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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Preview of the Visit of President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China

Susan A. Thornton, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and Matt Pottinger, Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council
Washington, DC
April 5, 2017




THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, DC

MODERATOR: All right, thank you for your patience. We are very grateful. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. We’re here for a preview of the visit of President Xi Jinping of China. We have with us Matt Pottinger, who is the Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council. On his right is Susan Thornton, who is the Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. They’ll each offer opening statements, as usual.

As usual, I’ll moderate a question and answer session. We have a limited amount of time today; we’d appreciate your keeping your questions to one part to allow your colleagues to continue to have opportunities. As you ask a question, please identify yourselves and your outlets. We’ll go to your colleagues in New York as appropriate.

Thank you for joining us. Welcome, Mr. Pottinger.

MR POTTINGER: Thank you very much. Thank you all for coming. I’m Matt Pottinger, at – the Senior Director for Asia, as my colleague mentioned. We are going to kick off the first summit between the President of China, Xi Jinping, and President Trump tomorrow down in Mar-a-Lago. This will be the first time that the two have met, and really an opportunity for the two leaders to get to know one another, to talk about bilateral issues and regional issues, and starting with areas of cooperation, but also many areas of difference in the U.S.-China relationship.

It’s going to kick off tomorrow afternoon. Both leaders will fly into Palm Beach and have a relaxed interaction starting late tomorrow afternoon. Both sides’ spouses will be there. They’ll have an opportunity to have tea together, meet some of their senior cabinet officials, so to speak, on both sides, and have a dinner.

The following day, on Friday, there will be a series of meetings that will go up to and include a working lunch. And those meetings will have a variety of formats. The presidents will have some of their respective senior officials with them to cover a lot of ground.

We’ll be talking about, of course, North Korea. We’ll be talking about trade and the economic relationship. We’ll be talking about maritime issues and a variety of other areas of cooperation and areas where we want to cooperate more closely with China. Thank you.

MS THORNTON: Thanks, Matt. Good morning, everyone, or I guess it’s afternoon already. Just before we start, I did want to pay homage to a great Washington, D.C. tradition going on right now, which is the Cherry Blossom Festival. So on my way over here today, I noticed all of the trees are out and in bloom, and I hope you’ll all get a chance, maybe when you leave here, to go over to the Tidal Basin and see the most miraculous kind of beautiful unveiling of all of the cherry blossoms over there. Of course, a gift given to us by the Government of Japan back a number of decades ago. So I hope you all won’t miss that for all of your focus on this upcoming summit.

Of course, as Matt mentioned, we’ll have the two leaders coming together tomorrow in Florida at Mar-a-Lago. And there’s been some discussion about the venue, and I just wanted to note that this is a chance for, as he said, the two leaders to get to know one another. We want to have them establish a good working relationship so that they can in times of both opportunity and crisis reach out to one another and have a good rapport. And so I think having the summit down in Florida is a good chance in a more informal atmosphere, more relaxed, for them to have these discussions that’ll be very serious, of course, very important discussions, trying to kick off a good relationship at the outset of this administration and look for what our priority issues are that we’re going to work on, how we’re going to address challenges, and how we’re going to also talk about some of the areas that the Trump administration and President himself has focused on, like trade problems and challenges in the trading relationship, in the investment relationship, and also North Korea, as Matt mentioned.

So I think we’ll be looking to make it a very constructive and results-based kind of a meeting. We’re looking to sort of level the playing field on trade, talk about global challenges, how we can work together, but, basically, how we can bring home results for the American people out of the U.S.-China relationship.

So I think with that, Mark will help us to moderate questions.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much. Please identify yourselves and your outlet. Please keep your questions to one part so we have opportunities. Let’s do Carter in the middle please, with the white shirt. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name’s Carter Rice. I’m with the Asahi Shimbun. Just very quickly, I wanted to know which State Department officials were planning on going on the trip, and if you had more insight into why Mar-a-Lago was chosen versus the White House for the venue. Thank you.

MS THORNTON: Yeah. So as for the exact manifests of planes heading down to Mar-a-Lago, I don’t have a lot of detail, but I’ll be going. The Secretary of State will be going. I’m assuming his chief of staff will be going, his policy advisor will be going, and a number of other State Department officials, of course, down there on the ground right now. We have our entire protocol team down there, our security teams are down there, and a number of other, of course, officials will be going down.

On the reason for the venue choice, I spoke about it a little bit already, and maybe Matt can amplify. But I would just point to sort of the importance of informal kinds of meetings and non-traditional venues and the role that those have played in the history of U.S.-China relations over time. A lot of our sort of relationship building has always been done at off-site type of venues, and I think we always want to have high-level engagement in the U.S.-China relationship. It’s a very important relationship, and it’s really broad and wide-ranging, and so we want to be able to establish that kind of good relationship.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to Jennifer in the green, please.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Jennifer Chen with Shenzhen Media Group, China. We know during the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Beijing visit, he commented – which smoothed the path for Xi-Trump meeting – he commented twice about basing U.S.-China relations on non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, win-win cooperation, receiving great feedback in China. Will President Trump agree to the same principles or expression in a meeting with President Xi? And yesterday, a senior White House official said U.S. and China have good opportunities in North Korea issues. What was he referring to? Thank you very much.

MS THORNTON: So you talked about the Secretary’s trip to China, and I think there’s been a lot of media focus on his expressions that he used in his press statement there. What I would say about that – and I was there – is that the Secretary was using his statement during the press avail in Beijing to refer to the key elements that have characterized U.S.-China relations going back 40 years, since the original Nixon visit to China. And what he was talking about in that press avail – and if you look at the transcript, I think you’ll see this pretty clearly – he was talking about the two leaders coming together at this summit coming up, the next couple of days, to set a new course for U.S.-China relations for the next 40 to 50 years. So the elements that he raised in his recitation of those formulations you mentioned were really talking about how we’ve managed the relationship going back, and now he thinks it’s important for the two leaders to come together and discuss how they’re going to set a course for the future. So I would characterize it that way.

MR POTTINGER: And I was going to answer the question on North Korea, that in terms of an area of cooperation, of course we would like to see China working closely with the United States to address the menace emanating from North Korea – their weapons programs, the provocations that we’re seeing every week; missile launches, including one that we just had not too many hours ago. There is an opportunity for that to be an area of cooperation and to grow that. I think it’s in Beijing’s interest. I think that North Korea long ago ceased to be a strategic asset for China. It is now quite clearly a strategic liability, and it is one that is having an impact on the region. It is one that has the potential to destabilize not only the peninsula but really the region as a whole.

MODERATOR: We’ll do one – we’ll move to the back.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Dong Hui Yu with China Review News Agency of Hong Kong. Regarding “One China” and “One China” policy and Taiwan issue, yesterday you mentioned that you don’t anticipate that President Trump will have any surprising deviation from the longstanding U.S. “One China” policy. But I’m still curious if the Chinese side raised this issue and saying that, hey, you need me to cooperate on North Korea, it’s very urgent, but I would like you to abide by “One China” principle, abide by the Three Communiques, particularly the third communique reducing the arms sales to Taiwan. So what would you expect that Donald Trump will respond? Thank you.

MR POTTINGER: We’ll see what comes up in the conversation between the two leaders. I don’t want to prejudge what topics will come up. But, as you mentioned, President Trump did reaffirm back in February longstanding U.S. policy – that’s our “One China” policy, which is consistent with the Three Communiques. It’s consistent with our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act. I can say that there is no such thing as some kind of a trade along the lines of what you just mentioned, though.

QUESTION: Okay.

MODERATOR: In the back. John, please.

QUESTION: Hi, it’s John Kehoe from the Australian Financial Review. Matt, you, being an ex-business journalist, will probably appreciate this question as much as anyone. Financial markets, investors are very interested with the outlook between U.S. and China on the trade relationship with the talk of potential trade wars and tariffs, although that seems to have receded a bit lately. What can people expect for the outcomes on trade? Will there be hard outcomes, or is this a more – they’ll define a framework? And similarly, for allies in the Asian region who are a little bit nervous about a potential trade war down the track, what message would you send to them?

MR POTTINGER: So I think it is fair to say that trade and the economic relationship generally will be a significant topic of discussion between the presidents at the summit. The question of hard outcomes – again, the spirit of this summit is for the two to develop a relationship, to really establish a relationship, and to lay out the key concerns that each side has about the relationship and to then begin moving toward some kind of a formal series of dialogues that will aim to address those issues as well as areas of longstanding cooperation between the two sides. I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

MODERATOR: Anyone in the back? In the middle, please. And we’ll go to New York after this question, please.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah, I’m Gyuseok Jang, from Christian Broadcasting System. I’m from Korea. And my question is actually, as you mentioned, we need a time for the – spare time for the cherry blossom. And so would you possibly can give us that will there be a press conference after their meeting? And would you give us a little more detailed schedule about that?

Also, if possible – would you possibly can give us – what does that mean when you’re saying that the clock has running – the clock is running out? So yeah, if you – possible just to give us a little more explanation about that. Thank you very much.

MR POTTINGER: Do you want to talk about the schedule of the --

MS THORNTON: Why not? So I think that – (laughter) – well, I’m not the person to talk about the schedule, but I think that the question came up yesterday about the press arrangements at the Mar-a-Lago summit, and I think probably the best thing to do there – probably neither one of us is the best person to talk in detail about that. So if there needs some further detail on the press arrangements surrounding the summit, probably the White House Press Office would be the place to get those details.

I was just going to say on the issue that you talked about with North Korea, I think you heard Secretary of State Tillerson. He was in Korea not long ago, made a trip to the Demilitarized Zone, had a press conference in Korea and spoke pretty clearly on the issue of where we stand on North Korea right now, that he said that the time for talking is now over – strategic patience has run out. This problem has really become very urgent, and it is, as Matt said, destabilizing to the entire region and actually further than the region now, reaches across the globe with the progress that North Korea is making in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

So I think the feeling on our side is that this problem has really now become urgent and we are going to be not only talking to the Chinese this week, but I think you saw on Monday, Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced that we’re going to be convening a ministerial meeting at which the Secretary of State is going to preside up in New York later this month to talk and galvanize a lot more support from our other partners and allies around the world on this issue and chart a way forward in a very urgent way, because we feel that this problem has now crossed a certain line and we can no longer hope for some kind of reversion to negotiations. We need to do something proactive to change the situation and get some results, and we hope that the Chinese are going to be involved in that. We’ll certainly be talking to them about that in the next couple of days. We think they have a lot to contribute, and so we’ll see where we get on that.

QUESTION: I know you’ve been serving on this position for years, and can you tell us a little the different of how you – how do you tell the difference between helping the two administration preparing the meeting with the two leader? And Matt, will you remember, there was a logistical flap last year when President Obama arrived in China, and Trump – the candidate Trump at that time tweet out that it’s a sign of disrespect, and he would have left. So when preparing for this trip, the first meeting of the two presidents, how do you try to avoid these surprise might infuriate the President to leave?

MR POTTINGER: Sure. So I should start by saying that President Trump is an extremely gracious host. He is going to certainly seek to extend complete hospitality to his guests, Xi Jinping and Madam Peng. I know that there is a lot of work going on to ensure that the safety and dignity of both leaders is well protected during the course of the visit.

MS THORNTON: Yeah, and maybe just a couple words on preparations for summits in general. It’s very hard to compare one visit with another visit, never mind across different administrations, because every visit is actually different, it’s special, and it comes at a different time in the relationship. So I think this visit is special because it’s not in Washington, D.C. It’s a more informal meeting. And with that comes a lot of preparatory work that’s being done down offsite in Florida by our – like I said, our protocol teams have been down there for days working together, the Chinese protocol team and the State Department’s protocol team, along with White House staff. We’ve got our security teams down there working with the local police in Florida.

So I think that when it happens in Washington, a lot of these things are all set up already and everybody knows the ropes, but when you’re doing it at a new location, sometimes there are new people that have to be brought into the fold and I think that’s what we’re focused on, making sure that all the local officials know what their roles are and how they can be helpful and that everyone knows sort of what the program is and the President’s expectations for a very successful summit. And I’m sure that our teams down there are going to meet that.

MODERATOR: Let’s take our colleague in New York, please.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. This is Manik Mehta, syndicated journalist. On North Korea, President Trump recently said that the U.S. will go alone against North Korea if China does not cooperate. And Secretary Tillerson issued a very small statement today saying that the time for talk was over and we need action. Could you amplify that? And what exactly does “action” mean?

MR POTTINGER: Do you want to start with the Secretary’s comment?

MS THORNTON: I think – I mean, we have both answered this question over the last couple of days, but I’ll just reiterate again. I think on Secretary Tillerson’s trip to Northeast Asia you saw him, in his expressions about North Korea and where we are in our policy review, clearly express that patience has basically come to an end. We are looking for an action-focused, results-oriented approach, and we are going to be trying to cooperate with other partners and allies in a global coalition really to try to solve this problem in an urgent way that we haven’t really taken up before.

So I think that’s the sense that you’re getting from Secretary Tillerson’s statement today, his statement last night following the latest provocation out of North Korea – the illegal missile launch. And I think also the sense that we are really going to defend our allies and our interests in the region, our commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan is ironclad, and that we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that we’re going to maintain security in that region and that we’re going to be very serious about pursuing a solution to the illegal North Korean weapons programs.

MODERATOR: We’ve got time for our last question here in the – please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mariko de Freytas from Kyodo News. I wanted to ask about secondary sanctions. Would you be able to tell us whether the President or the Secretary of State will be discussing this issue at the summit? And if that’s the case, what do you expect the outcome to be? And how ready are you to implement secondary sanctions? Thank you.

MR POTTINGER: Sure. So, I’m not going to go into the specifics of our approach on North Korea, but I will say that this is going to be an early topic of conversation during the summit, and we will not, sort of, broadcast talking points of the President in advance. But of course, the question of sanctions generally is very much a live one. It’s an operative issue, because the situation’s really boiled down to one of having to apply more pressure, and economic pressure is something that China has the ability to bring to bear in a way that no other single country can. So – for that, thanks.

MODERATOR: Okay. I think that concludes our briefing. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for your patience with the adjustment.