THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s briefing on highlights from Secretary Blinken’s travel to Tokyo and Seoul. My name is Jen McAndrew and I am the moderator. Our briefer today is Marc Knapper, deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who will give a readout of key outcomes from the trip.
Please note DAS Knapper is calling in from Seoul. He has not participated in the Anchorage leg of the trip, and thus will not be able to comment on the Secretary’s meetings with officials from the People’s Republic of China.
This briefing is on the record and a transcript will be made available afterwards. Deputy Assistant Secretary Knapper will give opening remarks and then will have time for just a few questions. We have a hard stop time of 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
Over to you, Mr. Knapper.
MR KNAPPER: Great. Well, thank you, Jen. Thanks to the FPC for setting this up and good morning, everybody, from Seoul – good evening your time there in Washington. It’s great to talk with you all. I’ve always enjoyed doing these events, especially when they surround such important visits as this one by Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin to Tokyo and Seoul. It was really just a lot of good energy here, very, very exciting and successful visit. So I’ve got some prepared remarks which I’ll read from, but then certainly, as Jen said, happy to take your questions.
So as all of you know, this visit by Secretaries Blinken and Austin was the first visit by any members of the Biden cabinet, first overseas visit, and it was meant to and I think successfully reaffirmed the United States commitment to strengthening two of our most important alliances and highlighted that cooperation between and among our three countries as allies, promotes peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, and of course, around the world.
In all of his meetings in both Tokyo and Seoul, Secretary Blinken stressed that greater trilateral cooperation among our three countries – Japan, the United States, and South Korea – makes us much stronger. And both South Korea and Japan, of course, are very close friends and allies of the United States. And close and productive relations among our three countries, we believe, promotes our shared goals of peace and security not just on the Korean Peninsula, but across the Indo-Pacific and around the world, I think.
In terms of highlights from the Tokyo stop, both Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin attended the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, or 2+2 for short, which was hosted by Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi and Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi. And the joint statement following the 2+2, which I hope you all have read or will read, the U.S. and Japan reaffirmed that our alliance remains the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. The United States and Japan also acknowledged that China’s behavior were inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military, and technological challenges not just to our alliance, but to the international community as a whole.
Amid growing geopolitical competition and challenges, such as COVID-19, climate change, and revitalizing democracy, the U.S. and Japan – we renewed our commitment to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order. And we also affirmed the importance of trilateral cooperation among the U.S., Republic of Korea, and Japan, including especially on the denuclearization of North Korea. They also confirmed the necessity of immediate resolution of the abductions issue of Japanese citizens by North Korea.
During a meeting with Prime Minister Suga, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin reaffirmed that the U.S. – we have an unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan under Article 5 of our security treaty, which includes the Senkaku Islands, and the U.S. remains opposed to any unilateral attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea.
Secretary Blinken while in Tokyo also met virtually with groups of business leaders, up-and-coming Japanese journalists, female entrepreneurs, and members of the Mission Japan, the U.S. embassy and our consulates there in Japan, their staff, and their family members.
Now in Seoul, yesterday and the day before, Secretary Blinken met with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong. The two of them discussed our ongoing policy review for the DPRK and we highlighted our shared commitment to strengthening our alliance, defending against any use of force, and keeping the U.S., the ROK, and our allies safe. The two, Secretary Blinken and Minister Chung, also affirmed the importance of trilateral cooperation among our three countries, including Japan, which is, we believe, key to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific as well as peace, prosperity, and security in Northeast Asia.
As in Tokyo, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin participated in a 2+2, which in Seoul we refer to as the U.S.-ROK Foreign and Defense Ministerial, which was hosted by Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook. Now in this meeting yesterday morning Seoul time, they – the ministers and secretaries discussed shared security and common interests, including the denuclearization of North Korea, maintaining joint readiness of our forces here in South Korea, and strengthening our alliance. They also discussed international, transnational challenges like COVID-19, the climate crisis, and Iran.
Both sides, namely the U.S. and South Korea, plan to work more closely on pressing the military in Burma to restore the democratically elected government there. The ministers and secretaries also reiterated that trilateral cooperation with Japan is critical to achieving our common goals of promoting regional and global peace and security as well as bolstering rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe.
The four leaders – Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, Minister Chung and Minister Suh – also witnessed the initialing of an agreement in principle on a Special Measures Agreement, which we believe is going to strengthen our alliance and our shared defense. This SMA agreement in principle also reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to reinvigorating and modernizing our democratic alliances around the world with the goal of advancing our shared security and prosperity.
Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin also met yesterday with President Moon Jae-in, and during this meeting the two secretaries reaffirmed that a strong U.S.-ROK alliance is the linchpin of peace, security, and prosperity in Northeast Asia, as well as the Indo-Pacific and across the world. Our secretaries and President Moon also discussed the importance of expanding our cooperation to combat COVID-19 and the climate crisis.
Just as in Tokyo, here in Seoul, Secretary Blinken also met virtually with up-and-coming Korean journalists and youth leaders to discuss the importance of our bilateral alliance, as well as efforts – bilateral efforts to address challenges both today and in the future.
Secretary Blinken departed Seoul and went – flew to Anchorage, Alaska, where he met with – where he joined up with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and it is there in Alaska that they will meet with PRC’s Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi as well as State Councilor Wang Yi.
Obviously, I am here and not there, so happy to answer questions about the Seoul and Tokyo stops, but not in a position to answer questions about the Alaska stop. And with that, I will stop here and looking forward to hearing what you all have to say and have to ask. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Deputy Assistant Secretary. We’ll now start the Q&A portion of the briefing. As a reminder, please take the time now to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet.
Before we take a live question, I’d like to read one of the advance submitted questions, which is from Soyoung Kim of Radio Free Asia. Her question is: “What’s your comment on North Korea’s latest statement in response to the U.S. approach in February, saying they won’t have talks with the U.S. if its hostile policy remains towards North Korea?”
MR KNAPPER: Thank you. Thanks, Jen. Thank you, Ms. Kim. Look, Secretary Blinken got virtually the same question yesterday here in Seoul, and I think his response says it all, that at this moment, we’re here and listening closely to what our allies have to say – our allies in Seoul and Tokyo. That’s the message we’re really focused on at this moment as we continue with our DPRK, our North Korea policy review.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I’d now like to call on Sho Watanabe. Please unmute yourself and state the name of your outlet.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Knapper. Do you hear me?
MR KNAPPER: Yep, yep.
QUESTION: Okay. I hope you also enjoyed the trip to Japan and South Korea. So my question is about the joint statement of 2+2 about the two countries. There are a little bit difference between two. In the 2+2 joint statement of U.S. and South Korea, there were no word of China, and also the writing about the denuclearization of North Korea was kind of moderate than Japan and the U.S.
So how will the United States improve the gap, position gap between Japan and South Korea from the perspective of North Korea and China? Thank you.
MR KNAPPER: No, thanks, Watanae-san. Great question, and very observant of you to see that the contents of both joint statements are different. This is a negotiated – these are negotiated documents between ourselves and our allies in both Tokyo and Seoul, and they reflect priorities and different focuses, foci, of both – of all of our countries. And what I can say? It’s – I mean, the documents speak for themselves, and we had very – in both capitals we had very intense conversations about challenges we all face, whether they emanate from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, whether they emanate from China’s coercive behavior in South and East China Seas and in regards to Taiwan and efforts to undermine autonomy, long-established autonomy in Hong Kong, whether it’s China’s actions to violate basic principles of religious freedom, as we see in Xinjiang. These are all conversations that we had in both capitals with China – or with Japan and South Korea.
But the statements do speak for themselves and reflect very intense but close conversations that we had and productive conversations we had with our counterparts in both countries.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you. As a reminder, if you’d like to ask a question, you can raise your hand in the participant field or submit it via the chat box. I will now call on Jacob Fromer from South China Morning Post. Please unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. Can you hear me?
MR KNAPPER: Yep.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks. Now that these meetings are done, I’m just wondering if you can talk about your sense of how successful you think the U.S., in working with its allies, is going to be in this administration and dealing with North Korea.
MR KNAPPER: Great question. Of course, we were fully counting on being successful, but we’re realistic seeing what the track record’s been. But one of our goals to try and increase the chance of success, we believe, is these very, very close and ongoing consultations we’re having with our allies. And it began very early in the Biden-Harris administration when Acting Assistant Secretary Sung Kim had conversations – sort of bilateral conversations with his Korean counterpart and with his Japanese counterpart as well as a trilateral meeting with these same counterparts. And the readout is public and available if you’re interested.
But really, I mean, the goal here then, as now, and of course, on the occasion of this visit, is to hear from our allies, to hear what they believe our – should be our priorities, what they believe should be our goals and desirable end states with regards to our North Korea policy. And certainly, we hope that by factoring in interests and concerns and views of our allies, we can create a policy that has a greater chance of succeeding.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I’ll now go to the line of Takashi Oshima from Asahi Shimbun. Please unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Knapper. Thank you for doing this. Two quick question. One is I understand you’re not in a position to talk about Alaska meeting, but I was just wondering that – what was the most imminent concern that the U.S. and Japan shared during the meeting, and that that should be – the two countries be – that should be addressed directly to China?
Second question is regarding trilateral cooperation. Are there any specific steps that the U.S. are considering to enhancing the trilateral cooperation at this moment? Thank you.
MR KNAPPER: Sure. Well, I think, as reflected in the various documents that came out of the visit in Tokyo, whether it’s the 2+2 joint statement or whether it’s the readouts of Secretary Blinken’s meetings with Foreign Minister Motegi, with Prime Minister Suga, I think they do – it’s pretty transparent. They do state our concerns about what’s happening with China in terms of attempts to undermine established international order, to undermine democracy and freedom of navigation and things like that. And so we had very open and transparent and good conversation with our Japanese allies, as we always do. But as Secretary Blinken has said, with China, indeed the aspects of our relationship with China, we will have different – we’ll have different tones, depending. I mean, we’ll – we want to cooperate with China when we can, we’ll be competitive when we should, and we’ll be – it’ll be adversarial when we must. But I think it’s finding – finding these areas and then dealing with them; it’s going to be a key conversation with Japan, certainly, going forward.
As for trilateral cooperation, of course North Korea is always a –not an easy, but a regular and – feature of our trilateral conversations, but I think the kind of things that trilaterally we can and should be talking about are vast. There is a really extraordinary range and diverse set of issues that we, Japan, and the Republic of Korea can discuss together as democratic allies.
And I think with Secretary Blinken, we’ve got a real veteran and a real expert on this. Many of you will recall that when he was deputy secretary of state, he met pretty much on a quarterly basis with his Japanese and Korean counterparts on a rotating sort of schedule among the three capitals. And I was able to participate in some of those meetings and it was really – it’s pretty amazing, I mean, the – like I said, the breadth of issues that we discussed. I mean, North Korea was and is a basic issue that we discuss together, but I mean, things related to counterpiracy in the Indian Ocean, women’s empowerment, development assistance, electrification in Africa, Middle East peace, Afghanistan, Iran – I mean, the list was pretty long.
And so certainly, we’ve done it before, we believe we can do it again, and this is something I know the Secretary is very committed to based on the conversations he had in Tokyo and Seoul.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question goes to Takeshi Kurihara from NHK. Please unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Hello. It’s – my question is kind of related to the previous one, and I know that you’re not taking any questions about the meeting going on in Alaska – excuse me – but could I ask you what kind of topics you’ve discussed with the two governments in advance in kind of preparation for the Alaska meeting during this trip?
MR KNAPPER: Yeah. Well, I think – I mean – really, I mean, even separate from the trip, I think we expressed and we shared our views with the governments in Tokyo and Seoul about our concerns, what’s going on, and what we see as efforts by China to undermine the existing international order; to take steps vis-a-vis Taiwan to limit Taiwan’s international space; Hong Kong, to undermine the autonomy that country – or, I’m sorry – that Hong Kong has enjoyed for decades, as established by an international agreement between China and the United Kingdom many decades ago. What we’re seeing in the East China Sea with the Senkakus and the South China Sea, what we’re seeing internally in terms of what’s happening with Xinjiang – I mean, these are areas of great concern and certainly things we have discussed in the past with Seoul and with Tokyo.
So it wasn’t really specific to the upcoming – or the ongoing, I should say – the meeting that’s happening right now in Alaska. And certainly, we’ve been – we’ve welcomed the public messages that our allies in Tokyo and Seoul have made about their concerns, what’s happening in – with regards to China and whether it’s in Xinjiang or regards to Hong Kong or Taiwan. And this is a subject of conversation that’s going to continue with both allies going forward, and again, not specific to any sort of meetings that we’re having with the Chinese at any given moment.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Duk Byun, Yonhap News Agency. Please unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Hi, I hope you can hear me.
MR KNAPPER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to quickly go back to North Korea. I know you said the U.S. is more interested in hearing what U.S. allies have to say at this point in time, but does the U.S. plan to continue reaching out to North Korea, or does it now plan to wait and see what happens from here? Thank you.
MR KNAPPER: So as I mentioned, as Secretary Blinken has said, as we’ve – as the Department of State has noted, we do have this policy review that’s ongoing right now. And so I’d probably be – I probably better be careful. I think we’re being very cautious about saying or doing anything that might prejudge or predetermine what we believe – what the results of this review are going to be. I think we’re taking a very open-minded approach and, as I mentioned, hearing the views of our allies.
And so I think I’ll just leave it there, where the review is ongoing, and once we wrap it up, I think then we’ll know more, you’ll know more, the public will know more about how we intend to proceed.
MODERATOR: Thank you. As we’re coming to the end of our time, I’ll just do one last call for questions. You can raise your hand or submit in the chat box, but in the meantime, if we don’t have a raised hand, I will go back to one of our advanced submitted questions, which was from Nayanima Basu from The Print in India.
The question was, quoted, “Is South Korea reluctant to join the Quad? Are they concerned that by joining the Quad, their relationship with China will be disturbed?”
MR KNAPPER: That sounds like a great question to pose to one of my South Korean counterparts, but as Secretary Blinken said yesterday, I mean, the Quad is a grouping of countries that share interests and values and often face the same challenges. And if you look at sort of the kind of work that we’re doing already with South Korea, either bilaterally, or trilaterally with Japan, I mean, a lot of the things we’re doing with South Korea we’re doing or trying to do with the Quad.
And so – but in terms of whether – what South Korea’s particular interests are, my South Korean friends would probably be cross with me if I tried to answer on their behalf, so I’ll leave it there.
MODERATOR: Okay. With that, if there are no other questions, we will wrap up the briefing. I want to say thank you again to Deputy Assistant Secretary Knapper on behalf of the FPC for waking up very early in Seoul today (inaudible).
MR KNAPPER: No, no, I was already awake. As veterans of travel know, jetlag had me up, like, two hours ago, so it worked out perfectly. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and good morning.
MR KNAPPER: Thank you, and thanks, everybody. It’s great. I know a lot of friends out there, so I appreciate you joining me. And thank you, Jen, thank you, FPC. Thanks to my colleague Katina for doing this. Have a great evening.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Good night.
MR KNAPPER: Thank you.