• WHAT: Washington Foreign Press Center On-The-Record Briefing

  • WHEN: Friday, January 24, 2020, at 10:30 a.m.

  • WHERE: National Press Building, 529 14th Street, NW, Suite 800


MODERATOR:  Hello, everybody.  Good morning.  My name is Olga Bashbush.  I’m the program officer for the East Asia and Pacific region here at the Washington Foreign Press Center.  I also want to acknowledge our colleagues at the New York Foreign Press Center.  They also have a group of Japanese journalists joining us for this briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary Marc Knapper.

This briefing will not be livestreamed.  However, after the briefing we will produce a transcript, like normal.  We will also provide a high-quality video that you can download on DVIDS.  I also want to welcome our guests from the Department of State here today.  And I’m sorry, please excuse my voice; I will do the best I can to moderate this discussion.  When it’s time to ask questions, if you can please stand up and state your name and outlet clearly for the transcript.

And with that, I would like to introduce DAS Marc Knapper.  Thank you.

MR KNAPPER:  Thanks very much, Olga, and our colleagues here at the Foreign Press Center, and thank you all for coming out this morning.  It’s really a pleasure to be here.  Actually, I’m ashamed to say it’s my first time here at the Foreign Press Center, and hopefully not the last.  But it’s really nice to have this opportunity to meet with you all.  It’s good to see some friendly faces out there.  But the purpose today, I’m going to give a few remarks, but then of course want to open it up to questions, hear what’s on your minds, do my best to answer.

But the purpose is to talk a little bit about – I had a recent trip to Tokyo on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.  So I wanted to discuss that a little bit, and then of course we can open it up to a broader discussion.

But really – so it was on Sunday, the 19th, was the actual 60th anniversary of the signing.  And this was a really – it was a really meaningful occasion.  I don’t think I have to get into too much detail about the origins of the treaty, but suffice to say this was a 60 years – kanreki – of this very important relationship, and it was – just the fact, just to give you a picture of what it was like, this event that Prime Minister Abe hosted, we had very significant figures from both countries there.  Interestingly, the granddaughter of President Eisenhower was there.  Of course, her – President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather, Prime Minister Kishi, were the ones who signed this treaty.  And so to have both of them, the grandchildren of these two leaders there, was really, really something.

But it gave us this occasion to celebrate the alliance.  It really gave us an occasion to take a step back and think about sort of the origins of the alliance and what it’s gone through, where it is today, and to consider where we want to take it in the future.    

Of course, when the treaty was first signed, it was practically the height of the Cold War.  The main threat, the main challenge to both of our countries was the Soviet Union, international communism.  And through six decades, as the threat evolved, as the threat changed, as the challenges – new challenges emerged, the alliance evolved as well.  The alliance adapted to new and different challenges.  And so whereas once the main challenge, the main threat we faced was that of the Soviet Union, of course, now we face multiple challenges across multiple domains, everything from challenges in the Middle East to challenges in the Indo-Pacific.  And our alliance, thanks to leaders in both countries over the years, the alliance has adapted to meet these challenges.

And so, for example, if you look at the recent decision by Prime Minister Abe and the Japanese Government to dispatch Maritime Self-Defense Force assets to the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea in an effort to support the International Maritime Security Construct – I mean, this really does represent, I think, just one aspect of the kind of alliance that we have, the kind of alliance in which the U.S. and Japan work together to meet shared challenges, to meet shared threats.  And the reason we’re able to do this, and the reason this alliance has evolved as it has over the years – it’s not just about shared interests; of course we have shared interests.  Whether it’s maintaining peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, whether it’s about ensuring the free flow of commerce — whether it’s in the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca, or the Western Pacific — whether our shared interest is peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula – these are shared interests.

But we’ve evolved and we’ve adapted successfully because also, I think, of shared values.  And I don’t think we hear enough about the values our two countries share, but these really do form the foundation, I believe, of our two countries’ very successful alliance, our two countries’ very successful friendship.  And when I say values, I mean things like a shared commitment, a shared devotion to democracy, a shared commitment and devotion to freedom, a shared respect for universal human rights, a shared respect for religious freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly.  These are the kind of values our two countries espouse and support globally.  Which is why I think it’s our two countries’ responsibility, when we do see these very values being challenged not just in the region but around the world, it’s our responsibility, our special responsibility, to take steps to try and meet them and to try and preserve these precious political and social values that we share.

And I think – just getting back to leadership in Japan, I think over the past several years during the Abe administration, we’ve seen really significant changes in how Japan sees its role not just in the region but in the world.  I can recall when I lived in Japan in the early ‘90s, it was considered a big deal – it was a huge deal, in fact – when Japan made the decision to send Self-Defense Forces and police officers to Cambodia to participate in the peacekeeping operation, the peacekeeping mission there.  A lot of debate, of course, internally.  But from that initial debate throughout the years to, for example, the Gulf War, after which Japan sent minesweepers, fast forward to the war in Iraq during which Japan sent support troops to Iraq – Kuwait, I should say, and Iraq, to today, when now we have Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels headed to the Gulf of Oman.  I mean, this evolution in Japan’s own security posture, in Japan’s own perception of its role in the world has evolved significantly, and it’s something that we’ve really welcomed and support.

And Prime Minister Abe, by leading Japan as it revised its defense guidelines a few years ago, as Japan expanded the role of the Self-Defense Forces, and these are all significant steps that within the context or our alliance, within the context of our two countries’ relationship, have really helped to, I think, cement further what the U.S. and Japan can do together, and I think the future is incredibly bright.

When our two countries work together there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.  Whether it’s in the security realm, whether it’s in trade, in economics, whether it’s in science and technology cooperation, whether it’s in space exploration, I mean, these are all – every aspect of human endeavor, I think, there’s a role in an ongoing cooperative program between the U.S. and Japan, and that’s, I think, really significant and I think really speaks to just the closeness of our two countries.  And the reason we’re able to do this, as I said, is thanks to our shared interest, but I think more importantly our shared values.

And I think with that, I’m happy to answer your questions.  And again, I would just like to say thanks so much.  This was – this is a great opportunity.  I don’t often get to stand at the podium like this, so I’m kind of relishing this opportunity.  But thanks a lot.

MODERATOR:  Well, you’re always welcome here at the Foreign Press Center.  I think our journalists would agree.

All right, we’re ready to take the first question.  Sir, in front.  Yes.  Yes.  The mike is coming.

QUESTION:  Yoso Furumoto, Mainichi Newspaper.  Thank you for doing this.  I have no doubt the alliance is stronger than ever.  But on the Japan side, there’s some concerns over the incoming discussion of host nation support.  There’s some confusion when and how this discussion will start, so could you give us some idea regarding the schedule, and what you expect for this discussion?  Thank you.

MR KNAPPER:  Great, thanks.  So the current agreement, host nation support agreement is scheduled to run out, to expire in March of next year, and typically, if you look at previous examples, negotiations can last several months.  And so while I cannot give you an exact date of when the negotiations will begin, clearly, both sides now are preparing to begin these talks sometime later this year.  And I can’t prejudice the outcome either, but what I can say is that both of us – both of our sides will enter these talks with the spirit of strengthening our two countries’ alliance, with the spirit of strengthening our capabilities and our ability to respond to any and all challenges that we face as an alliance, and that we’ll do so in a manner that’s respectful and shows – really just reveals the quality of our two countries’ friendship.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir.  Please wait for the microphone, and state your name and your outlet, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, my name is Ryo Nakamura working for Nikkei.  Thank you for doing this.  I have two questions.  The first question is:  Could you give us a brief background of the joint op-ed by Secretary Pompeo and the Secretary Esper?  I have never seen the op-ed liked that.  And do you think what was in the op-ed will be applied to the negotiation with Japan?  And the second question is:  Japan is now preparing for a state visit of the Chinese President Xi.  Now the U.S. is in competition against the China.  Do you think that Japan’s treatment of President Xi acceptable for the U.S.?  Thank you.

MR KNAPPER:  Well, I’ll take your second question first.  Of course, the decision to invite President Xi Jinping to Japan is a sovereign one for Japan to make.  The United States doesn’t have any say in whether and whom Japan – the Japanese Government decides to invite as a state guest or an official guest.  But certainly, we hope the opportunity will be used to advance the U.S. and Japan’s shared goals vis-a-vis China, and certainly, we hope that it will be an opportunity to discuss certain issues of mutual concern, whether it involves territorial matters or matters internal to China.  But again, this is something that, of course, we leave to the Government of Japan to decide how and in what manner it invites foreign dignitaries.

As for your first question about the op-ed, I would just say that it was our way to take stock of where our two countries are in this negotiation, to help explain our thinking behind our negotiations and behind our efforts, to recognize that Korea has and does make significant contributions to its own defense and to the alliance.  Please make no mistake about it, we do appreciate very much what Korea does each and every day to support our bilateral alliance.  That said, and as President Trump has indicated many times, we believe our allies can and should do more.  And this is applies not just to Korea, but other allies around the world, and I would say this includes Japan.  And I can’t say whether the contents of this op-ed specifically apply to our upcoming negotiations with Japan, but on this occasion, really this was our attempt to get out where we stand, what our views are, and I would leave it at that.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir.  Here in the front row, and then we’ll go to the back.

QUESTION:  Hi, I’m Mitchitaka Kaiya with Yomiuri Shimbun.  Thank you for giving us this opportunity.  I’d like to follow up on host nation support.  And Secretary Mattis once said that Japan is a “model of cost-sharing” for other countries to follow.  So I was just wondering if the U.S. Government posture review on host nation support with Japan is changing a lot since that.

MR KNAPPER:  I hate to sound vague or evasive, but it’s really not my place at this point to talk about our approach to the negotiations.  I would hate to prejudge or prejudice our position going in, just as I’m sure my Japanese Government colleagues would not want to do the same for Japan’s position, so I’ll leave it at that.

MODERATOR:  And I know there was a question in the third or fourth row.

QUESTION:  Hi.  My name’s Yuya Yokobori.  I’m also from the Yomiuri Shimbun.  Thank you for this occasion.  Going back to this op-ed again – sorry – the headline of the op-ed was “South Korea is An Ally [and] Not a Dependent.”  Would you characterize it the same way vis-a-vis Japan?

MR KNAPPER:  Well, I think it’s absolutely clear that Japan’s an ally.

QUESTION:  The last part?

MR KNAPPER:  Well, yes.  I mean, clearly, Japan is not a dependent of the United States.  I mean, to me that’s – I mean, it’s – on the face of it that’s undeniable.  Does anybody disagree with that?

So we’ve got a lot of questions from our print friends.  Anybody from TV?

MODERATOR:  Yes, ma’am.  In the second row, and then sir.  Oh, actually, after you, ma’am, we’ll go to New York, because I see we also have a question from New York.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR:  Yes.  Her first, please.

QUESTION:  Hi.  I’m Tomoko Beck from Nippon TV.  So on Iran, it’s not clear how U.S. will see Japan’s role as a mediator between U.S. and Iran.  Do you accept Japan as a mediator on Iran issues?

And also, Japan will dispatch SDF to the region.  Do you expect that Japan would do that to Strait of Hormuz to deal with Iran?  Thank you.

MR KNAPPER:  Well, my understanding of – at least of the Japanese announcement was that it would be the plan to dispatch the MSDF vessels is to the Gulf of Oman, which is, of course, just outside the Strait of Hormuz.  And whether and to what extent the Government of Japan decides to change the deployment plans, of course, it’s up to Japan.

As for Japan’s role or potential role vis-a-vis Iran, we understand – acknowledge — that Japan has normal relations with Iran, and we certainly hope that in its dealings with Tehran that it continues to express the international community’s concerns about Iran’s behavior as well as to express the international community’s concerns about Iran’s export of terror and treatment of human rights, and detainees as well.

MODERATOR:  Okay, we will now go to New York.  And sir, in New York, if you can please state your name and your outlet.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Hi there.  My name’s Toby Burns.  There’s an echo.  I am the UN producer for NHK here in New York, so thank you very much for taking this opportunity to speak with us.  I just wanted to ask a more sort of strategic question.

In 2017, we had the release of the new National Security Strategy that was all-encompassing for the U.S., and I just wanted to get maybe a little bit more color as we go into the negotiations about what Japan’s role is big picture, strategically minded, within this new national security framework that focuses more on great power struggle as opposed to fighting counterinsurgency.  What is – what’s the role of Japan there, and what is the U.S. really looking for this partnership to do in the future?  Thank you.

MR KNAPPER:  Thanks.  That’s a great question.

I think one significant adjustment over the past two or three years has been to look at the U.S.-Japan alliance and our other alliances in the region not as what we used to call hub-and-spoke relationships; so if you consider it like a wheel, like a bicycle wheel, the U.S. is the hub and spokes leading out to our alliance with Japan, our alliances with Australia or Thailand, the Philippines, Republic of Korea.  So not this hub-and-spoke image so much as more of a network of alliances.

And we see the role of the United States as trying to figure out how can we network better these alliance relationships we have in the region, and by that I mean how can we, for example, broaden cooperation between, say, Australia and Japan, utilizing the strength of our two alliances with these two countries.  And so – and by the same token, how can we strengthen U.S.-Japan-South Korea cooperation, again, by networking our alliances better so it’s not just about individual alliances that are operating in a vacuum but alliances that find a way to merge and overlap and we have better trilateral – quadrilateral, in some cases – cooperation.

And so specific to Japan and what we envision for this relationship, it’s – it really is – U.S.-Japan cooperation I think across the board, whether it’s in promoting peace and security, whether it’s promoting development assistance, whether it’s promoting infrastructure development, we can really count on cooperation between our two countries through new mechanisms that we’re creating.

And so, for example, we have the Japan-U.S. Strategic Energy Partnership – JUSEP for short.  We have the Japan-U.S. Digital Economy Partnership.  We have the Japan-U.S. Mekong power project.  I mean, these are all efforts to leverage the already existing strength of our two countries’ alliance – again, founded upon the security treaty 60 years ago, but this alliance which has grown and evolved into multifaceted cooperative effort that – in which the U.S. and Japan can come together, identify a need in a particular country, whether it’s the Pacific islands or South Asia, Southeast Asia, and use our know-how and our unique traits and skills to be able to provide electricity, to be able to provide access to clean water, to be able to provide infrastructure development.  I mean, these are all areas in which the U.S. and Japan, using our own unique abilities but also the unique strength of our alliance, we come together and really are stronger together than we are individually.

And so I envision going forward we’re going to see more of these kind of U.S.-Japan joint efforts throughout the region and, frankly, globally.  I would expect to see more efforts and continuing efforts to promote U.S.-Japan cooperation in concert with our other partners and allies, whether it’s Australia, Korea, India.  Although India is not a treaty ally, increasingly we do cooperative efforts with them in a bilateral, trilateral context; quadrilateral context with Australia.  And so that I see is the future, really, this attempt to network our alliances and our partnerships to promote our shared goals and our shared values.

MODERATOR:  All right.  Sir, do you still have a question?  There was – in the third row, did you still have a question?  Yes, and then we’ll go to you, Grace.

QUESTION:  My name is Shun Ishibe with NHK.  So question is:  President Trump is pushing to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Middle East.  So is that same true for Japan and South Korea and the rest of the Asian countries?  Thank you.

MR KNAPPER:  No.  No, it’s not true.  We value very much our commitments under our treaties with these countries.  Our obligation to the Republic of Korea and to Japan under our security alliance, this obligation is sacred; it’s one we take very seriously.  There are no discussions at this moment at all, no consideration at all – I’ll be very clear – about withdrawing or removing U.S. forces from Japan or South Korea.

MODERATOR:  All right.  Grace Lee of TBS.  Yes, just wait for the microphone, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, Marc.  Thank you for taking this time to speak with us.  Just on GSOMIA, South Korea has given Japan a March deadline to return South Korea to the white list; if not, they will officially withdraw from GSOMIA.  Can you confirm this?  Has South Korea consulted the United States, and have there been any further discussions between the allies?  A State Department official had previously mentioned that was not discussed during the trilat in San Francisco.

And also, can you give us an update on North Korean negotiations, at what level they are happening?

MR KNAPPER:  Wow, that’s a lot.  Any kind of discussion like that, a question about what’s going on between Japan and South Korea, particularly GSOMIA, I would ask that you confirm that with the relevant governments’ officials in Seoul and Tokyo.

But suffice to say we are following very closely what’s going on between our two, I think, best allies anywhere.  And frankly, it’s – the reason we pay such close attention is because it’s – cooperation between and amongst our three countries is absolutely critical.  It’s critical for our shared goals in the region, not least addressing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.  But cooperation between, among our three countries is absolutely critical, again, getting back to the values I discussed earlier, to ensuring there isn’t further encroachment on these values and our shared goals throughout the region and, frankly, the world.

And so it’s troubling.  It’s vexing when these two close allies of ours have difficulties between them, but it’s also very encouraging that officials in both countries are meeting and having discussions to address differences.  And certainly our sincere hope is that these differences are addressed in a way that helps create a path to a brighter future, because it’s in everyone’s interest, we believe, to have constructive and productive relations between Seoul and Tokyo.  And the United States, although we’ve said this many times, we are not mediating, we are not taking sides, but we are absolutely interested and encouraging both sides in various manner to find a way forward.

And as for North Korea, Grace, I don’t – I can’t really give you anything at this point.

MODERATOR:  All right, we have time for about two more questions.  Are there any questions here in Washington?  Yes, Mr. Kurose.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Yoshinari Kurose with Sankei Shimbun.  Well, it might be another question, but in order to strengthen or show the world the ironclad alliance of U.S. and Japan, wouldn’t it be great for U.S. President Mr. Donald Trump to come to Japan this summer to observe the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?  Is there any plan for that?

MR KNAPPER:  Well, I can’t – I’m not in a position to discuss the President’s travel plans.  I would direct that, I think, to the White House.  But I will say – what’s the figure?  Last year President Trump traveled to Japan twice in two months and met with Prime Minister Abe five times in six months.  So not only on the occasion of the state visit in May, but of course the G20 summit in June.  I believe Prime Minister Abe traveled to the U.S. – it was March or April, not to mention the two leaders meeting on the occasion of the G7 and even at the UN General Assembly in September.

There is no other example of two countries’ leaders meeting as often as these two have in the span of such a short period of time.  And I think more than anything else, that speaks to the depth of our two countries’ relationship, but also the strength of the bonds, the personal bonds, between these two leaders, which is really very special, a really precious thing among countries to have two leaders as close as President Trump and Prime Minister Abe are, and it’s something we value tremendously.

And to circle back, whether or not the President is able to travel to the Olympics, I don’t know.  Having myself been to the Winter Olympics in Korea, I can attest that it’s a lot of fun and so certainly would vouch for the enjoyability of such an international event.  But I wish I could say whether he’s able to go or not.

MODERATOR:  Are there any other questions?  Oh, I do see – yes, ma’am, in the back.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Rihoko Akiyama from TV Tokyo.  Back in June of last year, President Trump stated that the U.S.-Japan alliance is not reciprocal, that even if the United States was attacked Japan doesn’t have to fight with the United States, that Japan could just sit back in their – behind the television set and just watch the United States being attacked.  So in the mind of President Trump, what do you think is reciprocal in terms of the security alliance of the United States and Japan?  Thank you.

MR KNAPPER:  Well, I think the President’s words speak for themselves.  But of course, in our alliance there are mechanisms for the two countries to support each other in a crisis, including support in terms of logistics, including the kind of support derived from collective self-defense.

There are strong ways in which Japan supports the U.S. alliance, whether it’s the provision of facilities, land for training, and again, collective self-defense.  I just – and these are ways – and thanks again to Prime Minister Abe’s leadership.  This would not been possible without adjustments made over the past several years to Japan’s defense posture, and it does allow under specific, certain circumstances for our two countries to work together and for Japan to strongly support shared efforts in the event of a contingency.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  With that we are – this briefing has concluded.  I thank you all for your patience and understanding with my voice.  I hope it is back soon.  And I hope that we also have DAS Knapper back here to brief.  Thank you all very much.  I will try to send you the transcript as soon as possible as well as the video.  Thank you.  Have a good day.

MR KNAPPER:  Thanks a lot.

U.S. Department of State

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