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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Preview of President Obama's Upcoming Trip to Asia

Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications; and Evan Medeiros, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
April 21, 2014


10 :00 A.M. EDT


MR. RHODES: Good morning, everybody. So we put out our schedule at the end of last week, but I’ll just give a brief overview of the trip and some of its goals, and then Evan can speak more broadly to where we are on our Asia policy, and then we’ll take your questions.

This is the President’s fifth trip to the Asia Pacific region, which has been a focus of our foreign policy. It makes up in part for the trip he was not able to take last fall because of the government shutdown, with the stops in Malaysia and the Philippines, and also allows us to go visit two of our closest allies in the world, the Republic of Korea and Japan.

I think you’ll see all aspects of our Asia policy manifested on the trip: Our security relationships and our commitment to our alliances, our trade and commercial relationships and our efforts to expand U.S. commercial ties in the region, and also the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement; also our people-to-people exchanges and the education and cultural ties that bind the United States to the Asia Pacific region.

We’ll begin in Japan, where the President will have an opportunity to have his first state visit to Japan as President, his third visit overall; a chance to meet with Prime Minister Abe to discuss the modernization of our security alliance and partnership with Japan; a chance to continue to build on the progress we made in The Hague in terms of trilateral cooperation between Japan and Korea; but also a chance to talk about the progress of the TPP negotiations and the economic and commercial ties between the U.S. and Japan with a focus on innovation. The President will be doing an event to lift up our cooperation on science and innovation while he’s there in Japan.

Then in the Republic of Korea – this is the President’s fourth visit to Seoul as president. His first, though, since President Park took office. First of all, he will have an opportunity to express his condolences for the tragic loss of life in the recent ferry accident. The U.S. continues to support however we can the rescue and recovery efforts, and he’ll have a chance to speak to the Korean people about how much we’ve been impacted here in the United States at the terrible loss of life, especially among young people.

Then they’ll have the opportunity to discuss our alliance, our shared security cooperation, particularly our efforts to stand up to provocative acts from the North Koreans, but also our broader defense and security cooperation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. We’ll also be able to discuss the implementation of our free trade agreement with Korea, which is moving forward and allowing for a greater opportunity for both U.S. and Korean businesses and workers.

In Malaysia, this is the first visit of a U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson, so it’s a truly historic event. Malaysia has been an emerging partner of the United States just as it’s been an emerging economy. We’ll be able to discuss the TPP negotiations in Malaysia as a party to, as well as a growing economic and commercial relationship. We’ve also been expanding our defense and security cooperation with the Malaysians. I’m sure we’ll also have a chance to discuss, as we will at each of the stops, some of the maritime security and territorial issues that are currently front and center in the region.

The President will also be able to launch an initiative around outreach to young Southeast Asian leaders at a town hall meeting that will bring together leaders from across all 10 ASEAN countries, as well as Malaysia. So an important visit for the President, and I think one that can really elevate U.S.-Malaysian relations to a new stage.

And then last, the Philippines. And this is the final treaty ally that we’ll be visiting. This has been a growing relationship, as well. On the security side, we have been expanding our cooperation in the region more generally, and also we’ll be able to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the security of the Philippines as they deal with a range of challenges in the region. We also have, obviously, deep ties to the Filipino people, with a large number of Filipino Americans, who’ll be very excited about the visit.

So a busy agenda, four countries, and Evan, I think, can give a brief overview of some of the more strategic aims, and then we’ll take your questions.

MR. MEDEIROS: Great. Thank you, Ben. It’s a pleasure to be back at the Foreign Press Center. What I’d like to do today is to describe a little bit the top-line policy goals related to the trip.

The first and the most important one is that this trip is the latest manifestation of the President’s firm commitment to his policy of Asia Pacific rebalancing. The United States is all in when it comes to the Asia Pacific, and we’re there for the long haul. This is a result of a calculation of our economic and our security interests. It’s not a geopolitical fad, it’s not a political expediency; it’s about protecting American economic interests, security interests, and continuing to build our people-to-people ties that we’ve had for many decades in the Asia Pacific.

There are often questions raised about whether or not we get distracted with Ukraine or the Middle East, and this trip is yet one more example that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. There are huge parts of the government – I’m part of them – that are devoted to advancing U.S. interests in the Asia Pacific. We understand that there are questions out there: Is this more rhetoric than reality? There was a very long article in The Washington Post last week that raised all sorts of questions. And to those that raise questions, I would just simply respond: Number one, I would encourage you to measure our substantial accomplishments and successes of the rebalancing, and not just focus on those areas that we haven’t completed yet; and number two, judge us by the standards that we put out for ourselves.

From the very beginning, when we outlined our Asia Pacific strategy, we focused on modernizing our alliances, redoubling our contributions to regional institutions, advancing our relations with emerging powers, and stepping up U.S. economic engagement in the region. And in those four categories, we have a very, very impressive story to tell, and the President will make even more progress in those areas in the week ahead.

The second major point that I’d make is that this trip highlights the truly comprehensive nature of our Asia Pacific rebalancing strategy. The President’s visiting two Northeastern Asian countries, two Southeast Asian countries. He’s visiting two advanced market economies, two emerging economies. He’s visiting three allies and one close friend and security partner. Two of the countries he’s visiting are TPP members, two are TPP aspirants.

And then of course, the conversations the President is going to be having with his counterparts in the four countries, as well as his public comments, reflect the broad range of America’s engagement with the Asia Pacific. That means talking about the critical diplomatic and security challenges facing the region. It means raising and talking about our enhanced economic engagement and how trade and investment ties with the region are growing in a mutually beneficial way. And then of course, there’s the important cultural and people-to-people dimension that form the bedrock and the foundation of our relationships with these countries across the Asia Pacific. So it’s a truly, truly comprehensive strategy.

And the third and final overall policy point that I’d make is keep in mind that the President’s trip is part of a sequence of consistent, high-level, substantive U.S. engagement with the Asia Pacific. It’s only April, and already this year Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry have both visited the region. They’re both going to be going back in the coming months. And then Secretary Pritzker is going to lead a very high-profile delegation of CEOs to key Southeast Asian countries to advance our economic engagement with them. Then, of course, the President plans to travel back to Asia in the fall to attend many of the big summits – APEC, EAS and G20.

So that gives you a flavor and sense of the momentum and the commitment of this Administration to the Asia Pacific. And now, why don’t we open it up for your questions? Thank you.

MODERATOR: Before we go to questions, I’d just like to remind you, please wait for the microphone because we are transcribing. Please do identify yourself by name and outlet before you pose the question. We also have a lot of people, and in the interest of having the most time for those questions, keep them concise and to single-part. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Nice to see you again. My name is Atsushi Okudera from Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese daily. Let me ask about the alliance between Japan and the United States. Yeah, I know you’re tired of these questions on maritime issues.

MR. RHODES: Never get tired of that question.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Could you tell me how the United States – this time, in this trip, the United States express the strengthen of the alliance between Japan and the United States in terms of national security of Japan in this – and in these regions, and the cooperation between both countries, particularly East China Sea issues and then the Senkaku issues? I’m talking about – I would like to know just about how the United States respond to the Japanese concern in terms of maritime issues. I know that Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel both has already expressed their concern and the commitment of the alliance, but I just want to know that President Obama will also express at the same level. Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Sure. I’ll say a couple of things and see if Evan wants to add to it. First of all, the alliance with Japan is really a cornerstone of our Asia strategy. We have been building out relationships in Southeast Asia and other parts of the region, but the foundation that we’re building on is a strong U.S.-Japan alliance. At the center of that is our commitment to modernize the alliance so that the U.S. force posture and cooperation with Japan is moving forward into the 21st century. Secondly, to be there as a friend and ally when needed. That relates also to issues like disaster response, where the U.S. was able to provide support after the tragic tsunami. But of course, it also means keeping our ironclad defense commitment to Japan. We have a mutual defense treaty that we take very seriously, and there should be no question that the United States will always honor its obligations to the defense of Japan.

With respect to the territorial disputes, in a broader sense, of course we are going to reaffirm and reassure our Japanese ally at a time when there are regional tensions. At the same time, I think we have made clear that the best way to resolve those issues in the East China Sea and related to the Senkakus is through a process of dialogue between Japan and China. And so that’s what the United States will continue to support.

There’s also tensions of course with North Korea and some of the provocative actions and rhetoric we’ve seen out of Pyongyang. And there too, I think, not just a bilateral cooperation but the potential for increased trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and Korea, I think would send a strong message in northeast Asia about our solidarity in standing up to those types of provocations.

But I don’t know if you want to --

MR. MEDEIROS: No. That’s great.

MR. RHODES: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Evan and Ben. My name is Nadia Tsao with the Liberty Times from Taiwan. I know South China Sea will be one of the issue you guys – when the President visit might be discussed. Recently, there’s some scholar in town urging Taiwan to – Republic of China to clarify their claim on the nine-dash line in the South China Sea. I wonder, is that the government’s position as well, because most of them are from academia? And if that’s so, would the U.S. encourage other country, other claimant to have a dialogue with the Taiwan, even including Taiwan in a multilateral dialogue, like the code of conduct. That’s my question. Thank you.

MR. MEDEIROS: Great. Nadia, thanks for your question.

What I’d say is, on that question, given that Taiwan is a claimant, we would encourage Taiwan to have conversations with other claimants, because our policy goal at its core is to ensure that these territorial disputes are resolved peacefully through dialogue and through diplomacy. And a point that the President will highlight during his trip is the fact that we think that the code of conduct that ASEAN and China are currently talking about is a very important mechanism for addressing these issues, and we think that work on that code should be accelerated, because that will create a very positive and constructive framework for managing these territorial disputes.

The United States cares very much about the behavior of countries in how they address territorial disputes, and we oppose any effort for any state to use intimidation, coercion, or aggression to resolve them, because these territorial disputes have the potential to affect broader regional peace and stability in the Asia Pacific.

QUESTION: But is that the government’s position to ask Republic China to clarify its nine-dash line?

MR. MEDEIROS: What I would say is that our position on the South China Sea is very clear at this point, and I just articulated some of the core principles at the heart of that.

MR. RHODES: Yeah. And we’re not going to – we wouldn’t speak for the governing authority in the Republic of China. I do think that the broader point is, whether it’s Taiwan or any other claimant, we want to see this resolved consistent with international law. The U.S. is not a claimant, so we don’t take a position on a particular claim by a particular country. What we want to reinforce is that there is a framework of international law that should allow for the peaceful resolution of these disputes through, again, diplomacy and legal channels, and not through any type of coercion.


QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. My name is Donghui Yu with China Review News Agency of Hong Kong. It was expected that this time the United States will sign a new military cooperation agreement with Philippines. My question is: How could President Obama convince China that this is not aimed at China? This is not a containment tool, even if he did not say any harsh words about China? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: The very simple answer which is that we have a long-standing alliance with the Philippines. So we are not starting from scratch in terms of pursuing defense and security cooperation with the Philippines. We’ve had a long-standing commitment and partnership dating back to World War II, and we are looking at ways of increasing our defense cooperation with countries across the region. And frankly, a lot of that defense cooperation is focused on the mutual interests of all the countries of the Asia Pacific – disaster response, counter-piracy – but also I think the U.S. has been a stabilizing presence in ensuring the free flow of commerce, open sea lanes. And so this type of cooperation is not any country’s expense; it’s certainly not at China’s expense. It’s in support of the broader stability of the region, and in particular the security of our ally, the Philippines.

Again, our point has always been that the U.S. engagement with Southeast Asia is not at China’s expense, but rather as part of a broader strategy in which we can deepen our ties with ASEAN countries, but also maintain very constructive ties with China as well, and ultimately we’re – what we’re seeking to build, together in partnership with other Asian and Pacific nations, is a rules-based architecture for how you resolve economic disputes, how you resolve territorial disputes, so that there doesn’t need to be tension and conflict. And I think that’s consistent with the new model of great power relations that President Xi has laid out, which is that an emerging power does not inherently have to come into conflict with an established power like the United States.

So that’s the framework in which I think people should see our increased cooperation with the Philippines and the President’s trip more broadly.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ben and Evan. Ching-Yi Chang with Phoenix TV. Actually, I have a question for Evan. The other day you gave a speech in Brookings and you spoke about importance of the new model relationship between the U.S. and China, yet you also mentioned U.S. and China should more focus on their common interests instead of the core interests of China, and that is actually quite something new. So is there any change, even slightly, on your policy towards China?

I also just want to follow up with that question: Will the President sign any military – new military access agreement with Philippines? Thank you.

MR. MEDEIROS: Regarding your question about my comments at Brookings, I and the U.S. Government stand firmly behind the comments I made at Brookings, which is to me – which is simply to highlight the fact that in order for the United States and China to build this new model of relations, we need to focus on our common interests, and that means more and better cooperation on the critical regional and global challenges that threaten peace and security and prosperity globally. If we’re going to build this new model, that will be determined largely by the extent to which the U.S. and China are able to find space to work together on those issues.

So we were very aware of this question that’s out there in Asia: Is the President’s trip – is it focused on containment of China? And the simple answer is no. And for us, it doesn’t even make any sense. The U.S. has a $500 billion bilateral trading relationship with China. How could that possibly be containment? The President just met Xi Jinping several weeks ago. They had a very constructive conversation. He invited President Xi for the historic meeting at Sunnylands. The pace, the scope of our engagement with Chinese leaders is historic, and that’s in effort to build this new model. So from our perspective, we need to find more and better ways for both of our countries to solve the problems that challenge security and prosperity globally.

Regarding the Philippines, as you know, negotiators are working on an agreement that’s been very public. I don’t want to get ahead of that particular process. I would just underscore the comment my colleague Ben Rhodes made, which is the U.S. and the Philippines have had an alliance for decades. One of the principal goals of our Asia Pacific strategy has been to modernize our alliances. What does that mean? What that means is as our allies face new and different threats – that’s both traditional security threats as well as non-traditional security threats – we need to update our alliances to ensure that these alliances can meet the new challenges presented by them.

One of the most obvious ones that was very evident to the international community was Typhoon Haiyan and the fact that the Philippines needed our assistance and the assistance of the international community. Now, luckily because of our close alliance with Japan, we had forces on Okinawa that could very quickly arrive in southern Philippines to provide that assistance. Now obviously, if we had the ability to have some of those capabilities already in the Philippines, it would contribute to that humanitarian assistance, disaster relief operation. So when we talk about modernizing our alliances, especially with the Philippines, it’s first and foremost focused on those goals, as well as making sure that we’re meeting our classic alliance commitments as well.

QUESTION: Hyodong Roh with Yonhap News Agency of South Korea. As you told, South Korea is suffering a tragic ferry accident with the lives of so many young student, and now Asia is in deep distress. Does the President have any other plan to do with respect to the accident during his visit to Korea?

And my second question is: Our biggest concern is North Korea’s possible future provocations. We need deterrence. And South Korea, the U.S., and Japan already sent a strong message against North Korea. But in the meantime, a South Korean official said he is considering possible various methods for the resumption of the talks with North Korea. So could you tell us exactly where you stand and where you are going? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Sure. Well, first of all, we will obviously be watching how events are unfolding related to the ferry accident and the recovery efforts over the coming days. And I’m sure the President will want to find a way to express to those families and to the people of the Republic of Korea how much we support them in this difficult time.

I don’t have a particular scheduling update for you, because we want to be sensitive to how this unfolds in the coming days, but I can certainly expect that this will be a big part of his trip and how he addresses the South Korean people while he’s there. We’ve already, again – one thing he has done concretely is order that we provide whatever assistance we can through our Navy and through our recovery capabilities to assist the government in what is a very heartbreaking situation. And the President himself wanted to go out of his way to address this, not just in the statement he released but in his comments at the beginning of his press conference the other day, because it has been weighing on him as he sees the reports – again, not just as the President of a country that has an alliance with South Korea but as a father of two young daughters. When he sees parents suffering the type of loss that we’ve seen, I think it’s heartbreaking for him as it is for all of us.

On the issue of North Korea, first of all, I think it is important that we show our commitment to South Korea and our commitment to deterrence and, more broadly, Northeast Asia. The joint military exercises that we carry out as a matter of course with South Korea, I think, are an important part of sending that message. The President will have the opportunity to be briefed by our commander in Seoul while he’s there about those efforts. But also the type of trilateral cooperation we’re trying to build on the defense side between the United States, Korea, and Japan, I think, is an important part on that message as well.

With respect to those negotiations, we have said that the United States – we would never close the door on diplomacy, and we’re willing to pursue those types of negotiations, but only if they’re based on North Korea demonstrating it’s prepared to keep its commitments, that they’re serious about coming to the table for the purpose of denuclearization, and they’re serious about meeting their commitments under previous agreements. And unless and until we get that type of signal, we don’t want to enter into talks just for talks’ sake. So in our discussions with China and our discussions with South Korea, Japan, and the other countries involved in the Six-Party Talks, again, we’ve made very clear we’re willing to come to the table, but North Korea has to indicate that they’re coming to the table to actually make progress on denuclearization, and we have not yet seen that to date.

QUESTION: So your policy has not changed?

MR. RHODES: No. No. And – but that doesn’t mean that – obviously, we will adjust to events as they unfold, but again, we need to see some type of signal from the North that they are serious about negotiations.


QUESTION: Andrei Sitov from Tass, from Russia. Thank you, Ben, and thanks to our friends at the FPC. I’m sure you will be talking about Ukraine, among other things, on the trip, so I wanted to ask you about Ukraine. Two things: one, the recent incident in eastern Ukraine where a block-post was attacked. Will the Vice President be using his current visit in Kyiv to try and press the current authorities to prevent further violence like this in the future?

And then secondly, the U.S. and Russia, working together at the IMF to help the Ukrainian economy, which badly needs help, which is very good – the work. But then on the other hand, you want to impose sanctions, and supposedly biting sanctions, on Russia. The IMF or the World Bank will tell you that in hurting Russia, you hurt Ukraine. So please explain to me the logic of those sanctions or the sanctions plans. Thank you.

Will you be announcing the sanctions before the trip? Thanks.

MR. RHODES: Sure. Thanks, Andrei. So on your first question, we are aware of this incident. We’re looking into it with the Ukrainian Government as well. We’ve been very clear that we do not support any types of unnecessary violence in eastern Ukraine, and we want to see a de-escalation of the situation, so I think – as a matter of U.S. policy – we’re opposed to escalation and violent actions that could precipitate further escalation.

I will say, though, that the roadmap as laid out in Geneva requires those pro-Russian forces that have occupied buildings in certain towns and cities in eastern Ukraine to lay down their arms and to vacate those buildings. As long as they are there, the risk of this type of confrontation, I think, is acute. And that’s why Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the Government of Ukraine agreed to this roadmap.

We have seen the Ukrainian Government begin to follow through on their commitments, and this is where I think we’d have a difference with Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments today. For instance, the president and prime minister made a speech to the nation underscoring the unity of Ukraine. They began to move an amnesty law through the Rada that would, again, allow those protestors in eastern Ukraine to have amnesty if they follow through on the agreement. They’ve made commitments to respect the language rights of Russian speakers. And they’ve put on the table some ideas about decentralization of power, constitutional reform that I think could lead to a constructive outcome.

So we’d like to see that agreement followed through, but in order for that agreement to follow through, we need to see those groups leave those buildings, just as, by the way, we would say the same thing about any paramilitary groups in the West, Andrei. You know, the Russians have raised concerns about some of the more extreme nationalist factions in the West. The same thing should apply to them, that we don’t want to see any armed paramilitary group occupying a government facility.

On sanctions, you characterized it as us wanting to do so. The best thing would be that we don’t need to pursue more sanctions because we see a reduction in tensions and we see Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity respected. We are only going to move to additional sanctions if we continue to see this type of destabilization in eastern Ukraine, and we will do so if there’s not progress in the coming days.

So again, our preferred course for there never to have been a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – the fact that there was in Crimea and now with these destabilizing actions in the east has led us to impose sanctions and to prepare additional sanctions with the Europeans that we’ll be pursuing should there be continued tensions there and the Geneva agreement is not followed through on.

On the IMF and World Bank, again, I think we’d like to see everybody working together to help stabilize the Ukrainian economy. That could include Russia, of course, as well, as one of Ukraine’s principal neighbors. At the same time, however, if we are assessing what’s best for Ukraine, we need to do two things at once as the United States: We need to help stabilize the Ukrainian economy; we also have to help try to deter further encroachments on their sovereignty by Russia. So it’s a mix of making sure that you are serious enough about your sanctions that Russia knows that there will be a cost for moving into continued encroachments of Ukraine’s territory; at the same time, we’ve got a package of well over $10 billion that we’ve put together with the IMF to try to immediately stabilize the economy.

But in the long run, the best thing for everybody, I think, would be if there could be a working together to help stabilize the Ukrainian economy rather than the type of tensions we’ve seen.

I don’t know if we want to go to New York or --

MODERATOR: They stepped away from the podium, so I think we’re –

MR. RHODES: Okay. We’ll move in the back there, on the right. Yeah.

QUESTION: My name is Igor Dunaevskiy from Russian newspaper. Continuing with Ukraine, United States lately made a lot of effort with European Union on imposing sanctions, and of course, for Russia and like making a coalition to isolate Russia. Will this policy be on the table during the Asia trip, and do you imagine anybody in Asia joining, like, sanctions regime? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Yeah. So I think it will come up on the trip, and I’d just say a few things. Number one, Asian countries, I think, were very strong at the UN General Assembly in the vote that condemned the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, so we’ve had a strong response from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia in condemnation of Russia’s actions. Even China abstained from that vote, which is an unusual occurrence at the United Nations.

Secondly, we have worked very closely with Japan through the G7. So when the decisions were made to both suspend Russian participation in the G8 and move to a G7 meeting this June, and also when that communique was issued indicating a commitment to sectoral sanctions should we see a further escalation such as a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Japan was in lockstep with the United States and our European allies. So Japan has been a key member of this coalition through the G7.

I think on sanctions more broadly, it’s really the United States and Europe that are in the lead, although we’ve seen, again, Japan make some announcements. At the same time, I think it’s important that our Asian allies and partners don’t seek to fill the space left by those sanctions. So as we do in other sanctions regimes, we coordinate with other countries to make sure that the cost is imposed with the sanctions that the U.S. and Europe are going to pursue if we have to. And again, our preference would be that this situation de-escalates and we don’t need to move to those types of sanctions.

And then the third point I’d just make is that territorial disputes, of course, are very much on people’s minds in the Asia Pacific. I think one of the reasons why you saw that vote at the UN is because Asian nations don’t like the precedent being set that a nation’s sovereignty or territorial integrity can be violated with impunity or that a bigger country can simply bully a smaller country in pursuit of their own interests. So the international order that is at stake here in Ukraine is also very relevant to the Asia Pacific as we look at territorial disputes, as we look at maritime security. And so for those reasons, I think what we’ll be making clear is our policy on Ukraine is not targeted at Russia, for instance, specifically; it’s targeted at upholding the international order that we believe Russia has violated. And that’s something that should be of interest to every country that we’re visiting.

Yeah. In the middle there.

QUESTION: Hi. Lee from KBS. Just a short follow-up to your answer regarding North Korea. So you think President Obama will us show some kind of new initiative for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem (inaudible) North Korea chose the change of the attitude of followership regarding the issue. Is that right?

MR. RHODES: Yeah. We would want to see that North Korea would be coming into diplomacy with a real commitment to denuclearization and to its past commitments. But I don’t know if you want to add anything to it.

MR. MEDEIROS: No. I would just simply say that given the recent North Korean statements threatening a new type of nuclear tests, a new type of missile tests, we’re not – it’s clear that North Korea is not signaling any interest in what we would consider to be credible and authentic negotiations. And in that context, we’re looking for some sign they’re actually committed to denuclearization and dialogue would be productive. But right now we’re going into an environment where there’s a growing number of threats and risks of provocation.

QUESTION: Mikyung Kim from Seoul Shinmun Daily. I am a new correspondent. Anyway, I want to say nice to meet you all.

MR. MEDEIROS: Nice to see you.

QUESTION: Yeah. Could you be more specific on the agenda between the U.S. and Republic of Korea at their summit? Does it include 123 agreement and transfer of OPCON? Thank you.

MR. MEDERIOS: Great. Thanks, and welcome to the foreign correspondents pool. At the heart of our message, the President’s message to President Park and the Korean people, is basically forwards: We are with you and we have your back. And so that means that we’re going to do everything possible to ensure that our alliance with the ROK remains rock solid. So of course, the issues of wartime OPCON transfer will come up. Of course, the issues of the bilateral nuclear cooperation will come up, our economic relationship, because we often talk about the U.S.-ROK relationship as both an alliance as well as an emerging global partnership in which we’re working together to address some of the core economic challenges at the heart of the relationship as well as where we can cooperate in the international space, specifically on issues related to clean energy and climate change as well.

So the issues you raise, we expect to come up, as well as some of those broader issues. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Jumpei Yoshioka from Japanese broadcaster NHK. I want to ask a question about the message which the President is going to convey in Tokyo regarding the collective self-defense which the Japanese Government is considering right now. Thank you.

MR. MEDERIOS: Great, thanks. Well, our position on this is quite clear, and Secretary Hagel spoke to it publicly when he was in Japan. And we think, first and foremost, that Japan plays an important role in encouraging and bringing about peace and security in the Asia Pacific and globally, and we encourage and support all efforts for Japan to do that. Regarding the issue of collective self-defense, we support Japan’s reexamination of the legal basis of collective self-defense insofar as we believe that that supports efforts to enhance interoperability in our alliance, and also for our alliance to be more capable at contributing to peace and security in the Asia Pacific.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Zhang Weiran from China News Service. My question is about the regional relations. Right now, the relations between Japan and China is very tense, and I know you always encourage the two sides to resolve their disagreements through dialogue, but will the President do some concrete steps in his visit to encourage dialogues? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Well, I think, first of all, it’s important that Japan is confident that the U.S. maintains its security commitment, that there is an assurance of our commitment to the security of Japan and the stability of Northeast Asia generally. That creates, I think, a positive atmosphere, frankly, for dialogue. So that strong reaffirmation of the alliance, I think, is an important foundation for dialogue between Japan and China.

I think, secondly, a message that we have said publicly to both countries is that there needs to be an investment in finding a peaceful resolution and not a ratcheting up of the rhetoric or the tensions that we see in both countries around historical issues or other differences that have long divided China and Japan – that you have to create an environment within which, again, dialogue can succeed. And so, again, I think that too is a part of how we move this forward.

And then, third, again, I think just making clear to all parties involved in these territorial disputes that nobody is going to benefit from an escalation of tensions in the Asia Pacific; that our economies are so intertwined, our mutual security is so intertwined, that any escalation could prompt, I think, severe setbacks for the economy of the region and the global economy generally. So therefore, people should feel that they have an interest in resolving this peacefully rather than seeing it escalate.

So the ability for the Japanese and the Chinese to communicate directly about these issues, I think, is important, and an environment that is conducive to progress is important, and the President will be able to speak to both of those.

Yeah, all the way in the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Peter Gold, Fuji TV. I’m wondering if you can say why it is this time that Mrs. Obama is not traveling with the President, and then generally how it’s decided whether she would go on a foreign trip or not. Thank you.

MR. RHODES: So Mrs. Obama does not go on many of the President’s foreign travel. The principal reason is that she tends to focus, again, on her responsibilities not just as First Lady but as a mother. And if you go back and look at the times that she’s traveled overseas, it tends to coincide with summer breaks or other breaks that facilitate her daughters traveling with her or – in some of those cases. So the fact is she can’t go on every trip that – and many of those trips – again, the recent trip to China, for instance, was over the spring break for the two girls, so they were able to travel with her to China. So those types of considerations, I think, play some role here.

But the fact of the matter is she goes on a small number of these. She’s not able to attend this trip. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t feel just as strongly as the President about the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship or our relations with all of these countries. It’s more an issue of scheduling for her.

But again, I think the President’s commitment to Japan, I think, is demonstrated by the fact that this is his third visit, this is a state visit. He’ll spend two nights there, be able to spend a significant amount of time with the prime minister and with the emperor. He’s also looking forward to seeing his ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, who is a very close personal friend of his and a very prominent representative of the United States in Japan.


QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Daisuke Igarashi from Asahi Shimbun Japanese daily. I think the TPP is another big part of your trip. And – but Japan and the U.S. are – it looks like they are in a stalemate in the negotiations. So what kind of message do you think you can send to the public at the state summit meeting in Tokyo? And also, I think Malaysia is another TPP member, and Korea and the Philippines are expressing their interest to join the TPP. So can you tell us a little bit more about what kind of discussions do you expect to have at each country on your trip? Thanks.

MR. RHODES: Well, with respect to Japan, we’ve been in these TPP negotiations for a number of years now – Japan joined them in the middle of those negotiations – and we’ve made a lot of progress. And when you make progress towards the conclusion of an agreement, it’s always those final issues that are the most difficult for the countries involved. So with Japan, as with other countries, we’re talking about issues of market access in very particular areas that are very sensitive to the interests of both countries. So it’s not surprising to us that as you get down to those final handful of issues, and there are not many of them, that those are the toughest ones. If they were easy they would’ve been solved by now.

So I think the issue is that we just have to have our negotiators continue to hammer out these issues around market access so that everybody can feel that their interests are protected and that this is a win-win deal. I think the message that we deliver to Japan and to other countries is this agreement has the ability to unlock a lot of potential in all of our economies, that whatever risks we may feel that go along with this trade agreement will be far outweighed by the benefits of greater market access, enhanced trade, greater protections in certain areas, and that we can build a trading bloc with these 12 countries that is going to be a true global powerhouse, and that’s going to create jobs and opportunity in Japan and the United States and the other TPP countries. Again, I think that this is a centerpiece of our Asia Pacific strategy. We talk in all these different areas about setting standards and rules. This would be a high-standards trade agreement that would be the foundation of, I think, the economic architecture of the Asia Pacific for years to come.

It’s also flexible enough that other countries can join. Again, we’ve seen Japan join, Mexico, Canada join these negotiations in the last year or two. So we’ll be having conversations in the Philippines and in Seoul about what are the interests of those countries in potentially looking at TPP. We have already a very strong trade agreement with – free trade agreement with South Korea that we recently ratified. So we’ll also be discussing with them the issues around the implementation of that agreement.

But again, I think for Japan and Malaysia in particular, the focus will be on how TPP is a win-win outcome for all the countries involved, how we all have to work together to overcome these final issues, and then doing so, we can set an architecture of trade in the region that is going to benefit our countries for years to come.

I think we have time for like one more. Yeah, in the back there. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you think that Prime Minister Abe and the President is talking about historical issue this time, like at the private dinner or something? And what kind of advice does President going to give the Prime Minister Abe?

MR. RHODES: I’d just say a couple things, and then Evan may want to address this, too.

Our consistent message to all the countries in the region has been to find means of dialogue to address these historical issues in ways that are not provocative, that respect the sensitivities involved. We believe that there’s been good progress made – in recent weeks, for instance – between Japan and the ROK in initiating a dialogue about their historical issues. It helped facilitate the trilateral meeting that we recently had in The Hague. So I think our general message, again, is one of respect for the sensitivities of others, of addressing these issues through dialogue, and of understanding that if we can move forward with respect for history but without being constrained by our history, there’s great potential for cooperation.

Because one of the things that the United States wants is we want our allies to be good allies, too. So we want to see in particular Japan and the ROK be able to move beyond the recent tensions they’ve had.

I don’t know if you --

MR. MEDEIROS: Great. Thanks, Ben. I would just simply add that we want to ensure that all parties act in ways that address these sensitive issues in a manner that promotes healing, in a manner that promotes additional dialogue. And as Ben said, we are very positive about the recent comfort women talks that occurred between Japan and the ROK. We appreciate the public statements that Prime Minister Abe made reiterating both the Kono and the Murayama statements. We think that this is important, it’s responsible. We appreciate the fact that we worked very closely with Japan and the ROK to have a trilateral heads of – leaders meeting in The Hague, which was an important step forward that I think created some momentum and opened space for additional trilateral consultations and dialogue, especially on defense issues including missile defense.

So addressing these history issues really is in the U.S. interest. It’s in the interests of regional security, because as Ben mentioned, what we want is for our allies to get along as well because trilateral security cooperation is an essential component to dealing with the multiple security challenges facing Northeast Asia. Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Just to say one last thing, since we have so much Japanese and Asian press here: I would note that as a Met fan, I attended the game yesterday, all 14 innings, and Dice-K pitched three scoreless innings, helping us secure that win. So it was a good signal heading into this trip of the strength that the U.S.-Japanese alliance that it helps out even the Mets, who need all the help they can get.

So thanks, everybody.

MODERATOR: And on that, that is the official close to the briefing. Thank you very much for attending today. Thank you.

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