MODERATOR: Again, in our efforts to keep you guys informed, we’re bringing in [Senior State Department Official] to talk about the Secretary’s recent travels to California and his meetings, other engagements there. This is all on background, attribution to a senior State Department official. And I’ll turn it over to you, sir.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Good to see you all again. Rather than read you something, this time I have just some memory joggers. So we’ll make this a Q&A primarily.
So a week and a half ago, went to the Bay Area – San Francisco, Silicon Valley – with the Secretary and others to interact both with champions of industry, senior academics at Stanford and other places, and then also to do meetings with our colleagues from Japan, Korea, as well as a trilat with them.
While he was there, the Secretary spoke at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and then also at the Commonwealth Club in the Bay Area. He also engaged with top academics and business leaders while there.
So I’ll start with the international bilateral and trilateral interactions. So he met with Foreign Minister from Korea Kang, and reaffirmed the close coordination with the ROK on dealing with North Korea, reinforced our alliance, as always, and discussed the importance of maintaining security in the Straits of Hormuz in the Middle East region as well.
Recently the ROK announced the expansion of its mission of the Cheonghae Anti-piracy Unit to include the Straits of Hormuz, which, again, is a welcome contribution. They also praised, again, the continued and enduring strength of the alliance and noted the significant overlap between the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the – Korea’s new southern policy.
There was a trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Kang, Foreign Minister Motegi, and the Secretary. Again, we emphasized the importance of this trilateral cooperation as it contributes to security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world, the fact that our interests overlap in those places. And we also stressed the importance of trilateral cooperation to ensure peace and stability in the region. These two countries are very important, as they are alliance partners in Northeast Asia.
We met with Japan Foreign Minister Motegi and noted the passing of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the alliance, a Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. We also talked about Iran there, and the importance of maintaining stability both for Japan and the U.S. in the Straits and the Middle East, welcoming Japan’s decision to deploy its Self-Defense Forces in the Gulf of Oman. And finally, reaffirmed close coordination on things like 5G, global governance, and importance of international organizations, as well as G7 issues.
Okay, so that was the primarily diplomatic aspect. And then met with university leaders from multiple universities from out – throughout the U.S., and stressing the importance of securing the integrity of the U.S. research enterprise. Silicon Valley, the home of innovation, and the American universities are the best in the world, and they attract lots and lots of interest from all over. People want to send their kids to American schools, and our goal is to make sure that we maintain that openness, but we also protect those – that pristine academic environment from those who might want to take advantage of it. So we want to maintain international research collaboration, but also take prudent practical steps to protect academic integrity.
Two primary objectives: protecting sensitive and economically valuable U.S. information, intellectual property and research, and then safeguarding academic freedom as core American research values that include openness, transparency, reciprocity, and merit-based competition. While there with the Secretary, also had – I had the chance to break away and to interact with two groups of researchers at Stanford University. One group focused on studying Chinese PRC digital policy development, including things like surveillance technologies, social credit system, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and other things. The other group included a broad range of professors from the area, and just focusing mostly on Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, China and more. So more of a broad just conversation with them.
That’s about it. I think I’ll open it to questions, and then, yeah, look forward to your thoughts.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Appreciate it. Can you talk about any plans for ongoing contacts and conversations with the North Koreans? Sort of where do we go from here, what’s the plan? And then I was wondering if you could give a little bit of context behind Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Esper’s joint op-ed in the Journal, sort of how – what was the plan for how that was supposed to impact the SMA negotiations? And sort of what’s your assessment of where those negotiations are at right now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. So on North Korea, slow, patient, steady diplomacy. Our positions are very clear, and I’m not going to get ahead of the folks who this has been pushed – the special representative’s office. So I don’t want to get ahead of that. But I do think in the broader terms, in the regional terms, our – we’re going to stick with this plan. It’s working. We’ll coordinate with allies and partners in the region to continue to make sure that that pressure is steady and insist that UN Security Council resolutions are enforced. That will continue to make clear to the North that they need to come out and negotiate and talk. Other questions I’ll – you can refer to the North Korea office.
As far as the joint op-ed, sometimes it’s worth just taking a big step back and appreciating all those things that we’ve provided, that we have, and that the U.S. brings to these relationships, and the U.S.-ROK relationship is no different. So the op-ed is of a joint – showing that this is not just diplomatic or security, it’s both, a look at all those things that the U.S. presence for the last 70 years has brought following the – especially following the Korean War, and just again noting the value to all of us, both sides in the alliance.
QUESTION: Yeah. But hadn’t the two sides recently concluded or had an understanding on the SMA? Or was – did the op-ed represent sort of a move that the U.S. was taking to sort of renegotiate what had been talked about between the two sides?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not going to prejudice the discussions. We have our special representatives, our lead negotiators on that. Those discussions are ongoing. I think it was just a chance to account and take account for all that’s going on and all that we’ve contributed. So —
MODERATOR: Sorry, David, and then Nike.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. One question about the coronavirus. I don’t know if that’s something that you can talk a little bit about. President Trump talked about plans for containing it. I was wondering if you were able in some way to elaborate. And there was a report that just came out in Foreign Policy saying that Mark Lambert (inaudible) – I think he’s special envoy for North Korea – has got a new job countering Chinese influence at the UN. I was wondering if you could confirm that and speak a little bit about that. Given what you were saying about North Korea and things going very well, why is it that he’s suddenly shifted to doing something completely different?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, hopefully you didn’t take my comments on North Korea to say that they’re going very well. I didn’t say that. I said the plan is proceeding as slow, patient diplomacy, and we will continue to maintain that plan. So there is no value judgment in the status of North Korea negotiations. Make that clear.
As far as the coronavirus, I do believe that the concern you see both inside China and internationally is a reflection of what we’ve seen in the past – 2003 with SARS, and a number of other issues where the government has been slow to respond out of fear of embarrassment or making things look worse than they are, and that’s – that reluctance to respond in a rapid manner again has – doesn’t give the global community a secure feeling for this being managed inside China.
So we hope and encourage and have seen encouraging signs that the Chinese Government has understood the gravity of this problem, especially as we’re approaching the Chunjie, the spring festival period where, like our Thanksgiving and Christmas, people hit the road both domestically inside China – some have called this the largest movement of humanity every year – but also outside as they get on airplanes and they go travel. And so as you know, the U.S. has taken steps, and I’ll leave that to the domestic folks to talk to that, but still concerned as far as transparency in the Chinese Government. Again, the fact that this has kind of gone on for a while without any real positive statements until – I’m starting to see something today in the Chinese press that says they’re going to start trying to control movement and all those things until they can isolate it.
Kudos for sharing the genome or whatever that is so the CDC and the WHO can look at those things. We would encourage further incorporation of Taiwan in the WHO instead of trying to exclude them. This is an important time, as you are seeing the corona cases are popping up in Taiwan, as you’d expect because of the proximity and the movement between the two. So we’re concerned but cautiously optimistic, I think.
And I’m not going to comment on the other one. Yeah, it’s outside my purview. I’d refer you to the proper folks on that. In fact, I have no – again, that’s not my role. So —
MODERATOR: We’ll try and answer.
QUESTION: Which is the other one?
MODERATOR: We’ll – Lambert.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Lambert.
MODERATOR: We’re working on that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. So a quick follow-up on coronavirus. Is there any discussion to update the State Department’s travel advisory on China, which is Level 2 since December 31st? And is there any discussion to issue visa restrictions for travelers coming from Wuhan?
And finally, if I may, you mentioned Taiwan’s participation in WHO. How is the United States going to help with Taiwan to participate in the annual World Health Assembly, which in recent years Taiwan has been barred, because for – from the perspective of getting public health information in a timely fashion.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, completely agree. And your point about excluding Taiwan from WHO, which – again, they were part of and they should continue to be a part of for exactly these reason – is concerning. We ask that – we hope that Beijing will see the intent there and the benefit of that.
We’re obviously in contact with the folks in Wuhan, and speaking with the ambassador in Beijing on this to get an assessment. I don’t have anything right now on whether they’ve changed it. Do we have an update on that, on the travel advisory status? The travel advisory process is in full swing. We’re clearly talking about it, but I haven’t seen anything formally announced yet.
MODERATOR: Yeah, no, so we just point over to the sort of normal channels through which those things were reported. I can give you the address (inaudible) post those updates to those (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But back to the – my original position is that the lack of transparency in the past, especially with SARS, is – gives concern that that may be the case here in order to avoid embarrassment or have nothing but good news coming out of Beijing. Again, past incidents like this have allowed these things to get out of control when they could have been addressed far sooner and they could have been nipped in the bud. We’re seeing positive signs that they have taken action in Wuhan. We’re also hearing from inside China, their own folks saying for our own health we would hope that they had taken steps sooner. And so anyway, it seems to – we’ll see how it works out.
QUESTION: Thanks. On North Korea, the reporting out of the region is that the foreign minister has been replaced. He was, as you know, the main negotiator. I’m wondering if the State Department has confirmed those reports. Also, the analysis is that he’s a hardliner, so it would make some of the negotiations a little more difficult. I’m wondering if you agree with that analysis.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I don’t have a lot of information on Ri being replaced by Ri. That makes it easier to remember. Again, I don’t have a lot of data on who he is or what he represents, but the hope is – and I don’t want to get out of – out in front of the North Korea folks who focus on these things, but the hope is that they’ll understand the importance of having a conversation and talking about these things, as we agreed in the original Singapore agreement. So there’s nothing to be gained by not talking. It’s only to their benefit, so we encourage them to talk.
QUESTION: So just to clarify —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know what the qualifications of the new guy are or anything like that.
QUESTION: But there is a new guy?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Apparently, yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So, aware of the reports. The President remains committed to making progress. As I mentioned, the Singapore summit commitments and diplomacy is the focus.
QUESTION: So if you start over with a new negotiator, do you start off – basically, are you back to square one again?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, I don’t know. I haven’t been involved in negotiations. I don’t know. But a commitment from the highest level is a commitment, and we would expect them to continue. Whether the faces change or not, they should – I mean, we’ve documented all the agreements to date. You can read those documents, and then execute what we agreed to. That’s what we’d expect.
QUESTION: On the same point, what’s your assessment of the Christmas present —
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) John, John, John (inaudible). Abbie.
QUESTION: I had a question on Myanmar, and I apologize, I might have missed the top. But there was a report recently released by Myanmar about the events of 2017, and there’s been concern about the fact that they didn’t interview a single rape victim from any of the camps in Bangladesh. I wonder if that also concerns you, and if you’ve expressed that concern about what appears to be a lack of accountability for the sexual violence that’s taken place.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I personally have expressed concern for the situation writ large. Details I did not get into except to help the folks I interacted with during my travels to Burma to, again, take this seriously. And it seems they have, at least in some respect with Aung San Suu Kyi’s travel to the International Criminal Court – or Court of Justice. And so – and there was movement there in at least acknowledging there was some issues, as in before they had pretty much covered it up. So that’s a positive step. We will continue to work with Burma on these things. As far as those details —
QUESTION: The sexual violence.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have all those things – taken those all to heart, and this will be part of the larger discussion.
MODERATOR: All right. Francesco.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. Back on North Korea. Have you discussed with Japanese and South Korean counterparts of a common coordinated response to any new testing new weapon announced by Kim Jong-un (inaudible) January? What would you do together if he does launch a new kind of missile, new weapon (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, again, as stated during the Secretary’s conversations with the Korea and Japanese foreign ministers, we discussed North Korea. And although I’m not at liberty to cover the individual agreements or discussion, I would note that the conversation is what’s important, and the flexibility you gain from not stating “If this, then that” allows you to deal with situations as they arise. And so again, these are all very concerning. As far as specific agreements, I’m not going to go into that.
MODERATOR: Okay. Courtney.
QUESTION: As part of the trilateral conversations during the trip with the South Koreans and the Japanese, did GSOMIA come up as something that – is there a plan in place for a longer-term resolution? I know that the South Koreans have backed off from withdrawing, but we don’t yet have any concrete resolution.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. GSOMIA specifically did not come up, but the importance of continuing these positive trends did, encouraging both sides to address the issues each raises. For instance, export restrictions, white list, and those other things. These things aren’t necessarily related to the overall issue of forced labor, but they are frictions in a relationship, and trilateral friction – frictions between allies like this, as you know, don’t help anybody. And so the U.S. position has been we encourage both sides and – and although we’re not going to mediate, we are going to provide incentives and opportunities for the – both sides to talk. And that was one of the main points of the trilateral cooperation – the trilateral meeting.
MODERATOR: Yeah. (Inaudible) Matt.
QUESTION: This will be really brief. I just want a little update on the North Korean guest worker ban. And I know that there were sanctions announced last week, was it, or maybe – I can’t remember when it was —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — on two company, one Chinese, one – but writ large through EAP, are you pretty satisfied with how countries have – or —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think “satisfied” would not characterize the response, our response to their failure to respond. So —
QUESTION: No, no, I mean on those two cases. But I mean elsewhere, other than that, I mean, other than China.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Others, yes, many – most others have actually taken this to heart and moved them. But we know one particular country has the large majority of North Korean guest workers and has not taken action, hence the steps we had to take in terms of sanctions.
QUESTION: You’re talking about China?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: But in your region – I presume Russia is another but it’s not yours, so I won’t ask you about that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right, right.
QUESTION: But I mean, like Malaysia —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: In the region, yes. Yes.
QUESTION: — Thailand —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: [Official] mentioned the other day that negotiations with Japan on the host nation support agreement would start pretty quickly this year. I was just wondering if you can give us some information about kind of your ballpark timeline about when you intend to start negotiating. Just a ballpark is fine. What kind of things – what kind of asks are you going to give Japan?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, so we answered the second one. On the first one, obviously working through the Korea negotiations now, not a whole lot of discussion to date on this with respect to the follow-on negotiations with Japan. I don’t have a lot to offer. The beautiful thing about pushing this to a negotiator, Jim DeHart in the current example, is that allows him to focus entirely on this. Me wandering into the middle of this isn’t helpful. I watch it generically and there’s really not a lot to report on Japan yet, so I’m going to let that one go. We’re focused on Korea right now.
MODERATOR: Yeah, let’s just stick with the – what [Official] said about timing and the ability to – all right.
QUESTION: Oh, I still have one, just a —
MODERATOR: One short one, and then we’re going to wrap it up.
QUESTION: Just a short one. Your assessment of the – still lack of a Christmas present from North Korea, do you attribute that to behind-the-scenes Russian and Chinese diplomacy?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, sure. Why not? I do think if you look at it strategically, we have a working process going right now. If you look at what – okay, if we take – well, let’s quote Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu: Best to win without fighting. So putting up language and bluffs, I think, are helpful. It prevents you from having to take further steps. So if you can talk someone out of something, it’s better than having to force them to do it, especially when you’re probably not playing the strongest hand. So, why not? But the good thing is that we held our ground, patient diplomacy, we allowed that to play out, and here we sit, and I think they got the message.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.