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Moderator: Good day from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub in Manila. I am the Hub Director, Zia Syed, and I want to thank you all for joining this briefing. Today, we are very pleased to be joined from Washington, D.C., by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Dan Kritenbrink, and U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Don Lu.
We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks from Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink and Assistant Secretary Lu. We’ll try to get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 30 minutes.
Finally, as a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink.
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Thank you very much, Zia, and thanks to everyone for joining us tonight, and this morning in Asia.
Assistant Secretary Lu and I just returned from a very productive and successful trip with Secretary Blinken. As you know, the Secretary traveled to Australia, Fiji, and Hawaii last week. The trip took place amidst the backdrop of heightened Russian aggression against Ukraine. The fact that Secretary Blinken went through with the trip while simultaneously working relentlessly to resolve the crisis in Ukraine was, in and of itself, a demonstration of our commitment to staying focused on the Indo-Pacific region.
At each stop, and in fact in each meeting, the Secretary discussed with his counterparts our unwavering support for Ukraine’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Autocrats must realize that aggression and coercion are not the way forward. And we will continue to work with allies and partners to preserve and sustain the rules-based international order.
The Secretary’s trip to the Indo-Pacific region demonstrates that our interests are global. While we work to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, we will continue to vigorously pursue our strategic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, which we see as absolutely central to the peace, prosperity, and security of not only the United States, but the entire world.
The Quad ministerial in Melbourne, Australia, served as a great model of the kind of partnerships we know are essential to affirming the importance of an inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific. The conversations the Secretary had with his Quad counterparts were strategic, candid, and focused on producing concrete, tangible results that benefit people of the region. The Quad joint statement we released reflects that focus on our affirmative vision. In the statement, the Quad agreed to strengthen cooperation on a wide range of regional and global challenges with the top priority of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, but also including humanitarian assistance and disaster response, maritime security, the climate crisis, and cybersecurity, among others.
The Secretary also made significant strides in advancing the U.S.-Australia alliance and highlighting our commitment to the Pacific Islands through bilateral meetings with his counterparts in Australia and in Fiji. Notably, the Secretary announced the U.S. intention to open an embassy in the Solomon Islands.
In his engagements with Pacific Island leaders, the Secretary listened and learned about our Pacific Island neighbors’ concerns, including the climate crisis, sustainable economic development, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. The upcoming Our Ocean Conference, co-hosted by the United States and Palau, is an opportunity to bring global attention to these issues.
In Honolulu, the Secretary’s meeting with his Republic of Korea and Japanese counterparts deepened our trilateral cooperation, which is key to confronting a wide range of regional and global challenges, including finding lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula. The Secretary and Japanese and ROK foreign ministers released a joint statement following the trilateral meeting, demonstrating U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation is of paramount importance on a range of issues, from the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, to reaffirming the centrality of ASEAN, to ending the crisis in Burma, and to addressing tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
I should also mention that the Secretary held a productive bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Hayashi in Melbourne, where he thanked Japan for supporting Europe’s energy security through LNG shipments to the region. And in his meeting with ROK Foreign Minister Chung in Honolulu, the Secretary reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK. In both meetings, the Secretary stressed the importance of restoring Burma’s path to democracy and to committing to work closely together with Japan and the ROK to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The Secretary’s trip is just the start of what will be an intense year of engagement with the Indo-Pacific region, including the U.S.-ASEAN special summit that President Biden will host in the coming months; the Our Ocean Conference in Palau; and the ASEAN East Asia Summit, G20, and APEC summits slated for later this year in the region. We’re also excited to start planning for our 2023 APEC host year, which was announced just last week.
As you all know, during the Secretary’s trip, President Biden released the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which the Secretary announced during his stop in Fiji. This is the first regional strategy to be released under this administration. Our Indo-Pacific Strategy is an affirmative one. It sets forth the U.S. vision for an Indo-Pacific that is free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient. The Indo-Pacific Strategy will deepen our role in the region and build the collective capacity of the United States and our partners to confront 21st century challenges together. We aim to realize our strategy through close coordination with our allies and partners, including through regional institutions such as ASEAN.
I’ll end my remarks here and hand it over to my good friend and colleague, Assistant Secretary Don Lu.
Assistant Secretary Lu: Thank you, Dan. It’s great to be with all of you this morning in Asia and this evening here in Washington.
So, in addition to Secretary Blinken’s meetings with East Asian leaders, he had the opportunity to sit down with his Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar. And the two discussed the deepening of our U.S.-India Strategic Partnership and ways we can strengthen Indo-Pacific cooperation through the Quad.
Let me add a couple more comments on top of Dan’s about President Biden’s new Indo-Pacific Strategy. I have had the opportunity to travel out to South Asia in the fall, to India, Nepal, and the Maldives, and I’ll be traveling next month to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. I have seen tremendous opportunity in this region for American engagement. These countries can see the engagement of America’s adversaries, and they’re anxious to see what we bring to the table in terms of our economic, security, and climate engagement.
Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Maldives are some of the most climate-vulnerable countries on the planet. We have an opportunity to support these countries as they mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
And India in many ways is the key to the Indo-Pacific, with an economy and with security and democratic interests that complement our own. But India’s rise requires the support of its many partners around the world, including the United States. We are doing tremendous work together in the Quad to support COVID vaccine production, and through the Development Finance Corporation, to support solar power development in India. These are just a couple of examples of the amazing things that we can do together.
I’ll end by just saying the Indo-Pacific’s future depends on choices that we make now. Our competitors are playing to win; we need to step forward in the United States with more resources, more high-level engagement, and most of all, a good plan.
Zia, with that, let me turn it back over to you.
Moderator: Thanks very much. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Just a reminder that if you’re asking a question, please limit your question to just the one question as we have a very large group today.
That said, before we begin, I actually want to ask a question that was sent to us in advance as it’s a topic that was asked by many people. The question is from Alastair Gale from The Wall Street Journal in Tokyo, Japan, and the question was: “What is the impact of the crisis in Ukraine on the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy?” If you could please go ahead.
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Well, why don’t I take a stab at that. This is Dan Kritenbrink. Look, I would say this. I would say that the stakes are high, and when we look at the crisis in Ukraine and we look at the recent statements by President Putin and President Xi, we can’t dismiss the challenge that the vision that they’ve put forward poses to our approach to the region and to the world. But we have great confidence in ourselves and we believe that our vision will win the support of the wider world.
We have a different vision for the world. We stand for a world and a vision grounded in problem-solving and innovation, not coercion and aggression; a vision that privileges freedom and openness over spheres of influence. And it starts with basic principles that all states can support: sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
So, again, that is our affirmative vision for the region. I think it stands in stark contrast to the vision of others, including that put forward by, again, Presidents Putin and Xi.
Moderator: Thank you. Next, if we could go to Daniel Hurst from The Guardian in Canberra, Australia.
Question: Hello. Daniel Hurst from The Guardian, Australia. Thanks for taking my question. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, the U.S. delegation while in Australia met with both sides of Australian politics. There’s an election coming up here. Obviously, I’m not asking you to comment on the election, but how confident are you that Australia’s commitment to the U.S. alliance, its commitment to AUKUS, and its commitment to cooperate with the U.S. on strategic challenges will remain strong regardless of the election outcome?
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Thank you for your question. Absolutely confident is my answer. Of course, we were delighted to be in Australia. We were delighted to reaffirm with Australian allies that our alliance is the anchor for peace, security, and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and we reaffirmed that in our meetings with the prime minister, with the foreign minister, and others. But it is often the case when we visit democratic partners, we also had the opportunity to meet with the opposition and we came away reassured that these principles that we hold dear and are vitally important to the alliance transcends politics and any one party, and we came away absolutely confident that whomever the Australian people select as their new leadership, as their next leadership in the upcoming election, we’re confident that the U.S.-Australia alliance will endure and remain as strong as ever.
Moderator: Next, if we could go to Prashant Jha from The Hindustan Times. Prashant, please go ahead if you’re there.
Question: Thank you. My question is for Assistant Secretary Lu. Thank you for speaking with us. So, could you give us a little bit of a sense of the Indo-Pacific economic framework that has been mentioned in the Indo-Pacific Strategy? Many commentators suggested this has been the weakest link of the strategy so far. While you were in Australia, both India and Australia decided that they would within the month, within the next month, finalize a trade agreement. There has been some movement on the bilateral front on India-U.S. trade. But there isn’t an overarching Indo-Pacific economic frame. What do you really have in mind?
Assistant Secretary Lu: Hi, Prashant. Nice to hear from you. I’m really excited about the Indo-Pacific economic framework. We’ve been, internal to the U.S. Government, having lots of discussions about it, and recently we’ve been having those discussions with partners. And I’ve had some of those discussions now with Indian colleagues, and we are eager to work with them on a whole range of issues, including supply chains, clean energy, financing for infrastructure, and trade issues. And I’m pleased to report I think our Indian colleagues are very interested in engaging both with the United States and with other partners throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Moderator: Thank you. Next, if we could go to Quoc Dat Duong from Zing News in Vietnam.
Question: Thank you for doing this. So, I’m from Zing News and I’ve got two questions. The first is: Will we see more digital trade deals given that there is little support for a free trade agreement in the U.S. right now? And my second question is: Given the new strategy, will we see more ships being gifted from the U.S. Coast Guard to Vietnam’s coast guard? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: This is Dan Kritenbrink. Why don’t I take the questions from our friend in Vietnam. I think what I would say on your question about digital trade is I would reinforce what my colleague, Assistant Secretary Lu, mentioned a moment ago – that President Biden at the East Asia Summit announced that the United States is developing an Indo-Pacific economic framework. And as Assistant Secretary Lu outlined, we’re going to do that in consultation with allies and partners in the region. And through that framework we’re going to position our economies for the future by working on, we think, some of the key sectors of the 21st century economy.
Certainly, our goal of the framework is to strengthen our economic ties with the region. We want to improve connectivity. We want to boost our shared economic prosperity. And I think addressing issues related to the digital economy will clearly be an important part of the Indo-Pacific economic framework.
On issues related to – if I understood your question correctly – related to U.S. efforts to build the maritime capacity of partners in the region, including by assisting regional coast guards and providing excess defense articles, including U.S. Coast Guard cutters, I would say that certainly that work is ongoing and will continue with a range of partners across the region, not just Vietnam but with a range of other important maritime partners from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and many others as well. And we do so because we believe that for the free and open Indo-Pacific that we stand for, all countries should have the capability to have awareness of what is taking place in their maritime domains, and have the ability to defend their own interests. And we believe that by assisting countries in building their maritime capacity, including their maritime domain awareness, we contribute to peace and stability in the region. So, I can assure you that work will continue going forward.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Next, if we could go to Tim Kelly from Reuters in Tokyo, Japan. Tim, please go ahead.
Question: Yes, I’d like to ask Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink a question. In the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the U.S. calls for greater cooperation between Japan and Korea. Given how difficult that relationship has been in the past for various reasons, how realistic a goal is that for the U.S.? And specifically, what is it that you would like Japan and Korea to do together that currently they are not doing? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Well, thank you for your question. Look, it goes without saying that Japan and the Republic of Korea are two of America’s closest, most important, and strongest alliance relationships in the entire world. There is no doubt that the United States is stronger, more prosperous, and more secure when our closest allies in Northeast Asia are working closely together and when we are working together trilaterally.
I think that the trilateral in Honolulu between our three foreign ministers proved that the United States and Japan and the Republic of Korea in fact are working closely together on a whole range of regional and global issues ranging from security to global health to the environment and other international challenges.
So, in our view, even while Japan and the ROK are addressing certain sensitive issues in their bilateral relationship, we continue to move forward to embrace opportunities to advance our common regional and international priorities. And I believe Secretary Blinken was asked this same question in Honolulu and again, he simply reiterated that if we’re going to meet the complex challenges of our time and take full advantage of opportunities for our people, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States must do more together, and we’re certainly committed to doing just that.
Moderator: Next, if we could go to Lawrence Chung from the South China Morning Post based in Taiwan.
Question: Good day sirs. I have a question I think lots of people have been asking. In the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which mentions about maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait – and my question is this: Will the U.S. come to Taiwan’s defense or send force to help Taiwan in the event of a cross-strait war? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Well, thank you very much for your question. I’m of course not going to address any hypothetical questions, but let me make a few topline points.
First of all, there’s been no change to America’s “one China” policy, which is based on the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances. United States support for Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the strait, across the Taiwan Strait, and within the region. We’ll continue to stand with our friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security, and values, and we’ll continue to deepen our ties with democratic Taiwan.
Of course, under the Taiwan Relations Act, it makes clear that we will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a credible self-defense. The Taiwan Relations Act also makes clear that it is longstanding U.S. policy to maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.
Moderator: Next, if we could go to Maha Siddiqui from CNN 18 in New Delhi, India. Maha, please go ahead.
Question: My question is with regards to the Quad itself, and one of the Quad partners – India – has a longstanding relationship with Russia. How does, then, the Ukraine crisis play out? Because that was raised by Secretary Blinken at the Quad meeting in Australia, in Melbourne, but for India, it’s a difficult task to side with either U.S. or Russia. It’s friends with both of them.
Assistant Secretary Lu: Thank you, Maha. A very timely question. Let me start a little broad and then I’ll get to Ukraine and to Russia.
As we know, India is more than just a partner for the United States. For many years, we have described that partnership as a comprehensive global strategic partnership. I’ve worked on South Asia and Central Asia, and I can tell you we work more closely with India on a daily basis than any other country in this region. Also — as you know — since 2016, formally, India is a major defense partner of the United States.
On the issue of Russia and Ukraine, I can say that there was between Secretary Blinken and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar an open and honest discussion. I think this is reflective of the close relationship we have with one another. This is a complex issue for the United States. It’s a complex issue for India as well. We share values, and we talk about every issue, including the tough ones. Thanks.
Moderator: Next, if we could go to Laura Zhou from the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Laura, please go ahead.
Question: Yes. In the strategy, you said the objective is not to change the PRC. Can we understand that the future Indo-Pacific economic framework will not include China?
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Well, thank you very much for your question. I think it is important to note that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is our affirmative strategy for the region. It represents what we stand for. And when we meet with our allies and partners across the region, we talk about the principles and values that we hold dear.
The President has, as part of that strategy, the President has also outlined his vision for the Indo-Pacific economic framework, which, as I’ve noted, will address what we think are some of the most important issues and sectors of the 21st century economy. I think it’s safe to say that we are engaged in initial conversations with partners across the region who share our vision for the kind of region that we want to live in – again, a free and open region in which countries are free from coercion and are able to pursue their economic and security interests freely and in an unhindered fashion. And you are correct that there’s currently no intention to engage the People’s Republic of China on the Indo-Pacific economic framework.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Next, if we could go to Ryo Nakamura from Nikkei Asia. Ryo, if you’re there, can you please go ahead?
Question: Yes, thank you very much for taking my question. I want to follow up about the recent trilateral meeting in Hawaii. The joint communiqué mentions the U.S., Japan, and South Korea will take steps to improve economic security. Could you tell us what the Biden administration wants to achieve regarding economic security within this trilateral framework in greater detail? Is it as important as the denuclearization of North Korea as an area of the trilateral cooperation? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Thank you very much. If I understood your question, there are two parts related, first, to economic security in the U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral relationship, and then issues related to DPRK denuclearization.
So, I would say that both issues are important matters for discussion amongst our three allied countries. Certainly on matters of economic security, I think these are vitally important to our future prosperity in the 21st century – making sure that we have strong and resilient supply chains; making sure that our countries and our world-class companies are able to protect their trade secrets and intellectual property. And I think these sorts of issues will continue to be central to our cooperation going forward.
And certainly, as you would imagine, as has long been the case, issues related to security on the Korean Peninsula, and particularly the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, is of course a top priority for our three countries. During the recent trilateral meetings, the United States had the opportunity to reiterate our ironclad security guarantees to our South Korean and Japanese allies. We also discussed in great detail the continued priority we continue to place on the DPRK, and Secretary Blinken was able to reiterate that our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we’ll continue to consult closely with our allies and partners going forward.
Now, we have made clear many times that we are prepared to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy without preconditions to achieve that end, and to making tangible progress. Special Representative to the DPRK Ambassador Sung Kim has led our robust trilateral relationship on the DPRK among the United States, the ROK, and Japan, and in fact, he met with his counterparts in Honolulu right before Secretary Blinken arrived to meet with his counterparts.
So we’ll continue that close cooperation with our Japanese and South Korean allies going forward.
Moderator: Thank you. We only have time for just a couple more here. If we could go to Shefali Rekhi from Asia News Network and The Straits Times in Singapore. Shefali, please go ahead.
Question: I wanted to ask about the ASEAN position in the Indo-Pacific Strategy. There were a couple of mentions in the document, but President Biden has yet to hold meetings with leaders of this region. Would you be able to throw some light on the meeting that is likely to take place soon and the issues that will be brought up?
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Well, thank you very much for your question. I think it has been made clear not just in the Indo-Pacific Strategy but through American foreign policy over the last year, and certainly the last several years, that the United States is committed to ASEAN centrality, that we believe the 10 countries of ASEAN are absolutely central to the future of the Indo-Pacific and to America’s own security and prosperity. And collectively, the 10 countries of ASEAN – with 650 million people and the world’s fourth-largest economy – is certainly of great importance to the United States.
When President Biden had the opportunity to engage with our ASEAN partners last fall, both in the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and in the East Asia Summit, he made clear that we are committed to expanding our relationship with ASEAN in every way – on security matters related to ensuring freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, related to matters of illegal fishing, also related to our economic future going forward, and issues related to secure supply chains and the like. But then also we’ve made clear that with ASEAN, we intend to cooperate on a broad range of other issues, from global health and climate to issues related to the Mekong, and of course continuing to grow our very substantial people-to-people ties, including through the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.
So, I’m confident that when President Biden holds his special summit with the leaders of ASEAN, you will see all of these issues on the agenda and on display, and it will be a fantastic opportunity to further demonstrate our robust ties to this critically important part of the region.
Moderator: Thank you. It looks like we only have time for just about one more. If we could go to Jamie Ensor from Newshub in Wellington, New Zealand. Jamie, please go ahead.
Question: Hi, thank you, and thank you for your time. With regard to your Indo-Pacific Strategy, what role does the U.S. see countries like New Zealand – by which I mean the mid-tier countries who are not major powers – having in countering the influence of China in the Pacific? And do you think New Zealand’s nuclear-free stance is an impediment to that? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink: Well, thank you for your question. Our partnership with New Zealand is vitally important to the United States, and we’ve been delighted to see the tremendous growth in our partnership over the past decade. Secretary Blinken, for example, was delighted to host Foreign Minister Mahuta here in Washington last fall – I believe it was late September or early October. And as you may have noted, Secretary Blinken was delighted to speak on the phone again with Foreign Minister Mahuta while we were en route to Fiji, and then we were honored by her presence when she participated in the virtual meeting that Secretary Blinken held with 18 Pacific Island leaders.
So, we believe all countries of the Indo-Pacific who share our vision for a free and open region in which countries are able to freely pursue their interests unconstrained by coercion, all such partners are welcome to work with us and are vitally important to us as we together build and defend this rules-based regional order upon which we are all so dependent.
Our partnership with New Zealand has been vitally important for a very long time, and as I’ve noted, we’ve been delighted to see the dramatic growth over the last decade, and I’m absolutely confident that will continue going forward. I think for all countries who hold near and dear the values and the vision for the region that we want to live in that I’ve described this evening, it will take all of us working together to secure and defend that vision. And I’m confident if we work together, that we can do so.
Moderator: Thank you very much. That will conclude today’s call. I want to thank U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Dan Kritenbrink and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Don Lu, and I also want to thank all of you for participating in this briefing, and I apologize if we were not able to get to your question today – and I see there were quite a few of you there in the queue.
Please stay on the line for information regarding access to an audio recording of the call. Also, please be aware that a transcript of the call will be posted to our social media platforms and sent out to all of you within a day. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Asia Pacific Media Hub at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thank you very much.