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Moderator: Good afternoon everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub in Manila. I’m Zia Syed, the Hub Director, and I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and the United States. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by the Department of State’s Andrea L. Thompson, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from the Under Secretary, then we will turn to your questions. We’ll try to get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 20 minutes.
Please note that we have quite a few journalists on the line, so we would ask that you please limit your questions to just the one question so that everyone is able to participate.
Finally, as a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Under Secretary Thompson.
U/S Thompson: Thank you, Zia, and thanks to all of you for dialing in this afternoon and giving us the opportunity to share some of the great news that’s been done. I’ve been in the region, the Indo-Pacific region, for approximately ten days. I’ve been across various stops in Australia and here in Wellington, New Zealand, meeting with senior government officials, with industry leaders, with youth council, next generation leaders, building upon the alliance and partnership that we have here, talking specifically in my portfolio with arms control, nonproliferation, our national security needs and political-military affairs, and building upon emerging technology. We’ve had some amazing discussions on cyber and space, both in Australia and New Zealand.
I look forward to answering your questions this afternoon. So thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Let’s start the questions with Nathan Hondros from WAtoday – [Nine Publishing, in Perth].
Question: Thank you, Under Secretary Thompson. I’d heard you made some comments in the Australian press on the weekend about China and particularly looking at more transparency in terms of their activities. But I had a question about the Indian Ocean, part of the Australian continent, and particularly some of the threats that we might specifically be dealing with in our northwest with a lot of resources and infrastructure. Can you perhaps talk about it from your views in relation to, where we might be under a bit of pressure from a security perspective.
U/S Thompson: I’d leave the views of Australia on its security [inaudible] to the officials of Australia. But I can tell you from the alliance, and the discussions that we’ve had with senior Australian officials, building upon 100 years of mateship and looking forward to the next 100 years of mateship.
We have served shoulder to shoulder together in every conflict the last 100 years and continue to have that exchange of information and intelligence, and we both recognize that the ties between national security and economic security and we’re working together on that.
So, specifically to China, I did raise the issue of transparency. Transparency in what they’re doing in nuclear programs. The lack of transparency with missile development when it comes to cyber intrusions and intellectual property theft, and the various range of malicious activity that’s not unique to Australia and not unique to the United States. It is a global phenomenon, and we’re working together to push back on that. And again, encourage China to be responsible actors, be responsible players in that field, and with that comes transparency. So I did raise that with officials, and very strong support from my counterparts in Australia and here in New Zealand as well. So thanks for the question, Nathan.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. I’d like to take this opportunity, Under Secretary, to ask you — there have been questions that we’ve received about the INF Treaty and the recent news [of its end]. Can you tell us what’s next? Or the vision for arms control [and] the United States going forward?
U/S Thompson: Thank you, Zia. Absolutely. The post-INF world — to have that discussion you need to roll back the clock a few years and to talk about how we got to where we are. President Trump has been very clear on where he wants to go with arms control, and that’s to hold those treaty partners accountable. We worked across this administration and the previous administration calling out Russia on the violations of the INF Treaty. They developed and fielded multiple battalions of the SSC-8 system, and we made the decision in collaboration and consultation with partners and allies on where to go with that treaty.
So the INF, as you know, on August 2ndis no longer. Again, the demise of that treaty is solely responsible to the Russian Federation. We have continued to abide by that treaty despite their violations across multiple years, so we’ve been working hand in hand with partners on next steps. The President has also been clear that he wants to multilateralize and modernize our arms control regime. So, working with Russia on what that looks like — President Putin announced his [novel] systems last March. We’ve just had discussions with senior Russian Federation officials in Geneva with our Deputy Secretary, and we’re calling out China — again back to the previous question from Nathan on China and transparency. Part of being a responsible actor, or if you want to be a competitor in this field or in the strategic discussions with others, you need to have transparency and responsibility. So, we encourage China to come to the table as well, let’s talk next steps. The world demands it. That’s what responsible nations do. And to have that exchange of information.
So the key takeaway again is Russia is behind the end of the INF Treaty, but the positive aspects are we’re working with partners and allies on next steps. We abided by this treaty through August 2ndand are now working hand in hand with partners and allies on the development of systems and testing of systems that will be not only for the security of Americans at home and abroad, but partners and allies as well.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. Next we’ll got to Masakatsu Ota from Kyodo News in Tokyo.
Question: Thank you very much for taking my question. My question is on the North Korea, DPRK. North Korea recently continued to shoot a missile warhead, short range. What’s your threat assessment of these activities? And also denuclearization talks, especially Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, they decided to establish the working group for denuclearization. What is the current state of future talks? That’s my question. Thank you very much.
U/S Thompson: Thank you for that question. I’d just like to reinforce and reiterate the words of our President and the words of Secretary Pompeo, I have great faith and confidence in our Special Envoy Steve Biegun and the technical experts behind him.
Missile activity — we’ll continue to call out the DPRK on their missile testing. We continue to work, again, with partners and allies as we uphold the UN Security Council sanctions, working hand in hand to ensure that that pressure campaign remains firm with North Korea and holding North Korea accountable for the words that Chairman Kim spoke with the President. So, we’ll continue to stay engaged. We want the talks to happen. We have working level discussions and have faith and confidence that the President and Chairman Kim will engage again. I don’t have a date. That’s not my news to break. But again, working with partners and allies to ensure that the missile program continues to have a pressure that, at the end, we all want a denuclearization of North Korea. It’s in the best interest of the North Korean people and for our security as well.
So we’ll continue to pursue that. Negotiations will continue to move forward, and we will continue to hold Chairman Kim accountable for the promises that he made to our President.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. Next we’ll go to Juan Carlo Gotinga from Rappler in the Philippines.
Question: Hello, Under Secretary Thompson. Thank you for taking this question. I want to ask you about, China has put missile facilities in its artificial islands in the South China Sea, and you’ve mentioned that you want transparency from China. My question is: how does the U.S. plan to initiate an effort to examine how [inaudible] transparency from China with regard to this? Because as you know, they have not been forthright. They have insisted that they are not militarizing the South China Sea and yet they have been doing so. Thank you.
U/S Thompson: Thank you for that question. In reference to China’s activity in the South China Sea, we have no change to our U.S. policy. Again, this is a collaborative effort. This isn’t a U.S. unilateral effort. We’re working hand in hand with partners and allies. Whether it’s ensuring the freedom of navigation and freedom of movement in that area, engaging bilaterally, and also engaging multilaterally to hold China accountable. So, we’ll continue to work through our alliance and our partners and have the utmost faith and confidence in both our State Department senior leaders and our defense senior leaders in ensuring that China knows where we stand and will continue to stand up for what’s right, for freedom of navigation.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. Next we’ll go to Bhavan Jaipragas from the South China Morning Post [in Hong Kong].
Question: Hi Under Secretary, Bhavan here from the South China Morning Post. Can I just ask you about regional reaction, response to the end of the INF Treaty? Is there a sense of alarm, of fears, that we are now poised to see some kind of arms race between the major powers?
Also, adding on to that, your partners — Australia and South Korea – have, I think, indicated that they’re not so keen on the Defense Secretary’s plan to deploy conventional intermediate missiles on their territory.
So that could be a gap in U.S. defense, given China has made some advances in this regard. So, your responses to this please.
U/S Thompson: Thank you for that question, Bhavan. The response for the INF — it’s a telling indicator –- on the positive response from partners and allies globally. Not only tied to the Indo-Pacific, but across our NATO partners as well.
With the decision with INF — we engaged early and often. We have input and feedback from partners and allies as we made that decision last year. We worked very hard to ensure that the information and intelligence was downgraded so we could share that with all our partners and allies. Again, showing where the SSC-8 battalions and the testing that Russia had done.
So when we made that determination, the response was very positive. Holding Russia accountable. Again, upholding the tenets of our arms control treaties. Arms control only works if you abide by the treaty, and there are consequences if you don’t.
So Russia had been allowed to violate the treaty for years when we were abiding by it, so the response, whether it was in the strong NATO statement, whether it was drawn from the strong bilateral statements that you’ve seen in the region. And recognizing Russia’s fault with that, and moving on. In a post-INF world, what does that look like? So, we’re continuing to engage, very positive engagement across the region.
In response to the question you asked on missile placement, that’s a sovereign decision to be made by the leaders of those governments. What I can tell you is any decisions made in the region will be done in consultation with our allies. This is not a U.S. unilateral decision. We work collaboratively with partners and allies.
So, we’re looking to how to best defend American interests and those of our partners and allies abroad, and we’re doing that. You saw that with the discussions with the Secretary of Defense in the region. We’ve had Secretary Pompeo in the region multiple times. The Vice President has been to the region, and the President as well. It’s just another indicator of how important this region is to this administration.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. Next we’ll go to Linh Nguyen from BBC Vietnamese based in Thailand.
Question: Thank you very much for taking this question. So, Ms. Under Secretary, you are probably aware of the standoff between Vietnam and China for the last few months near the Vanguard Bank. I know the State Department has made some statement on July and the Chinese survey ship has left the Vanguard Bank in early August. But some observers say that this survey ship might return.
So, will there be more actions from the U.S. regarding the situation in Vanguard Bank? Especially if the Chinese vessel returns? And what is the U.S. going to do to ensure the stability in the region?
U/S Thompson: Thank you for that question. Since that doesn’t fall specifically in my area, I would prefer not to answer that. What I can tell you is our engagement, again, if you’re requesting where we are with [inaudible] and Vietnam. I was in Vietnam a year ago, about this time last year, and continue to work strongly. Our teams are closely aligned in the security space and foreign military sales and a wide range of national security topics. So I can tell you that we have a strong partnership. Our teams are engaged. But for that particular question, it’s not one for me to answer. But thank you.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. If we can next go to Kozue Hamamoto from NHK [in Tokyo].
Question: Thank you for taking my call. My question is about the New START expiration coming up. How is the U.S. going to convince the Chinese to take part in the new INF, about the new INF Treaty? How is the U.S. going to convince the Chinese to take part in that?
U/S Thompson: Thanks for that question. A two-part answer, because New START will be separate from INF, but I’ll address both of those for you.
For New START, it’s a treaty we have with the Russian Federation that expires in 2021 and I can tell you we are in discussions. We’ve worked very strongly within our interagency and have recently had discussions with the Russian Federation on arms control — what systems they’ve developed or are developing would fall into the New START Treaty parameters and quite candidly, those that won’t. And that’s again, back to President Trump’s goals for arms control as we modernize and multilateralize, so these are relevant. But our arms control treaties cover the systems that are being developed.
We encourage China to come to the table in those discussions. Again, whether it’s in discussions that we’ve had bilaterally, and discussions that we’ve had within the context of the P5 on responsible nation state behavior. So, we encourage China to have discussions with us. We are open to having discussions on arms control, and look forward to having those in the near future.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. We only have time I’m afraid for one more. We’ll go to Carmelo Acuna from Asia Pacific Daily.
Question: Good afternoon from the Philippines, Madam Under Secretary. I just want to find out if you have any monitoring of the flow of arms in Southeast Asia, particularly from groups identified with violent extremism?
U/S Thompson: Again, not tied specifically to my portfolio, that would be under our counterterrorism team. So it’s not one that I monitor and lead so I would prefer not to answer that one since it’s not something that I’m responsible for.
But I can assure you that our counterterrorism leadership at the State Department is postured and tracking that and working hand in hand to slow that down. If I could, I’ll take one more, Zia, if it’s one tied specifically to my areas. Thanks much.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. We’ll take one more — from Dong Hyun Kim from Voice of America [in Washington DC].
Question: My question is, North Korea has recently shown unprecedence of the [inaudible] short range ballistic missile capability that looks alike with the Russian Iskandar missile.
Do you believe that the recent North Korean missile testing was solely developed by their own indigenous technology? Or do you suspect any direct, outside assistance? And if they were able to develop such advanced missile systems, should we suspect there are some loopholes on sanction policy that may have funded these missile programs? Thank you.
U/S Thompson: Thank you for the question. I won’t go into the intelligence work in this forum, but what I can tell you is we are concerned about the missile development. You’ve heard it from our intelligence community, you’ve heard it from our defense leaders, you’ve heard it form Secretary Pompeo. You’ve heard it from global leaders as well as we uphold, again, the UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions and this testing.
I will tell you that I’m encouraged with the relationship between President Trump and Chairman Kim. I’m encouraged by the incredible work that’s been done by Steve Biegun and his team and Secretary Pompeo. And we will get back to the table to have those discussions.
I have utmost faith and confidence in our team and our leadership to do that, and I look forward to that next engagement. Again, as we hold Chairman Kim responsible and accountable for the words that he shared at the summit and the promises that he made to our President. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you, Under Secretary. Would you like to wrap up the call for us here?
U/S Thompson: Thanks, Zia. Very briefly, again to the team, it’s incredibly important to us to be able to exchange information and share these stories to your constituents and your viewers, and I appreciate, I know there was a wide range of journalists on the [call] today and I appreciate all of you in various time zones taking the opportunity to hear about the work that’s being done between the U.S. State Department and the Trump administration, and our key partners and allies in the region.
I look forward to the next call with this group. So, thanks so much team.
Moderator: That will conclude today’s call. I want to thank Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Andrea L. Thompson, for her time, and I also want to thank all of our callers for participating.