MS PORTER: Hello, good afternoon, and happy Friday, everyone. Thank you for joining the call. As we announced this morning, Secretary Blinken will travel to Australia, Fiji, and Hawaii next week for a series of bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral engagements to advance our priorities in the Indo-Pacific.
We’re very glad to have with us today two colleagues from the Department of State who are going to preview this trip for you. On the line we have from the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary Daniel Kritenbrink, and from the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Assistant Secretary Donald Lu. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink will open up with some remarks, and then both assistant secretaries will take your questions.
I’d like to take this opportunity to let everyone know the subject of today’s briefing, of course, is the Secretary’s upcoming travel. And while we are on the record, the contents of the briefing are embargoed until the end of the call.
With that, I’d like to hand it over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: Well, thank you very much, Jalina, and thanks to all the members of the press who are joining us this afternoon. I think, as you saw earlier this morning, the spokesperson, Ned Price, released the details announcing that Secretary Blinken will be traveling to Australia, Fiji, and Hawaii next week, and I’d like to lay out here in just a few minutes’ worth of remarks a summary of our objectives for the trip. Then we’ll be happy to take your questions.
One of the primary purposes of Secretary Blinken’s trip is to attend the fourth Quad foreign ministers ministerial in Melbourne, Australia, which is being hosted by his good friend and partner, Foreign Minister Marise Payne. This is the first Quad get-together since President Biden hosted leaders at the White House last September.
The key message that the Secretary will take with him on this trip is that our partnerships deliver, and in this era of intense competition, changing strategic landscapes, economic coercion, and, of course, this very difficult global pandemic, there is no greater global partnership than what we are trying to accomplish through the Quad with Australia, India, and Japan. It is through our partnership with these three democratic countries that we are moving so fast to deliver vaccines around the world and to build a stronger health infrastructure. It’s through this partnership that we’re strengthening the security environment in the region to push back against aggression and coercion. And it will be through this partnership that we help support global economic recovery.
The Quad is a key component of U.S. foreign economic and security policy in the Indo-Pacific region. As you may know, the Secretary speaks to his Australian, Indian, and Japanese counterparts quite frequently, but of course there is simply nothing like these face-to-face meetings to solidify and institutionalize what we view as a foundation of our foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific.
While in Australia, Secretary Blinken will also have several important bilateral meetings with the Australian leadership, and he will also engage with students and technology leaders. Secretary Blinken will also reinforce our ironclad alliance with Japan in a bilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi. Additionally, the Secretary will meet with Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar to reaffirm our vitally important strategic partnership.
Next, the Secretary will travel to Fiji, where he will emphasize the United States commitment to the Pacific Islands. In addition to meeting with Prime Minister Bainimarama, he will also hold a hybrid discussion with Pacific Island leaders about their priority concerns, including the climate crisis and enhancing resilience to climate change and rising sea levels in the region, and the importance of regional cooperation to address these and other challenges to Pacific security and stability.
And finally, Secretary Blinken will also visit Hawaii, where he will host his Japanese and Republic of Korea counterparts. This trilateral engagement with two of our most important allies in the world will advance our shared efforts to address our most pressing 21st century global challenges, ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. While in Honolulu, the Secretary will also hold a bilateral meeting with Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Chung to discuss our rapidly growing cooperation with the ROK. Secretary Blinken will also meet with INDOPACOM Commander Admiral Aquilino.
I don’t want to get into all of the details of the Secretary’s itinerary at each stop, but I do want to stress again that the key theme of this trip at every stop is that our partnerships deliver results, and we’re seeing that play out every day, especially as we work hand in hand to put the pandemic behind us.
So I look forward to answering any questions you may have together with my colleague, Assistant Secretary Don Lu.
MS PORTER: Thank you. So, Mr. Operator, if you mind repeating the questions on how our reporters can opt into the queue, that’d be helpful before we start.
OPERATOR: Very good. Once again, to join the question queue, you may press 1 followed by 0. You should hear a tone indicating that you’ve been placed in queue. And that’s 1-0 using your telephone keypad. We do ask you not to begin your question until we have confirmed that your line is open.
MS PORTER: Thank you. Let’s first go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.
OPERATOR: Thank you. That line is open. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello, everyone. Thank you, Jalina. Thanks, everyone, for doing this. Just a quick one. Wondering if you can talk about the importance of this trip specifically in the context of the announcement today between Russia and China. They’ve obviously declared a no-limits partnership, and while the U.S. has been working to fortify a united front in the Indo-Pacific, how much of a more challenge or how much of a more urgency does this add to your priorities? And can you also comment on the – on this new pact in terms of from a Taiwan and Ukraine point of view? Do you see that their partnership can also extend to that? And what would you make of that? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: Well, thank you very much for your question. Look, I would underscore at the outset that the primary reason why Secretary Blinken is going on this trip is to demonstrate, first, the importance of the Indo-Pacific region to the prosperity and the security of the United States and the American people. The Indo-Pacific is absolutely central to our national interests and will have a great impact, again, on our own security and prosperity.
Secondly, the Secretary will demonstrate the strength and the credibility of America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and specifically to our most important partners and democratic allies in the region. And as I’ve walked through in my opening remarks, we intend to demonstrate that our partnerships deliver, and they deliver practical and real benefits to our own peoples and to the peoples of the region.
Now, on your question related to the meeting in Beijing today between President Putin and President Xi, again, I haven’t come here today to specifically respond to that. Rather, I’ve come to focus on America’s long-term commitment to and investment in the Indo-Pacific. But I would just say maybe a couple of comments on the meeting and the statement that you referenced.
I think it’s fair to say that the meeting between President Putin, President Xi, and the joint Russia-China statement reflects an approach that both countries have already taken for some time, namely, to move closer together. I think it’s important to note, however, that the meeting comes as Russia directly threatens Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity with over 100,000 troops on its border.
The meeting should have provided China the opportunity to encourage Russia to pursue diplomacy and de-escalation in Ukraine. That is what the world expects from responsible powers. If Russia further invades Ukraine and China looks the other way, it suggests that China is willing to tolerate or tacitly support Russia’s efforts to coerce Ukraine even when they embarrass Beijing, harm European security, and risk global peace and economic stability. We have, unfortunately, seen this before. This marks the second time that Russia has escalated aggression towards a sovereign country during a Beijing Olympics. The last time was Russia’s invasion of Georgia during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The United States has had almost 200 diplomatic engagements with allies and partners since Russia created this crisis. We are focused on working with allies and partners, including in the Indo-Pacific, to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.
You also asked a moment ago about Taiwan, and on the subject of Taiwan, I would simply say that I think American policy on the issue of Taiwan is clear and longstanding. The United States has a “one China” policy that is based on the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances to Taiwan. We are committed to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and American policy will remain consistent going forward. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Steven Dziedzic. I apologize if I mispronounced your name. Steven Dziedzic from ABC.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks. Thanks very much. Could I just ask two brief questions about the Fiji leg of the visit? You mentioned hybrid discussions with Pacific Island leaders on priorities. Can you tell us, please, which Pacific Island leaders have been invited and have accepted that invitation? And any further details on the purpose of those discussions would be useful.
And then secondly, you mentioned that during the Fiji leg, you’re planning to meet the prime minister, Prime Minister Bainimarama. It’s our understanding that he remains in Melbourne at this stage after heart surgery. Is it your understanding he will be back in Fiji for that meeting? And have the Fijian Government authorities given you that assurance? Thank you.
OPERATOR: This is the operator with AT&T. It looks like the presenter has disconnected, and they are likely trying to reconnect.
MS PORTER: Thank you, everyone, for your patience.
MS PORTER: Again, thank you, everyone, for your patience. We will have Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink reconnecting just shortly.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: Hi, this is Dan Kritenbrink again. Is anyone still there?
MS PORTER: Hi, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink. I believe our last question came from ABC.
Mr. Operator, if we have the gentleman from ABC, Stephen —
QUESTION: Well at least a question on Fiji —
MS PORTER: If we have Stephen from ABC on the line, can we get him back on, Stephen Dziedzic? I think he —
OPERATOR: That line – that line is reopened.
MS PORTER: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: Great. And I heard the question on Fiji, and I gave a very long answer, and I’m afraid that I looked up at one point and I was no longer connected. Did anyone hear any part of my answer on Fiji?
QUESTION: I didn’t.
QUESTION: Not one word.
MS PORTER: No. No, we didn’t.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened. If it’s okay –
QUESTION: It was brilliant, Dan. (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: I hope I can remember what I said. But if I remember correctly, the gentleman had asked about some details on the Secretary’s engagement with the Pacific Island leaders, and then a question about the meeting with the Fijian prime minister. Is that correctly – is that correct?
QUESTION: Yes, that’s correct.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: All right. I’m so sorry about that and I don’t know exactly what happened, but let me repeat my answer and hopefully I’ll give you the same thing, and hopefully I’ll be in transmit mode this time.
On the engagements with the Pacific Island leaders, I don’t have before me all of the details. But what I can say is that we have invited 18 leaders from the Pacific Islands to join the Secretary in a hybrid event while he is in Fiji, and the Secretary very much looks forward to that event.
And this will be, again, an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate our longstanding ties to engagement in and commitment to the Pacific Island nations. And we would anticipate that the Secretary will have the opportunity to discuss a range of common interests that we share with our Pacific Island partners, namely related to COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, issues related to the maritime domain from maritime security to illegal fishing. As I may have noted, climate change will be a key priority, as will be issues related to economic development and economic recovery amidst the pandemic.
You also asked about the Secretary’s bilateral program in Fiji. I would just note, again, this will be the first visit by a Secretary of State to Fiji since 1985. The Secretary is scheduled to meet with the Fijian prime minister. He very much looks forward to that engagement. And again, this will be an opportunity for our two countries to discuss our partnership together and a range of common interests that we both share.
Thank you very much.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching, please.
OPERATOR: Thank you. That line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you, Dan and Don, for the co-briefings, and good afternoon to everyone. Today the House of Representatives passed America Competes Act of 2022 to bolster U.S. supply chains and critical research to compete with other nations, such as China. The Senate version was passed last year. In both the House and Senate version, there are languages on bolstering Quad cooperation as well as to set up a Quad intra-parliamentary working group. I do take note that China was not mentioned in the State Department’s announcement today. Can you please comment on how China’s increasing activities in Indo-Pacific region would be addressed during the meetings?
And secondly, if I may, is a Quad summit scheduled in May, which Japan would host?
And finally, should we expect a joint Quad statement on Ukraine, and is Secretary Blinken’s trip to the – to Australia and Pacific an indication that the U.S. assesses a lower possibility of a escalating military conflict along the Ukraine border? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: Well, thank you very much for your questions, and let me try to answer them in order. If I understand the first question, it’s how would China be addressed in the Quad context. And what I would say in response to that is that the Quad is an informal grouping of likeminded democracies who share many interests, principles, and values vis-à-vis the kind of region that we want to live in – a region based on a rules-based order in which all countries big and small follow the rules, a region in which disputes are resolved peacefully, and in which countries have the freedom to make their own sovereign choices.
I’m confident that, when our foreign ministers get together, that they will reaffirm those principles and values that we hold dear. They will discuss challenges to that order and to those values. And I’m confident that part of that discussion will relate to the challenges that China poses to those values and to that rules-based order in a number of sectors.
Related to the next Quad summit, I would simply note that I think the importance of the Quad and the emphasis that we’ve placed on the Quad, and the ability of this grouping to deliver for our peoples, has been highlighted through the increasing pace of interactions, both at the leader and foreign minister – foreign ministerial levels. I don’t have anything to announce on exactly when the next leaders’ summit will be, and I’ll leave that to the hosts of the next meeting when the time is right.
You asked a couple of questions about Ukraine, and I would simply say in response to that that, as leaders of – for the world’s key democracies, I think it will be natural for them to address all of the important issues of the day, and I’m sure Ukraine will be one of them, given the seriousness of the issue and the threat it poses to the rules-based global order.
As to whether this trip says anything about Ukraine, I think the way that I would respond to that question is simply to say that the United States is – the United States of America is demonstrating how vitally important the Indo-Pacific is to our peace, to our prosperity, to our security. And we’re also trying to demonstrate, again, the strength of our commitment to this region. That is the main message that we’re trying to send. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let’s please go to the line of Edward Wong.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks —
OPERATOR: That line is open.
QUESTION: — for doing this. Hello. Thanks for doing this. I’d like to ask for your assessment of China’s presence in the western Pacific Island nations. I know under the Trump administration there was a feeling among some of the senior policy makers in charge of China policy that they felt that China was doing various things to try and establish a strong presence in some of these island nations. For example, some argue that they were trying to get part of Micronesia to splinter off – and one of the arguments is that China would establish bases, military bases, throughout this region and in the same – along the same lines that Japan took over the island chain during World War II. I was just wondering whether you have any updated assessment of that type of thinking.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: Thanks very much for your question. In response to that, I would say the objective of our trip to the region and Secretary Blinken’s objective in stopping in Fiji and holding this meeting with Pacific Island leaders is again to demonstrate our commitment to this region, to demonstrate how important these partnerships are to the United States, and to demonstrate our proactive agenda and what we can offer in partnership with these countries working together to advance our shared interests.
And I’ll leave to Beijing to talk about what its intentions might be in the region.
MS PORTER: Let’s please go to the line of Ryo Makamura.
OPERATOR: Thank you. That line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much for doing this. I want to ask you about the trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea. Do you feel an urgency to discuss concrete steps to increase diplomatic, economic or military pressure on North Korea to deter future missile launches? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: Well, thank you very much for your question. I guess I would make two general points. First, the primary objective in meeting in Honolulu in – on a trilateral basis with two of our most important treaty allies is to discuss ways in which our three great countries together can advance our shared interests. I anticipate that we will talk in great detail about what we can do to advance and support the rules-based regional order, what we can do to cooperate on important global issues of the day including COVID-19 and climate change, and we’ll also address the most important security challenges in the region.
Certainly, the North Korea issue and countering the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs remains a top priority for the United States, and I am confident the same can be said for our Japanese and South Korean partners. I would just underscore on the subject of the DPRK that our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we will continue to consult closely, obviously, with our partners in Tokyo and Seoul and other partners around the region and the globe as well.
We have made clear many times that we remain prepared to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy without preconditions to achieve that end and to make tangible progress. We have reached out repeatedly to Pyongyang; however, to date, we have not received a substantive response. I think as you have seen recently, Special Representative to the DPRK – Special Representative on DPRK Issues Ambassador Sung Kim has led our robust trilateral relationship on North Korean-related issues. He has been in frequent contact with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, and we believe that kind of contact is critical for effectively managing this challenge.
I should note that I think in coming days you will see that our continued close cooperation on a trilateral basis will be further advanced by additional interactions between Ambassador Sung Kim and his Japanese and South Korean counterparts. I should also add we are making crystal-clear in our conversations with our allies that our security guarantees to our Japanese and South Korean allies are absolutely ironclad.
MS PORTER: Let’s take a final question from Christopher Woody.
OPERATOR: Thank you. That line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for your time today. In light of Secretary Blinken’s stop in Fiji and meeting with Pacific Island leaders, I wanted to ask about the status of negotiations over the Compacts of Free Association. Some lawmakers in recent months have expressed concern about how those are proceeding, so I wanted to ask if you could talk about those agreements, their significance and the status of talks regarding their extension.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: No, thank you very much for the question. Let me say that under the Compacts of Free Association the United States has the solemn responsibility for the security and defense in and relating to the three freely associated states. As you know, we provide significant levels of assistance under the compacts to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau. Negotiations are ongoing regarding future assistance, and those negotiations I can assure you are a top priority for the Biden-Harris administration.
So we’re in the midst of renegotiating certain provisions of the COFA, the Compact of Free Association. We remain actively engaged in doing so, and I’m confident that will remain the case going forward.
MS PORTER: Thank you, everyone. That concludes our briefing for today. The embargo is now lifted. And thank you, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink and Assistant Secretary Lu, for joining us. I hope you have a great rest of your day and a nice weekend ahead.
AMBASSADOR KRITENBRINK: Thanks, everyone.