QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Assistant Secretary, for giving us this opportunity. So let me start with a question about Korea. Now the Japanese are strengthening restrictions on their exports of strategic resources to Korea, and now Korea has raised a great concern about it. What is the U.S. position on this issue?
A/S STILWELL: The U.S. position on Alliance issues is that we need to do whatever we can to keep these alliances strong and to prevent gaps, seams, fissures between our strongest allies in Northeast Asia. The U.S. encourages Korea and Japan to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship, look for areas of cooperation, and get through these bumps that happen in all relationships and encourage both sides to sit down and talk and find a positive way out from this current situation.
QUESTION: So how does the United States intend to get involved in these issues, this specific issue?
A/S STILWELL: As I said, the intent is to encourage both sides to find a path to return the relationship to the positive, where it needs to be.
QUESTION: So are you going to discuss this issue with your counterpart this time?
A/S STILWELL: I don’t plan to mediate or engage, other than again to encourage both sides to focus on the key issues in the region, especially with North Korea. There’s a lot of work to be done so having Japan and an ally having tensions is not very helpful.
QUESTION: Do you have any concern about strengthening Japanese exports, Japanese behavior?
A/S STILWELL: Again, I don’t want to get into details and I certainly don’t want to get in the middle of that. There’s a diplomatic solution to this. With the right attitude, both sides will approach this in a positive sense, and I think the solution will be easy. They just need to start talking.
QUESTION: The relationship has not been good over the past month or the past year. Do you have concern about that?
A/S STILWELL: I return to previous times. In 1965 and 1995, both sides saw it in their interest to resolve these issues. I hope that we get back those eras. Relations fluctuate. And it will fluctuate back into the positive soon, I hope.
QUESTION: I’d like to move to the Iran issue. As you said yesterday, you have a plan to discuss Iran with your counterpart this time.
A/S STILWELL: Sure. I mentioned that issue like Iran and North Korea would be areas of concern. Japan’s interests, global interests, and U.S. global interests align very neatly. As you know, the Japanese JMSDF has participated in the counter-piracy activity in the Gulf of Aden – CTF-151 for quite a while. Shipping and those things are very important to a country like Japan and the U.S. We do global business. Disruptions in those things certainly don’t help anyone. Current issues with respect to Iran also need to be addressed because they have the potential to affect energy flows, trade, and other things. As far as specifics, I’m not prepared to talk about those on this trip. Iran’s in the realm of Mr. Hook in the State Department, and I will defer to him on how he wants to address that with Japan.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate on the idea of coalition, which Gen. Dunford mentioned the other day?
A/S STILWELL: Sure. I can’t speak to what Gen. Dunford’s intent is on that, but as I just mentioned earlier, the fact that we’ve had positive cooperation with Japan and others in the Gulf of Aden counterpiracy, I think he’s just saying maybe we can expand on that, but again I don’t want to get ahead of Defense. I would rather Gen. Dunford answer that question.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea that the DOD or Pentagon has already discussed this issue with Japan?
A/S STILWELL: I can’t say, I don’t know. Look I’ve been on the job for three weeks. I’ve been reading, trying to get up to speed on my area very diligently so I’m not going to speculate beyond what I’ve been spending most of my time trying to learn right now.
QUESTION: Are you not going to request anything from Japan at this time with respect to coalitions?
A/S STILWELL: I have no intention of addressing this, no.
QUESTION: You’re not going to request to Japan to participate in this coalition?
A/S STILWELL: I have no …
QUESTION: OK, thank you. I’d like to ask about North Korea. You testified during your nomination hearing that the most urgent issue is North Korea. Could you identify some of the leverage that the U.S. might be able to use over North Korea to denuclearize?
A/S STILWELL: As you watch the Korean nuclear program grow, I was in Kunsan, in Korea in 1994 flying F-16s at the time of Yongbyon, if you remember. In 1994 that came to a head, and then President Carter offered to mediate. What North Korea wants is security. In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union – they had a strong military relationship with the Soviet Union and an economic relationship, and when that went away, we had the problems with famine and all the rest with North Korea. I think they made the determination that in terms of security, having a nuclear program would provide them the greatest deterrent effect and give them the greatest sense of security. Our message to North Korea all along has been your nuclear program makes you less secure and not more secure. The leverage I think that you’re asking about would be to find a way to convince North Korea that the nuclear program is not helping them with security, and offer them other ways, assurances in building trust to help them to take a less militant and threatening approach to their own security. I think we can do that, and I think the President is taking some very positive steps in getting out of what has been a rather predictable and unfortunately non-productive approach to North Korea. So, I’m optimistic.
QUESTION: You’re optimistic. So do you believe that North Korea will denuclearize some day in the near future?
A/S STILWELL: I think so. I think Kim Il-Sung had his own agenda, and Kim Jong-Il followed through. I think Kim Jong-Un, with his experience in Switzerland and elsewhere, having been outside North Korea, he’s taking a different approach to his own security. He’s actually thinking about the economy and those things, so it depends on us, the region – Japan and Korea as well – to offer them those assurances. At the same time, we have to address things like abductees, short-, medium- and long-range missiles, and all the rest. The missile subject – I was here in the ‘90s..In 1998, we were doing an exercise in Misawa. A Taepodong missile landed right off the coast and surprised everybody. We didn’t know if we were under attack or what. It looks like it was a failed attempt to launch. So the thoughts of short-, medium- and long-range missiles are very near to me, and I’ve experienced it first-hand.
QUESTION: I understand your colleague, Special Representative Biegun, restarted the negotiation process with NK, and so he has told the press that the United States needs to take a flexible approach to move the negotiations forward. So can you elaborate on what he means by a flexible approach?
A/S STILWELL: I think we’ve demonstrated that approach, as I’ve just said. You know, the President meeting with the leader of North Korea – to date we’ve always decided, for good reasons, that that was probably not the right thing to do at the time. But given Kim Jong-Un’s different approach to his own security, it made sense. Things like having the President meet – there are lots of other ways that we can help, as I said, reassure them that their security is not at risk and that taking positive steps will only help them with their economy, their own people, and all those things that they know they need, for their own security.
QUESTION: On the other hand, North Korea wants you to ease sanctions or lift sanctions at the same time. Do you think this is a good idea?
A/S STILWELL: If past is prologue, and if history is any indication, it’s probably not a good idea. What we’ve seen through the Six Party Talks and many things is an effort to entice them, to encourage them to take positive steps, and generally we lead off by relieving sanctions or by offering something, and I can’t tell you the time, in my experience, when we have gotten anything in return for that. So the current approach, as I understand it, is that we’re going to have to see very positive steps from North Korea to follow through with their commitments. We’re not going to offer them relief until we see that they’re genuinely interested in living up to their commitments
QUESTION: President Trump also hinted at the possibility of lifting partial sanctions during his statement to the media at Panmunjom. So do you think that this means the United States will take a step-by-step approach?
A/S STILWELL: We’ve learned from the past – I’m not saying we don’t do that, but the goal is denuclearization, complete and verifiable denuclearization, and we’ve learned from the past that they’re very reluctant to do so, and we’re going to have to use pressure and other things to get them to do that. So we’re learning that lifting pressure too early is not going to get you the desired impact. But I’m not going to say, and I’m certainly not going to get into Special Representative Biegun’s way on this subject. They have a plan, and I’m sure it’s a good one. I’m going to sit back along with you and watch how it turns out.
QUESTION: So now, turning to the Japan-U.S. relationship, what topic would you be most interested in negotiating with the government of Japan with your counterparts during this trade war, within a year from now?
A/S STILWELL: The subject is economics or security, or what?
QUESTION: Everything. Among these main topics, what is the most interesting?
A/S STILWELL: Well, as I said yesterday at my arrival at the airport, our strategic alliance is very strong. It’s the cornerstone of our policy here in the region. So we will address all of those, but from where I sit, the relationship is in a very good spot right now. It’s very positive. But relationships can’t remain static, right? Because the background is always changing. The context is changing. The strategic setting here in the Pacific is always changing, and because of that – that’s why we have these conversations on a regular basis, because the Alliance is going to have to change to adapt.
To me, I’m very comfortable coming here at this particular time, especially early on in my stay, because I think everything is moving in the right direction, and I want to work with my counterparts to continue that.
QUESTION: You said the U.S.-Japan Alliance is the cornerstone of stability in this region, and the United States has always reiterated this idea. On the other hand, as you may know, we are confused by the words of President Trump. He complained that the treaty is unfair and the U.S. burden is too heavy. How do you intend to reflect these Presidential words in U.S. policy?
A/S STILWELL: As I mentioned previously, if the situation in the Pacific today were the same as it was in 1961 when the Alliance was first developed, there would be no need to negotiate or change, right? But as we know, the situation in the Pacific is changing rapidly, due to a number of issues that we can talk about elsewhere. So the Alliance, the relationship, the cooperation, and those things need to adapt as well. And I look forward to a very positive interaction with my counterparts here. But I also expect we’re going to have a discussion on areas where we can increase cooperation, and these things have to stay in motion and be dynamic. So we’ll have that discussion.
QUESTION: When you talk about increasing the cooperation, do you have any specific idea – in what kind of fields do we need to improve?
A/S STILWELL: We will let the experts talk about specifics, but for examples, the U.S.-Japan approach to the Senkakus or to the South China Sea, to quadrilateral cooperation with India and Australia – these are all very positive developments since I came here in 1995, and the level of commitment by Japan since 1995 has increased considerably. We anticipate that it will continue to increase. It’s in Japan’s interest as well, as much as for the U.S. and certainly in terms of the Alliance.
QUESTION: Do you think that the treaty is unfair?
A/S STILWELL: I wouldn’t say that, but as I said, it needs to be adjusted or adapted to current conditions.
QUESTION: We understand the negotiations for U.S.-Japan host-nation support will begin within a year. Do you also share the President’s view that Japan should pay more? The Japanese government is insisting that it is paying a larger share than other countries. So what will be the idea for that negotiation?
A/S STILWELL: I think you understand in our political system, by definition I share the President’s perspective. I’m nominated by the President. And I do see room to address these issues, but I will also say that having personal experience with host-nation support as the commander in Misawa Air Base, it was a great cooperative relationship in terms of working with the 3rd Air Wing, my counterpart from the Air Self Defense Forces there, and working with the city and others. And so, again, we can work on the President’s desire to expand and improve, and that cooperation, I think, will benefit Japan as well in ways that are win-win, in the true sense of that word. And I think there is a positive outcome here. We’ll work through the deliberations in the process.
QUESTION: So you mean you have some intention to negotiate to increase host-nation support?
A/S STILWELL: At this time I don’t. That’s not on the agenda for this trip. I’ll go back and work with my staff to get a better idea of when and where and what that negotiation looks like.
QUESTION: So turning to China, there are a lot of things to deal with like 5G and trade, and intellectual property rights, and expansion of its military power in the world. Can you point at the most urgent issue?
A/S STILWELL: I would say that the most important issue with respect to China in the region, and I think globally, is the idea of governance. You look at what President Xi Jinping has put out here since he arrived in 2012 – two volumes of a book called “The Governance of China” – and if you look at what he has said officially in all these areas, it’s that they want to change the way the world operates, this system that has developed over the last seventy-something years that accommodates the interests of everyone. He wants to adjust that to accommodate increasing the interest of the PRC. That itself is not a bad thing. As I said, the situation changes and we need to adapt to that. Unfortunately there is a sense of changing things to reflect the way government happens inside China, which is a totally different approach than what exists now. You know, in the region we have a system where, big country, small country – all treated the same. The U.N. – it levels the playing field for all countries.
Remember in 2010 at the ASEAN Regional Forum, Yang Jiechi made the statement, in exasperation unfortunately, that China is a big country – “You all are small countries, and that’s just the way it is.” My concern is that this governance concept that China is pushing right now is a big-power, might-makes-right approach, and maybe dictating terms to others. So we need to understand that better, and I think we need to address that.
QUESTION: With respect to China’s expansion of military power, we are experiencing some intrusions around the Senkaku islands, and Chinese ships have encroached within 12 nautical miles of the Senkaku islands, so we raised a great concern to China, but China is still repeatedly encroaching with its ships in the area. Do you have any concern about that?
A/S STILWELL: As I said earlier, 2010 was sort of a watershed year. It was also the year we had the collision between a Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese coast guard – you remember that? And it resulted in a trade war, embargoing rare earth minerals. So of course I’m concerned.
The bigger concern, I believe, is when you put military forces in close proximity and high intensity. There’s always a risk for miscalculation and accidental things that then escalate. This is where the security alliance is an important message to the PRC that the U.S. understands and is very interested in preventing those sorts of things. And I think to date that has worked very well. And back to the Alliance, I think it’s a very important tool and a positive force in the region. I look forward to developing it further.
QUESTION: In the South China Sea, do you have any concern about their behavior, with respect to the militarization of the islands?
A/S STILWELL: Obviously I do, and U.S. policy has addressed this as well. Today happens to be the third anniversary of the 2016 International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea ruling that also said the United Nations and the world share those concerns about basically developing features on disputed territories. One party could claim them as their own, but there are lots of others that also claim the Spratlys and the Paracels. So we need to get back to negotiations and talks and stop taking unilateral actions that put everyone in a bad position. Unfortunately those islands start off as simple features, and in spite of being labeled as lighthouses and shelters for fishermen, they very clearly are military facilities. That narrative has changed over time. We kind of all knew that it was, and sure enough it became what we thought it was going to be – airbases, ports, and military facilities.
QUESTION: China fired six missiles, according to U.S. government officials. Do you have any information on the latest assessment of these missiles? Are these anti-ship ballistic missiles?
A/S STILWELL: I don’t have any more information on that. My military background makes me curious, but I don’t. I do think it speaks to the larger trend, though, of using force to get its way. As China feels its strength growing –economic and military strength – there’s this sense that it’s going to use that strength to drive its own agenda. Fortunately you have not just one country, but all countries in the region are expressing concern. ASEAN as a group are expressing concern at these activities. So I think we should take a big step back and look at the trends in the region, not the individual incidents, and we see something that’s not in the interest of all of us. And you’re seeing the people push back, so that’s good.
QUESTION: How is the United States going to deal with the militarization of these islands?
A/S STILWELL: We’re strongest when we coordinate with like-minded allies and others. I’m going to the Philippines next, and then to Seoul, and then to Thailand. Four of our five allies – we’ll be in Australia shortly after that. And when more than one country pushes back and resists these things, multilateral resistance is impossible for the PRC to ignore and has proven very effective in the past. We don’t have to solve it immediately. The trend is positive, and we’ll keep working at it.
QUESTION: Japanese ships have recently crossed over the South China Sea so Japan sent its biggest ships to that area, so do you think the Japanese navy or Japanese military should play a bigger role in the area? Do you expect more activity by the Japanese military?
A/S STILWELL: The introduction and the decision by the Japanese government to increase its activity in what we all agree are international waters, as all defense secretaries have said for years, is that we will all continue to fly, sail, and operate in those regions that are international waters, despite what some countries might claim. Japan has an interest in free flow of goods, and energy certainly, through the South China Sea. And so it’s in Japan’s interest, it’s in the U.S. interest, and it’s in the Alliance’s interest to make sure that any further attempts to nationalize or control that – you have an interest in doing that, so it’s a good thing.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir.