NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Okay, thanks everyone for coming. We have today [Senior State Department Official One] and [Senior State Department Official Two]. This briefing will be on background, so it’s slightly different from the normal briefings that we’ve held here. You should use for attribution that a Senior State Department official has made whatever comment. We will provide a transcription afterward to all the people who attended. And with that, I turn the floor over to our briefers.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Good afternoon. I’m going to read you the first part of this, and then Senior Bureau Official Number Two will follow up, and then we’d be happy to answer your questions.
So happy to be here with you all and with my colleague here. Just a few things to offer. Today’s meeting was a historic first for our countries and a continued deepening of our cooperation to advance openness and economic prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. Secretary Pompeo and the foreign ministers of Australia, India, and Japan met to discuss collective efforts and our shared commitment to close cooperation on counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security cooperation, development finance, and cyber security efforts. These consultations provide a valuable opportunity to coordinate our efforts to further our shared visions for the Indo-Pacific region. I’ll just, as a side note, note this is my first event of its kind and this is many more for her even though she looks much younger than I do.
From the outset, the partnership between our countries has been defined by our shared democratic values and an enormous generosity of spirit. This Quad grouping originated in our four countries’ spontaneous humanitarian efforts after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 that devastated parts of the Indian Ocean region. Since November 2017, our senior officials have met four times to discuss ways in which we can deepen cooperation, and today we can be proud of concrete work together in areas from counterterrorism cooperation to cyber security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Ambassadors and other senior officials from our embassies have also met in several countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region to discuss ways to deepen cooperation among ourselves and with our partners. We are pleased at the progress the Quad has made in the past two years all in support of our complimentary visions for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Today, the four countries also reaffirmed their support for ASEAN centrality in the Indo-Pacific.
The U.S. looks forward to another Quad senior officials meeting on the sidelines of the November 2019 East Asia Summit in Bangkok. We are very much looking forward to future productive discussions that will serve as a jumping-off point for even deeper cooperation in areas of mutual interest to our four countries and to our friends and partners in ASEAN and beyond.
Thank you, and now I’ll turn over the microphone to my colleague, SBO Two.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, let me just add a little bit. It’s been very satisfying to help stand up the Quad mechanism under the Trump administration, and today’s meeting really is a very important elevation to the ministerial level. We’ve met four times in the past at my level. I’ve had the privilege of being involved since the beginning, which was no small feat. There were a lot of logistics involved in getting the four countries together. But today’s event, hosted by Secretary Pompeo, was a significant elevation of the level of the dialogue, and it certainly demonstrates a shared commitment of our respective leadership to institutionalize this gathering of likeminded Indo-Pacific partners.
I think [Senior State Department Official One] summed up the goals of the Quad and the themes of today’s ministerial well, but what I would say is that the discussions really reflected shared values. It was a very forward leaning and ambitious conversation. If I could single out India’s role in the Quad, I think it highlights India’s leadership in the Indo-Pacific region; it’s one of the many ways that the U.S. and India are now cooperating closely on shared strategic objectives as highlighted during President Trump’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi earlier this week; the 2+2 structure that we’ve set up, and the deepening of our defense partnership, and trilateral relations with Japan as seen in the Malabar exercise that’s ongoing.
We really do welcome and support India’s emergence as a net security provider in the region and a global actor, and we regard India’s contributions as vital to the safeguarding of a rules-based system in the Indo-Pacific. It reflects a shared commitment to uphold the rule of law, counterterrorism cooperation, freedom of navigation, democratic values, and economic growth. And these are all values we want to advance across the region.
In addition to our continued work through the Quad, we are looking to expanding our cooperation with India through the bilateral mechanisms that I mentioned, but also in multilateral fora like those related to the ASEAN. And I want to reiterate David’s message that the U.S., India, and our other Quad partners are resolute in our view of ASEAN’s centrality in Southeast Asia, and we seek to complement ASEAN’s critical role in the region.
So let me stop there and we can take questions.
MODERATOR: And I’m sorry, for the questioners, please just identify yourself by name and outlet, thank you very much.
QUESTION: Sriram Lakshman from The Hindu. You said that – how would you characterize India’s leadership at this meeting relative to the history so far? Because there has been some hesitation from the Indian side thus far. What’s different from in the past and today?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I think there’s recognition that in the past we didn’t have that similar likemindedness necessarily among the four partners, and over the past two years we’ve been able to demonstrate what’s changed. We have a shared evaluation of the security threats and the threats facing the region when countries don’t have options to develop in a sustainable and free manner, and that’s really brought our four nations together. Again, I would emphasize as one mechanism, one architecture that complements and supplements other formats that we are all engaged in to promote the free and open Indo-Pacific.
QUESTION: Seema Sirohi from The Economic Times. To press further on this, what’s changed? What’s new? So can we say that India, United States, Japan, Australia now agree on what is a threat, who is a threat, in the region? And on any mechanisms to counter it or – because last meetings here everybody gave different press statements. Some emphasized some things, another another. So I’m just trying to understand.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, I think there’s been unnecessary Kremlinology in trying to parse statements that are issued by the participating countries. I think what – it’s what unites all the statements. And that is the avowed expression of support for the values that undergird a free and open Indo-Pacific, and there we’re rock solid.
And it’s fascinating to see four countries. We each have different strengths and weaknesses. We each play different roles in different parts of the globe. But we have the same approach about what needs to animate diplomacy and economic development in the region, and those are standards and the principles of openness and the principles of democracy.
And I think one of the main lines of conversation was the need to continue to underscore the dangers that are posed by bad development, bad infrastructure investment, the risk that countries – the traps that countries fall into when there’s predatory lending, unsustainable debt being offered, or projects that don’t contribute to the economic well-being. And we’ve seen the examples, whether it’s Hambantota, whether it’s the Maldives, whether it’s the expressions of concern from Malaysia. There are individual projects throughout the world that we can point to that demonstrate the national security implications of not having the options that allow for the free and open development of our partner countries in the region.
QUESTION: My name is Yokobori from Yomiuri Shimbun. To follow up with what you’ve mentioned, I think we have one country in mind, and what kind of – what other discussions were held when it comes to China?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The surest way to make sure that we don’t agree on these is to all pick one particular negative subject. And so if you go back to the origins of this formation, it was humanitarian assistance and disaster relief after a terrible earthquake and tsunami. We reaffirmed that at the beginning that this is a positive cooperative mechanism. I’m not saying that the subject did not come up, but in terms that my colleague just mentioned, it’s looking at those ways to provide better options to other, for instance, infrastructure ideas that we have seen don’t quite work.
And the fact is that we are hearing from the region, especially as we talk about ASEAN centrality, a demand and a desire for this sort of multilateral cooperation and interaction. Hearing the same message from four very different countries has a certain resonance to it, a harmony, as it were, so we played off that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And I think one of the signatures is that – is the emergence of the Development Finance Corporation from the United States side, the BUILD Act being instrumentalized. We’re going to have a conference on November 4th in Bangkok on the margins of the EAS to bring business and government leaders involved in development finance together. And so there’s – we’re trying to emphasize the positive agenda and the options that countries have, and so even if we’re – if you’re not going to see all four countries working on the same project, the fact that we can reinforce, buttress, share information, come in together, juxtapose our development projects – it’s a very important effort.
And one of the nice developments has been – there’s a Quad at the ministerial, but there’s also Quad at the embassy. We’re talking together in ways that we haven’t before, and I always give the example of when I entered the Foreign Service, what was the Quad? It was the U.S., the UK, Germany, and France sitting down together. Today’s Quad is India, Australia, Japan, and the United States. It’s a different world, there are different geopolitics, and we’re responding to the different geopolitical situation.
QUESTION: You mentioned the word “institutionalize” while you were making your remarks. What exactly does that entail? Is it – you almost sound like – as though an alliance is in the offing. Would I be right in interpreting that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’d say “formalize.” I don’t want scare you with the word “institutionalize,” and this is not an alliance directed at – against a country. To the contrary —
QUESTION: I mean cooperation.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: This is cooperation. So —
QUESTION: In a military context.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So as we look at – right – no, no, no. As we start and we’re looking at ways – how do we institutionalize our information sharing and regularize our information sharing on infrastructure and development, how do we advance our efforts on maritime domain awareness and, again, in support of open navigation and trade that we need to see continue through the Indo-Pacific region. So I think what we’re seeing with the pace of meetings that we’re holding, the development of specific areas of focus – that’s what we mean by the formalization of our efforts.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would also note that, as I mentioned before, four democratic countries, but also – and likeminded, but also very different, as you would imagine. And the idea of division of labor came up, as in diverse – taking advantage of our diverse perspectives and looking for the best ideas that come from those things, or capitalizing on capabilities each might have that are specific to the United States, Japan, Australia, or India. And as you would guess, those are all very different, but they are complementary. Again, this is – that’s what makes this such a slow-building but natural fit.
QUESTION: Well, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, there were unofficial talks, informal conversations – I wouldn’t even say “talks” – about creating a kind of Asian version of the NATO alliance. Is that something on the cards or is it feasible?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, it was —
QUESTION: And secondly, you mentioned the word “ASEAN centrality.” How do you explain that? Can you be a little more – can you elaborate that, please?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I think I can answer both with one. We’ve seen what happened with the attempt at the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, right, the Vietnam-era complement to NATO or other security alliances. It came to nothing, and for – probably for the best. You don’t – when you say “alliances,” people – they react with thoughts of Cold War and all those things, and it’s unnecessary. And continuing to raise this in terms of security alliances is not really going to advance understanding. It’s a – it’s more of an – it’s just a natural sharing of interest. We see these interest – and I’d keep coming back to infrastructure.
The demands for development are enormous. I’m going to get these numbers wrong, but I do believe the number is something like $27 trillion is going to be needed worldwide to get the infrastructure demands to where they – where everybody has a fair share. And yet there is about 70 trillion of capital out there looking for good investments.
So we talked about public-private partnerships, taking government money, using that as seed money for – again, private interests to take care of these things so they’re not specifically government paid for, sponsored, and directed.
As far as ASEAN goes, it’s a great place to start as you look for infrastructure development.
QUESTION: So we are talking only of commercial interests, or is it broad-based?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, security interests are part of it, but security comes from people’s well-being, democratic principles. I mean, you can – I see it all as interleafed. I don’t think there is – you can isolate any particular —
QUESTION: I also wonder how you would react to the comments made by Foreign Minister Locsin of the Philippines. He was talking about – he almost came to saying that we are willing to lease again Clark and Subic. What would be your reaction to that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I don’t think it’s any secret that we have – as a security alliance with the Philippines, long term, we already have an arrangement to exercise access to basing for common security. So as far as leasing bases, that’s never come up to date. I mean, I think you remember the – how it all ended in 1991 with Clark and Subic. Again, there’s no real interest in establishing permanent bases on either side. And these are things that feed into this narrative —
QUESTION: But that was because the Cold War ended at that time.
MODERATOR: Let’s give an opportunity for other —
QUESTION: Okay, sorry.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great discussion. We can have some – we can talk later.
QUESTION: I had a quick question.
MODERATOR: He hasn’t asked one yet.
QUESTION: So you referred to the predatory – okay, Arul Louis from Indo-Asian News Service. You talked about the predatory loans and so forth that have been used by a certain country for infrastructure and stuff which leads to other problems. Now, in the case of Sri Lanka, India and Japan have been trying to over the project and get them out of the hole. Do you think that there’s a possibility of a more institutionalized joint operation by – like in the form of a bank or a lending mechanism by the Quad?
And the second question I have is you talked about the centrality of ASEAN. Do you think of any kind of mechanism to bring greater cooperation between ASEAN and the Quad? What would be the kind of way of not exactly formalizing it, but putting it on a continuing basis?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Do you want to talk Sri Lanka?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I don’t think we need to look to a banking mechanism, and that’s not the ambition of the Quad dialogue. Instead, it’s how do we use our national tools – and for us, it’s the new Development Finance Corporation – and to share information and cooperate more effectively with one another. And so with our new Development Finance Corporation, we will have the flexibility now to cooperate with the Japanese development bank, with the Australian. We’re working on developing a relationship with India’s institution and already have one with the EU. And that provides greater flexibility.
But again, the Quad is not seeking – I guess to follow on this – this is not an institutional structure setting up institutions. Instead, it’s countries coming together, and working together, and coordinating.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: To the first, or second question about ASEAN’s interests and – the one that keeps coming up is a negotiated code of conduct between the PRC and ASEAN – not just the claimants, but ASEAN writ large – in the South China Sea. And I think you’re seeing their outreach not to the Quad, but to those who, again, have interests in utilizing that key sea line of communication that is the South China Sea, in making sure whatever agreement comes out of that comports with the already existing Law of the Sea Convention and with the interests of the majority of the regional countries. And you see how that is going.
So the Quad has interest in that, because all four countries use that body of water – a lot, I’ll say.
MODERATOR: Let’s just go to a journalist who hasn’t asked a question yet.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Koji Shonoda with the Japanese Asahi newspaper, and to [Senior State Department Official One], just a brief question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: SBO One, thank you.
QUESTION: My question is: U.S. allies in East Asia, and especially on Japan, South Korea, so you said that President Trump – the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe noted that the importance of a trilateral security cooperation between U.S., Japan, and South Korea. So my question is: What were the – President Trump’s expectations to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in their discussions yesterday? And also, what do you think Japan and Korea should do to ease the tension? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I am not going to prescribe or get involved in helping Japan and Korea sort out their particular differences that have been going on for some time now. I’d just simply ask that we find a resolution fairly quickly, and a resolution that addresses the concerns of both sides, and a resolution that also addresses U.S. security concerns in the region. There’s been – note that because activity isn’t – been visible publicly that somehow that the U.S. doesn’t care or is standing by, and that is absolutely not the case. If – separately, I want to give you a list of all the meetings I’ve taken in the last week on this subject, well, I’d be happy to give you a general description of how much the U.S. is concerned and engaged. But in the end, this is a – this is between Seoul and Tokyo, and we ask both sides to find a way to resolve this quickly.
QUESTION: Just – so sorry. So specifically, what kind of thing President Trump said to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on this issue last – yesterday?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That’s an easy one. I wasn’t there, can’t tell you.
MODERATOR: We have time for one or two more questions. There’s one in the back, and then we’ll come to you to wrap up.
QUESTION: I had a question, [Senior State Department Official Two]. If – was there a discussion on the Malabar exercises? I know they’re underway right now, but for next year, will Australia be joining them?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There wasn’t a direct conversation on Malabar, but we – it’s a premiere exercise. We welcome the opportunity to work with India and Japan in this setting, and I leave open the question of any future modifications.
QUESTION: And on – little bit of a tangent, since you discussed the India-U.S. relationship as well, do we have a date for the 2 + 2, which I think is in October?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We don’t have a date fixed yet. It will take place in the fall, and in the meantime, we’re looking forward to Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s trip to Washington on the 30th.
QUESTION: Hi. Kevin Princic with Yomiuri Shimbun. I wanted to kind of backtrack a little bit to – you had discussed freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. I guess if you could go into a little bit of specifics about the discussions you had about that. In addition, did you talk about Chinese base-building on the artificial islands they built in the South China Sea?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, and no. The – I mean, it was – we discussed ASEAN centrality, but again, the conversation revolved around issues that relate specifically to the four countries. I mean, look, the South China Sea is on everyone’s mind, but as far as specific details on freedom of navigation, assertions and the like, no we did not. Again, this is ministerial level, so —
QUESTION: Can I ask one question?
MODERATOR: I think one more question, then we’re out of time after that. Have you had a chance to ask a question?
QUESTION: Can I?
QUESTION: My name is Kentaro Nakajima with Yomiuri Shimbun. I’d like to ask about the U.S., Japan, and South Korea relationship. And so, last year, three countries had a trilateral meeting here. There are many occasions to discuss about the security cooperation with regard to North Korea. And why this year the three countries couldn’t meet together? The United States – U.S. Government persuaded to Japan and South Korea to discuss together at this time?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I love her term “unnecessary Kremlinology,” I think that makes – that pretty much captures this. Let’s just look at historically, our Secretary has met trilaterally eight times. The President? Twice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met, to include recently. The Secretary very publicly met with – a trilateral event on this subject in the East Asia Summit back in August. We’re very concerned, we’re doing what we can, but in the end, it’s between Seoul and Tokyo.
MODERATOR: Okay, thanks so much. That concludes the briefing. If you have any questions about attribution, or you need a quote for you’re reporting, let us know. Thank you again to our briefers.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you.
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