MODERATOR: Okay. This is probably about the third or fourth time we’ve brought you down to talk to the bullpen. You know [Senior State Department Official]. So I’m going to turn it over to him. He’s going to give a statement. This is all on background, attribution to a senior State Department official, and then he’ll talk about 2019, and then looking forward, and then we’ll take some questions.
QUESTION: It’s embargoed till the end, right?
MODERATOR: Yes, please hold it until the end. Yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Good. Good afternoon, all. I’m happy to be here with you all again in the effort to get at clear language and ideas of what we’re doing here. So I’m going to just read this so I don’t miss anything, and then I’ll be happy to answer questions.
Happy New Year. It’s good to be back. It was a kind of light Christmas holiday. I got to go to Hawaii for six days, so don’t cry for me.
I’ll start off with highlights and then be ready to answer questions on that, but then mostly I want to tell you about what we’re trying to get done in ‘20.
Through 2019, we advanced the President’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific in which all nations can thrive free from coercion, with good governance and economic prosperity.
The vision drives our diplomacy with allies, partners, and multilateral institutions like ASEAN. It drives our billions of dollars in assistance programs that foster economic development, promote human rights and good governance, and boost security for allies and partners.
And it drives our special initiatives with – such as the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, which we co-hosted with the Thai Government in November in Bangkok, a thousand leaders from business and government from throughout the U.S. and Indo-Pacific.
In November we also released a report on implementation of our Indo-Pacific vision, including details of our engagement with allies and partners from Pacific Islands to Southeast Asia and beyond. The report noted that this administration has delivered a clear increase in resources to the Indo-Pacific region, including foreign assistance, development financing, and other things.
So China. Part of our broader regional work, of course, involves engaging China. The Trump administration has carried out a historic shift in the U.S. stance toward the People’s Republic, taking strong and swift action to protect our interests and values.
As Secretary Pompeo, Vice President Pence, and other senior leaders have stated, the United States long accommodated and encouraged the PRC’s rise for all the right reasons, even when that rise came at the expense of American values, Western democracy, security, and sometimes common sense.
It’s been a long time since the world has seen the type of authoritarianism represented by the Chinese Communist Party, and so we’ve got to be clear. The Chinese Communist Party state is not the same as the people of China. We have a long-cherished relationship and friendship with the Chinese people.
The Secretary has also made clear that we must meet China where it is, not where we want it to be. And at the same time, the Secretary has made clear that we don’t seek confrontation with the PRC, but we will stand up for our interests and values. We want to see a prosperous China that is at peace with its own people and with its neighbors; and until that day comes, however, we must continue to speak out against their malign actions.
Over the past year, we continued to raise global awareness for the human rights crisis in Xinjiang while imposing costs on the PRC government for its repressive policies. In October, we announced visa restrictions on PRC officials responsible for the abuse of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang. These visa restrictions complement the Department of Commerce’s imposition of export restrictions on U.S. products exported to 20 Chinese entities involved in these abuses in Xinjiang.
Also in October, the State Department announced a new reciprocity program requiring PRC diplomats in the United States to notify the U.S. Government before meetings with universities and state and local governments. U.S. diplomats in China face far more onerous restrictions than this, trust me, and they always have. These new measures reflect President Trump’s clear focus on reciprocity in our relations with the PRC. They are also intended to secure greater access for U.S. diplomats in China consistent with the PRC’s claims to support exchange and engagement between our countries.
Southeast Asia: in Southeast Asia, U.S. engagement has never been stronger.
U.S. foreign direct investment across 10 ASEAN members is $271 billion, more than the U.S. has directed to China and Japan combined. Likewise, ASEAN states’ investments in the U.S. is booming.
Thailand did a fantastic job as ASEAN chair in 2019, and we’re looking ahead to a very positive year in 2020 with Vietnam as the chair. We see ASEAN as the heart of the Indo-Pacific, and we welcome the group’s adoption of its own ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific last June.
We have also expanded our efforts in the Mekong region, the mainland half of Southeast Asia, where sovereignty and economic independence is most under pressure. We expanded initiatives to support counternarcotics efforts and uphold transboundary rules to govern the Mekong River at a time when the region faces booming drug flows and a crisis in water levels linked to dams in the PRC. We also launched a new partnership with Japan to boost cross-border energy and power markets.
With respect to the South China Sea, we have supported ASEAN partners facing bullying and intimidation from Beijing. Many others also demonstrated concern in 2019, including the UK, France, Germany, and India.
Looking east, the U.S. sees the Pacific Islands as an essential part of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
In May, President Trump hosted a historic visit to the White House by leaders of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau. In August, Secretary Pompeo became the first-ever Secretary of State to visit Micronesia, where he announced that the United States intends to begin negotiations with the Freely Associated States on amendments to certain provisions of the Compacts of Free Association.
Also, under the Pacific Pledge of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the U.S. Government committed over 100 million in 2019 to new assistance.
All this is part of a broad and diverse range of diplomatic efforts the U.S. has been engaged in with allies and partners across Asia.
It’s worth mentioning, even if just quickly, that in 2019 we also signed a digital and agricultural trade deal with Japan, we moved to sell – we moved to sell nearly $10 billion of arms to Taiwan, we cooperated with South Korea on shared threats from North Korea, we renewed our defense MOU with Singapore, we reinforced our Mutual Defense Treaty commitments with the Philippines, and much more.
So looking ahead, this is the same thing we will continue for 2020.
We’ll also advance our alliance and partnerships. We will counter threats from great powers, terrorists, and others. We will speak up for human rights and good governance from Burma to Hong Kong.
We will seek greater markets for U.S. exports. We will work closely with the new $60 billion Development Finance Corporation and others, like the EXIM Bank, to help the U.S. private sector deepen links with the most economically dynamic region of the world.
We will continue to push back in the multilateral space against malign behavior. We will not stand silently while Beijing bullies neighbors in backroom contract negotiations in the South China Sea or elsewhere.
And human capital – you probably haven’t heard much about this so far, so – but you will in 2020. We are excited for infrastructure initiatives such as Blue Dot Network that support high-quality projects across the region, in cooperation with partners such as Japan and Australia. But supporting Indo-Pacific infrastructure always – also requires unleashing the talent of the Indo-Pacific youth.
The U.S. Government, U.S. businesses, and U.S. universities are the world’s absolute leaders in investing in human capital, which means investing in the future, from science and technology to education exchange, entrepreneurship, leadership, health, and more. We look forward to leveraging these efforts in the months to come.
To conclude, this doesn’t even come close to covering all the work we have done and we will do in the next year, but the best thing I can do today is address your questions. So with that, thank you.
QUESTION: Yeah, I want to ask about North Korea, but I realize that isn’t your specific remit. So although I’m still going to ask about North Korea, just like where things stand —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Fair enough.
QUESTION: — I want to broaden it a little bit to talk about the negotiations with the South Koreans on basing troop presence. And also, remember back when we were in Bangkok and there was the big flare-up between the Japanese and the South Koreans and all that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right.
QUESTION: And you guys were trying very hard to get them to calm down. And so I just wanted to know where that stands.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, let me work backwards on that. So the GSOMIA was due to expire on the 22nd of November – the general agreement for sharing information. And through negotiation and goodwill, both sides agreed that this was worth putting on hold while other negotiations are ongoing. So clearly, we are encouraging both sides to get at the root causes of much of this.
And the thing I’ve heard about most recently is ongoing discussions on the white list and the trade issues. As far as I can tell, the impact, if any, on the South Korean industry has been limited to negligible. That’s been helpful as we get both sides to acknowledge the greater security requirements and the need to cooperate in the security field, which takes me to your North Korea question.
Again, 2017 was a good year in that we saw a significant reduction through the year —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: 2019, sorry. A significant reduction through the year of North Korean activity, missiles, tests, and all the rest of that stuff. I believe this will continue. We saw that the threats that were supposed to come to pass in December did not, and I think that’s because the U.S. has taken a solid stand and demonstrated strength and insistence that the agreements be adhered to.
Beyond that, as far as what 2020 holds, I’m not going to speculate. But I do think we’re – the last year points to a continued insistence that North Korea live up to its commitments.
And then your first question was on?
QUESTION: The South Koreans, the negotiations with —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh yeah, the SMA. Again, that’s the world of Jim DeHart, and I get readouts from those. I know he’s doing his best to come to a conclusion that addresses the interests of both the ROK’s and the U.S.
QUESTION: But is it possible to stay in a situation where there isn’t really a new agreement but the status quo remains as that, what you’re – I mean, is it – I’m just confused as to —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: How can you continue to have the relationship that you have and the presence that you have there if you don’t have this agreement?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would refer you back to the last several rounds of SMA we’ve had, and in many ways it looks similar, where there’s concerns about furloughing locally engaged Korean staff. Those things are dealt with – again, rather than speaking out of turn, I’ll refer you back to that. Because I think those stories were evident certainly when [inaudible] before, so – well, maybe like – the alliance, the relationship pivots on security. And so that security won’t be allowed to lapse. But it requires, obviously, contributions from both sides to ensure that we continue to work together on this.
MODERATOR: Next. David.
QUESTION: David Brunnstrom from Reuters. Thanks for doing this. I was wondering if I could ask you to talk a little bit about the elections in Taiwan. I think they’re coming up at the end of the week. How do you view those? And are there any concerns about how much influence that China has been trying to exert in those?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the key to resolving, addressing issues of external interference in affairs of other countries, such as elections and those things, is basically making the population widely aware of the potential for those things. And so as far as I can tell, the Taiwans are aware of the potential for that sort of interference.
Eleven – this Saturday, obviously, is the elections, their time. And going into it, the process has been stable. We haven’t seen any indications of – at least certainly not from the Taiwans of any nefarious activity. It’s been advertised. I’ll leave it to you to read the headlines on where they think the election’s going to go. Everybody speculates. We’ve seen that speculation often can be wrong. But the goal is to encourage a functioning and proven democratic process in Taiwan. The U.S. takes no interest in who wins; the fact that the process stays sacrosanct is what’s important, as it is in our own election process.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. [Senior State Department Official], thank you so much for coming here. You mentioned that in October, State Department has requested the Chinese diplomats and officials traveling to the United States to give a defense to notice for meetings in the United States. Do you have the numbers of such notice? Are they complying? And if I may, I have a separate question. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: A program like this – again, remember the goal of this reciprocity thing is to get access in China to look like the very free and open access that Chinese diplomats have here. It’s not to draw down their access here; it’s to increase our access in Beijing. That’s the goal. So as far as punitive steps and all that, it would be of no use to institute a policy like this and not follow up. I mean, that’s one of my greatest lessons learned from my previous government life, is that you can’t just throw policy out there and not actually follow up on it. And so clearly, we have done a lot of work to make sure that the policy is acknowledged, recognized, and followed.
As far as exact numbers, I’d prefer not to share those, other than to say there’s been a significant amount of information shared with us as far as where they’re going, who they’re meeting. And I believe that the Chinese want to respect our system exactly the same way they insist that we respect it in China. So —
QUESTION: The number 50 was provided during a briefing, that it’s a estimated number. Is that accurate? Does that reflect a accurate number?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t say. I mean, I’ve reviewed the numbers; I haven’t counted them. But I’ve obviously reviewed the compliance and all the rest. So – and, again, we expect that compliance to continue.
QUESTION: If I may —
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — just one quick question. What do you make of the argument that China is – benefits from the rising tensions between United States and Iran? The reason I ask is because Chinese Politburo Member Yang Jiechi is one of the first foreign diplomats that Secretary Pompeo called. And recently, in the end of December – for the first time – maybe not for the first time, but China, Iran, and Russian navies have a joint exercise near the Strait of Hormuz.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I – I think that’s an excellent question. Hard to quantify who benefits most from stability in the Middle East, but China’s at the very top of that list. Energy flows – I mean, their own interests in the region, all those things, China has an absolute strong interest in stability in the Middle East. As you know, instability, the first thing happens, oil prices rise, energy access is threatened, and all the rest.
So whether they’re celebrating or not, I don’t believe they are. I believe they are just as concerned as we are. And I would hope that they would then contribute to that through positive statements, acknowledging the destabilizing effects that we’ve seen coming out of Tehran, and understanding and supporting our reasons for doing what we did. That’s their best way forward, not to take this – advantage of this as some sort of a political jab at the U.S. I mean, deep down inside they know that what we’re doing is maintaining stability. I would hope that they support that in every way they can.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on the North Korea. I know it’s not your necessarily– focus, but with tomorrow being Kim Jung-un’s birthday, I believe —
QUESTION: Who knows?
QUESTION: Did you get the card out? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: — is – are you any more – are you expecting him to carry out some kind of weapons test, like he often does on his birthday, to demonstrate strength? And then I have a China question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I – yeah. I don’t know. A lot of his demonstrations to date though, if you’ve watched, have been horseback riding near Paektusan and things like that. These are messages of resolve to his own people, who don’t have access that we – to outside information. So it doesn’t have to be something so provocative. It can be something aimed domestically. And again, I don’t know. Like you, I’ve been kind of keeping an eye on this thing for 40-plus years. We’ve seen it wax and wane.
QUESTION: I don’t think she’s old enough —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, you’re right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You don’t know how old I am. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: For a long time.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And we’ve seen things come and go. I think the trend over the last year – not ‘17, thank you – has been positive, though. And by maintaining a solid position and not backing off, we’ve let them know that we’re negotiating from a position of strength.
QUESTION: And on the human capital stuff that you mentioned and supporting infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific, is that specifically in countries where China is already doing that and you’re trying to go in and provide an alternative? Or is it in countries that just simply don’t have that investment coming to them right now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I’ve said before, we do so much good stuff in the region – in the world, but certainly in the region – that we just take for granted and the region takes for granted, because it’s always been there, right. And so this is really nothing new. I mean, look at the number of foreign students that attended school in the U.S. They come here because they want to. This is seen as the best possible place to get an education.
So human capital means that we continue that. Maybe we take a little more deliberate approach to it instead of just letting it happen of its own. We actually marry up – I mean, one of our best diplomats is American businesses. In travel to Malaysia, we noted that there are several businesses actually take active steps to educate local Malaysians back in U.S. schools or in classes there in Malaysia to make them better workers, to make them better innovators, and all those things.
The American approach – and in many ways the democratic approach – is you – this is give a man a fish – teaching by investing in people and letting them rise. It helps everybody. Not to be Pollyanna, there’s a very practical aspect to that, in that you have the benefit of a diverse set of perspectives. You hear from people who understand the situation on the ground in Malaysia, Vietnam, and all these other places where we have students attending or where we train folks. So I’m just saying I want to shine a light on this and then not take credit for it, but do it more deliberately.
MODERATOR: Okay. Ben.
QUESTION: Thanks for coming down and speaking to us. Is there anything you can tell us about a possible bilateral meeting between Secretary Pompeo and Japan’s Foreign Minister Motegi, possibly next week? There were some reports last week that there could be a meeting sometime next week.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I want to wait on that until it’s announced.
QUESTION: Okay. Could I ask you – because it was announced, there’s going to be a trilateral meeting between Mongolia and Japan this Friday. Could you just talk to us about what the meeting’s about, significance of these three countries?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. The relationship with Mongolia has been strong for quite a while. We have great interests there. They have interests in maintaining a relationship with us and others, Japan being a great example. I won’t throw out the sumo connection, but clearly there is a cultural connection there. And I think our alliance with Japan, our presence in the region, all that make this a fairly natural fit. So yeah, I look forward to this upcoming meeting, snow allowing.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on something?
MODERATOR: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on something you said about North Korea, that the last year the trend has been positive. The last year, we saw more than a dozen ballistic missile tests, rounds of ballistic missile tests; the one round of negotiations that Steve Biegun had ended after a day. Why would you characterize it as positive?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Because it wasn’t negative. Maybe you want to call it neutral, but again, having seen the worse of it – 2010 was a good example – I guess we’re not – and I don’t want to speak too much more on this, but I think in general the absence of severely provocative activity to me says we’re accomplishing our goals.
MODERATOR: Okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the administration planning to ratchet up its pressure on China over those abuses of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang province? It seems that actions thus far have not deterred China in their abuses.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. I’ll point to the General Assembly meeting we had on Xinjiang, where we had 30-something countries come and be proudly counted in as opposing and being very concerned with what is going on here, which frankly doesn’t make a bit of sense. Bahrain just came online today on this subject. We saw I think Qatar did. So you’re seeing more and more interest. You saw protests in Malaysia and Indonesia on the way these people are being treated and asking their government to take a stronger stand.
So as far as U.S. activity, we’re going to continue to stand for American values and ideals that include not discriminating based on religion or ethnic change – or differences. But the good news is that we’re not carrying that burden alone. The world is waking up to the issue and they’re taking action. That’s a positive outcome.
QUESTION: Are more sanctions on the table?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I – not going to —
MODERATOR: You’ll get a preview.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
MODERATOR: All right. Time for one more question.
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m happy to – I just want to —
MODERATOR: I see no hands. Matt.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to, again, something that happened at the ASEAN meeting in Bangkok, and that is just have you guys ever gotten a satisfactory explanation from the Cambodians about what these – the massive Chinese projects are that are going on? And are – is there still a concern that they’re basically colonizing the country with this air base and – or possible air base and possible advanced naval station?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, clearly, there’s concern. I think a sovereign country doesn’t really have to explain itself, but it is definitely – they have laws, right, about basing in their own country that we – I imagine they would want to enforce. The pattern, though, is what it’s interesting. I mean, we see this pattern in other places like Malaysia, other places in Southeast Asia that will allow it. We saw that similar activity in Burma, in northern Burma in 2011 with the dam project up there that they pulled down, rightfully, because this movement into the country —
QUESTION: Yeah, but they didn’t pull down until well after, right? I mean, there were – and there were complaints and protests, et cetera, but I don’t see anything like that. And you have – the Cambodian Government is actively encouraging, apparently, the Chinese to move in.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The fact that you are aware of this and raising it tells you that it’s not all going without concern, and I think you’ll probably hear more concern as the numbers grow.
QUESTION: From you guys?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think – well, again, I don’t want to put words into my counterpart’s mouth, but we’ve seen this act. We’ve seen it before. And eventually, it gets to a point where the host nation has justifiable questions and will say something, so —
QUESTION: We’ll see.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And the region will, too.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Others are taking notice, so.
MODERATOR: Super. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Appreciate it.
QUESTION: Thank you.