NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Hello and welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s virtual briefing with Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Dr. Kurt Campbell, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific. My name is Daphne Stavropoulos and I’ll be the moderator.
Before we get started with the briefing, let’s go over a few logistics. This briefing is on the record. It will be transcribed and the transcript will be posted on our website upon its completion. Please rename your profile with your full name and outlet. I will not be able to call on journalists that I cannot identify.
And let’s begin. Our distinguished briefers today will provide a readout of the first Partners in the Blue Pacific Ministerial, which took place earlier today with the participation of Pacific ministers, ministers and representatives of Partners in the Blue Pacific, and observers. The PBP is a new initiative announced in June 2022 that builds on members’ longstanding commitment to the Pacific region and reaffirms support for prosperity, resilience, and security in the region.
After their opening remarks, I will return and moderate the Q&A session. Please note that we are short on time today; our briefers are only available for a few questions. In addition, they are here to discuss the Partners in the Blue Pacific Ministerial – let’s keep the conversations limited to the scope of the briefing.
And with that, it’s a pleasure to turn the floor over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink. Welcome and thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Well, good evening, friends, and thank you for your patience and sorry to be starting a little bit late. It’s really great to be with all of you today, and I do want to thank all of our friends in the Foreign Press Center for arranging this briefing.
We’ve just finished our first Partners in the Blue Pacific Ministerial, which was chaired by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and joined by 24 other leaders, including many of the ministers, of course, that are members in the Partners in the Blue Pacific, and a number of very senior leaders, representatives of the Pacific Islands.
It was a very successful first meeting, and delighted to have an opportunity to discuss a bit about our objectives in this initiative. You may have seen Secretary Blinken’s opening remarks in which he gave an overview of the initiative and our main lines of effort, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that here today.
I’m, of course, delighted and honored to be enjoyed – to be joined by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Coordinator Dr. Kurt Campbell.
Again, as was mentioned at the top, the Partners in the Blue Pacific is an inclusive, informal coordination initiative among the United States, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The Partners in the Blue Pacific are committed to constructive and transparent cooperation and consultation with Pacific Island countries. While our countries have long been committed development partners to the Pacific Islands, providing more than $2 billion in development assistance annually, we know that we can do better to coordinate and work further and truly step up our game with our Pacific Island partners.
We are bringing new energy and resources to the Pacific, working with partners and the Pacific Islands on our shared goal of meeting Pacific priorities and supporting Pacific institutions. Together, we can have a much greater impact than we can alone. Again, that is why in June we launched this Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative to advance more effective and efficient cooperation and engagement with Pacific partners; to strengthen Pacific regionalism including through the Pacific Islands Forum; and to facilitate and encourage other partners and institutions around the world to engage and consult with the Pacific.
These stakeholders share the Pacific’s values and seek to benefit Pacific peoples. The central tenet of the Partners in the Blue Pacific is that we will be guided by the Pacific Islands. We will undertake regular consultation with Pacific partners, including through today’s inaugural foreign ministers meeting. Again, nothing of the Pacific without the Pacific.
I’m also excited to announce that today we heard statements from the foreign ministers of Germany and Canada that they intend to join formally the Partners in the Blue Pacific. We welcome their increased focus and commitment to a genuine partnership with friends across the Pacific.
In the interest of time, let me stop there and conclude my opening remarks, and I’ll turn it over to Dr. Kurt Campbell, who will provide further perspective on today’s meeting and this broader initiative. Dr. Campbell.
MR CAMPBELL: Thanks very much, Dan, and it was a real honor to be part of this event today. I just want to give you all a sense that the Partners of the Blue Pacific is part of a concerted effort on the part of the United States to step up its game in the Pacific. And as Dan indicated, the goal here is to frankly meet the Pacific Islanders where they live, to focus our efforts with partners and other likeminded states on issues that animate life in the Pacific today. And that means the urgent challenges of climate change, illegal fishing, educational opportunities, health, pandemic, matters related to investment, technology, really across the board.
And the idea here is to work with partners, many of whom have historic longstanding commitments in the region, together figuring out what has worked in the past, coordinate on best practices – but as importantly, as Dan indicated, frankly, recruit new countries to the table. What was most exciting today was to hear countries who’d done things in the past in the Pacific but indicate that they’re stepping up their diplomatic, their aid, their overall support to the Pacific – enthusiastic statements and commentary by France, by Germany, and South Korea and others, all indicating that they want to join with the United States and others in addressing the urgent needs of the Pacific.
I do want to underscore just quickly, the lines of effort that we have laid out that are familiar to the Pacific, are about the issues that are, again, central to the lives of Pacific Islanders. And we intend to coordinate with the Pacific Islands every step of the way. Our efforts as part of the – a Partner of the Blue Pacific are consistent with other things that we have done, and I want to commend Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink for his efforts in driving resources and focus at the State Department – much higher-level visits occurring of late, greater resources directed to problems, and deeper commitments across the U.S. Government. There are many agencies that have interests in the Pacific. They have not been as well-coordinated in the past. We’re seeking to do that going forward.
I’ll just note one last thing, and then we’ll be happy to take some questions. We’re thrilled that as part of these efforts that we’ve seen over the last several months and a very intensive diplomatic effort before we’ve launched formally the partners of the Blue Pacific, the President of the United States, President Biden, looks forward to hosting for the first time all the Pacific leaders in – he’s invited – we’ve invited all the Pacific leaders to Washington, D.C. for a two-day summit, which will involve deep engagements not only at the White House and the State Department but all key agencies that are focused on the critical issues in the Pacific. And I think through this effort we will be able to demonstrate most clearly that we are determined indeed to step up our game.
So I’ll stop there, and Dan and I would be most pleased to take any specific questions. And again, I just want to underscore clearly here this is a region that does not get enough attention and focus, and so our hope here is to answer questions on these topics. There will be other opportunities to discuss other things, but really, today is about the Pacific. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your opening remarks. To ask a question, please raise your virtual hand and wait for me to call on you. When called on, unmute yourself and restate your full name and your outlet. You can also submit a question in the chat feature at the bottom of your screen, and I will read it aloud.
The first question will go to Michael Martina, Reuters. Michael, please unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Hi there. Can you hear me now?
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks very much for the briefing. There have been reports coming out of Palau about a Chinese spacecraft tracking ships that have been entering uninvited into their EEZ. I’m wondering if you can tell us maybe what you think is behind this behavior by China, if it’s a serious concern, and how the U.S. and its partners and allies intend to address it.
And then secondly, the Solomon Islands appears to have secured maybe $100 million dollars for – in Chinese loans for cell towers. And I know that Secretary Blinken has said the U.S. seeks to enhance affordable IT infrastructure projects in the region. I’m wondering if you could tell us: What exactly does that mean, and how can the U.S. compete with China and Huawei on this front? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Michael, thank you for your question. And let me make some initial comments in response, then I’ll turn to Dr. Campbell.
Look, Michael, I’m not in a position to comment on the specific matter that you mention, but let me just underscore that the Partners in the Blue Pacific and the initiatives we’ve outlined here today, our focus is not China. Our focus is on the needs and the interests that we share together with our friends in the Pacific Islands; as Dr. Campbell said, meeting our Pacific Island friends were where they live.
And when you look at the lines of effort that Secretary Blinken outlined today, those tracked identically with the top priorities listed in the Pacific Island region’s own 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. And that’s why we’re underscoring that we’re advancing our mutual interests, we’re advancing the top priorities of the Pacific Island that Pacific Island leaders have themselves identified. And so I would encourage friends, Michael, to focus on our positive, affirmative agenda in close coordination with Pacific Island friends, rather than focusing on what the Chinese may or may not be up to in the region.
MR CAMPBELL: Look, I would just simply say at a general level, really no region is removed from some degree of strategic competition, and really the Pacific is no exception here. And I think as we’ve seen in some instances, clearly China has ambitions in the Pacific, some of which have caused concern among Pacific Island leaders.
But as Dan indicated, this agenda really is meant to be a positive approach to supporting the issues that matter to the Pacific. When we engage with Pacific Islanders, one of the first things that they say is that for us national security really involves our environment and how climate change is an existential issue for them. So yes, there are these issues that continue to swirl, and the United States, I can assure you, with our partners and friends, are deeply attentive to those issues. But this particular set of initiatives and the Partners of the Blue Pacific is really designed around the positive initiative that Dan indicated.
On specifics associated with investment parameters and technology and the like, we’ll have more to discuss and say about that next week when the President hosts the leaders, and there will be an event at the Chamber of Commerce that Secretary Raimondo will be involved with as well. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. If you have a question, please raise your virtual hand or go ahead and type your question into the chat and I can read it out loud.
The next question goes to Masahiro Okoshi, Nikkei. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much for doing this. I’d like to ask you a question about bottom of the ocean, not the surface of the ocean. I believe that Pacific Island countries are of vital important for the laying of submarine cables. So how does the U.S. plan to win the submarine cable competition with China? How will it cooperate with Japan, Australia, and other countries? Please share your thoughts. Thank you.
MR CAMPBELL: So thank you. It’s a very important question, and I think it relates in some respects to the previous questions about technology. Let me just say that, as you well know, the United States, Australia, Japan, and others have been involved in a number of efforts to advance undersea cables in the Pacific. We recognize how important this initiative or set of initiatives are, and we’ll have more to say again about this next week.
I do want to just also indicate that the Quad – the United States, Japan, Australia, and India – have identified a number of initiatives in the Pacific that they want to focus on going forward. One of those issues is maritime domain awareness and another has to do with increasing connectivity among island states with other countries like Japan, Australia, and India. And that can only be accomplished through the laying of line, undersea cable. And so I think the challenge is before us. We think it’s important. And it will require financing and capacity, not just of any one state but our combined efforts together.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one or two more questions. If you have a question, please raise your virtual hand and wait for me to call on you. And again, you can type your question in the chat.
The next question comes from Manik Mehta. He’s a syndicated journalist. “Has U.S. sought the cooperation or assistance of ASEAN states in Southeast Asia to prop up economies and infrastructure of the Pacific Islands? Could you mention some projects or assistance in tangible terms?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Well, thank you very much for the question. I think one of the benefits of highlighting the importance of the Pacific and Pacific Island friends and their interests to the region and to the world has been that friends across the region and, as you saw today, across the world are newly focused on the Pacific. And that is, of course, true for our friends in Southeast Asia and friends in ASEAN as well.
So I would also note that today Secretary of State Blinken also hosted a trilateral with his foreign minister counterparts from both the Republic of Korea and Japan, and a central feature of their conversations today were also how we could collaborate in the Pacific to advance our shared interests, and of course as we’ve outlined here today, advance common interests with the Pacific Islanders themselves.
So I think whether we focus on Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, or increasingly in Europe, I think you can see an increased recognition for the importance of the Pacific, and we as the United States are proud to be a part of that initiative. And again, we’re very pleased with the outcomes of today’s ministerial, and as Dr. Campbell outlined, we’re very excited as well for the summit that the President will host next week.
MR CAMPBELL: Dan gave a good answer. But let me just say, first of all, we fully acknowledge, in all things that we’re doing in the Indo-Pacific, the central convening importance of ASEAN. And we’ve sought to engage more deeply in diplomatic efforts with them on virtually everything that we’re involved with, whether it’s COVID or issues associated with maritime issues or the health of the Mekong. And Dan and I were pleased to be part of a historic event bringing all the ASEAN leaders to Washington D.C., and in those meetings we did indeed discuss the Pacific.
But I must tell you, and this is a good way to conclude, we have a long to-do list on the Pacific. We have a lot of work to do. And these are the first steps, and I think it’s a important reminder when Dan, myself, the Secretary, and the President, when we go to Southeast Asia for the important meetings of the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the G20 – all the convening mechanisms of the Indo-Pacific – it will be central for us to brief, engage, and seek further cooperation from ASEAN friends. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you so much. I know that we’re short on time and you have full schedules. It’s been a busy week. I appreciate taking the time to brief the media today. This concludes today’s briefing. It was on the record. I will share the transcript, and it will also be posted on our website later today.
With that, thank you and good afternoon.