MODERATOR: Thank you. Good morning, everyone, and happy Friday. Today we have an on-background call that will be about the Secretary’s trip, upcoming trip to Thailand, Australia, and the Federated States of Micronesia. I’m very happy today to have [Senior State Department Official] joining me, who is [title]. He will be referred to as Senior State Department Official in your background reporting, please. Just a reminder, it is on background, and I am now going to turn it over to Senior State Department Official, who will open our call, give brief remarks, and then we will take questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, and good morning. Thanks for joining this call. I’m going to preview the Secretary’s upcoming trip to the Indo-Pacific region, and then I’ll take your questions, as we said.
First, logistics. Secretary Pompeo will be on the road from July 30th to August 6th. His first stop will be Bangkok, Thailand, where he will participate in the ASEAN-related ministerial meetings. He’ll also hold bilateral meetings with the Thai Government, and he’ll deliver a speech on U.S. economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
From there, Secretary Pompeo will travel to Sydney, Australia to participate in the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, or AUSMIN, and hold additional meetings with his Australian counterparts. He’ll deliver another address there on our longstanding friendship with our mates down under.
The Secretary’s final stop on this trip is a historic visit to Micronesia, the first time a sitting Secretary of State will visit this important Pacific Island nation.
The Secretary is traveling to the Indo-Pacific region at an important time. As I often remind people, the U.S. is a Pacific power. This administration doesn’t just talk about our commitment to the region; we are actively pursuing closer ties with our friends and partners to advance the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, which the Secretary outlined in his speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in July 2018. The United States supports a free and open Indo-Pacific that prospers based on transparency and the rule of law. The Indo-Pacific is one of this administration’s most important priorities. We support a constellation of diverse nations that are sovereign, secure, prosperous, and strong. This vision is built on principles that are widely shared throughout the region: ensuring the freedom of seas and skies; insulating sovereign nations from external coercion; promoting market-based economics, open investment environments, and fair, reciprocal trade; and supporting good governance and respect for individual rights.
Our friends and partners in ASEAN and elsewhere in the region are converging around these values and principles because they work. Just look at the remarkable increases in economic prosperity in recent decades in places like Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. We welcome the recently published ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which reiterates these themes.
The United States is committed to expanding engagement in three vital areas: economics, governance, and security. All U.S. initiatives in the Indo-Pacific are designed to be open platforms for new and expanded collaboration with allies and partners. Citizens around the world know that when they partner with the United States, everyone benefits. This is not a zero-sum equation. Cooperation with partner countries and regional institutions such as ASEAN is at the center of our strategy.
On August 1st, Secretary Pompeo will co-chair the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial and the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial. The next day he will participate in the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum Ministerial meetings. The U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial will highlight our strategic partnership, including strong cooperation on cybersecurity, smart cities, and energy security. The LMI – Lower Mekong Initiative – Ministerial will mark 10 years of progress to strengthen the Mekong region and highlight our close cooperation to foster sustainable development and greater cross-border collaboration to address pressing transnational challenges.
Both of the EAS and ARF ministerial meetings are important opportunities for the United States to engage in dialogue at a high level on key regional issues, including on the DPRK and the South China Sea, as well as advance cooperation to promote our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The Secretary will also have the opportunity to speak with Thai Foreign Minister Don. Our relationship with the Kingdom of Thailand remains one of our most important in the Indo-Pacific. Thailand is a key partner and a longtime ally in Asia. Our broad cooperation benefits both our countries, the region, and beyond. Thailand has performed admirably as the chair of ASEAN this year, and as longtime treaty allies, we are invested in their success in that role.
Together we have made progress on shared goals such as advancing regional security, expanding trade and investment, addressing public health challenges, countering transnational crime, combatting trafficking in persons, and assisting refugees and displaced persons.
From Thailand, the Secretary will head to Sydney, Australia. Secretary of Defense Esper will join the Secretary in Sydney for the AUSMIN meetings. The United States has no better friend or ally than Australia. Our commitment to Australia is profound, unshakable, and unbreakable. It is grounded in shared values, principles, and overlapping interests. The Secretary will speak about this unique friendship at a speech in Sydney, which I know he’s very much looking forward to. The historic United States-Australia alliance is more vital today than ever to regional security and prosperity. We look forward to continuing to strengthen the alliance through this visit.
As I mentioned at the top, the Secretary’s final stop on this trip is a historic visit to Micronesia. During his visit the Secretary will meet with the leaders of the Freely Associated States with whom the United States enjoys a special relationship under our Compacts of Free Association, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. We see the Pacific Islands as essential contributors to a shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific in which independent nations with diverse cultures and aspirations can prosper side by side in freedom and in peace. We especially appreciate the service of citizens of the Freely Associated States in our armed forces and their personal sacrifice on behalf of our great nation.
The United States is also one of the top development partners to the Pacific Islands. During the last fiscal year we provided more than $350 million in projects, grant assistance, and operations that directly benefit the people of the Pacific. Our close collaboration and support for good governance, security, disaster risk reduction, and economic development will continue.
And with that, I’ll be happy to take your questions.
OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your telephone keypad. If you’re using a speaker phone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, please press * then 1 at this time. And there’ll be just a moment before our first question.
Our first question will come from the line of Francesco Fontemaggi with AFP. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this call. I was wondering – you spoke about DPRK – if there are any North Korea-related meetings and if the Secretary, while in Bangkok, will meet with any North Korean counterpart to resume the talks as agreed by President Trump and Kim Jong-un in the DMZ. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, I think this question has been asked before and the response is the same. We – one, we’re not going to talk about the specific bilateral meetings other than the ones that have been announced. I know it’s a topic on everyone’s mind and we’ll be sure to get you that data as soon as we can.
OPERATOR: And our next question will come from the line of Matthew Lee with the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks again, [Senior State Department Official], to the State Department.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks.
QUESTION: Kind of a follow-up, but also broadening it out a little bit, on the – I mean, do you expect – how big on the agenda of – how big on the Secretary’s agenda is North Korea? And is the only bilat that you have announced so far with the Thais? And then just related to that, he doesn’t – the South China Sea, there seem to be some kind of semi-ominous developments there as well, so I’m just wondering between that and the DPRK, what’s bigger and what’s on the agenda, and what are your specific concerns about each? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the agenda, if you just look at the participants in each of these meetings, it’ll give you a pretty good idea. Obviously, North Korea is a concern for everybody and not just because of the direct threat but because of the interactions that each country has and our desire that those be addressed as part of the Security Council resolutions.
South China Sea – as far as any ominous activities, it seems to be a growing interest among the region in the – specifically the code of conduct negotiations and the desire to make sure that any code of conduct is in line with existing international law, naming – namely the Law of the Sea. It is interesting that China is pushing on these states to limit with whom they do military relations exercises and then with whom they do offshore resource development.
So these things will come up. Clearly, we have an interest in ensuring stability there, and we’ve seen issues with the ramming of fishing ships – or fishing boats, deserting the fishermen there. That was noticed by the Philippines, missile launches and such. So these are – I guess fly in the face of any claims of interest in peace and security. So since we’re going to Southeast Asia, the South China Sea is a key part of that. You can expect that will be a topic of discussion.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Nike Ching with Voice of America.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much for the background call. I just had some dental work; I will try my very best to speak clearly. And welcome, Senior Official.
So my question on Micronesia: I assume Secretary Pompeo is meeting with Micronesia’s new president, David Panuelo, because he’s going to have a inauguration in the end of July. What is the U.S. message to the new government? Is the discussion on the naval facility’s expansion on the table?
And separately, Senior Official just mentioned it’s not a zero-sum equation of U.S. engagement in the region. Could you please elaborate that a little bit? Because the perception is that the U.S. is countering Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific region. Thank you very much.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question, and your interest is noteworthy and important. This is a region that clearly is important to U.S. interests. The Compact states are part of a longstanding U.S. interest in the region that’s – and on the 70th anniversary events dealing with World War II clearly is another reason why we should be honoring our history and our shared sacrifice.
We see these folks as essential contributors to this vision of a free and open Pacific. I mean, the Pacific’s a big place and these folks occupy a major part of that certainly by space if not by population. Independent nations like the Compact states can all prosper side by side along with us, and we see opportunities to help them in that. And the prosperity that the U.S. offers, as we mentioned, the – it’s not a zero sum; it benefits both sides.
One more data point: We’re – the U.S. is one of the top development partners in the Pacific Islands. Last year we provided more than $350 million in projects, like I said, so it’s a significant investment. So any sense that this is a new interest in the region I don’t think is supported, and I’ll leave it at that.
OPERATOR: All right. And our next question will come from David Brunnstrom with Reuters. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. Thank you very much for doing this. I was wondering, you – will – do you expect to be – sorry, does the Secretary, is he likely to have a bilateral with his Chinese counterpart there? You mentioned, I think, the North Korean issue and sanctions. Are there particular concerns about the way countries in the region are enforcing sanctions?
And just one more on the Japan-South Korea issue: Is – can we expect some U.S. intervention to try and tamp that down?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Those are good questions. They’re hard questions. I think any time we have the U.S., the ROK, and Japan in the same place, there’s going to be a desire to get together. I can’t speak to the specifics on that yet. It’s a very busy trip. Obviously we’re concerned with the tension between the two and are looking for ways to incentivize both to address those in a productive and a way that benefits both sides.
So again, very interested – as you know, I was just there in both countries and had the opportunity to talk about these things, mostly to hear their sides and hear their positions on it, and in there hopefully find areas of overlapping interest, overlapping areas that we’d find cooperation.
As far as the other question having to do with China, China – it’s their – they’ve been in the region for a long time. They have interests in the region. Nobody denies that. The Chinese are part of the structure. I’ll look at my cheat sheet here to figure out which one of those ASEAN/ARF they are, but clearly they’re part of these – this larger multilateral forum. So there will be conversation in meetings, there will be interaction, there will be positions raised and all that. As far as the specifics, I’m not going to offer the – any details on that, though.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from the line of Bill Faries with Bloomberg News.
QUESTION: Hey, good morning, thanks for having us. And as a former resident of the Marshall Islands, it’s always good to hear that region getting some love. But let me go back and ask about a little slightly different area. I wonder, what is on the Secretary’s schedule in terms of discussing or raising the issue of either the Rohingya or the Uighur detainees in western China?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s good that this subject is out now, that you’re asking this question. For the longest time, it was sort of – it wasn’t getting the attention it deserves. We just held the religious freedom ministerial here at the State Department last week. What day is it? With travel you sort of lose track of exactly where and when you are, but – so I was on the road for that. But I know that a – freedom of your belief is a basic human right that clearly we stand for. Others see it as a threat, and the fact that it’s getting a spotlight makes it more difficult for those to continue to doing detaining and all the rest – a significant part of their population.
So we ask that everyone respect human rights and rule of law and especially transparency in this regard. The more we can see about what’s happening out there in Xinjiang and the better – the Southeast Asian nations are interested as well. So I don’t know if it’s on the agenda, I don’t know if it’s going to be raised, but it will be on everyone’s mind.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: And one thing I would add to this – this is [Moderator], guys – is don’t forget to refer back to the sanctions that the Secretary announced at the religious freedom ministerial as well as it relates to Burma, because I think you had asked about that earlier in your question.
Okay. We can go to the next one.
OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Joel Gehrke with Washington Examiner. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I wanted to turn some attention to Micronesia, if you don’t mind. This is the second high-level meeting in I think just a couple of months. Could you talk a little bit more about what’s driving this flurry of engagement, perhaps with particular reference to China? What are the U.S. interests at stake right now in that part of the world? Are you worried about – is it about the flurry of activity over Taiwan and China’s campaign for diplomatic relations with Taiwan’s allies, or is it more about airspace access and some more physical strategic significance there?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s a – I mean, obviously, it’s a good question. There are many facets to this, but the one that’s obvious to me is – you go back to our history, especially in World War II, and we sacrificed a lot. We were clearly interested in that area for strategic reasons then and now. It’s still a major strategic area, and this isn’t new. This interaction is not new. Now, the level of interaction is clearly elevated, as you note. I mean, there’s a lot of reasons for that. I don’t want to pin it down to one single reason, but we do have a strong history with these folks.
There are other issues with climate and whatnot that is going to come up, and then finally, I’m a big fan of making sure there is governance in what would seem to be ungoverned spaces. And so we want to help these folks protect their fisheries and all those other things on which they really depend, because if you have economic disturbance, you have instability and all the rest. That’s an area of the world we – it’s been stable; like to keep it that way.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s do last question, please.
OPERATOR: Our last question will come from the line of Conor Finnegan with ABC News.
QUESTION: Hey, thank you for doing the call. Two questions if I could. First, on Thailand, you praised the longtime partnership with Thailand but you didn’t mention the recent crackdown on human rights and recent attacks on opposition figures. Does the U.S. think that Thailand has made enough progress in terms of democracy to sort of fully embrace again?
And then on climate change, which you just briefly mentioned, when the Secretary was in Finland for the Arctic Summit, he discussed climate change as creating economic opportunity. Will that be the same message that he has for Micronesia and the other Pacific Island countries that view it as more of an existential threat?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let me address your first question first. Having – just there, we had some very positive interaction with the Thais, and the movement from the coup in 2014 to certification on the election demonstrates significant progress following regrettable activity five – how many years ago – five years ago. And so I think of it as more of a process than a state or and end state. We can always work on where we are in terms of democracy, and I look forward to working with the Thais further on this.
What was the second question? Repeat your second question? Oh, on climate change, yeah. Yeah, I don’t know. Like I said, [inaudible], there’s a lot of stuff going on. [Inaudible] but for right now, I have nothing more to say on what the Secretary said in Finland.
MODERATOR: Okay, thanks, everybody. We really appreciate it. Thanks for dialing in, and we’ll see all of you soon.