MODERATOR: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub, filling in this morning for our Asia Pacific Media Hub colleagues. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Asia Pacific region and around the world for this on-the-record briefing with Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Mayorkas will discuss his visit to Singapore and Japan, including the Department of Homeland Security’s close cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific region on a wide range of critical security matters. After opening remarks, Secretary Mayorkas will take questions from participating journalists.
I will now turn it over to Secretary Mayorkas for his opening remarks. Sir, the floor is yours.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thanks so much, Sam, and thank you all for joining us this morning. I am and our team is very pleased to be here with our close partners in Singapore to discuss issues of homeland security, not just of course those issues that impact the homeland security of the United States but that impact all of our homelands security.
I am here this week specifically because it is Singapore International Cyber Week, and the cybersecurity of our respective countries and of our collective security is such a vitally important issue today, more so than it ever has been in the past. The threat of cyber attacks is a threat that knows no boundaries, that impacts all of us, and therefore the response to those threats must be by all of us and it must be by all of us collectively. And we in the United States enjoyed such a strong, collaborative relationship with our partners here in Singapore.
One principle that I would like to articulate that really is the foundation of our partnership, of our collective efforts, and that is the importance of a free and open cyber ecosystem for us all to be able to enjoy the freedom of expression, the freedom that defines the principles and foundings of our countries, so that we enjoy a market of ideas, a market of commerce, propelled and advanced by technological innovation and not limited by it.
I am going to be meeting with leaders here in Singapore to discuss our successes thus far and how we can build upon them to advance our partnership and our shared security. I am also going to be meeting with others here in Singapore in the private sector as well as the public sector. We’re going to be meeting with leaders from Vietnam, Israel, others who have assembled here to both enjoy and benefit from Singapore International Cyber Week, which is one of the foremost convenings internationally to focus on the threat of cyber as well as the opportunities it presents.
I am here in Singapore before heading to Japan and meeting with our partners there for precisely the same reason.
I also want to say that we’re not here only to advance our partnership in cybersecurity, but also the very many other aspects of our collaborative working relationships with our close allies and partners in this region of the world. We of course partner very closely with Singapore to advance the free flow of commerce, to see how best we can facilitate lawful trade and travel while also ensuring it is secure. Here, too, we advance the principle of collaboration, of sharing of information, best practices, and technological and other innovative advances.
We very much look forward to our continuing dialogue, the strengthening of our partnerships, and advancing the security of all of our nations together. And with that, I very much look forward to answering your questions. Thank you, Sam.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Secretary Mayorkas. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Our first question is from the live queue and goes to Tran Hoang from Zing News in Vietnam. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: Your line is now open. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Yes, I can. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m from Vietnam, and I have already listed my question to you, so you can read it if you have some thing or issue. My question is: Which sector in terms of security the U.S. Homeland Security pays more attention in the Southeast Asia nations? And given the recent reports about illegal human trafficking in this region, how the United States remain in cooperation with relevant countries? Thank you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you so much for your question. I think I heard it accurately, which is, which sectors of our department are most attentive in this region with the Southeast Asia nations; and given the reports of human trafficking, how are we working to address it in cooperation with other countries.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So in this – and thank you very much for the question. In this region there are many different parts of the Department of Homeland Security that are dedicated to advancing our partnerships and our collaborative efforts. Of course in cybersecurity we have our Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. It is known by its initials, C-I-S-A, CISA. We have advanced a memorandum of agreement with Singapore. We work very closely with the Singaporean cybersecurity agency. We work very closely with Vietnam in this area. We have our Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans. I am here joined by our assistant secretary for cyber policy Iranga Kahangama. So we have U.S. Customs and Border Protection working on advancing the free flow of trade and travel, facilitating that critical mission set as well as making sure it is secure. So we have very many different parts of the department. I just named a few.
Human trafficking is a scourge that is not specific to the Southeast Asia nations. It is of course a challenge here but it is a challenge in different parts of the world. Here we work with our partners in Homeland Security Investigations, the criminal investigative arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Here is one area where it impacts the boundaries of many different countries, and that is why our collaboration, our sharing of information, our sharing of best forensics and investigative practices is so critical, and where – when we identify perpetrators of this heinous crime, we are able to arrest them, take custody of them, and prosecute them with the full force of the law, and where we can work together across boundaries to assist victims of the crime. And we take a victim-centered approach to addressing human trafficking.
Thank you so very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question comes again from the live question queue, and it goes to Philip Heijmans from Bloomberg News based in Singapore. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: Your line is now open.
QUESTION: Hi, and thank you very much for doing this. I wonder if this is in your purview, but China is taking on a larger role in building out the subsea internet cables that provide most of the world’s internet – I believe over 99 percent of the world’s internet. Does the Biden administration see any risks in nations seeking to use Chinese cables for connectivity and is the U.S. actively advising nations on whether or not they should be using that? Thank you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So, Philip, thanks very much for the question. I think that all of the countries participating in the Singapore International Cyber Week are well aware of the risks that are involved in doing business and relying upon the technological infrastructure provided by the PRC. We have seen the potential outcomes, the adverse consequences of doing so. When countries fall behind in their loan payments to the PRC, there is a technological vulnerability in predicating one’s infrastructure on PRC assets. It is a risk that we have communicated and that I intend to communicate this evening when I address the summit attendees.
One of the core advantages of technological innovation – and the internet and the free flow of ideas underscore this – is the freedom of expression, the freedom of movement, the marketplace of ideas that such innovation advances. And we have seen all too often the PRC use its capacity to control expression and to suppress expression through the technological ownership that it has. And so the risk is something that we have communicated quite clearly and will continue to do so.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question is a pre-submitted question and it comes from Seth Robson from the Stars and Stripes newspaper, based in Yokota Air Base in Japan. And Seth asks, “Sir, what kind of changes are upcoming in terms of U.S. Homeland Security presence in Japan? And are there any plans for a more forward presence of the U.S. Coast Guard in the Indo-Pacific?” Over to you, sir.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So thanks. So of course we have a presence, a significant presence here already; the United States Coast Guard has a presence in the Indo-Pacific region. We intend to advance that presence. In March of this year we announced a $60 million investment in new regional maritime initiatives throughout the Indo-Pacific region. We are, through the U.S. Coast Guard, rapidly deploying assets and additional personnel through the region to help meet partners’ requests for maritime training, capacity building, and other ways in which we can most closely support and work with our partners in the region – whether it is to counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing or whether it is to deploy a cutter to Southeast Asia and for security cooperation and to operate as a training platform. Our work here is diverse and we are very invested in it.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. We have a few different questions from some of our journalist colleagues in the region related to U.S. cooperation on cyber. So I’ll go ahead and combine those into one question for you, sir. And it’s generally, how can the U.S. cooperate with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region on cyber? And what are the most prominent cyber threats that you see for the Indo-Pacific region that the U.S. can cooperate with those countries on? Over to you, sir.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you. So our cooperation takes many different forms. We share information with respect to the cyber threats that are known. We share information with respect to vulnerabilities in systems that are discovered. We share information with respect to how to patch those vulnerabilities. We assist in training. We have cyber emergency response teams that assist countries in responding to and remediating threats that have actually materialized. And the threats are diverse in nature, whether it’s phishing, spear phishing; ransomware is a threat that is growing so significantly. We – here in the United States as well as throughout the world.
So we have seen quite a number of attacks. They have been perpetrated by cyber criminals as well as by adverse nation-states such as Russia, the PRC, North Korea, and Iran.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question is a question from the live queue and goes to Danh Le from the VnExpress News outlet in Vietnam. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: And your line is now open.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. I have another question on the U.S. Coast Guard. Can you elaborate more on the plan to expand presence of U.S. Coast Guard cutters in the South China Sea? And is there any plan of a joint exercise in the near future? Besides that, can you update more on any transfer plan for U.S. Coast Guard cutters to Vietnam? Thank you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: I think what’s very important to underscore – I don’t want to get into too many details with respect to our plans in regards to the question that you posed, but I think one of our, of course, foundational principles is to respect and to protect the sovereignty of all nations, and that is something to which we adhere, and our presence in this region is to partner with our allies so that their sovereignty is indeed secure. And I’ll leave it at that, and thanks so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Our next question is related to the earlier question that was posed by a number of our journalist colleagues related to cyber cooperation, and there were a number of questions, Mr. Secretary, about private sector cooperation on cyber. And so I’d like to ask – maybe I’ll combine a few of those questions and ask you, sir, to address that aspect in terms of how the Department of Homeland Security cooperates with the private sector on cyber both in the United States with U.S. companies and how the Department of Homeland Security works with other companies around the world to cooperate on cyber. Over to you, sir.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: So thanks so very much for that question, which is a very important one because the collective approach to cybersecurity that I referenced in my opening remarks and since in responding to a few of the questions is not just a government-to-government collective effort; it is something that really requires an all-of-society coordinated approach. And that includes the public-private partnership which really defines our approach to cybersecurity in the United States and informs the approach that we seek to advance internationally.
In the United States specifically, most of our critical infrastructure resides in the hands of the private sector, and therefore the public-private partnership is so vitally important. We have created a number of vehicles to advance the public-private partnership. The Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative, or the JCDC, that has been built by our Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security is the architecture we use to advance the public-private partnership so that the information exchange to which I referred earlier is something that we undertake not only in government-to-government, but also between the public and the private sectors.
And when I refer to the private sectors, I don’t – the private sector, I don’t refer only to the corporate world, but also to the nonprofit world, to academia, to really every element of our society. We in the federal government work in the context of the public domain, not just across the federal landscape but also with our state, local, tribal, territorial governments as well, with municipal governments large and small throughout our country. And that is the approach that we take in the international domain as well.
The cyber threat is not specific to governments. So many private and public businesses have been attacked by ransomware, have suffered cyber attacks that it really requires an all-of-society effort to strengthen the entire cyber ecosystem that we all enjoy and that is so beneficial to us. And so that’s a very important principle. In fact, here at Singapore International Cyber Week, we have the business community, the private sector very well represented, are attending, and we will have a series of engagements between the public and private sectors based on the very principle that this has to be a collective, all-in effort. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much, sir. We have time for one more question. Apologies to the journalists that were waiting on the line. We had a few questions today and we couldn’t get to everyone, but hopefully we can do this again in the future. And so our final question is a pre-submitted question from Amy Chew with Nikkei Asia based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And she asks, “Mr. Secretary, based on the conversations you’re having as you travel through the region, what are you hearing from your colleagues and your counterparts across Asia in terms of the security challenges they’re facing globally and also specifically in relation to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the possibility of social unrest based on the food crisis and energy crisis based on that war? What are you hearing from your counterparts and colleagues as you travel through Asia?” Over to you, sir.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: Thank you. So let me first answer in the domain of cyber and then broaden my answer to match the breadth of the question that was posed. It was a number of years ago – I think everyone will recall the NotPetya attack. We have to remember that NotPetya had a particular target intended, but impacted many, many more targets than the intended one. And when a cyber attack is launched, while there might be an intended geographic boundary, it is very possible if not likely that those boundaries will not be – will not serve a limitation on the geographic scope of the threat that materializes, the attack that is launched. And that is the case with the NotPetya virus of I believe it was 2017. And so the cyber threat knows no boundaries and a cyber attack that materializes may similarly cross any intended boundaries, if in fact boundaries are intended. And so that’s something very important to keep in mind and why international partnerships and collaboration are so vital to securing the cyber domain of each country individually as well as all of the participating countries collectively.
We – the threat environment is of course not limited to the cyber domain. The unprovoked Russian aggression against Ukraine is something that has horrified countries around the world as well as galvanized countries around the world to come to the support of Ukraine in support of its security and the sovereignty of its people.
We have seen the impacts of climate change in the United States and we have seen them of course in – across the world. The frequency and severity of extreme weather events is something that has gripped the attention of people all around the world.
So there are – the threats are varied in nature. Many do not recognize boundaries. And it underscores the need for international cooperation to achieve our respective security as well as our global security.
I very much appreciate everyone’s time and, Sam, back to you.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much, Mr. Secretary. And now, Secretary Mayorkas, if you have any other closing remarks, I’ll turn it back over to you.
SECRETARY MAYORKAS: No, I just want to express again my thanks to everyone participating this morning. We’re very excited about being here in Singapore for International Cyber Week and we are very much looking forward to engaging with our partners here in Singapore and those who are also present – Vietnam and Israel of course are two that I mentioned previously, heading to Japan, working with our partners there, and meeting and engaging with members of civil society and the private sector to advance our united goal of a safe and secure internet, a safe and secure cyber ecosystem, and a safe and secure land throughout the world. Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, sir. That concludes today’s call. I would like to thank Secretary Mayorkas for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at DubaiMediaHub@state.gov. Information on how to access the recording of this call will be provided by AT&T shortly. Thank you and have a great day.
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