THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. My name is Olga Bashbush, and I’m the program officer here in D.C. that covers the East Asia and Pacific region. I also want to welcome my colleagues and other journalists at our New York Foreign Press Center, who are joining this briefing via Skype.
Today’s briefing is called “The U.S. Vision for the Indo-Pacific Region.” It will be on the record and livestreamed on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. This briefing is for FPC members that are either from the East Asia and Pacific region, or the South and Central Asia region. Once the briefing is concluded, we will upload the transcript and video to our website. Please give us a couple of hours to do so.
We will begin this briefing with opening remarks from our three panelists: Gloria Steele, Acting Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development; Jonathan Henick, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia Affairs, Public Diplomacy, and Press; and Walter Douglas, Deputy Assistant Secretary covering the Offices of Regional and Security Policy as well as Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
For those that RSVP’d to this briefing, you received their biographies via email. We also handed out their biographies during the registration process this morning.
After the remarks from our three panelists, we will open it up for questions. Please wait for the microphone and state your name, outlet, and country clearly prior to asking a question. And with that, I yield the floor to Acting Assistant Administrator Steele.
MS STEELE: I think we were going to start with —
MODERATOR: Oh, the other way? Okay, please. All right.
MR DOUGLAS: Yeah, start over here. Yeah, sorry. Okay, great. Well, thank you, and it’s – I’m always delighted to see all this interest in the Indo-Pacific Strategy as we go forward here in Washington. I go overseas a lot to make these presentations, but I’ve never made it in Washington to such an illustrious group. So anyway, wonderful to have you all here, and thanks for your interest.
Just to quickly give a little recap, the Indo-Pacific Strategy was first announced by President Trump in Da Nang in 2017. And that put the onus on us to sort of say, “Okay, now let’s fill in everything we have.” And what we all worked towards in doing that was to have programs, money, and all those sort of things in place by the East Asia Summit in Bangkok on November 4th, where at the side – as a side event, we had the Indo-Pacific Business Forum. And at that venue we announced what the Indo-Pacific Strategy was, what all the programs were, and everything like that.
We had had them coming out and developing along the way, but this was really where we captured everything that we’re doing. And if you haven’t already, this is a 29-page report that captures what all these programs are. There are pictures in here and graphs, so it’s not 29 pages of reading. But I really urge you to go online and see what this is, because you can see a lot of the individual components that we have. I carry this everywhere I go, but it’s really a definitive piece for what we have.
Let me just quickly recap. We have three pillars that we started out with. We have security, economics, and governance. Security is in many ways something that I think we’re all familiar with, what, say, INDOPACOM has been doing, and as PACOM before that for a long time. I don’t want to get too much into that, but if you think of foreign military financing that comes through the State Department, we’re looking at support for peacekeeping operations, training armies in the region for that, maritime domain awareness – that is, helping coast guards; there’s a lot of sea space out there. There’s humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, helping to train on that, and there’s transnational crime. So that sort of really captures where the State Department gets involved with the security side, in addition to everything INDOPACOM does with its well-established presence in the region.
So focusing more on economic and governance – in the economic – and they’re really tied together. So the economic pillar, we looked at, in speaking with our partners out there, energy, infrastructure, and digital economy. And we put money behind these things to have several programs.
And then governance, we have the transparency initiative that Vice President Pence announced at APEC in New Guinea in 2018 that complements this, because you need proper governance if you’re going to get the economic parts to work.
So what is the economic part about? And this, in a sense, is in many ways the crux of what the Indo-Pacific Strategy is. The idea is to get private sector development into the region. We do that because that’s what America does. We very much believe in private-sector-led initiatives. If you look, we have basically close to a trillion dollars in FDI, foreign direct investment, invested in the region. That’s really good, but it is narrowly distributed in that Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Australia get the lion’s share. It is the goal of the Indo-Pacific Strategy to help other countries become more competitive and to attract more of that private sector investment in the form of FDI.
The Asia Development Bank estimates you need about $1.7 trillion a year just in infrastructure alone in the region. No government can have that. It’s got to be private sector. And so if you think there’s about $70 trillion that’s been estimated out there looking for places to invest, our hope is to attract that and to get it to come into the Indo-Pacific so that it basically can make a difference there.
We work with a lot of partners in the region. That’s why we’re here today. The East Asia Pacific Bureau, where I sit, works closely with the South-Central Asia Bureau and with USAID, and together we put out a lot of these programs and we work very cooperatively on everything we do.
Let me give you a quick update on just a couple things that have happened since November 4th at Bangkok. So there are really three areas I want to look at. One is the Development Finance Corporation. This is our new entity. It was OPIC before; on January 1st it became DFC, the Development Finance Corporation. Its capital was doubled roughly from $29 billion to $60 billion. And this helps provide loans, loan guarantees, and risk insurance to corporations that are working in the region, to help them make these jumps going into areas that might be more of a risky investment or somewhere they’re not familiar with.
This is a huge advantage. This is a huge thing it puts out there for corporations to come to it when they have programs that might work, but to sort of smooth out those rough edges when they need to get in some markets they haven’t been in before.
The other – another update is our Blue Dot Network. And this is something – we launched it with Australia and Japan, and the idea is to have a gold standard, a Blue Dot standard, for infrastructure investment for all sorts of construction, that it basically will be a certification process to say that this – this, whatever you’re building, has those high-quality standards that are really needed. As we know, it’s one thing to build a building; it’s another to maintain it, or a road, or a runway. Whatever it is. Maintenance can be much more expensive than building, in fact. And so the idea is by giving the Blue Dot certification, that it will then say this meets those standards. You want to be at those standards, otherwise these projects will cost an awful lot more than they start off costing.
As we speak this week, we are working on all the methods we will put together, the process, so that projects can apply to get the Blue Dot standard. And so it is unfolding as we go forward.
Finally, I’d like to say the other thing we announced is human capital. We are now – if you look at what – what is human capital? Well, for the United States alone, what it– there are things like government programs – think Fulbright program, think of visitors’ programs of all sorts, think of what the National Science Foundation does, all of these organizations of the U.S. Government. But then there are all the students who study here. We have about over 700,000 students from the Indo-Pacific who study in our region. China and India are the two largest, but we have a lot of other countries from the region that come, their students come to study. They make those decisions themselves; some funded by government, most are funded by themselves.
And then finally, there’s private sector. The private sector does an awful lot of training. American businesses do this. They – in – both to work for their company or to work in areas that will intersect with the company. So, for example, you might have, say our online companies working on disinformation training, because they have a great interest in that not happening, and they’ll be working with journalists in the region. That’s training human capital.
So right now that is a huge focus for us. We’re looking at science, technology, education, environment, health – all these areas where we can have programs at – first of all, cataloging what we have, and then looking to expand those. It’s something we found in announcing in the region – certainly a tremendous popularity. I think human capital is absolutely – is essential as we move forward in development.
I want to stop there and turn it over to Jonathan.
MR HENICK: Okay, great. Thanks, Walter. And just to recapitulate, Walter handles the East Asia and Pacific side of things – we divide things up geographically at the State Department – where I’m responsible for our South and Central Asian partners in the region. Of course, the Indo-Pacific spans both of those regions, and so I wanted to just use my opportunity to talk today to touch on maybe some of the things that are particular to the Bureau for South and Central Asian Affairs.
As Walter already said, I’d also like to emphasize that the – what the Trump administration’s approach to the Indo-Pacific region is and what it is not, as there have been a number of misperceptions of the countries that I cover. Simply put, our focus is to safeguard and advance the core principles that have brought unprecedented prosperity, peace, and stability to this region over the past seven decades. Those principles include respect for rule of law, national sovereignty, freedom of navigation, open markets, good governance, transparency, and democratic institutions.
We often capture these principles under the shorthand of fostering a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States is not, however, asking countries to join an alliance or sign on to any sort of binding agreement. The United States is not looking to exclude any country in this effort. On the contrary, we welcome and encourage all nations in the region to commit to and act in accordance with these important principles.
Under our renewed commitment to the vital Indo-Pacific region, the United States is strengthening relations with partner nations that share the values of freedom and openness. That includes growing our broad and multi-faceted strategic partnership with India. Last December, we hosted the second annual U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, led by our Secretaries of State and Defense and their counterparts. Strengthening our security and diplomatic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region was at the center of those discussions. We also continue to coordinate our approaches in the Indo-Pacific with the quadrilateral partners: India, Japan, and Australia. Last fall, the Secretary hosted the first ever Quad meeting at the ministerial level, demonstrating the commitment of our leaders to this convening of like-minded Indo-Pacific partners. The U.S.-India partnership stands upon a shared commitment to uphold the rule of law, freedom of navigation, democratic values, counterterrorism cooperation, and private sector-led economic growth. So it is not surprising that there is virtually no daylight in our approaches to the Indo-Pacific.
The United States is also increasing bilateral engagement with other South Asian partners. We’re helping Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Maldives equip and train their navies and coast guards to safeguard strategic lines of communication, combat human trafficking, prevent illegal fishing, disrupt drug smuggling, and respond to natural disasters. We’ve helped UN peacekeeping contributing states like Bangladesh and Nepal become more effective by providing equipment and training. Efforts like these demonstrate the importance the United States places on South Asian partners’ political autonomy and their role in an inclusive Indo-Pacific vision.
Walter has already discussed some of the new economic tools the United States has stood up over the past two years to boost sustainable private sector-led development and growth – the Blue Dot Network, the Development Finance Corporation. In addition, I don’t think he had an opportunity to mention we have also the Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network, which coordinates U.S. assistance and support for infrastructure and provides advisory services to other governments. Under the Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network, the United States has helped Maldives, for example, improve its public financial management, and seeks to strengthen the legal and regulatory framework around infrastructure in Bangladesh and Nepal.
We’re also working with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Global Procurement Initiative, which helps public procurement officials in emerging economies utilize global best practices in evaluating public sector investments. We just concluded a training last week on cost analysis for 38 procurement professionals in the state government of Maharashtra in India. According to the Asian Development Bank, as Walter said, developing countries in the Asia Pacific need $1.7 trillion in infrastructure investment every year. And again, just to underline, no single government has this much money, and that’s why our strategy really prioritizes creating the conditions that are needed to unlock private sector investment, build local capacity, and create local jobs. What our Indo-Pacific vision is about is creating a level playing field for any investors, including U.S. firms, that are interested in contributing to shared prosperity in this region.
That was just, of course, a sample of what’s on the agenda for my bureau in advancing this administration’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. But I, too, am going to stop there so we can turn it over to Gloria and leave lots of time to take your questions.
MS STEELE: Thank you very much, and I’d like to thank the Foreign Press Center and all of you for being here today. My name is Gloria Steele and I’m the acting head of the Asia Bureau of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and that covers East Asia, the Pacific, South Asia, and Central Asia. You’ve heard my colleagues talk about what the Indo-Pacific Strategy is. The goal is to promote a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific.
At USAID, we implement this goal, we try to achieve this goal through three objectives. One is to strengthen democratic institutions in the countries where we work, and we are – we work in about 30 countries in the region. And the next is to foster private enterprise-led economic growth, and the third is to improve the management of natural resources. As you all know – we talked about the need for infrastructure, but as you all know, a lot of the growth of the countries in the region will really depend upon wise management of natural resources. And sometimes there’s a place where there is a conflict between infrastructure and natural resources, and we want to make sure that countries where we work continue to protect and improve the management of their natural resources as they invest in infrastructure.
But let me start with the first objective that I talked about, which is to foster democratic institutions. It is very important for investors to see that a country is stable, open, and transparent. And so through our missions, what we do is work with our partners in governments where we work to promote that. We work with civil society to make sure that the rights of people are – rights of people are recognized. And we work with the media. We work with the media to make sure that there is transparency in the operations and in dealings in the country – in the countries. Examples of – we work in this area in all the countries where we are, including in Cambodia, where we are – we have been working with civil society ranging from those that provide services to the media to human rights groups. And in Nepal, we are working with the government in order to strengthen – in order to strengthen their ability to implement federalism, which is what they’re aspiring to do, so enabling them to be able to do that. And going – we have many other examples, but that’s the kind of thing we do under this objective.
The next is economic growth. Both Walter and Jonathan have talked about the importance of private sector-led economic growth. So what we do in USAID is work with our partner governments in order to make sure that the regulatory environment is right for investments, i.e. the laws and the policies are conducive. We work with them to streamline their business processes so that the red tape is minimized to the extent possible. And we want to make sure that these countries are competitive, and it entails a lot of different measures on their part. Transparency, lack of corruption, et cetera, are included in that.
An example of where we have successfully removed bottlenecks or reduced bottlenecks and made countries more competitive is in the Philippines. We have seen that growth was happening only around the metro Manila area, and we wanted to go outside of metro Manila so – to stimulate growth out there. And we had focused on working at streamlining business processes. In one of the cities where we work – and this is true in everywhere – but in one city where we’ve worked, we have reduced 40 different steps to two. And that’s the kind of thing that attracts businesses.
And in – and the last objective is in improving the management of natural resources. Under this is where we work with countries on energy, developing the energy and the energy market. We are – we have a very active energy market in Vietnam. We have a very active energy market program in Indonesia, where we were able to promote investors – in one year, $804 million worth of investment in renewable energy. With India, we worked with India to improve or change their policy to allow regional trade so that energy could move between India and Bangladesh.
And I – those are the kinds of bilateral programs we do, and we mostly operate bilaterally through the missions that we have in the countries where we are. But at the same time, we also have regional platforms. We have a regional platform in Bangkok to take a look at issues that cut across country boundaries. The – an example of this would be energy, for example, and another regional platform in Central Asia. We work with regional institutions, APEC and ASEAN. We believe that working at both levels is really important in order to have a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific.
And finally, we work with very – with like-minded countries. We have partnerships with Korea, for example; in Timor-Leste, where we have worked with local – local companies to recycle plastics. We’re working with Korea in Burma and Indonesia. And just yesterday, we were – the reason I focus on Korea is I know that Korea is represented here and there’s interest in that. We have a memorandum of agreement with Korea where we identified areas of interest to both of us where we could work together, and that’s women’s economic empowerment, digital connectivity are two examples.
We work closely with Japan and especially in the energy sector. We are working together in meeting the energy needs of Papua New Guinea, 70 percent of energy needs of Papua New Guinea within the next 110 years. And then Australia, of course, is a big partner. Australia and New Zealand are big partners in the Pacific Island countries.
I’d like to stop there, and we can talk about many more examples of things we do, but I provided these examples to give you an idea of what kind of programs we have under the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to start taking questions. All right. We’ll start here in the front row with the red microphone.
QUESTION: Hi. Chia Chang with United Daily News Groups, Taiwan. Could any of you talk about how U.S. is working with regional partners on – to contain the spread of coronavirus? Also, could you tell us U.S.’s position on WHO is still excluding Taiwan as of now? Thank you.
MR DOUGLAS: We’re here to talk about the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the vision that it does, and I think those questions, there are others who will address that in the U.S. Government, but not us.
MR HENICK: We can certainly ask our colleagues at the Foreign Press Center to take your questions and we’ll get back to you.
MODERATOR: So if you have any specific questions that aren’t covered in this briefing, you can send them to DCFPC@state.gov. Thank you.
The second row, red microphone, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Jiyoung Seo from Korean Broadcasting System, and I’d like to ask one question to Walter Douglas. Two senators recently sent a letter to both U.S. Secretary of State and Defense Secretary urging Washington to reconsider its demand for a sharp increase in the burden sharing. They pointed out that Washington fixation on this notion of burden-sharing beliefs fundamental misunderstanding of the value of the alliance and the importance position in the Indo-Pacific. We all know that the U.S. asked the wealthy countries, including South Korea, should pay more, but are some criticism that this is too much business-mind approach.
So my question is: Is the defense burden-sharing negotiations taking place in line with the Indo-Pacific Strategy? And do you agree with the criticism, and are you willing to reconsider your position? Thank you.
MR DOUGLAS: Yeah. I think there are others who are addressing that, those negotiations. And I’m really talking about the Indo-Pacific Strategy that does all these things that I spoke about, and I think what you’re asking about is something specific that others would be better to address.
I’m starting to understand why there’s a big turnout here. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: All right. We’re going to take a question from our New York Foreign Press Center. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: This is Arul Louis from IANS. This is regarding Trump’s forthcoming visit to India. What do you expect from the visit, specifically in terms of the Indo-Pacific? I might also point out that this is probably the first purely bilateral visit that President Trump is having in the region because others, visits like Japan and Korea and Singapore, were related to multilateral matters. Do you see anything special coming out of this in terms of Indo-Pacific? Thank you.
MODERATOR: So sir, would you able to repeat your question? It was a little difficult to hear. You were talking about a bilat. Could you just speak a little louder, please?
QUESTION: Okay. I just want to know what significance Trump’s visit to India later this month has, because one of the factors is that it’s probably the first bilateral visit country or on a bilateral agenda, because in terms of his visit to South Korea or Japan or Singapore, they were related to multilateral matters. So do you see a special significance in this, and what do you expect to be the outcome of his visit to India in terms of Indo-Pacific and bilateral issues?
MR HENICK: Certainly. Well, I’ve already spoken to the deep partnership we have with India and the strong bilateral relationship we have and the cooperation on the Indo-Pacific.
With regards to a potential visit, I’ve certainly read press reports that are speculating about a possible visit to India, but I really would have to defer to the White House on any kind of announcement of any kind of upcoming visits.
MODERATOR: Okay, we’re going to go to the back now. Red microphone to the third – yes – table. Correct.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for taking my question. My name is Charissa. I’m a reporter for The Straits Times in Singapore. My question is about the U.S.-ASEAN Summit coming up in March. Would you be able to confirm that it’s on March 14 in Las Vegas and have an indication of what’s on the agenda, as well as how many people will be attending, or just give us a preview of what to expect from the Indo-Pacific kind of agenda? Thank you.
MR DOUGLAS: Once again, paraphrasing Jonathan over here, any announcements about anything like that would have to come from the White House.
MODERATOR: All right. We’re going to go to New York, and then we’ll go back here to the room. New York.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Nikhila Natarajan – short is Niki – from the Indo-Asian News Service. My question is specifically for either Mr. Douglas or Mr. Henick, and this refers mostly to the nomenclature of the Indo-Pacific. It’s more of an Indo-Pacific 101 kind of question.
The nomenclature of the Indo-Pacific has come in for some renewed interest, scrutiny, call it what you want. What is the arc of influence? What are the areas that the Indo-Pacific really covers? The Russian foreign minister was in New Delhi, and he said that this name itself is essentially to keep China out. But beyond that, what is the area that the Indo-Pacific covers? A very basic question to you.
MR DOUGLAS: Yeah, geographically it’s easy. It’s basically the west coast of India to, say, the west coast of the United States, from Mongolia down to the bottom of New Zealand. So that area is what is geographically part – we consider the Indo-Pacific. It is a vision and I think why we say strategy was the original term – it’s really a vision for how we see the region going forward in talking about free and open Indo-Pacific and talking about the – all these – the private sector-led development, all of that sort of thing.
So it excludes no nation. We think every nation should be part of it. These are universal values that we’re speaking about, and we think they are values that historically, especially let’s say in the last 50, 60, 75 years, have brought a lot of prosperity to the region. So it’s, in a sense, a restatement and upgrading, an inclusion of India in this wider vision, because we see the economies and the interests being connected much more. But it excludes no nation in that region.
MODERATOR: Ms. Steele, did you want to say something?
MS STEELE: Yeah, I just wanted to add, I think I heard you ask about this exactly what kind of activities. Is that what you were asking for, or what countries are covered?
QUESTION: Area that it covered officially, basically.
MS STEELE: Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah, that was my question. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll go to Bingru. Please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.
Secretary Douglas, in Indo-Pacific region, the United States regard China as a strategic competitor, but we’ve seen increasing number of scientists being arrested for the reason like they might be spying on the United States or steal intelligence. But now we are seeing the coronavirus broke out globally. So when you see the public health hazard happen like this, do you think it will bring the United States and China more together to fighting against this global threat? And could you please confirm that the State Department is going to arrange more charters to evacuate to United States citizens from Wuhan? Thank you.
MR DOUGLAS: Yeah. I think your – we want to talk about the Indo-Pacific vision and the Indo-Pacific Strategy, free and open Indo-Pacific, it’s something else more like what we outlined. Those specific questions that are asked by others, we’re – that’s not our – where our expertise is. It’s really speaking about this vision we have going forward, and that’s why I mentioned things like Blue Dot Network, Development Finance Corporation, and all these sorts of things. We’re looking at a development model for the region, and we’re looking for those values that can unify the region, and those specific questions would have to be addressed by others.
QUESTION: What about the charter?
MODERATOR: The charter flights.
MR DOUGLAS: Yeah, those – I wouldn’t have anything to announce on that.
MODERATOR: Let’s – here. Sir, right next to you. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. My question is to Jonathan. What’s the likelihood of a summit-level meeting of the Quad this time this year following up on the ministerial that was hosted by Secretary Pompeo last year?
MR HENICK: Sorry, what’s the likelihood of a summit-level meeting —
QUESTION: Of the four heads of government.
MR HENICK: Oh.
QUESTION: And I have a second question, so would you like to take —
MR HENICK: Yeah, I – unfortunately, I don’t have any, I think, really incredible insights to share. Certainly we are encouraged by the cooperation and the dialogue that we’ve had within the Quad. I certainly wouldn’t exclude the possibility of future meetings, but I can’t speak to any specific plans for meetings of that type.
QUESTION: And what about Australia participating in this year’s Malabar exercises?
MR HENICK: I’m sorry, who participating?
QUESTION: Australia participating in this year’s Malabar exercises. Is there a likelihood of that happening?
MR HENICK: Yeah, I have to confess, I’m not the expert on that particular issue, but I’d be happy to take that question and get back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: We’ll take a question from New York and then we’ll go back to the room. New York.
QUESTION: My name is Kishor Panthi. I’m from ABC Television Nepal. My question is to Jonathan. What is the relation between MCC and Indo-Pacific strategies, because it’s a big question in Nepal right now?
MR HENICK: Yeah. Well, I can answer and then maybe let Gloria chime in, but the Millennium Challenge Corporation, I should say, has been working in Nepal since 2012. The Indo-Pacific vision that we’ve outlined was only conceived of and announced in 2017. I want to reiterate also – because I think there’s been some misperception that’s confusing these two particular issues – Nepal I want to say straight out does not need to join or sign up for anything in order to participate in the $500 million MCC compact that we’ve been negotiating with the Nepalese Government for many years now, so essentially I think that there really isn’t the kind of connection that you’re alluding to.
QUESTION: What type of role is expected – I mean, what type of role is expected from Nepal for Indo-Pacific – is it a strategy or is it – it is policy? Can you explain?
MR HENICK: Sure. I mean, I think as we’ve all outlined here today, this is a very inclusive vision for the region. We believe that the values that underpin our vision for the region – openness, transparency, good governance – are values that we share with many, many partners in the region, including with Nepal. We don’t require that every single country attach the exact same value or priority to every single element of the vision that we’ve outlined. We are looking to cooperate with countries throughout the region to promote these values – transparency, good governance – all with a view towards attracting private sector investment that we hope will increase the prosperity of the region. And so certainly Nepal we see as a very important partner with which we share many of these values, and so we think there’s a lot of potential work for us to do together to advance this vision in the region.
MR DOUGLAS: I understand a lot of countries have a version of Indo-Pacific strategies. We see Japan, we see Australia; Korea’s got a new southern policy. We see the ASEAN Outlook, that central role that ASEAN plays in everything we do. Like Venn diagrams we had in our mathematics courses when we were young, there’s a lot of shaded area there. They’re not perfect fits, but they’re pretty close fits, which shows there’s pretty much a common interest as we go forward in how the region should look and what interest we all have.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to go to the front row, sir, with the blue microphone.
QUESTION: Hi. Bhavan from the South China Morning Post from Hong Kong. I just have a question on the Blue Dot Network – just trying to wrap my head around it. I mean, it seems – maybe I don’t know all the details, but it seems quite cost-free to the three countries participating, right? You just – it’s – you give a seal of approval and what happens? I mean, they – you get private financiers to come in – come on board? I mean, how would you convince people to come – to use this framework? I mean, China Exim Bank is – if you use a Chinese company, CREC or CPEC to come and build your railroads or bridges, they will bring on board China Exim Bank, and if – on paper the terms of the loan don’t look that bad, I mean, at least on – in – what’s on the contract. So, I mean – so what’s the Blue Dot Network going to do that is different from all of this?
And secondly, you talk about exchanges. Is that – does that mean that you’re not going – you’re going to ramp up IVLP or – where are the exchanges going to come from? And are you going to get more people to – from China or Taiwan, for example, to come on your IVLP program?
MR DOUGLAS: Well, I’m impressed you know about the IVLP program. Thank you. So let me just say on the human capital, we’re – we know what we have but we’re looking to do more. I can’t give you a definitive number. We’re working all that out in what we can have, but once again, I said there are three sorts of legs of this stool. There are the government programs, there’s the students who come to the United States, and then there are also the private sector trainings that go on like that. So all those contribute to it, and we’ve spoken to elements of all those, between universities, between American corporations, and between our government here. So I think what we’re going to look for is more, but I can’t say exactly what it is right now because we haven’t got that agreement yet and we’re still working that out.
On the Blue Dot Network, what it does is it gives you that – in a sense, that seal of approval that you’ve got high-quality infrastructure going in here. And why that’s valuable is, once again, anyone can build a building. Will that building last or will it crumble? Will that road crumble? What will happen to it? So what happens when you get that certification is you know that you’ve got that, and if you don’t have it, you’d have to ask why not. Why would you want something that’s inferior when you should have something that’s superior and up to that standard? So what the Blue Dot Network does is try to put out – it will be trying to put out – it’s still – we’re putting the final touches on it. But the idea is to have this standard out there that everybody should aspire to, because I think all the countries in the region really deserve that kind of construction. They deserve that kind of infrastructure. They deserve that kind of digital network and all that that the Blue Dot is absolutely important.
The DFC, the Development Finance Corporation, that’s our home base for it in the United States, and we do work with allies and partners. We know – I said Japan and Australia helped launch this with us. I think all three of our countries have a very good record putting in high-quality infrastructure, of building at a certain level, and what we think is that that’s important for everyone in the region to have. You don’t want a bridge that falls apart, you don’t want a road that crumbles, you don’t want all that. And so the Blue Dot Network is to ensure you get the construction that you need out in the region.
MR HENICK: I – I’m going to just add to what Walter said about the Blue Dot Network. Again, this is a concept which we are only now starting to really put into practice and lay out the structure. In addition to the quality of actual construction, it’s also generally accepted principles, international principles of transparent procurement processes, competitive procurement processes, and so those are things that over time we’ve seen consistently are critical to having quality projects in the end. And so I think any country would welcome a kind of a seal of approval that says actually this was done according to international standards and therefore they can have more confidence in the results of the actual projects.
MODERATOR: Administrator Steele, do you have anything to add?
MS STEELE: No, I just – I think all of our – all of the countries in Asia and everywhere else deserve the best and the highest-quality infrastructure, and I think that’s what it is. It’s really encouraging acceptance of high-quality infrastructure, which everyone deserves to have. As Walter said earlier, the – it costs a lot. I mean, there is significant demand for requirement for infrastructure, and you want to maximize the use of resources you have by putting what you have in the best type of infrastructure that you can get.
MODERATOR: Okay. We will take a question way in the back and then we’ll come to you in the front.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Hye Jun Seo from Korean Broadcasting System. I have a specific question for Ms. Steele. You mentioned several examples of plans within South Korea. Could you just elaborate on those details and how it advocates for the strategy of the Indo-Pacific?
MS STEELE: As I think I mentioned earlier, we want to work with likeminded partners, partners who share the same values and objectives as we do. And Korea approached us and said we want to work with you in order to maximize each other’s investments in the countries where we work. And so for example, in Timor-Leste, we both identified dealing with recycling of plastics. That enables them to reuse the plastics for infrastructure, for construction, creating jobs for other people rather than just wasting the plastics.
And so we have identified women’s empowerment as an area where we want to work together, and so we’re putting our programs together discussing how we might be able to do this to make sure that women have access to financing through livelihood opportunities, especially through small and medium enterprises. So there is a team that is here right now from Korea, and we are identifying projects and countries where we can work together. They have the south policy, which is very similar to the Indo-Pacific Strategy, so we’re just trying to make sure we do not duplicate each other’s work, we work in complement of each other, because we have the same goals and objectives.
MODERATOR: Okay. Right here.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Yan Zhang. I’m from Initium Media, Hong Kong. I have a question about the Blue Dot Network. Is it a response to China’s One Belt and Road Initiative? Because it sounds pretty similar and a lot of Asian countries already got support from China which could be very controversial. So is U.S. going to compete with China in this field?
MR DOUGLAS: I would say we’ve all seen the press reports of a lot of BRI projects that haven’t lived up to what their promise is, and I don’t think I need to go through all those because I think we’re all very familiar with them. What the Blue Dot does is ensure that that doesn’t happen again. By having that standard, you won’t have to deal with debt trap, you don’t have to deal with the corruption.
I just have a list of the criteria, actually. I don’t have it memorized, so if you don’t mind my – they’re short and I’ll read it out:
Investment that is open and inclusive, transparent, economically viable, financially, environmentally, and socially sustainable, and compliant with international standards and relevant laws and regulations.
So when you put those five criteria together, what you get is a standard that’s not going to get countries in trouble when they take – when they have investment come in. It’s to ensure that it helps the country, it helps the private sector that’s working on it, that it helps workers locally, that it’s environmentally sustainable, that all these factors are taken into consideration and it’s all done very openly, because when it’s not, then you end up with problems.
MODERATOR: Okay. Sir, in the middle. It can be the blue microphone.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Song Zhang from Shanghai Wen Hui Daily. Can anybody talk a little bit more about International Development Finance Corporation and what is the newest situation and what kind of specific projects have been already sponsored by this corporation?
And also I hear rumors saying that this company is not getting fully – full budget from the Congress in the newest budget. Can you elaborate? Thank you.
MR DOUGLAS: Yeah. I’ll just – I’ll start off with that but feel free to join in. So the DFC was a little delayed in the kickoff because of getting through the – everything through Congress the way it worked, slow bit of a launch. Adam Boehler is the head of it, and he’s been briefing us all on what it is. They’ve got these plans going forward. There are officers going into the field to find those deals, those – everything else that can go on where they can offer support.
So what we’ve got is it’s new, it’s got more money. I haven’t heard that there’s a problem getting financing. We basically heard good word from Congress. There seems to be strong bipartisan support for it. And so I think you’ll see it unfolding as we go forward, but the idea certainly is that it will be there to really help businesses out and make the decision to and have the support to go invest in markets they haven’t been in before. And that’ll benefit both, say, the corporation that’s putting in there or the business, whatever it is, as well as the country there. It’s to help bring them together. And so I think it’s a fantastic resource that we’re going to have out there.
But as I mentioned, it is in the process of being set up. Their officers are moving to the field. All those various things are happening right now. So stay tuned, but I think the picture’s pretty bright moving ahead.
MODERATOR: I do want to mention that the Foreign Press Centers – we are going to have a briefing with the DFC in early February, so please be on the lookout for that media announcement. So we will have a little bit more for you in the coming weeks.
We have about five more minutes. We can take about two more questions. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Olga. My question is about Blue Dot Network. I’m sorry, I’m Xianying Tang from Guangming Daily. Walter said that the Blue Dot Network is a certification system, so I’m curious that if there’s only a certification system, it’s like – sounds like a Michelin restaurant ranking system or it will involve some investment on infrastructure. Thank you.
MR DOUGLAS: Yeah. I think that basically right now, it is to certify – think of these buildings you see around Washington that say LEED on it or something. You know it’s at a certain standard of environmental quality. So right now, it starts off as it will certify what we’re having – have, but it does certify also, for example, that you have a project that is market-driven, that they’re competitively bid, that it’s got all those open and transparent standards that generally build – that lead to better development. So when you have it, you don’t have to worry that there’ll be corruption going into this project or that there’ll be some unfair advantage that’s taken of the country where this investment’s going in.
But what it does, it – by setting those standards, it is to ensure there is better, higher quality investment going in. But right now, simply to make that certification, you have to have certain standards, and those standards are what we want in the world. And that’s why Australia, Japan, and the United States came up with this. And other countries are more than welcome to join us, but we launched it, but we certainly want others to participate in it in every way they can.
MODERATOR: Are there any other questions here or in New York?
All right, and for our briefers, do you have any last statements before we conclude the briefing?
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, then, thank you to all three of our briefers, and thank you all for joining us. We will upload the video and the transcript. There’s other events going on today, so it’ll be a little bit later in the afternoon, but it will be at fpc.state.gov. Thank you very much.