaders also reaffirmed their partnership with the Pacific Island countries and the need to support Pacific Island nations’ priorities in accordance with the Pacific Islands Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
In conclusion, what I would say was the most obvious takeaway and the most obvious change from the G7 this year is the fact that it’s now abundantly clear that our European allies and partners are completely invested in the Indo-Pacific and our Indo-Pacific allies and partners are deeply invested in outcomes in Europe as well. So the G7 increasingly does really represent strong consensus amongst allies and partners in these two critical regions towards working for a common vision.
I’ll stop there.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the live queue and goes to Tetsuo Shintomi of Kyodo News. You should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Hi, I hope you can hear me.
MODERATOR: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for doing this call. I would like to ask on Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Dialogue in PNG. Obviously, China has been uneasy to see United States seeking stronger ties with Pacific Island countries. And just before Secretary Blinken’s visit, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said publicly that he opposed introduction of any geopolitical gains into this region. So I’m wondering if United States had any dialogue with China – specifically on this Pacific Islands Forum – and explained its purpose to China in order to avoid any misunderstanding. Thank you.
DIRECTOR RUGGLES: Hi, this is Taylor. I’ll take that. Our engagement with the Pacific is not about any third country. The United States is a Pacific country; we’re a Pacific nation and we have deep and longstanding ties to the countries of the Pacific that aren’t just our neighbors but our friends. And so we approach the dialogue with the PIF – we’re a dialogue partner. We’re not a member of the PIF. The PRC is also a dialogue partner. There are several European countries that are dialogue partners. Canada as well is a dialogue partner. And so we are engaging with the PIF respectfully as a way to discuss our shared visions for the Pacific region, building on our exchanges that we held at the summit last September. And as I mentioned in my introductory remarks, we jointly issued a Declaration of U.S.-Pacific Partnership, which is really that shared roadmap that we and the Pacific Island countries have set forward together.
How other countries engage with the Pacific Islands, that’s certainly up to them, but that’s not – that doesn’t shape the way we engage with the Pacific Islands. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Our next question goes to the live queue, to Rishikesh Kumar, who comes to us from the Press Trust of India in Delhi. You should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: Hi. So my question is when Prime Minister Modi was in PNG, PNG prime minister said that Pacific countries are a victim of the geopolitics. So – and they want India to play some kind of role in this segment. So India has just announced a 12-point agenda for the Pacific countries. So what kind of role you see India can play as USA’s – India’s a strategic partner. So what kind of role India can play in this – in this region? Thank you.
DIRECTOR RUGGLES: Well, I’ll start off, but I may see if Mira wants to talk about the Quad, because when I think about India and the region, clearly as a close Quad partner along with Australia and Japan, we’re working very actively in – together and engaging in the region. Of course you saw during the COVID period, working to provide vaccines to the affected countries as just one area.
But I’ll just say again we welcome India’s engagement in the region broadly speaking. India is not a member of the Partners in the Blue Pacific, but it is an observer. And so part of the way that we have worked with other likeminded countries, including Australia and New Zealand, Japan, Korea, now Canada, Germany as well, but the EU, France, and India as observers, is really to find ways that we can leverage our combined efforts to respond to Pacific Island needs.
So again, welcome India playing a role and certainly respective of their historic relationships with many countries in the region, and really just want to leverage each other’s capabilities to advance development and a free and open Indo-Pacific in the region.
But Mira, did you want to comment any further on Quad-related work?
DR RAPP-HOOPER: Yeah, I’m happy to, Taylor. And thanks so much for the question. As someone who is deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of the Quad, I can say that I see every day many examples of Indian friends and partners exercising a huge amount of regional leadership that allows us to engage more constructively as partners in the region.
I think a great example of a form of Quad cooperation that I would emphasize here is the Quad’s Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness. This was a project that was launched at last year’s Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo, in which the Quad pledged to bring a new, cutting-edge maritime domain awareness capability to partners around the region, with the aim of bringing it to Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands. This is the new technology which will allow many of our partners to see much better pictures of the waters near their shores, near-real-time pictures that will allow them to combat illegal fishing, to respond to climate change, and to provide more timely assistance in the case of humanitarian or natural disasters – excuse me – amongst other uses.
And when we made this pledge back in Tokyo to set up IPMDA, the Quad quickly set about to craft a structure that would allow each member to take on a leadership role. That’s exactly what’s happened in the year that’s passed since. The United States has taken the lead on bringing this capability to countries in Southeast Asia where that data is flowing, and we’re working closely with countries in a pilot program. Australia is now taking the lead on bringing this capability to the Pacific Islands through the Forum Fisheries Association, with support from Japan; and India is taking the lead on bringing this capability to the Indian Ocean region through the Indian Ocean Fusion Center and has, again, exercised quite a lot of leadership to make sure that it can deliver this capability to the Indian Ocean region promptly.
So I think in this model of each Quad partner kind of dividing and conquering to get the work done, we see one of the many benefits with working with close friends like India, where by dividing up a big and daunting task we can cover the waterfront of the region and deliver something that’s practical and useful to our partners who need it. Over.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question goes to Andrew Beatty of AFP, based in Australia, who asks: “How/when are President Biden’s trips to Australia and Papua New Guinea going to be rescheduled? The diary is looking pretty tight before the U.S. gets into campaign season and the election. Wondering if you could comment on the compact-related agreements with Micronesia. How important is that given the context in the region?” Over to our speakers.
DR RAPP-HOOPER: Thanks. I’m happy to speak briefly to the President’s trip, and then I’m happy to hand it over to Taylor to speak about the compacts. We certainly appreciate the question. Needless to say, it was not necessarily planned at all to have to reschedule the President’s trips to both Australia and PNG, although of course I think the circumstances are clear. What the President did in the immediate aftermath of realizing that he would have to return home to deal with the economic situation posed by the debt ceiling was immediately reach out to his counterparts in both PNG and in Australia so that while any rescheduling of his trips is pending, we can make sure that he and those leaders have close contact in the very immediate term.
So he spoke first to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia, who he invited to visit the United States for a state visit this fall. Prime Minister Albanese graciously accepted on the spot, and I can say that the two leaders discussed that upcoming engagement when they saw each other in Hiroshima, and our teams are already starting the planning efforts for that visit.
Likewise, when the President spoke with Prime Minister Marape and let him know of his need to cancel his stop in PNG, he also made clear that he intended to invite the Pacific Island leaders to the United States for a second Pacific summit in Washington. And when Secretary Blinken traveled to PNG just a couple of days ago, he carried with him a letter that was signed by the President formally inviting the leaders of the PIF to come to Washington for a return summit.
So I can say with great confidence that both of those engagements are already being scheduled, and while certainly the President looks forward to returning to both Australia and PNG, our very near-term focus will be on making sure that he is able to have deep and substantive engagements with all of the leaders who he intended to see this past week and that all the work we have ongoing with both sets of partners is carried forward with great momentum.
Taylor, over to you.
DIRECTOR RUGGLES: Great, thank you for the question. I’ll just say the Compacts of Free Association with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Marshall Islands, those three countries that form the Freely Associated States – some of our closest partners in the Pacific, where we have had longstanding, close ties. There are certain benefits in terms of their ability to travel and work in the United States. They serve in the U.S. military, actually at a higher per-capita-rated level than Americans from the mainland U.S. And so these are strong cultural, personal, as well as economic ties.
So clearly, the renewal of the compacts is important for the administration. The – as you saw, the – Ambassador Yun signed the compact with Palau and Papua New Guinea earlier today, and the Federated States of Micronesia, the head of our embassy – our chargé d’affaires – signed the compact with FSM, and we’re advancing negotiations with RMI. So broad support for these compacts that’ll have to be funded and approved by the Congress, and we’ll certainly work closely with Capitol Hill to do just that. But we see and expect bipartisan support for these agreements. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our last question, if we can squeeze one more in, goes to Kimberley Caines from The West Australian, who asks: “During the bilateral meeting between Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Albanese on Saturday, Mr. Biden said he would ask the U.S. Congress to add Australia as a domestic source in the U.S. Defense Production Act. Has this happened and does Australia have access to the Inflation Reduction Act? If not, is this likely to happen at some point?” Over to (inaudible).
DR RAPP-HOOPER: Thanks for the question. It’s an important one. President Biden’s comment and that particular deliverable from the bilateral summit are a statement of intent to seek status for Australia as a domestic source under the Defense Production Act. But that kicks off a process that involves a lot of consultation with Congress to actually ensure that Australia can qualify under the DPA. The President has made a request to Congress to add Australia as a domestic source under Title 3 of the Defense Production Act, which will allow the U.S. Government to invest in the production and purchase of Australian critical minerals, including mining and processing, critical technologies, and other strategic sectors.
So this is all to say it’s an important firs step in what we think will be a very consequential new category for Australia to occupy, but one that will take a little while to implement.
I’ll hand it over to Taylor to see what else he might like to add.
DIRECTOR RUGGLES: No, thanks, Mira. Nothing further to add.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, with that, Director Ruggles, if you have any closing remarks, I’ll turn it back over to you.
DIRECTOR RUGGLES: No, thanks. And thank you, everyone, again for your interest and for joining. I know there’s been of course a lot of interest in the fact that the President was unable to travel to Papua New Guinea, but I must say that Secretary Blinken was warmly welcomed not just by Prime Minister Marape but by the other Pacific Island leaders, certainly met with a lot of understanding of the circumstances in which we found ourselves, but I think it’s also useful to step back and reflect on just how much diplomatic activity and engagement there has been with the Pacific Islands region by this administration in the past year, as well as the steps we’ve taken in terms of – it was back in February of last year when Secretary Blinken addressed the Pacific Island leaders and said that we would open an embassy in the Solomon Islands and then Vice President Harris spoke to them virtually again in July, announcing plans for further embassies.
And in that period, we have opened an embassy in the Solomon Islands; we’ve opened an embassy in Tonga; we’re engaged in discussions to open an embassy in Kiribati and Vanuatu. And so moving quite, quite quickly to raise our presence and increase those channels of communication as well as engage in ways to respond to Pacific Island concerns and interests.
So this meeting that the Secretary had with Pacific Island leaders, it was an opportunity to reflect on the outcomes from the summit, but also lay the groundwork for further engagement, which you’ll see play out over the course of the North American summer and into the autumn, when we expect the next summit with the Pacific Islands to take place.
So more to come. Stay tuned. And thank you again for your – for turning in and your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Director Ruggles. I’ll now turn it over to Dr. Rapp-Hooper for any last words.
DR RAPP-HOOPER: Thanks so much. I’ll just pick up on Taylor’s closing remarks and note that in the wake of the need to reschedule the President’s trip, I think the efforts that we’ve seen in recent days – the convenings that have occurred both in Hiroshima and PNG – really underscore the deep connections that the United States has with its allies and partners throughout the region, and I think the deep reservoir of support for our leadership and our partnership in those parts of the region.
We often say that the Quad is intended to be a flexible, fit-for-purpose partnership that’s really just focused on getting work done that can benefit the people of the Indo-Pacific, and I think in many ways the Quad leaders showed that in spades in Hiroshima when they took a summit that was intended to be held over a full day in Sydney, Australia, and held it as a meeting on the sidelines of the G7, where they nonetheless had a really deep and warm conversation amongst four friends and partners, and where they succeeded in launching into the world a year’s worth of Quad work that includes deliverables on areas ranging from maritime domain awareness to open RAN technology deployments to the Pacific Islands to cooperation on submarine cables to efforts to build capacity on infrastructure.
So in many ways, that meeting on the sidelines of Hiroshima showed that no matter where in the world the Quad meets, it’s committed to getting the work done and committed to delivery for the Indo-Pacific. And in many ways, the benefit of being able to send Secretary Blinken to PNG to similarly roll out a really comprehensive set of deliverables and to connect with Pacific Island partners shows just the same: the U.S. level of commitment to that part of the region.
So we very much look forward to continued engagements throughout the summer and fall, particularly since we’ve now rescheduled the bilateral statements with Australia and the Pacific Island leaders’ summit. We’re expecting a very busy fall in Washington. That of course also includes the fact that President Biden invited President Yoon of South Korea and Prime Minister Kishida to the United States for a trilateral leaders’ summit, and the fact that the United States is hosting APEC this year in November.
So we will have a lot of action in the coming months, a lot more by way of opportunities to stay very closely engaged with our partners, and we’ll look forward to briefing you all as those events unfold in the coming months. Thanks so much.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today, and I’m sorry that we didn’t get to every single question. Thank you so much for your questions and your time, and thanks to Director Ruggles and Dr. Rapp-Hooper for joining us. We will provide a transcript of this briefing to participating journalists as soon as it’s available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us anytime at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another briefing soon.