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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Policy in the East Asia and Pacific Region for 2014

Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Washington, DC
February 4, 2014

3:00 P.M. EST


ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thanks to all of you. I appreciate your coming, and I apologize for not having as much time with you today as I had expected to.

When I was here about six months ago, when I just began my current job in August, I outlined with you my priorities and how I saw our rebalance strategy moving forward. As we start the new year, I want to give you a sense of where I think we’re going. 2014 is well underway. It’s already been quite a busy year for me and for my colleagues, and it’ll continue to be busy for Secretary Kerry, for the President, for every one of us who is engaged on Asia Pacific affairs. We’re actively implementing our rebalance strategy over the next months, and you’ll see us hard at work on economic issues, on security, on environmental cooperation, strengthening our alliances and an active partnership with civil society, and in democratic development.

The U.S. is firmly committed to our engagement and our rebalance strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. We’re dedicating more diplomatic resources, more public diplomacy resources, more assistance resources to advance our objectives in the region, and to do so in a way that’s commensurate with the really comprehensive nature of our engagement.

We’re diversifying to ensure that we’ve got a good emphasis, a good focus, on the economic development issues, and that includes energy, it includes people-to-people exchanges, and importantly, it includes education, because prosperity and peace in the Asia-Pacific region mean opportunity for all Americans and for all the countries in the region.

On the economic front, the U.S. strongly believes that investing time, energy, mind share, and material in the Asia-Pacific region is a smart investment. That’s why we’re working so hard on initiatives, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to support economic growth, to support jobs. President Obama framed the rebalance by emphasizing that the Asia Pacific is critical to achieving his highest priority of creating jobs and creating opportunity for the American people. And that’s why the economic pillar of the rebalance is so important to us. That’s why we’re working so hard on the centerpiece, the TPP, along with 11 other members, to conclude the negotiations. In aggregate, the TPP countries will make up something like 40-plus percent of global GDP, so this is really an agreement with global reach and global implications.

But our economic diplomacy, our economic engagement is far more than TPP. As I mentioned, it’s in areas like energy and the environment. That includes working on climate change, education, which I also mentioned, good governance, anti-corruption, health, and women’s economic empowerment, which is hugely important to the United States.

So from APEC to SelectUSA, from our trade delegations to the Entrepreneurship Summit that Secretary Kerry attended in Malaysia, our economic engagements are a really critical aspect of our rebalance strategy. And the Asia-Pacific continues to serve as an engine for global growth with active and intense U.S. involvement.

I mentioned environmental coordination and cooperation, which under Secretary Kerry have been a cornerstone of our efforts. He was recently in Vietnam, traveled on the Mekong. The U.S. has championed, with the five countries of the Mekong region, the Lower Mekong Initiative. We’re taking a regional approach to important cross-boundary issues, including water management and sustainable development.

We’re also working with important partners, including and especially China, on environmental controls, on ways to handle emissions, to promote conservation and the like through the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group. Two of the world’s largest emitters, two of the world’s largest consumers of energy are working together to tackle these issues of global concern.

On the security front, we’re working to modernize our alliances and ensure that we can cooperate seamlessly with partners to respond to crises and contingencies. The response to Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is a case in point. The short point is that a peaceful and stable Asia Pacific depends in large part, and has over the decades, on a credible U.S. security presence. And that in itself is essential to allow for the economic progress that I have just discussed.

Our people-to-people ties are also hugely important, and that’s why we’re working hard and closely with partners to develop vibrant and healthy civil society in the region, from cooperation with Burmese women leaders to the newly announced Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. In terms of English-language teaching and promoting U.S. higher education, we’re working with partners in the region – and it’s a youthful region – to invest in our most important resource: our people.

I’m a diplomat, and my colleagues and I are in the people business. Every day, our embassies are out there meeting with host governments, working with nongovernment organizations and actors to move our rebalance forward. And through those engagements as well as through high-level engagement, we have direct contact with our partners, with our allies, and we work through tough issues that face all of us.

In December, I had the honor of traveling with Vice President Biden, for example, to Northeast Asia. That was a phenomenal opportunity, but only one example of an opportunity that we created to hold direct and high-level dialogue in important capitals on global and regional as well as bilateral issues of concern. Because of the timing of his visit in December, we had a lot to talk about and to work on in all three capitals with respect to the challenge presented by North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. Because of the timing, the Vice President was able to coordinate at a high level in terms of our reaction to China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea. And we were able to articulate those concerns very candidly, very directly, and very constructively with the Chinese senior leaders and officials themselves.

I’d say more broadly that this was manifest in the Vice President’s trip; this is an issue that Secretary Kerry has engaged on, and this was one of the focuses of a recent visit by Deputy Secretary Burns, which I accompanied him on. The United States is concerned by a range of developments in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea, particularly actions that are unilateral, actions that are a provocative assertion of claims in non-diplomatic, non-legal ways. That kind of activity raises questions about commitment to the rule of law. It raises questions about long-term objectives of some of the countries in the region.

The United States as a global power, as a Pacific power, has a huge stake in ensuring that the Asia-Pacific region remains open. We want an inclusive region, we want a prosperous region, we want a region that respects international law. The maintenance of an open maritime regime based on the rule of law has been crucial to the development and the stability and the impressive economic growth of the region. And both here and globally, the U.S. has national interest in freedom of navigation, in unimpeded lawful commerce, in respect for international law and for peace on the high seas.

It matters to us, and we take a strong position that all maritime claims must accord with international customary law. This, as I mentioned, was a topic of discussion in my meetings as well as Deputy Secretary Burns’ recent meetings in Asia, along with the consultations that we held on the Korean Peninsula. Looking forward, you should expect to see more travel in 2014 by President Obama, by Secretary Kerry, by Secretaries Hagel and Pritzker and many other high-level officials and members of the Cabinet. They will go to Asia because the Asia-Pacific region matters so much to the United States.

Moreover, in the multilateral forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum or the East Asia Summit, Pacific Islands Forum, and APEC, as well as in the bilateral engagements on the margins of those multilateral meetings, you will see again and again evidence of how powerfully the Obama Administration is committed to the Asia Pacific as a strategic component of our foreign policy and economic agenda.

My conviction and my experience is that our ongoing rebalance strategy that dates back to January of 2009 is broad, is deep, and encompasses not just regional security, but also, as I mentioned, economic prosperity, people-to-people ties. This is the subject of a very intense ongoing interagency collaboration within the U.S. Government, precisely because it is a strategic priority of the President, of the Administration, and of the nation.

We’re all in in Asia, and I’m all ready to take your questions. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Before we move to the questions, I just would like to remind you of a few things. Please do wait for the microphone. We are transcribing. We need you to have the microphone in front of you. Please identify yourself by name and outlet. And you can see there are many people in the room. We want to get to as many questions as possible. Please be concise and keep your questions to single part questions.

We will start here in the front.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir. My name is Tatsuya Mizumoto from Jiji Press, Japanese wire service. You mentioned about maritime issue. Now there is a rising concern that China is going to expand the ADIZ over to the South China Sea, and then China doesn’t deny it. Is this a concern for you? And then have you talked with your Chinese counterpart about this? And if China does expand it, how are you going to respond?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you. Well, the Obama Administration responded very quickly in December when China announced its declaration of an ADIZ in the East China Sea. We made clear at the time – and we continue to reinforce the point – that we do not recognize that ADIZ. As we’ve said and as our actions demonstrated, the declaration doesn’t change in any way how the U.S. Government operates or how we conduct military operations in the region. We think, in honesty, that this was a move that is not consistent with regional stability. We consider this a move that raises tensions at a time when those tensions should be reduced. We see it as a move that increases, not decreases the risk of miscalculation or of confrontation or of accidents.

The announcement caused confusion. It threatens to interfere with freedom of overflight in international airspace and has raised questions about China’s intent and the manner in which it is dealing with its neighbors, particularly at a sensitive time and in sensitive areas. We have made clear that we urge China not to attempt to implement the ADIZ, and certainly not to replicate it in other sensitive areas, including and particularly in the South China Sea.

MODERATOR: Let me go – I’m going to go to the middle, and the sixth row back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Assistant Secretary. Thank you for coming here today. My name is Chi-Dong Lee. I am a Washington correspondent for South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Let me just ask you about President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Asia. I know you are not working at the White House anymore, but I think you are the top point man on Asia. So I think this is going to be kind of an appropriate question for you.

As you know, there is rampant media speculation about where he will visit, especially in Northeast Asia. Do you – what is the most important factor in deciding destinations in such a regional trip? More specifically, do you think President Obama will travel to both Korea and Japan this time, or he may be forced to choose one – just one because of his busy schedule? Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you. Well, as you pointed out, I no longer work at the White House. And I think if I were to announce President Obama’s schedule, I would no longer work for the U.S. Government. (Laughter.) But suffice it to say that, as the National Security Advisor indicated when she gave a very important speech at Georgetown University, the President intends to travel to Asia in April. We’re also looking forward to annual multilateral meetings later in the year, specifically the APEC Leaders’ Summit, the East Asia Summit, and the G20. So I feel confident that there are multiple opportunities for President Obama to travel to Asia.

There’s no one consideration that goes into the formulation of his itinerary, nor is there a single consideration that goes into the scheduling of his hosting of foreign leaders. It’s really worth taking note of the fact that in 2013 President Obama, even before I left the White House in July, hosted something like six Asian leaders in the Oval Office, in addition to the landmark meeting that he held with the president of China in California.

President Obama and, certainly, Secretary Kerry, who is never far from a telephone, finds ways to be in regular touch with partners and leaders in the Asia-Pacific region in multiple ways, including on the margins of other multilateral meetings. So there is an abundance of high-level dialogue. High-level dialogue is not the only, but it is one really critical factor in the ability of the United States to participate in the range of Asia Pacific strategy-making, diplomacy, economic policy, and the other issues of importance to us.

MODERATOR: Right here, second row.

QUESTION: Hi. Weihua Chen, China Daily, and thank you for coming back to the Foreign Press Center. My question is about how confident you think the leaders of China, U.S., Japan are about this worst-case scenario in East China Sea will not happen, which (inaudible), especially from the U.S. side. And China basically shut the door on Prime Minister Abe, and Abe looks set to visit the Yasukuni Shrine again, probably this year. So what role U.S. can play to help dissolve these tensions? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The starting point for responding to that question and these concerns, in my view, is the global economy. The global economy is so important and, frankly, so fragile that we can’t afford to have the world’s second and third largest economies at odds. We can’t afford to have Japan and China, let alone Japan, China, and Korea, working at cross-purposes.

As two leading economies and two leading democracies, Japan and Korea share a broad range of common interests. Those are shared values, shared interests, and I’m convinced that they serve as the foundation for long-term trust and long-term goodwill. And by the same token, Japan and China, as two major economies and two important partners in the Asia-Pacific region, can and must work together in their own strategic interests, in the best interests of their own citizens, and certainly in the best interests of the region.

The United States, along with each country in the region has a strong vested interest in lowering tensions and improved diplomatic relations, and in close cooperation in northeast Asia. And frankly, restraint, good judgment, and diplomacy, along with dialogue, are the essential ingredients for creating the kind of region and obtaining the benefits from the Asia-Pacific region that we all want.

There is an unfortunate spike in tensions in the region. It’s a matter of concern to all of us. In my own recent meetings in Tokyo and Beijing and Seoul, I had in depth and candid conversations with my colleagues, with my counterparts. These are complicated issues. There are multiple perspectives, but one thing is certain: None of these problems, none of these tensions can be solved by any one party alone. There is a role for every country in contributing to a virtuous cycle of improved relations. And frankly, we look to each of our friends and partners in the Asia-Pacific region to make a contribution to good relations and to good neighborliness.

MODERATOR: We’ll go here, then I’ll go back over. Here in the front.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Just a follow-up question. My name is Xuejiao Wei from China Central Television. On February 4th, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated that the Article 96 should be revised. And also we know that he visited Yasukuni Shrine recently. So how do you see his recent behavior? Do you think he increased regional tensions?

And my second question is: As we know, the Japanese foreign minister is going to Washington, D.C., so he’s going to have a meeting with Kerry. And also there’s some experts say did Shinzo Abe – I mean, sent so many top officials from Japan want to seek for understanding. So what is your comments on that? Thank you so much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Japan is a mature and stable democracy in which the voice of the people is the final word. Japan is a country that has over the years contributed significantly to stability and to peace and to economic development, not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but globally as well.

On the issue of specific decisions by the Japanese Government and in the Japanese system about their self-defense, we accept that those are decisions that can and must be made by the representatives of the Japanese public, and we accept also that the principle of collective self-defense is long-established.

What is important to remember is that the discussions in Japan and with Japan about how Japan can play a more active role in maintaining regional stability and regional security are taking place in the context of the U.S.-Japan alliance. And I have seen, even in the course of the last five years under the Obama Administration, tremendous progress being made in the U.S.-Japan alliance in terms of modernization, in terms of rationalization. And it’s my firm belief that this is heading in a positive direction.

At the same time, the region expects Japan to function as an influential diplomatic and political voice as a friend and as a partner. Good relations between Japan and all of its neighbors are essential. One element of those relations is Japan’s considerable ability to assist its neighbors in times of crisis, and the response by Japan to, for example, the supertyphoon Haiyan in the Philippines – which, by the way, was enabled by strong interoperability and close military-to-military cooperation with the United States – is an example of Japan paying back, paying forward to the region some of the benefits that Japan itself received when it was in distress in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake and tsunami of March 11th.

MODERATOR: We’ll go here to the front and then to the back.

QUESTION: John Zang with CTI-TV of Taiwan. Welcome, Mr. Secretary. Despite your concerns, tension between Japan and China is still escalating. It is actually in the way of every objective the United States has for Asia. So what is it that you have said or you have done has not been so effective? What is it – what else can the United States do to be more effective to calm down the tension in the region to actually bring the two countries together for talks?

Another related issue – the U.S. has spoken against possible Chinese announcement of more ADIZ, particularly over South China Sea. Has China discussed with the United States whether or not it would make such an announcement? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Although the U.S. doesn’t mediate issues such as the disputes and tensions between the Japanese and the Chinese governments, we, like others, have a strategic interest in the peaceful resolution through diplomatic means of those disputes and the reduction of tensions, including over maritime issues as well as over historical issues.

Our principal tool is diplomacy, and that includes high-level diplomacy. And we miss no opportunity to serve as a constructive partner in making our views known and restating our principles and in offering our advice and our good offices. More broadly, I believe that the sustained and robust engagement of the United States, our military presence, our treaty alliances, our active participation in multilateral organizations and efforts, our strong bilateral relations with all of the countries in the region, including China, including Japan, serve as an important stabilizing force.

No country benefits from tension. All countries have a common interest in cooperation between the world’s second and third largest economy. And the United States does and will continue to use our influence, our diplomacy, and common sense to continue to push forward in the direction of the kind of strategic cooperation that is going to make a big difference and a positive difference in the lives of all the citizens.

I won’t speak on behalf of the Chinese, nor will I share confidences, particularly with regard to the question of whether the Chinese may take further actions. But there can be no doubt in the minds of the Chinese leaders and decision makers that the U.S. is very sincere in our counsel against steps that threaten the status quo, threaten the stable environment that has been instrumental in the extraordinary development of the Chinese economy. The Chinese leaders have announced their ambitious plans for further reform and further economic development. We believe that good relations with China’s neighbors will contribute to their ability to fulfill those important objectives, objectives that we, as the United States, hope to see succeed.

MODERATOR: We have very little time left, so moving to a new topic, perhaps, do we have another question?


MODERATOR: I’d like to go back to the middle, gentleman in the dark blue suit.

QUESTION: Thanks for the briefing. My name is Sungwon Baik with Voice of America. I just have a question regarding your way about dealing with North Korea. On the position of your – the special envoy for Six-Party Talks has been vacant since Ambassador Clifford Hart moved to Hong Kong. And is the State Department still looking for his successor, or did you decide to keep the position open maybe because of current impasse in dealing with North Korea? Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Please don’t read anything into any particular personnel configuration at this moment or at previous moments. The policy of the United States, as well as the active determination of the United States, to foster the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, is unquestionable. The nuclear and the ballistic missile programs that North Korea is embarked on represent a significant ongoing threat not only to the United States, but to the international community.

And we continue to urge North Korea to take steps to come into compliance with its international obligations and honor its own commitments. We are the party calling for negotiations. We want and believe that negotiations are, in fact, the peaceful path to denuclearization. But as Secretary Kerry has said on more than one occasion, talks for talk’s sake are not the path to verifiable denuclearization. It’s essential that North Korea participate as a serious negotiating partner, and it’s equally important that North Korea honor and respect the UN Security Council resolutions and its other obligations.

So to this end, the United States works intensively with our partners – with our partners in Seoul, in Beijing, in Tokyo, and in Moscow. It is to this end that the United States has maintained our strong and credible deterrent through our alliance relationships with the Republic of Korea as well as with Japan. And it is for this reason that the United States stands ready to negotiate on the basis of the 2005 joint statement, which states very clearly that the goal of the Six-Party process is the complete and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

MODERATOR: We can go to the woman in – standing.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Genie Nguyen with Voice of Vietnamese Americans. Thank you, Secretary. I’d like to move on to TPP and food, the nontraditional security of the region. Do we have any discussion to your counterpart in China regarding the fishing ban in the whole region? And also, regarding the TPP, where do we expect Vietnam to be as far as the conclusion of TPP, given the discussion of human rights right now? And especially you mentioned civil societies. There is a lot of movement regarding building up the civil societies in Vietnam, not the ones that being approved or put forth by the government. So is there any hope that we can get the support from you to work with the civil societies in Vietnam? In particular, the ones right now are in Geneva talking to the UN. Thank you very much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you. Good questions. The United States, along with many other countries in the region, have expressed concern by the reissuance or the promulgation by China of regulations – the so-called Hainan fishing regulations that purport to levy requirements on other countries’ operation and behavior in international waters and in disputed areas.

The critical point – I’ll say the two critical points here are as follows: First and foremost, the region and the world wants to see that China’s intentions, as it grows, are to participate in and contribute to the international system as a country that respects international norms, respects the rights of others, and accepts that rules, not coercion, must, at the end of the day, guide behavior.

The second key point is that territorial claims must be made on the basis of international law, not simply as sweeping declarations of jurisdiction. China should define its claims in a manner that is consistent with international – conventional international law, including and particularly the UN Law of the Sea. And fundamentally, this means that claims are derived from recognized land features. No one can justifiably, in compliance with international law, simply assert the right to exercise control over great swaths of a sea.

And so on those bases, we have expressed our concern regarding these new regulations, as well as an incremental pattern of assertiveness that is cause for concern by China’s friends and by China’s neighbors.

With respect to TPP and to Vietnam – and I was a participant in the in-depth conversations that Secretary Kerry had with senior officials and leaders in Vietnam – I know my very dear friend Mike Froman is actively engaged in discussions with Vietnam also.

No country stands to gain more from the successful conclusion of TPP than Vietnam. But like all countries negotiating TPP, there are things that Vietnam simply will have to do. Now, I’m definitely not going to speak to the complex issues that are currently under negotiation. There are multiple chapters and there are a range of issues. But I will say two things.

Labor standards are a critical element of not only good governance and international behavior, but also of the TPP. And we have active and robust conversations with Vietnamese officials about that set of issues. Secondly, neither the U.S. nor – I believe, although I can’t speak for others – any of the 11 other members started down the path of these negotiations with any intention other than to be successful. We are committed to the successful conclusion of this landmark, comprehensive, inclusive, high-standard trade arrangement.

I know that my colleagues had a very good meeting recently in Singapore. I know they are talking about bringing the ministers together again in the very near term. I know from my personal experience working at the NSC the priority that President Obama places on our success in this area. We are convinced that this agreement is critical to creating jobs, to sustaining growth by promoting an open and a rules-based economic structure through the region.

MODERATOR: I’m sorry, I’d hoped we’d have time for more questions, but we do not. I know we didn’t get to everybody, but the Assistant Secretary has to run to another meeting. So I’m going to have to call the briefing now. Thank you for coming. That officially closes the briefing.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you all so much.

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