Remarks With Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.
Secretary of State
MODERATOR: Good morning. Welcome to the joint press conference in light of the official visit of the United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. May we request the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Teodoro Locsin, to give a statement.
FOREIGN SECRETARY LOCSIN: Good morning. I am pleased to welcome Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his delegation to the Philippines. We had a very productive meeting with frank exchanges on the future of the longest-standing alliance in Asia, that between our two countries, on bilateral relations in a variety of fields and on regional issues of security and economy.
We shared the view that the alliance must be able to ensure the unfailing mutual defense of our two countries, an arrangement that has contributed to regional peace, freedom, stability, and prosperity since it was formalized. The key word is mutual. We have our end to hold up as well, and we need the means to do that from the United States. But ever and always there must be the sincere mutual desire to help and be helped.
Some seek review of the MDT. This requires further thought. In vagueness lies uncertainty, a deterrent. Specificity invites evasion and actions outside the MDT framework. But too much vagueness lends itself to doubt the firmness of commitments. For the time being, helping the Philippines build up our self-defense capacity should do it.
We discussed the vital support of the United States for the AFP’s modernization program, and hopefully to our campaign against all forms of criminality, especially terrorism and its tight connection with the illegal drug trade. Indeed, any mutual defense should cover a partner’s back as well as its front.
Secretary Pompeo and I agreed that it was in both our countries’ interest to ensure the alliance effectively addressed other nontraditional security issues such as, in addition, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and above all the fight against human trafficking. I acknowledged the continued support of the United States in the Philippine Government’s counterterrorism efforts, especially its vital role during the Marawi siege. We appreciate the assistance of the U.S. in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi City.
We discussed our economic and people-to-people engagements. We both agreed to deepen and expand our bilateral economic relations, including pursuing negotiations for a future free trade agreement.
I also took the opportunity to once again thank the U.S. for the return of the Balangiga bells, making special note of Secretary Pompeo’s important role.
I thanked Secretary Pompeo for his firsthand account of the recent summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. I reiterated to him our support for President Trump’s tireless efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula and throughout Asia.
Finally, Secretary Pompeo and I committed to sustaining a continuous exchange of high-level visits between us. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. At this point, may we invite United States Secretary of State, His Excellency Michael Pompeo, for his statement.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Good morning, and thank you, Foreign Secretary Locsin, for the very warm welcome. I had a number of my West Point classmates that had the privilege to serve here. They all spoke very highly of the time in service. They loved the country, they loved the people, and they valued their opportunity to be partners with your country.
I told you I’d make it here during my first year, and I’m not sure you believed me, but I – but here I am. And I’m so thrilled that I could make it. I had a great conversation with President Duterte last night and a wonderful, warm conversation this morning as well.
As you referred to, Foreign Secretary, the visit was all the more positive because of the recent return of the Balingiga bells to the Filipino people. For 117 years these three historic bells from San Lorenzo de Martir Church in Balangiga were in America’s possession, and for decades our countries were at an impasse. We couldn’t figure out how to make our way through it and whether we could repatriate them, but last year we made an agreement and returned them. In December, a U.S. Air Force flight carrying this precious cargo landed at the airbase that I was at last night here in the Philippines. We know how much this means to the Filipino people.
It’s worth a little bit of history, I think, this morning. The return of these bells is just the latest point of cooperation between our two nations. Since the end of the Philippine-American War well over a century ago, we have been partners and allies. During World War II, Americans and Filipinos fought side by side in engagements like Luzon and Leyte Gulf. The American Cemetery and Memorial right here in Manila is a monument to both American and Filipino heroism and those who died to protect freedom.
During the Korean War, American and Filipino troops defended South Korea side by side, and together. And today, today the United States is proud to support the Philippines as a treaty ally and a true friend.
In keeping with President Trump’s commitment to defeating radical Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and beyond, when terrorists seized Marawi in 2017, the U.S. responded immediately with military support as well as with relief and rehabilitation programs. The bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral by ISIS supporters in January was a heinous act, and we grieve with all Filipinos as we renew our joint resolve to defeat terrorism.
As an island nation, the Philippines depends on free and unobstructed access to the seas. China’s island-building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security, and therefore economic livelihood, as well as that of the United States. As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty.
I also relayed to President Duterte and Foreign Secretary Locsin details of the talks held in Hanoi. We appreciate the Philippines’ firm support for our maximum pressure campaign and for continued diplomacy.
Economically, Filipinos can have confidence that America will remain a close friend in helping them to achieve their national dreams. In November of 2017, President Trump announced America’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. I reinforced that commitment with a speech on America’s economic vision for the region last July. The big thing of that engagement is this: Where America goes, we seek partnership, not domination.
Energy is certainly one area in which the United States is eager to build new cooperation in the region as well. Demand for energy in Asia is going to skyrocket in the coming years, and American companies are poised to invest billions in the region. They’re the best partners to deliver reliable, secure, and affordable supplies of energy.
Similarly, American companies are best partners in the priority areas of infrastructure, development, and the digital economy, because they operate with the highest standards of transparency and adherence to the rule of law. The same cannot be said for Chinese state-run or state-backed enterprises.
And finally, I raised with my counterparts the importance of protecting the rights and liberties of all Filipinos, including free speech, a free press, and due process under the law.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We’re now accepting questions from the media. May we call on Mr. JP Soriano of GMA news from the Philippine side for his question.
QUESTION: Good morning Secretary Locsin, good morning Secretary Pompeo. Welcome to Manila. Yes, these are our questions: Is the United States open to amending the Mutual Defense Treaty? There is a proposal from the Philippines to review the MDT with the U.S. Is there a commitment from the U.S. to help the Philippines in case a shooting war breaks out in the South China Sea? Can you clarify if the South China Sea is included in the metropolitan area under the MDT? And can you elaborate, what are the red line for the U.S. in terms of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea? If a red line situation arises in disputed shoals, how will the U.S. respond? What are your thoughts?
(Inaudible) another topic, what are your thoughts about the Philippines’ use of Huawei 5G technology, and how will that affect relations with the U.S.?
And for Secretary Locsin, will President Duterte visit the United States? Are there already arrangements being made for the visit? Thank you Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Locsin.
FOREIGN SECRETARY LOCSIN: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks for the kind questions. Let me try and start with your second one.
We believe that competition, whether it’s in 5G or some other technology, ought to be open, free, transparent. And we worry that Huawei is not that. And so our task has been to share with the world the risks associated with that technology – the risks to the Philippine people, the risk to Philippine security, the risk that America may not be able to operate in certain environments if there is Huawei technology adjacent to that. So our task has been to share that information. Every nation then will make their own sovereign decision about how to proceed. That’s appropriate, that’s the right way to go. But we want to make sure that the world has their eyes wide open as to the risks of having that technology be part of the infrastructure or backbone or networks that are transiting communications inside of the country, and in fact, here and around the world transiting that information internationally as well.
Your first series of questions had to do with America’s commitment. I spoke to that this morning here in my opening statement, but I certainly spoke with President Duterte and Foreign Secretary Locsin about it as well. Our commitments under the treaty are clear. Our obligations are real, and the South China Sea is certainly part of an important body of water for freedom of navigation. I think the whole world understands that the Trump administration has made a true commitment to making sure that these seas remain open – remain open for the security of the countries in the region and for the world, open for commercial transit as well. We remain committed to supporting not only the Philippines in that effort – and the Philippines will need to do its part as well – but all the countries in the region so that these incredibly vital economic sea lanes are open and China does not pose a threat to closing them down.
FOREIGN SECRETARY LOCSIN: Of the visit of – President Duterte has been repeatedly invited to go to the United States. We have conveyed this to the president; the president is aware of it. He has a very strong affection for President Trump. The exact details – the arrangements that will be made. Specific dates will have to wait for the end of the elections, because that’s important. He’s – last night we had to have a very late night meeting because he is out there campaigning for his slate.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It was very kind of President Duterte to meet me so late last night. I really appreciate it. We had a great conversation, and he was headed on travel but agreed to stay late so that he could meet me when I arrived from Hanoi, and I’m very thankful for that.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you. May we now invite Mr. Michael Gordon of The Wall Street Journal to – for his question.
QUESTION: Sir, for – to the Philippine foreign secretary, are you seeking a review of the Mutual Defense Treaty, and did Secretary Pompeo’s assurances right now satisfy all of your concerns that the U.S. will protect Philippine interests in the South China Sea, or do you want something more formal than that?
And to Secretary Pompeo, in addition to the strategic concerns, did you, sir, raise the question of human rights here in the Philippines, including the treatment of some of the opposition figures and their detention?
And I’d like to give you an opportunity, sir, if you want to respond to the North Korea foreign minister who has asserted that the – they were only looking for partial sanctions relief. Is it the case that North Korea did not agree to a freeze on all of their WMD programs but were seeking billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll let Foreign Secretary Locsin go first, but yes.
FOREIGN SECRETARY LOCSIN: My own – the question of the MDT review – or, as some like to call it, the update of the MDT to respond to changing realities – my own view – and it is a dynamic exchange that’s going on (inaudible) – my own view is no. I believe in the old theory of deterrence. I have been – I’m an old man. I have engaged in the Cold War for longer than you probably remember, but in vagueness lies the best deterrence. And what is there – and how do you flesh out that vagueness? The repeated assurances by the United States that in the event – were an act of aggression is committed against the Philippines, I don’t believe that going down into the details is the way the sincerity of the American commitment will be shown. They will respond, depending on the circumstances, but we are very assured. We are very confident that the United States has, in the words of Secretary Pompeo and the words of President Trump to our president, we have your back.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Michael, to your first question, I did raise the issue of human rights. I did so proudly. I do this in my travels everywhere we go. We – our expectation for countries to observe the rule of law is fundamental to America, and so we have these conversations. It happens. Our embassy raises these issues here and around the world. We never forget the importance of human rights, the rule of law, transparency, justice, wherever it is that we go.
And the second question was about – you asked more specifically about journalists. We have an expectation of free and open press everywhere. We communicate that to adversaries, to our partners and friends. We’re never shy about talking about its importance.
And then your third question was – well, you asked for a response with respect to the press conference that was given by foreign minister – the North Korean foreign minister. I think the President had it exactly right. He said they basically asked for full sanctions relief. That’s true. They basically did ask for that. That was in exchange for some – relatively undefined, but a scope that President Trump didn’t think was adequate to justify that level of economic sanctions relief from the world. You have to remember that these sanctions aren’t American sanctions, these are UN Security Council resolutions passed by every country, voted affirmatively on by every country on the Security Council. So these are global demands for the denuclearization of North Korea and we are anxious to get back to the table so we can continue that conversation that will ultimately lead to peace and stability, a better life for the North Korean people, and a lower threat – a denuclearized North Korea.
QUESTION: Were they willing to agree to a freeze on all of their WMD programs or just certain activities at Yongbyon?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I – they were pretty expansive with respect to what they were prepared to do at Yongbyon, but there were still not complete clarity with respect to the full scope of what it is they were prepared to offer. It’s one of the reasons I hope we can get back, so that we can put some definition around that. That answer your question, Michael?
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes sir.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you. This concludes our press conference today.