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QUESTION:  I have a question unless you want to say something.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  No, I’m happy to start with the question.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Actually I wanted to ask you, [Senior State Department Official Two] —


QUESTION:  — since I was at the panel where you spoke yesterday.  And you said what we’ve heard many times from people at the State Department, that – I just took a few notes here – that religious freedom is the foundation of society and if you once – only when you have religious freedom do you have political freedom and economic development, and without it there’s violence, instability, and terror.  We keep hearing that.  I’m wondering what empirical evidence is there of that.  Have any – who has studied that?  How do you know if – that religious freedom is the foundation and not political freedom is the foundation for religious freedom, or I guess economic development?  But let’s say political freedom.  I’m just wondering what studies – everybody keeps saying – yesterday – there was empirical evidence.  What’s the evidence of that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  More than we can recount in an on-background interview.  Look, I can answer that in part historically.  The political liberties that we enjoy in the United States are outgrowths of religious liberties that were set deep in the soil of the New World.  This goes back to the Federalist Papers as well.  This is Federalist 10.  I mean, you balance different factions against one another and ensure that nobody has a monopoly on power, and Madison is talking largely about religious factions.  That produces political outcomes that are conducive to liberty.  Look around the world.  Where religious freedom is absent, the world is bloody.  Where religious freedom is present, we have prosperity and peace.  Religious freedom is the canary in the coal mine.  When it evaporates, when it goes away, when it’s threatened, it is a sign that worse outcomes are to follow.

QUESTION:  But to follow on that, isn’t often religious freedom used to impinge upon economic development and on religious freedom and other kinds of civil rights?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I actually don’t want to have a conversation on theology.  We’d like to talk about the policy issues.

QUESTION:  Well, it relates very —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  You guys are welcome to come back to my constitutional law classes after I’m out of government and we can have this conversation in a seminar setting, but I agree with [Senior State Department Official One].

QUESTION:  Well, it’s hard not to —


QUESTION:  — because you brought it up yesterday, and that seems to be the root of policy.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, if you don’t have freedom of conscience, what do you have?

QUESTION:  Well, what was the purpose of the last two days here, the symposium?  What do you think you accomplished with it?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I can answer it too.  Want me to —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Sure, go ahead, [Senior State Department Official Two].  Go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  We want to – so this – understand the context.  This is one of many public and private diplomatic engagements that we have undertaken over the past three and a half years of this administration to make progress on religious freedom.  Today, the specific issue is the threat posed by communist China.  We want to raise awareness and mobilize like-minded partners to stand up for the faithful.  But this is not a one-off.  This is a sustained, fundamental commitment that you’ve seen in this administration over three and a half years to this issue at all corners of the world.

QUESTION:  I wonder if you could just give a little more readout of the meetings that you had today at the Vatican and how discussions of China went.  Obviously —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I wasn’t in that meeting; I can’t comment on it.  Not in the Parolin meeting.



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  They’ll have a readout for you.


QUESTION:  I saw the readout.  I just didn’t know if there was any further – do you have any reaction generally to what it was that Gallagher – how he responded to it, saying that he felt that they were blindsided by the public criticism regarding China prior to their arrival in Rome?  Do you have any response to them saying anything along those lines?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  We – from what I saw yesterday, the meetings that I was in, we’ve had very productive engagement with the Vatican and a very respectful exchange, as you saw on the stage yesterday.  And we’re talking about the issue, and that’s a good thing because you have more than a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz locked up in internment camps.  You have Protestant house churches being burned down.  You have Catholic sermons being monitored.  You have Catholic priests and laypeople being abused.  You have Tibetans who are undergoing a new wave of oppression.  We have Falun Gong adherents who suffer enormously under the Chinese communist regime.

And any attention to this issue, particularly by the likes of you in this room, by your interest in it, is an absolutely terrific and important step because without a recognition of the abuses, well, we can’t do anything about it, right?  So I think we’re grateful for the Vatican’s good work around the world, and I think we’re grateful for your interest in the issue.

QUESTION:  Did you receive – do you have any reason to feel confidence in anything you heard from the Vatican that they will do more?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Oh, the Vatican – I mean, the Holy See has a record of hundreds and hundreds of years of good works around the world.  And in fact, the Secretary met this morning with the Sant’Egidio folks who have, I believe – and you’d have to check this – more than 60,000 people around the world.  He heard of their work in Mozambique and South Sudan.  They’ve in fact lost, I believe, in Mozambique – please, again, check me if I’m wrong – they’ve lost members there.  It was a very, very moving meeting.

So when you talk about the Catholic Church, it’s not just the diplomatic corps here that the Secretary interfaces with.  It’s an entire range of individuals from nuns, from new priests.  In fact, the Secretary spoke to newly ordained deacons this morning at the Pontifical North American College.  Again, got a rousing ovation – hundreds of priests in the room.  It was remarkable to see.  So we interact with the Catholic Church in a variety of ways, and again, it’s kind of hard to see because you’re in diplomatic meetings, but I don’t have anything.  If want to add to that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  The Vatican’s playing the long game when it comes to human rights and religious liberty.  They have fundamental principles enunciated, for instance in the 1965 Encyclical, that inform everything they do in the world, all of their diplomatic engagements, whether with friendly countries like the United States or hostile countries.  So I think any time that we are talking about religious freedom with the Vatican, tactical agreements and tactical differences will come and go, but the broader strategic vision –the United States and the Vatican are in lockstep and have been for generations and will be for generations to come, I think.

QUESTION:  Do you worry at all that setting this refugee cap at 15,000, that that limits your ability to help some of the people who are seeking a place to go, where they can practice their religious freedom?  I mean, obviously, given your appreciation for the freedoms that are the U.S. and the ability to do so, and the fact that there are so many people who are fleeing that persecution from their own country, wouldn’t it be better to have more people come into the U.S. through that program?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  No (inaudible) – I mean, I don’t follow refugee policy.  I’m sorry, otherwise I’d comment.

MODERATOR:  Yeah, this is a White House decision, so —



QUESTION:  Can I ask about the meetings today, thinking about them in terms of what some of the National Security Strategy and great power competition have talked about.  I wonder, do you think that the – that both the USAID and charitable work that we talked about (inaudible) and then that the intergovernmental agreement that was signed today, is there – does that have the effect of maybe helping counter or preclude malign Chinese or Russian influence maybe in the Central African Republic, and is there anything strategic at stake there?

When we were at the signing – maybe I should explain – the press officer there mentioned that they do a lot of work in the Central African Republic where, of course, three journalists were – three Russian journalists were murdered while investigating Prigozhin’s operations there, some blood diamond issues.  I just wondered if maybe we were – maybe at the back of some of what we’re talking about, there was a – there were strategic implications?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Well, I wasn’t in that one, so —  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Her face says it all.  (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Again, I don’t want to look at things in a narrow way.  I mean, the United States interacts and helps people – I’m sorry, I don’t really understand your question.  Is it – you mean was there sort of a strategic purpose to this Sant’Egidio meeting?  Is that —

QUESTION:  No, the —

QUESTION:  No, is the – is the charitable work and the support happening through Sant’Egidio and the development work that we talked about here at the subsequent meeting – will that have the effect of providing alternatives to Chinese or Russian predations,  predatory investments, other operations in some of these same countries?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I think what’s little known is the breadth and the scope of U.S. development aid all over the world, and not just in Africa.  In fact, I was having a conversation today with a colleague, and we were remarking on the Vatican and said that some – I think, again, you’d have to check – some, I think, 70 to 80 percent of the Vatican Museum is financed by American philanthropy.  We’re the most generous nation on the face of the earth.

And when you talk about development assistance, the United States provides it through a variety of ways.  We tend to think about government assistance or bilateral assistance, but the U.S. is – we lead at the World Food Program providing aid and saving hundreds of thousands of lives every year with absolutely no fanfare.  We do it through NGOs.  We do it through corporate philanthropy.  We do it through individual philanthropy.

So I always feel as if the way that that narrative, right, is structured in the press is very incomplete and it’s very narrow.  I mean, we should be very proud of how generous we are as a people.  It’s actually in many ways what sets us apart from other nations.

So in terms of the Central African Republic, I can’t really comment specifically on that, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find any other nation in the world where a secretary of state would sit down, take the time and the generosity that we’ve provided to the Sant’Egidio.  I think we’ve given them several – is it hundred million?  [Moderator] will get you the numbers.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  But we’ve given them COVID relief.  We’ve helped them in Africa.  I mean, it’d be wonderful if that were reported.  I think (inaudible) on that.

QUESTION:  So why do you think you were having so much trouble at, certainly with the Vatican but let’s say other countries as well, convincing them that the proper strategy for dealing with Beijing and the repression that we know is going on with religious and ethnic minorities?  Why are you having difficulties convincing the Vatican and other countries that that is the best strategy to deal with them, too, just take a hard line?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I guess I’d question the premise of your question, that there is a disagreement on strategy.  I think the Vatican shares our objective: freedom for all believers in China.  They share our objective to close the internment camps and stop the forced abortions.  They are not a government; they are a church.  And so the tactical tools available to the Vatican are different than the tactical tools that are available to a superpower like the United States.  And I think you could offer a similar assessment with respect to our European allies.  I think the strategic vision is exactly the same.  The tactical measures – there’s probably even more alignment with European states when it comes to public diplomacy, calling out the violators, considering sanctions on the wrongdoers.

So I see not just strategic but in many cases tactical alignment between us and Europe on the China question.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I mean, if anything I think we’ve seen the opposite.  There was a Financial Times story this morning about Germany effectively banning Huawei.  That’s extraordinary.  We’ve had more than 30 countries join the Clean Path program.  We have a meeting with the – we had the ASEAN countries stand up to China’s bullying in the South China Sea.  You have the EU Council president make a statement, a very strong statement which got very little notice last week about how Europe stands with the West, because of the values that Senior Administration Official Number One just spoke of.  You had Borrell offer – it was an accord – to begin a U.S.-EU dialogue on China.  That was a European offer, which we very happily and very quickly accepted.

You have an enormous amount of – I mean, look at – look at the warm reception the Secretary received in Greece and Italy.  These countries understand the foundation of their freedoms and their economic prosperity, and it’s very clear that’s rooted in liberty.  And whether it’s with the pandemic that originated in Wuhan and was created in Wuhan, or through our really very, very persistent efforts to speak to our allies, inform them of what we know, brief them, we’ve really seen a shift over the past year.

And just to say one last thing, because the Secretary said this too, and I think it’s an important thing to emphasize:  This is really about being treated fairly and transparently.  We’ve given China an exception in so many areas, whether it’s at WTO, whether it’s at the WHO (inaudible) health regulations, and even to a degree on the human rights question.  Who was talking about Xinjiang before the United States started talking about what was going on there, other than Adrian Zenz, the German researcher who uncovered these atrocities?

So I think it’s a good sign.  I think that the trip has been very productive, and very, very warm receptions too.

MODERATOR:  Let’s take one more.

QUESTION:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Maybe just a quick one, then.  I’ve seen some reporting and my own reporting suggests that the Vatican’s negotiations over this nomination of bishops is pretty widely received, if it goes well, as a step towards full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China, which presumably would be at the expense of their relations with Taiwan.  Have you – do you have any concern that that might occur?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  I don’t think we talk about hypotheticals.  I’m sorry (inaudible).  Do you have another question?

QUESTION:  This is for you, [Senior State Department Official Two].  I wonder if you could speak at all to the threat right now in Iraq by the Iranian proxy groups and some of this reporting that’s going around about possibly pulling back from the U.S. embassy there.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  I don’t have a whole lot to say on that beyond what we’ve said back in Washington.  I just want to keep it confined to the religious freedom topic.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future