Moderator: Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining our call today, and a big thank you to our speaker, Ambassador Dan Shields, who’s the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Mission to ASEAN. I will introduce Ambassador Shields very quickly, and then we’ll turn it over to him.
Ambassador Shields is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and has spent much of his Foreign Service career working on Asia. From 2011 to 2014 he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Brunei. Ambassador Shields became Chargé d’Affaires ad interim at the U.S. Mission to ASEAN in May 2017.
With that, Ambassador Shields, I will turn it over to you. Please go ahead.
Ambassador Daniel Shields: Thanks very much, Cassidy. It’s great to be here on the line with all of you. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share some impressions connected with the recent ASEAN-related summits held here in the Philippines.
As you know, President Trump spent 12 days in Asia, and two of those days were here in the Philippines in connection with the ASEAN-related summits. Secretary Tillerson was also here, and other senior officials from the U.S. government were also here. And I think this shows the depth of the U.S. commitment to the relationship with ASEAN.
As you know, this is a big year for ASEAN celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Philippines did a wonderful job of organizing the various ASEAN-related conferences. President Trump was highly complimentary of the efforts by President Duterte and the government of the Philippines to put these events together.
This year is also the 40th anniversary of relations between the United States and ASEAN. So this is one of the reasons why it was particularly important that President Trump was able to participate in the U.S.-ASEAN summit with the ten leaders of ASEAN.
With regard to the messages that President Trump, Secretary Tillerson, and the U.S. team conveyed in connection with the summits, the top priority was the importance of strengthening international resolve to denuclearize North Korea. President Trump emphasized American resolve in countering the threat that North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs pose to the entire world. He stressed that the United States is committed to the complete, verifiable, and permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The President and Secretary Tillerson made clear that our strategy needs to apply maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea; that means denying North Korean the resources necessary to fund its nuclear and missile programs, and convince North Korea to turn away from the path that they’re on and reject provocation and confrontation.
So the President urged all responsible nations, and this was very much the message in his contact with ASEAN and East Asia Summit leaders, that they should act now to resolve the North Korean threat. Some of the specific things are the importance of all nations implementing UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions, and ending trading relationships that fund North Korean nuclear and missile development. So we can go back in more detail on that one, but I just want to make clear that was the top priority.
Another issue that the President and the Secretary and their team conveyed was promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific stretches from the Indian subcontinent to the west coast of North America, the world’s most economically vibrant and consequential region. Sometimes the way people describe it is it stretches from Hollywood to Bollywood. So the relationships the United States has with the nations of the Indo-Pacific benefit American security and prosperity, and also those of our partners in the region.
The President, the Secretary, and others made it clear that the United States supports a free and open Indo-Pacific based on respect for sovereignty, the rule of law, open market, fair and reciprocal trade, freedom of navigation, and private-sector led economic growth.
The other thing that I’d like to stress before wrapping up these opening comments was just the focus on the U.S.-ASEAN Summit. For 40 years now, the United States has been partnering with ASEAN and its member states on economic engagement, security, rule of law, sustainable development, human rights, and people-to-people programming. So that’s why it was so important that the president was here, Secretary Tillerson was here, and they underlined the importance of the U.S. relationship with ASEAN.
So with that, I’ll conclude my opening remarks and turn it over. Thank you.
Moderator: All right. Thank you so much, Ambassador Shields. AT&T, I think we’re ready to open it up for questions. Vietanh Phan from VnExpress?
Question: Yeah, yeah. It’s Vietanh Phan from VnExpress. Thank you for giving me this time.
I have two details to ask. The first one is why is the — President Trump did not attend the EAS summit — the EAS? The second: how did he mention the South China Sea issue in this [Inaudible] with ASEAN leaders and partners? Thank you.
Ambassador Daniel Shields: Okay. Thanks very much. So with regard to the President’s participation, he was here for two days. He extended his stay by a day with the goal of participating in the East Asia Summit.
The problem is that on the summit organizers’ side, it just ran into scheduling delays. So the summit itself slipped back beyond the time that the President was slated to depart. And, as you know, with the aircraft units, even if you’re flying Air Force One, there’s a window in which the flight has to go. So that’s the reason that the President was unable to participate in the plenary session.
However, the President did deliver the messages that he had in the lunch that President Duterte hosted for the EAS and the other leaders that took place just previous to that. So President Trump really showed his commitment to all the ASEAN-related summits, including the EAS.
With regard to the South China Sea issue, it was a very consistent U.S. message at all levels about the importance of the South China Sea and preserving freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the rule of law in the South China Sea. All of our nations in the Indo-Pacific very much depend on the trade and navigation flow that goes through the South China Sea, and that was a high priority for the U.S. side.
Question: Hello, I’m Reesa from the CNN Indonesia. I would like to ask: Besides the North Korea issues, is there any topic that U.S. and ASEAN talk regarding the — South China Sea issues? If there is talk about that, could you emphasize specific about — specific about the South China Sea issues in the summit? Thank you.
Ambassador Daniel Shields: Yes, so there certainly was discussion of South China Sea issues. You know, with regard to the South China Sea, the U.S. side took note of the ASEAN and China’s adoption of a framework for a Code of Conduct, but we don’t see that, per se, as the solution to the problem. There still is a lot of work that has to be done. The various claimants should clarify their claims in accordance with international law.
The United States has never taken a stance on the claims – territorial claims, but we do take a strong position that all maritime claims must be in accordance with international law as reflected in the Law of Sea Convention. The United States is committed to our alliances and broader security commitments in the region. And we’re committed to safeguarding the freedom of navigation and overflight, other lawful use of the sea, and will continue to fly, sail, or operate wherever international law allows.
So that was the message that the United States delivered on the South China Sea. And many of our colleagues in ASEAN expressed similar views. Thank you.
Question: Hi, there. Thank you so much for this briefing. My question was about the meeting with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
My question is: Why were the plans to meet Mr. Turnbull changed so many times, and why was the dinner between them cancelled? And, secondly, is there any detail about what the two men discussed, and do you know if they discussed the refugee deal with the United States? Thank you.
Ambassador Daniel Shields: I’m sorry. I’m afraid that’s something that I’m really not in a position to discuss. I work on U.S.-ASEAN relations, so I’d have to defer to the U.S. Embassy in Canberra on that question. Thank you.
Question: No worries.
Question: Hello. My name is [Inaudible] from Liputan6.com, Jakarta-based media. I want to ask about Rakhine issues that — that the [Inaudible] in ASEAN-U.S. summit — wait a minute. I’m sorry.
So how do U.S. — at the U.S. and ASEAN summit meeting, how do U.S. and [Inaudible] on views on Rohingya issues? Can you elaborate more on how Trump is [Inaudible] quoting from local media that President Trump will come to Myanmar to end the Rohingya crisis, and what kind of policy and strategy [Inaudible] in the coming days in context of crisis in Rohingya? Thank you.
Ambassador Daniel Shields: Okay. So with regards to the humanitarian crisis in parts of Rakhine, I’m deeply troubled by the situation there. This is very much something that was conveyed by our senior leaders participating in the various ASEAN-related summits. At least 600,000 people have fled their homes in the wake of the violence there.
And with regard to the humanitarian — the grave humanitarian problems there, we expressed appreciation for all the work that ASEAN has done through the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre, called the AHA Centre. That has really played a critical role in addressing the humanitarian crisis; so our leaders applauded ASEAN’s efforts in that regard, but there’s still much more that has to be done to address the situation.
With regard to next steps, Secretary Tillerson is about to have meetings with senior Myanmar officials in which he will follow up on that matter. Thank you.
Moderator: Ambassador Shields, if you’d like to make any closing remarks, I’ll turn it back over to you.
Ambassador Daniel Shields: Okay. Thanks very much. Yes, in the closing remarks, just to highlight — I’d like to highlight a couple specific things that came out of the Summit that I think might be of interest to participants in our session today.
People ask, you know, what are these summits for? What kind of tangible things can be accomplished coming out of these summits? I think a good example of the kind of issues that forums like the EAS can help address is the problem of chemical weapons. So the United States introduced an EAS Summit Leaders Statement on Chemical Weapons, and we worked with ASEAN and the other EAS members to push this through.
Why chemical weapons? Why this year? A couple reasons. The first, this is the 20th anniversary of the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons. So there is kind of a symbolic reason to highlight this issue this year, but I would say the more important and fundamental reason is that chemical weapons were actually used in the EAS region this year back in February at Kuala Lumpur International Airport when the nerve agent VX was used in a fatal incident.
So we thought, particularly in the context of that matter, it was important for the EAS to be able to step up and address the chemical weapons issue. And we’re grateful that we were able to get the support of our partners in the EAS on making a clear leader statement on chemical weapons. And that’s one specific thing I wanted to highlight.
What I also wanted to highlight is what the United States and ASEAN will be working on going forward. Basically, there are 5 focuses for the U.S. partnership with ASEAN. Number 1 is economic integration. And in that regard, U.S.-ASEAN Connect, which is run out of our US Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta, but which has a presence throughout the region, and it engages throughout the region, plays a critical role.
There are a couple areas I’ll highlight with regard to U.S.-ASEAN Connect. It’s essentially an umbrella that brings together the whole economic relationship between the United States and ASEAN, both on the public-sector side and the private-sector side.
An example of the kind of things that they do would be digital economy workshops that U.S.-ASEAN Connect organizes around various ASEAN countries – there was one in Thailand recently, for example — to try to strengthen the coordination between the public and private sector on digital economy issues. Okay, so that’s Number 1, is economics.
Number 2, maritime cooperation, and we’ve already touched on this. This is something that many leaders, including ours, highlighted in connection with the ASEAN-related summits. Maritime cooperation is clearly a critical issue for us going forward.
This is why these questions like freedom of navigation have come up so frequently in EAS issues. So one of the areas that we’ll continue to work on in U.S.-ASEAN going forward is finding ways to strengthen maritime cooperation in the region.
The 3rd priority is addressing transnational challenges, and that can mean a lot of things. It can mean transnational crimes. It can mean various kinds of trafficking, trafficking in humans, trafficking in wildlife, but these are areas where we’ll be working going forward.
You’ll note that ASEAN has its own convention to fight trafficking-in-persons. So we are working with ASEAN to support these efforts, and our programs that USAID administers are focused to figure out assisting victims of trafficking.
Number 4 is cultivating the emerging leaders of ASEAN. Maybe some of you are familiar with a program that we have called YSEALI, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. And over 100,000 people all around the region have signed up for YSEALI.
And what it does is brings together people from all 10 ASEAN countries to interact with each other, and to think about what they would like to see as the future of ASEAN. There’s training and leadership, mentoring. And people really come away with some very important networks and skills that can help build a stronger future for ASEAN.
Why is the Unites States doing this? Because we know that it’s in our interest for ASEAN to be strong, united, cohesive, but that’s only going to happen if the emerging leaders in ASEAN get to know each other, get to understand each other. So we’re trying to do our part to support that.
And then the final — the 5th and final area that I would like to highlight is promoting opportunity for women in ASEAN. And there the U.S. Mission to ASEAN supports programs like the Women’s Leadership Academy and also the Women’s Science Prize.
So these are kind of the efforts that we’ll be engaged in going forward to build on some of the great work that was done in the ASEAN-related summits just held here in Manila. Thank you.
Moderator: Great. Thank you so much, Ambassador Shields. We really appreciate you taking the time after your very busy schedule the past several weeks in the lead up and the past several days with the ASEAN Summit taking the time to do this phone call.
Thank you to those who have listened in today. And I will turn it back over to the AT&T operator so they can pass on the digitized replay information.