SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening. It’s a great pleasure to be back in Bangkok. I lasted visited in August, and I know that Vice President Harris is very much looking forward to arriving and representing the United States over the coming days.
We’ve just logged a significant number of diplomatic miles on this trip. I came to Bangkok via Sharm El-Sheikh, Phnom Penh, and Bali, where I joined President Biden for COP27, the U.S.‑ASEAN and East Asia summits, and of course the G20. In each of those meetings, including here at APEC, the United States is leading with diplomacy to deliver on issues that are shaping the lives of the American people as well as people around the world.
At COP27, the President made clear that we will meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius while also martialing more support to help vulnerable countries adapt to the cataclysmic changes that communities are already experiencing from historic storms, droughts, and heat waves – among other shocks – and seizing the once-in-generations opportunity to create good paying jobs through the transition to renewable energy.
At the U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia summits, we underscored our commitment to a region that’s free, open, prosperous, and secure – where every country can choose its own path, free from coercion. Defending this and other international rules of the road was at the core of President Biden’s discussion with President Xi in Bali, where the leaders had a candid exchange about their respective priorities and intentions. President Biden made clear that we’ll continue to compete vigorously with the PRC. We’re committed – as we do that – to working to prevent competition from veering into conflict – to responsibly managing our relations.
Maintaining open lines of communication is vital to avoiding conflict, as well as to working together on challenges like the climate crisis and like health security, which neither of our countries – or any other for that matter – can effectively solve alone. The world expects that of us, and President Biden asked me to travel to China early next year to build on the productive discussion in Bali.
At the G20, we also rallied the world’s largest economies to tackle many of the challenges that have been exacerbated by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including the unprecedented global food crisis. Together, we sent a clear message to President Putin that he should extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was set to expire on Saturday. Russia, again, heard and apparently felt that the world would not accept Moscow refusing to extend the agreement.
We’re deeply appreciative of the successful diplomacy on the part of UN Secretary General Guterres and our Turkish allies, which culminated in the announcement earlier today that the agreement would in fact be continued. This is a vital lifeline for the rest of the world, delivering more than 10 million metric tons of much needed food – the overwhelming majority of which is going to the developing world.
While Russia seems to have heard the G20’s message on the grain deal, President Putin continues to ignore global calls for de-escalation, choosing instead to escalate, raining down scores of missiles on infrastructure across Ukraine that provides heat, water, and light to millions of civilians. What we’re seeing is a very telling split screen. As the world works to help the most vulnerable people, Russia targets them. As leaders worldwide reaffirm their commitment to the UN Charter and international rules that benefit all our people, President Putin continues to try to shred those same principles.
Having failed to seize Ukraine by force, President Putin seems to believe that plunging Ukrainians into darkness, cutting off their water, freezing them to death will break their will. For any who doubt the resolve of the Ukrainians, just take a look at the liberated people in Kherson – dancing in the streets, embracing Ukrainian soldiers, tearing down Russian propaganda posters after months of Russian repression. Russia’s new strategy, like it’s old strategy, will fail. Ukrainian spirit is unbreakable; so is our commitment to supporting Ukraine.
In Bali, we also swiftly brought together G7 and NATO leaders in a coordinated, unified response to the explosion in eastern Poland. We have full confidence in Poland’s investigation. I spoke again today with Foreign Minister Kuleba, my Ukrainian counterpart. We’ll continue to be in very close touch with Ukraine and Poland, as well as our other allies and partners, as the Polish investigation runs its course.
That said, whatever its final conclusion, we already know the party ultimately responsible for this tragic incident: Russia. Russia invaded its sovereign, independent neighbor. It’s raining missiles down upon its city, upon its people, upon its infrastructure. Ukraine – like every other nation – has a right to defend its people and defend its territory. We’ll continue to help them do just that.
People in every APEC economy are struggling with the global economic challenges that have been exacerbated by Russia’s war. Addressing those consequences together was a key focus of our meetings here in Bangkok. Thailand has shown exceptional leadership in steering APEC through a challenging time, but also in looking over the horizon of the current crises to systemic weaknesses that we have to address together. The Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model pioneered by Thailand has made environmental sustainability a core component of every discussion and everything that we do at APEC and that’s exactly where it belongs.
The United States is committed to building on these and other areas of Thailand’s leadership when we take over the presidency of APEC next year. Our focus will be on creating a resilient and sustainable future for all by building a region that is more interconnected, more innovative, and more inclusive. My friend and colleague, U.S. Trade Representative Tai, will share more details on our plans for advancing these goals over the coming year.
As President Biden has said, this is a decisive decade. What we do now will determine whether we’re able to build a future that is in fact free, open, secure, and prosperous, particularly in this region, which, more than any other, will shape the trajectory of the 21st century. That’s what the world has seen from America over the last week and that’s the work that we intend to carry forward through our leadership of APEC in the year ahead.
With that, Katherine, let me turn it over to you.
AMBASSADOR TAI: Can you all hear me?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Off-mike.) Yeah, I think it’s on.
AMBASSADOR TAI: All right. It’s good to be here with all of you in Bangkok. It’s been great to see so many of my counterparts in person. I think that there’s a great energy when we meet face to face that’s really not substitutable, and I look forward to having more productive discussions this week.
I’d like to first begin by congratulating Thailand on its leadership this year to take our collective work forward and for its generous hospitality throughout our meetings. The United States has been a strong supporter of Thailand’s host year. We welcome Thailand’s increased focus on sustainability and inclusion as well as support for the WTO and advancing implementation of MC12 outcomes.
These topics are more important than ever as we continue to face a world full of challenges and uncertainty – the economic fallout from COVID-19, Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine, fragile supply chains, growing inequality, and worsening climate crisis, to name a few of the challenges. These are not small problems, and people’s confidence in the global economic system has been shaken. But as an incubator of ideas and as a catalyst for cooperation, APEC is uniquely positioned to explore how we can build a more durable and resilient global economy. The Biden-Harris administration believes that trade can be a force for good to address these issues, to create a race to the top that delivers inclusive prosperity for all of our citizens. The United States is fully committed to working with APEC economies to realize this vision and to strengthen our ties across this region.
And of the many things we’ve been working on, two areas stand out on trade. First, protecting the environment, and second, addressing shared challenges like supply chain disruptions and economic inequality. The right trade policies can help facilitate access to lower-emission goods and services, promote investment in climate-friendly technologies, and help incentivize environmental protection. And Thailand’s leadership to catalyze APEC cooperation around the Bio-Circular-Green economy model is a great contribution to make sustainability an even stronger core component of our time and focus in APEC in the area of trade.
In the pursuit of sustainable trade and understanding of trade’s true environmental and social costs, we must also factor in the people who are working to make trade possible at each step of the supply chain, whether on farms or in factories. We’ve made good progress and we’re excited to pick up the mantle next year when the United States hosts APEC. We’ll continue to build on the momentum from this year through existing work streams, but also develop new efforts to prioritize resilience, sustainability, and yes, inclusion in our trade and investment work. We must continue to examine how trade policy can drive broad-based growth across the APEC region. This includes lifting up women entrepreneurs and workers, helping small businesses grow, and unlocking economic opportunities for underrepresented parts of our populations.
During our host year, we look forward to partnering with other economies to build on these and other policies that support sustainable and inclusive trade. And I personally look forward to hosting APEC trade ministers in Detroit, Michigan next May. Detroit embodies American innovation, ingenuity, and yes, also renewal. And I can’t wait to share its culture and history with our counterparts in this region.
We have a lot of work ahead, but we also have an important opportunity here to choose a path for inclusive, equitable growth, and to forge a new tomorrow for our people and for our planet, to restore confidence in the global system by demonstrating that our work can build economies from the bottom up and the middle out. To seize this opportunity, we must continue to work together to build a more resilient economy that delivers a prosperous future for all. I look forward to working with my colleagues to do just that. Thank you.
And now Tony and I will take a few questions.
MR PRICE: We’ll now turn to questions. We’ll start with Will Mauldin of The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ned. For Secretary Blinken, first, I guess, we’ve seen a little bit of a disconnect between some of the things that the Biden administration and President Biden have said in regards to the missile that landed in Poland and what President Zelenskyy has focused on, with him calling it a Russian missile. Later he had some other comments and said he wasn’t a hundred percent sure. So we’re just wondering about communications and collaboration among the U.S., Poland, other NATO countries, and Ukraine. Is that still where it was? Is it where it needs to be? And then on President Zelenskyy, specifically, is his reliability – is there any questions about that in regards to the way that this unfolded, this incident, which terrified a lot of people in the world.
And then for Ambassador Tai, I wanted to ask a little bit about the – some of the goals that you have for the region, for Asia-Pacific sustainability, labor, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. What tangible evidence do you have that this is working, bringing the U.S. closer to the region economically or business ties? And we had a – we had a statement from President Xi saying today that any attempt to politicize and weaponize the economic and trade relations would be rejected by all. So wondering if that isn’t – runs into conflict with other goals in the region. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Will. Very sharp suit, by the way. First, as I said a few moments ago, we have full confidence in the investigation that Poland is undertaking. We commend them for doing it in a professional and very deliberate manner, and we don’t want to get ahead of that work. We’re all still gathering the information. I think you’ve heard us say that we’ve seen nothing so far that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this was likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland. But we’ll continue to assess and share the new information.
We’ve been in regular contact with our Ukrainian partners throughout. I spoke to my counterpart Foreign Minister Kuleba again today after having spoken with him yesterday. We’re sharing the information that we have. And again the investigation is ongoing, so we have to follow this process through its conclusion. President Zelenskyy has been in touch with the Polish President himself to clarify the facts. The chair of Ukraine’s national security and defense council said that Ukraine is pursuing a comprehensive analysis of what happened.
So we also have among all of us – Ukraine, Poland, the United States, our NATO Allies, G7 partners – a commitment to follow the facts. But the most important fact of all is this: no matter the exact details of this incident, Russia is responsible for what happened. What we’re seeing every single day now is Russia raining missiles down on Ukraine, seeking to destroy its critical infrastructure, targeting the ability that Ukraine has to keep the lights on, to keep the heat going, to allow the country to – simply to live, to live and move forward. And that is the reality. Ukraine has a right to defend itself, and we’re committed to supporting Ukraine in every effort it’s making to defend itself.
AMBASSADOR TAI: Hi, Will. It’s good to see you. So with respect to the U.S. program for economic engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, first, I’d like to just make a couple comments on APEC. One is it really is – I cannot emphasize this enough – how great it is to see all of you in person here in Bangkok. And put that in the context of your jobs are actually to give us a hard time, and I’m still glad to see all of you here. It’s been four years since APEC economies have been able to come together in person to do this, and I think that that is an incredible achievement. And again, I want to give the Thai Government compliments for a successful year in which known challenges challenged us and also new challenges came into being. So it’s really an incredible accomplishment.
So in terms of tangible evidence that economic engagement is working, I think just look around us right now in terms of all of the lights that are on, all of the activity that is going on here, and all the travel that has brought us together. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework you also mentioned – oh, before I move on – and obviously we are extremely excited to be taking the baton from our Thai partners and heading into our APEC host year, where we will be bringing these economies, their stakeholders, and all of you back together in the United States over the course of the next year.
On the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, 21st century framework for the 21st century challenges that we’ve been describing that come with 21st century opportunities, I want to call into all of our consciousnesses the themes that the Thai have put together for APEC 2022. And you’ll see those words in the hallway outside. I think it’s open, connect, balance. I think it reflects the reality of a global economy where we feel imbalance, we feel potentially disconnected, and we feel the need to maintain openness with each other.
So the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is U.S. engagement, the economic program that we are bringing. A lot of momentum there. We hosted our first in‑person ministerial in Los Angeles in September. We’ve got senior officials meetings in just two weeks, I think, in Australia – start getting down to brass tacks, rolling up their sleeves. And I think in terms of evidence that it’s working, I think it is the momentum that is carrying us in and this united vision around the need to regain and to promote sustainability, resilience, and inclusiveness to navigate our way through what we are all facing right now.
MR PRICE: We’ll turn to Francesca Regaldo from Nikkei Asia.
QUESTION: Good evening, Secretary, Ambassador. I wanted to ask – as you noted, it’s been a difficult host year for Thailand, especially in reaching consensus, considering the extraordinary geopolitical circumstances. How will the U.S. in its host year manage to allay concerns that the group could splinter along geopolitical lines? And secondly, with the current political situation in – political results in the U.S., does the administration have more space now to pursue a more tangible outcome from the IPEF negotiations?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m happy to start. I think far from splitting along one line or another, I think we see increasing convergence among all of the countries on the critical issues that actually matter in the lives of our citizens – all of our citizens. And the work that we’re doing together that will be manifested here – I don’t want to get ahead of it – but I think you’ll see coming out of Bangkok over the next 24 hours or so important steps forward that we’re taking together to address those needs, to address those concerns, to work together effectively to build a free, open, and prosperous region. One area that you’re seeing that in especially is climate. But again, more to come.
And as to our own elections, it’s not my job to do politics. All I can is that I look forward to working with the new Congress when its seated next year. But I come away from our time here at APEC, as well as the meetings that we had with ASEAN, with the East Asia Summit, and of course the G20, where on issue after issue we’re seeing, as I said, a growing convergence among the major countries in the world. That was reflected in the G20 statement that you saw a couple of days ago, and I believe it will be reflected in the statement that comes out of the APEC meetings here in Bangkok.
MR PRICE: We’ll turn to Simon Lewis of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you Secretary and Ambassador. Secretary Blinken, you mentioned the visit to China that’s been agreed that you’re going to make. I wonder if you could tell us what stage of – are the preparations out for that visit? When do you expect to be able to go? And when you do go, what do you hope to achieve? Are there any specific areas that you hope to cooperate more on with China?
And secondly, today Myanmar’s military junta released hundreds of prisoners, including activists and some close advisors to Aung San Suu Kyi. Wonder if we could get your response to that and whether you see that as potentially an opening, a sort of – a gesture from the junta. And if it is something that – if the junta is sort of signaling that they’re ready to try to talk to the international community, talk even to the U.S. directly, is that something that you would be willing to do? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Simon, thanks very much. First, with regards to China, one of the, I think, important outcomes of the conversation that President Biden had with President Xi was a shared view that we need to keep open –and indeed, strengthen – lines of communication between our countries. That is necessary if we’re going to responsibly manage the relationship to deal with the competition that we have so that it does not veer into conflict, but also to try to find areas for cooperation, particularly on issues that not only are having an impact on our own people but having an impact on people around the world. As I said, that’s what is expected of us. And in fact, one of the things that I’ve heard from country after country here in Bangkok, as well as at the G20 after the meeting between the two presidents, was that they very much welcomed seeing the leaders together, and again, they expect us to manage the relationship responsibly and hopefully not – also find ways to cooperate.
So the trip that I’ll be taking early in the year is to follow up on exactly that, on strengthening our lines of communication, following up on the discussion that the President – the presidents had across a whole variety of issues, both bilateral issues between the United States and China, regional issues that are of concern to countries throughout this area, and also global issues where, again, it’s important that we find ways to work together if we can – climate, global health, macroeconomics – because, again, that’s necessary not only for the betterment of the lives of our own people but the interests of people around the world. So this just – this was just agreed a couple of days ago. We’ll be working on the exact timing. We’ll be working on the agenda in the weeks ahead.
With regards to the release of prisoners today in Burma, first, let me say how much we welcome the release of Kyaw Htay Oo who was imprisoned in Burma for more than 14 months, unjustly detained. Our Ambassador Tom Vajda had an opportunity to see him as he was leaving Burma on route ultimately to be reunited with his family. We appreciate the many allies and partners who pressed Burma’s regime to release him, including our friends here in Thailand. I really want to thank them for their efforts in getting the prisoners released all along, as you know, with also wrongfully detained prisoners from the United Kingdom, from Australia, and Japan. The security and safety of Americans abroad is my highest priority, and we will never stop working to secure the release of any American who is being wrongfully detained.
Now, whether this signals anything more broadly about the intentions of the regime, I can’t tell you. Too soon to say. It is the one – I would say – bright spot in what is otherwise an incredibly dark time, where we see things going from bad to worse in Burma, including terrible violence that’s being done to innocent Burmese. We’ve seen air attacks on children’s school, on gatherings of – peaceful gatherings of people. We’ve seen summary executions. We see the ongoing imprisonment of many, many Burmese, including leaders of the democratic government that was unseated by the regime. And we’ve seen no evidence to date that the regime is interested in engaging in trying to find a different path and move things forward, including on the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus that, to this date, at least, the regime has ignored.
So at this moment, while we’re pleased to see the release of those wrongfully detained, I can’t tell you that it suggests anything larger about whether there’s a genuine change in direction by the regime. What we’ll be looking for is actions over the days, the weeks, and the months ahead. And that’s how we’ll judge whether this represents any kind of change or not.
MR PRICE: We have time for one final question from Varin Sachdev of TNN.
QUESTION: Welcome to Thailand. As both of you have mentioned that APEC summit is being held under so many challenges and it’s overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and tensions between the U.S. and China, and President Jokowi also admitted himself that it was so hard to negotiate and it’s hard for negotiations. So having said that you aim for agenda of sustainability and inclusion when you take on the baton from Thailand next year at the summit, how hopeful and how optimistic are you that you will be able to achieve this agenda, given the circumstances?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me just say very quickly – and turn it to Ambassador Tai – our focus, our energy, our determination is to pursue an affirmative agenda for the American people as well as for people around the world, to address the challenges that all of us are facing, as well as to try to make something of the opportunities that are there and that are real for Americans and for people around the world. And so we know that we face immense challenges in this moment, and we also know that we are not going to be able to effectively deal with them acting alone, any of us.
There’s a greater premium on cooperation and coordination with other countries than there’s ever been, and that puts a greater premium on gatherings, organizations, institutions like APEC. That’s more important than it’s ever been, because whether it’s dealing with climate, whether it’s dealing with global health, whether it’s dealing with food insecurity, we have to be able to do this together – and whether it’s finding the path to inclusive economic growth, to make sure that everyone comes along and we create real opportunity going forward. Again, we have to do that in cooperation with others.
So we have a deep commitment to that and it’s why, as I turn to Ambassador Tai, we really welcome the fact that we get to host APEC next year. It’s an opportunity for us to help advance the very good work that’s been done here and in Thailand, and again, to really keep the focus on this affirmative agenda. That’s what the world wants; that’s what the world needs.
AMBASSADOR TAI: What Tony said. I really agree with everything that he said. And if I were just to add a little bit more of a trade and economic spin to it, it would basically be this, which is I want to make clear how bullish I am on 2023. We’re hosting APEC. We’ve got momentum going on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. We are reforming the WTO. None of this is easy, but in Tony’s opening remarks he talked about how the President has identified that we are at a point in history where we have many challenges, yes, but this is an opportunity for us to set ourselves on a path to success. And that means sustainable economic growth that is inclusive and that we can build for resilience.
And I just want to put an emphasis here, which is it’s one thing to talk about sustainability, resilience, and inclusion. The reason why these are such powerful unifying themes for everybody in that APEC room is because we are all feeling the discomfort and the anxiety of the global economy today. We need different outcomes, and that means that we also need to be innovating in how we engage each other in trade and economics and across the board. And again, APEC is uniquely positioned as a catalyst for cooperation, as a laboratory for ideas. And that is part of the reason why I’m so excited for a 2023 host year.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, everyone.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.