MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Thank you all for joining us late on a Friday afternoon. Today’s briefing is on the Vice President’s trip to Asia. It will be on background, attributable to senior administration officials. For your reference only and not for publication, we have [Senior Administration Officials One and Two] to brief today, but they will be introduced by the title I am about to give. This call, please, is embargoed until the conclusion. We’ll announce the lift of the embargo at that time.
And with that, I will turn it over to Senior Administration Official One for some remarks, to be followed immediately by Senior Administration Official Two. We’ll then go to questions. We have very little time and a hard stop, so I’m going to ask that everyone please limit to one question. Thank you very much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Hi, everyone. It’s great to be able to join you and give you a little preview and discussion of the Vice President’s trip. He, of course, has been to Asia two times already since the beginning of the administration, and he – his father actually has some deep experience from his time in the Korean War. So this is a man who’s no stranger to Asia. And he’s going, though, for the first time participate in the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Singapore as well as the East Asia Summit in Singapore.
He’ll start off in Japan, though, first, where he will meet with Prime Minister Abe and other members of the cabinet. And it’s important both from a substance – what we’ll talk about there, including of course North Korea and the Indo-Pacific, where we have a very common vision. That image of the two of them will be – speaking together to the press – will be a very strong one, and a great way to start off the trip.
Then, as I was saying, we’ll head down to Singapore. And in those two summits, we’ll be talking not only more about the Indo-Pacific strategy and putting some sort of meat on the security as well as the economic portions of it, but again, talking to our friends, our allies, our partners about North Korea, about the South China Sea, both openly and behind closed doors. About our common work together on counterterrorism, about cybersecurity and many other aspects of cyber, including smart cities – a big priority for ASEAN that we’re very proud to take part in and to be helpful and partnered up with the 26 ASEAN cities of the Smart Cities program. We’ll probably make an interesting and very concrete announcement on that there. We will talk about economics. And in the EAS, the East Asia Summit, we’ll hit some of the very similar themes, but we’ll also talk about some broader regional security issues, including nuclear security and some other items.
Then we head over to Papua New Guinea by Australia. Again, Australia is very important for the Indo-Pacific, so it’s a great moment to touch base with our ally and to talk about that relationship. But we’re excited to see the 20 other APEC economies and to discuss how we can make the markets more open, and promote higher standards, and get into some of the kind of more technical and trade discussions that are so important to APEC.
The major speech of the trip will come on Saturday, November 17th, at the CEO Summit. The Vice President will close, give the last remarks. This will be a deep and broad speech that will talk about both the regional architecture and the vision for the Indo-Pacific from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, and it will also talk tangibly and will announce many different things on the economic front, including some of our partnerships that are out there. And I think that question of what is the Indo-Pacific, how does it help Asia, how does it help ASEAN, how does it help the Indo-Pacific, that will come into really sharp focus and answer some of the questions that have been out there.
Of course, we’ll participate in the Leaders’ Summit. It will be also a chance to be in the Pacific Islands and to talk about their importance to the United States – a place where we spend 200 million a year on the Compact nations. I’ll leave it at that for the moment for Senior Administration Official Number One. But I hope that gives you a sense of how great this trip will be.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Great. I think what we’ll do since we have limited time is just go straight into the question-and-answer, if that’s all right.
MODERATOR: Very good. You can – AT&T will give you instructions. But again, since we are very time limited, I’m asking please from the FPC that you limit yourself to one question. Thank you, and AT&T, please give the instructions.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed into queue, and you can remove yourself from the queue by pressing the # key. If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if there are questions on the phone, you may press * then 1 on the phone keypad. It’ll be just a moment for our first question.
And our first question will be from the line of Sriram Lakshman from The Hindu. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for your comments. I’m Sriram Lakshman with The Hindu and my question is: It’s been confirmed that the Vice President will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India in Singapore. Can you please tell us what they will discuss? Specifically, will they discuss a trade deal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So they’ll be talking about the bilateral relationship and defense cooperation in the kind of larger context. I can’t really say if they’ll get into trade specifically at this – at this time.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: They’ll also be talking about the – their common vision for maintaining what we refer to as a free and open Indo-Pacific. Prime Minister Modi has talked about his Act East policy, and there is enormous convergence in these two approaches. In some respects they’re different names for a common approach and talking about some of those common principles that we share, seek to promote and sustain, including freedom of navigation and overflight, sustainable development for the region, the importance of ASEAN and the role that they play as well as of major democracies in the region that we have very good relations in common with, like Japan. And so lots for them to discuss.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: And our next question, from the line of Lalit Jha with PTI. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask you about the Vice President’s discussion with world leaders on China. He gave a major speech on China a few weeks ago. Would he be talking about China’s assertive behavior in the region with other leaders of the world when they meet them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So the Vice President did give a major speech, and it’s important to see that the speech that he will give at the APEC Summit connects back to that. But this is much more a speech about what we are doing in the region to help the economies of the region. I think you’re going to hear us talk about prosperity, how we’re – the American private sector-driven model, which is not a state-run model, that brings prosperity not only to America but to the citizens of the Indo-Pacific region, and we’ll have some specific examples there. We’re going to talk about sovereignty, so how the people in the region have sort of control of their governments, how those values that are very important to Americans are also reflected in that area, in the Indo-Pacific area, both in democracy and transparency and in civil society and in ensuring vibrant civil society and a free and open internet as well as freedom of navigation.
And then lastly, peace and security, so we’ll talk about North Korea, the South China Sea, and those issues that are of vital importance to the region.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And our next question from Owen Churchill with South China Morning, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi there. Yeah, thanks. Thanks for doing this. You mentioned the importance of the optics of the Vice President meeting with leaders in the region, but I wondered whether you could comment on the possible perception of the some of the stakeholders there of the optics of the administration not sending the President himself given that in years past the president has been – that the president himself goes, barring a few exceptions where there was something came up in the short term rather than this – rather than a decision made a long time in advance that President Trump would not be attending. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL NUMBER TWO: Sure. So the President, President Trump, last year when he attended these same summits and first outlined his vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, was – spent two weeks in the region. It was actually the longest trip to Asia by an American president in 25 years. He made seven stops, five countries.
And this year he looked at the calendar as we were approaching, recognized that he had a midterm election that he had to campaign for, to get through that election, to get over to Europe to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and to have a series of bilateral meetings there, and then soon after to head down to South America for the G20. And so he turned to the Vice President and said that, given the Vice President’s frequent travel to Asia – this will be his third trip on behalf of President Trump to the region – that Vice President Pence would be the ideal representative for the President for attending these summits.
The two of them spend an enormous amount of time together. They have closely coordinated all of the Vice President’s statements about the region, including major speeches, and so there should be no doubt as to the authority that the Vice President carries when he goes there. I’d also remind that the top leader of other major countries in the region frequently do not attend, for example, the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN summits, including China.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question from the line of Chia Chang with United Daily News. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. I think someone said the Vice President is not – can you hear me? Yeah. So the Vice President is not meeting – is not scheduled to meet with Taiwan representative Morris Chang, but is – if there is a chance, is he willing to meet up with him? And also, does the U.S. have a plan to enhance its trade relations with Taiwan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL NUMBER TWO: Yeah, so actually I don’t – I’m not sure where you got the information that you mentioned at the front. I just want to say that the Vice President’s schedule has not been made public yet, other than a handful of the meetings and of course the major summits that he’ll be attending. So I wouldn’t jump to any conclusion about who the Vice President will be meeting or not meeting. Some of the meetings have not even been finalized yet. There are others that have not been put on the public schedule just pending last-minute changes and so forth. So I just want to dissuade anyone from saying categorically there’s a certain person from any country that he’s not going to be meeting.
In terms of trade, look, Taiwan is a major trading partner of the United States. We will always look for opportunities to increase investment and trade between our economies, and I’ll just leave it at that.
MODERATOR: All right, this is [Moderator]. As I’m not seeing anyone in the queue, so if there are any other questions, this would be a good time to say so. Otherwise, I will thank our briefers.
OPERATOR: We can check one more time. If there is a remaining question, you would press * then 1 to get into the question queue. I’ll go back to Lalit Jha from PTI. Your line is open.
MODERATOR: Okay, but then this will be the last question, because we do ask everyone to limit to one, please.
OPERATOR: Very good. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this once again. I wanted to ask you about the role U.S. sees for India in the Indo-Pacific region.
And are you aware about the latest developments in Sri Lanka? There have been reports coming out about interference by a third country in (inaudible) Sri Lanka. How do you see that and how does it affect the – your holistic goal on Indo-Pacific region?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Look, the – it’s funny even to use the term – to think of the idea of what role India would have in the Indo-Pacific given that India is such a huge component of the Indo-Pacific. It’s the second-largest population of any country in the region, and that could – it’s gunning for first place in the years ahead in that category. It is the world’s largest democracy, while the United States is the second-largest democracy, and in some respects we’re the two geographic bookends for the region. It’s – it is the dominant feature geographically but also politically, culturally in the Indian Ocean.
And so I think that what you’ve seen with this administration is a significant increase in the quality and tempo of interaction from the top leadership on down. Recently I was with Secretary Mattis, our Defense Secretary, together with the Indian head of your defense department for a very, very good meeting. And it was amazing to see the amount of progress that’s been made in areas of cooperation as part of our partnership. So really, the role for India – the sky is the limit.
We are certainly tracking the situation very closely in Sri Lanka. We of course were quite troubled by the dynamic that predated the current political situation, in which you had a significant increase in debt that was taken on by a previous government there in the name of development assistance. The commercial viability of many of those projects appears to be questionable, certainly at the – given the price to the country’s finances. And so the current situation right now we’re watching is one that we’re studying very closely.
I would say speaking about countries generally, not just the country we’re talking about – generally speaking, one of the key tenets of President Trump’s free and open Indo-Pacific concept and of our Indo-Pacific strategy is to protect the sovereignty of countries all across the region. This idea of sovereignty, that sovereignty resides with the people of countries – the people of countries should have the right to know what kinds of agreements their governments are making with foreign countries and foreign creditors, there should be transparency in support of good governance, and there should not be interference in the affairs of states by outside powers. And so what – the many initiatives and concrete steps that are going to be announced over the next week by our Vice President are in a real sense ultimately about preserving the independence and sovereignty and the freedom for countries to be themselves without being subject to interference by ambitious regional powers.
MODERATOR: Okay. I think we can take just one more, please, so we’ll take ABC.
OPERATOR: Okay, thank you. That’ll be the line for Rebecca Armitage with Australian Broadcasting. Rebecca, your line is open.
QUESTION: Oh, hi there. I was just wondering if you can talk to me a little bit about what the Vice President will be doing in Australia and what meetings he can take.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So he will see one of the senior officials there of the government and then he will be meeting with your prime minister. He will probably do that in Papua New Guinea on the – likely on the 17th, that Saturday. So we’re looking forward to spending time with our very good friend. No better friend than Australia, in fact, as President Trump has said.
MODERATOR: And with that, I think we are at time. I’d like to thank our briefers. If anyone did have a question that they were unable to ask, you can email it to me at DCFPC@state.gov. With our briefers’ permission, I will lift the embargo now and thank you all very much.