Background Briefing by U.S. Official on Clinton's Asia Trip
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesperson
July 9, 2012
Senior State Department Official
July 9, 2012
En Route to Mongolia
MODERATOR: All right, everybody. We are en route from Tokyo to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, starting the leg of this trip which is focused intensively on the Asia pivot. We have with us [Senior State Department Official], hereafter known as Senior State Department Official. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. What I thought I'd do at the outset is kind of give you guys an overarching sense of the trip, and then I'd be happy to take questions on any part of it.
I think one of the things that has been picked up in a couple of stories is that if you look at the outset of the Administration, I think the most important question that was heard around Asia was whether the United States recognized that sort of the lion's share of the history of the 21st century is going to be written in Asia, does the United States want to play a significant role in those developments, because we have such clear and deep engagement in the Middle East and South Asia? And I think over the course of the last several years, there has been a strong commitment to deepening our engagements across many sectors in the Asian Pacific region: strategically, diplomatically, commercially, and in terms of people-to-people. I think the concern now is - and again, I think many of you have focused on it - whether the United States can sustain a higher level of engagement, given pressures elsewhere, both pressures in the Middle East and South Asia and also concerns domestic
ally in the United States, given some of the challenges that we're facing. And I think one of the overarching objectives of this trip is to underscore a strong commitment across the board in Asia.
So the Secretary will be going - has - was first in Tokyo. In addition to the work that she did in terms of Afghanistan, she had bilateral meetings with both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, in which we reviewed all the areas where the United States and Japan is working together, both in terms of our bilateral relationship - our critical security alliance - but also areas where we can work together in the future, potentially Trans-Pacific Partnership and also coordination at the ASEAN Regional Forum.
We obviously are en route to Mongolia for a number of bilateral sessions, but also for the hosting of the Community of Democracies. Mongolia is in this unusual geographic position, surrounded by large neighbors. In many respects, it's a remarkable achievement that Mongolia has built a thriving democracy in the environment. And she will be here to talk about deepening economic relations. She'll talk about efforts to strengthen our bilateral ties and also to send a very clear message of our desire that the process and progress of democracy continues there.
From Mongolia, we will go to Vietnam. And in Vietnam, we will have discussions both about recent developments in the region, like in the South China Sea. We'll talk about our bilateral relationship, areas that we can strengthen our political and economic ties. And the Secretary will meet with a group of senior American businessmen, people that are in Vietnam to strengthen relations between the United States and Vietnam.
From Vietnam, we will go to Laos. I think as you all know, the last Secretary of State who visited was 57 years ago. So it's a pretty big deal for the Laotians, and we will underscore a number of areas that we're working together. One of them is, there is still a substantial war legacy in the countries of Southeast Asia - unexploded ordnance, Agent Orange - and we have some programs that we're going to underscore in Laos.
From Laos, we'll go to Cambodia for a number of events. And these sound like alphabet soup, but they're extraordinarily important to the fledging institutions of Asia that play a huge role in the future direction of where Asia is going. So the Secretary will be at what's called the ASEAN Regional Forum, which is a collection of countries that meet to talk about the security issues in the region. She will host a U.S.-ASEAN meeting, which highlights our engagement in ASEAN. ASEAN is the collection of countries in South East Asia. In that meeting, she will highlight new assistance and programs designed to support what is called the Lower Mekong Initiative - that is a group of countries that surround one of the world's great rivers, the Mekong - and the challenges that the Mekong faces in terms of overfishing, concerns about dams, and problems - very challenging problems associated with climate change.
She will also - while in Cambodia, have a number of bilateral meetings. And those will include a very substantial session with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. At the outset, Danny Russel and I came from China. And I think one of the things that we are seeking to underscore during this visit is not only does the refocusing on Asia include strategic issues but a very substantial commitment to greater business engagement, more people-to-people exchanges, educational engagements, and also a strong determination to show the region that the United States and China are committed to work closely together. There will be inevitable competition, but we want to channel that competition into areas that are productive. And we want to make very clear that the two countries are prepared to work in a constructive manner here in the 21st century.
So Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Yang will lay out, at their meeting, a number of specific initiatives that the two countries have now committed to work together in terms of assistance and humanitarian response and the like. And we'll have more to say about that when we're in Cambodia.
From Cambodia - from Phnom Penh, we will go to Siem Reap, which is the - you all know - the ancient capital. In Siem Reap, she will host the largest-ever gathering of senior American business leaders, also a number of senior ASEAN executives, ministers, to discuss areas where the United States can increase its economic engagement in the region, talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, other initiatives that are designed to increase American exports to the region.
So it's a very multifaceted visit. Again, we want to send out several key messages. One is the diversity of our engagement. We will take a very clear stance with respect to recent tensions in the South China Sea. We'll talk more about that as the trip goes forward. But we also want to make clear our strong determination to maintain a stable, constructive, productive relationship between the United States and China.
Why don't I stop there and then I can take some questions if that will be helpful.
QUESTION: It would be helpful if early on now, you could give us some idea of how Vietnam and the Philippines are going to play the South China Sea issue at the meetings. And what China - of course doesn't want this to be discussed at the meetings, but what are they willing to put up with, from your conversations in Beijing?
MODERATOR: The question goes to the differing perspectives on South China Sea - Vietnam, Philippines, China - going into the set of meetings.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: To be honest, I think one of the reasons, Jane, that we're going to Vietnam is to hear, at the highest levels, what their approach will be in - at the ASEAN Regional Forum, largely because this is an extraordinary fluid set of circumstances. So just even the last several weeks, there have been new developments. I think, as you know, most of the vessels have now left the areas around Scarborough Shoal, but we have also seen a set of circumstances with respect to disputed oil rights that I think will require discussion.
I believe that there is a recognition by all parties that maritime security will be discussed. I think the United States is going to be very clear in our determination to see progress on the code of conduct between those negotiations that are taking place between China and ASEAN. And we will be specific about what we think should be included in those deliberations and how best to ease tensions, to deescalate some of the patterns of behavior we've seen of late, and to remind all of the participants that the entire prosperity of Asia, which is really at the center of the global economy, rests on the maintenance of peace and stability. So the stakes could not be higher.
QUESTION: Have you previously laid out in detail - not principles, but detail - what you want to see in the code of conduct?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes --
MODERATOR: The question was whether we've articulated specific ideas for the code of conduct.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, we have, Arshad, in many different meetings and venues. But it is also, it must be said, that the United States - we are not a claimant, and what we have sought to do is to provide advice and suggestions. But at the same time, there's a recognition that ultimately this is a matter for China and ASEAN.
QUESTION: So how does this go any further then? I mean, you talked about how you're going to sort of lay down a strong marker on South China Sea issues. But the Secretary, in a sense, did that a couple of years ago. I mean, what's stronger? What's - or is it just a reiteration?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, Arshad, in 2010 the Secretary laid down some very clear principles that guide the overall strategic approach of the United States in the South China Sea. Last year, she articulated a very clear goal of the United States to seek* countries to articulate their claims through legal means, particularly the Law of the Sea. I don't think I'm going to get ahead of where we are, but the Secretary will have some specific recommendations and will state what our perception is around recent developments.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi.
QUESTION: In the Secretary's chat with the Japanese, did the issue of the Senkakus come up - this idea, this plan to purchase islands from a private buyer? And if they did, where does she stand on that? What did she have to say?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it would be fair to say - it was - this is the issue - what is happening in Tokyo is that the Mayor of Tokyo has talked now and raised an enormous amount of money to buy the Senkaku Islands, which are dispute - which have been disputed. The Chinese call them the Diaoyutais, the Japanese call them the Senkakus. And yesterday on arrival, the Japanese Government essentially announced that they - that the central government was going to take steps potentially to purchase the islands, which are currently owned by a Japanese citizen.
I think what the Secretary tried to do yesterday was simply try to get clarity about what in fact the Japanese had in mind. And it's clear that they're at the very early stages of thinking about this, and they promised to brief us as that process develops. But I think, frankly, we were primarily interested to learn their thinking. We asked them quite specifically whether they had briefed and engaged China on the matter. They indicated that they had. We expect that this will be a subject of continuing deliberations.
QUESTION: Can you just preview your discussions about Burma over the next few days, and particularly at ASEAN?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Burma. One of the - I mean, Burma's going to come up in a number of ways in a number of places. The Secretary will give a speech about our values and about the progress of democracy at the Community of Democracies in Mongolia. The recent progress made and the challenges that remain in Burma will be a key feature of that speech. She will also be laying out, when we are in Siem Reap, plans for how the process of sanctions easings will proceed, and she will be engaging with members of the American business community who are anxious and interested in the prospect of participating in the economic opening, and we will be discussing how to think about that.
There are enormous challenges, obviously, in Burma. We'll be discussing that in Siem Reap. And frankly, we expect that in almost every multilateral setting that we will - that we'll have over the course of the next several days, we will be talking with Burma. And this seems sort of inside baseball, but Burma will now be our - it's - there's a practice in ASEAN that you have a partner country that serves as your guide, so to speak, in ASEAN.
QUESTION: If you are not a member?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: If you're not a member, exactly. And Burma is now ours, or will become ours.
MODERATOR: Burma's our ASEAN buddy for this year.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, is our - not really ASEAN buddy, but it's like that, yeah. And so we'll be working very closely with them. And one of the things that's been very interesting is - and quite rewarding - is that it was only a year ago that we essentially had absolutely no contact with this country, almost no interaction. And now we're working with them on so many different areas. It's actually one of the most exciting things about my job.
QUESTION: Just one quick follow. Since you mentioned the business community, how is the effort going balancing the interests of the business community with some of the criticism from the human rights community that businesses are moving too fast while there is still so much left to be done?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, look, I would simply say that --
MODERATOR: Did you get --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Pardon me?
MODERATOR: Did you get that, (inaudible)?
PARTICIPANT: Business --
MODERATOR: Balancing business and human rights in Burma.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think one of the things that the Secretary and the Administration has tried to do very carefully over the course of the last several months since the process of reform was initiated is to move very carefully in response to dramatic steps inside the country - the release of political prisoners, the allowance of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to join the parliament, a number of steps towards seeking to ease the very, very substantial ethnic tensions within the country. And so the key here is to be very careful and judicious in our overall approach, and we've sought to do that with respect to the economic opening as well.
And I think the Secretary will be laying out, clearly, what are some of the provisions, what are some of the aspects of the reform, the business opening, that we think will still help us promote the kinds of necessary reforms that will help Burma into the future.
QUESTION: You mentioned meetings with business leaders --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: -- in regard to Burma and other countries. Can you give us a sense of which industries and corporations or merely --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That's a great question.
QUESTION: -- how you're prioritizing them?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So - I mean, what's - what we tried to do is go for almost every key business sector. So we have a number --
MODERATOR: This is at the business forum in Siem Reap, which is the main business event of this trip.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Siem Reap, and in Vietnam as well. So we have people from manufacturing, high tech, Boeing, we have a number of companies in financial services, in the energy realm, in construction, in other aspects of insurance, in health products, in medical devices, in food products and agriculture. So basically across the board, very substantial American interest in greater engagement in ASEAN.
And I think one of the keys here is if you look at ASEAN, it's one of the fastest-growing middle classes in the world. And as you consider what will be an important ingredient in American economic revival, clearly the role of exports will be central, and particularly in Asia. And that's one of the great success stories - the doubling of - essentially of exports over the course of the last several years.
MODERATOR: What ways are U.S. (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: United States to Asia. And we seek to enlarge the scope of business activity substantially. So if you look at, say, the top 1,000 countries - companies in Asia - sorry, the top 1,000 American companies in the United States, the vast majority of American activity in Asia is with the top tier of those companies, right? And so what we're seeking to do is to encourage other companies who have never thought or had to export to do more in Asia as a whole.
And one of the things that the Secretary has been relentless about is this concept of economic statecraft as being an essential component of modern diplomacy.
QUESTION: So just - as one follow-up, so it's mainly export? Or are you talking about incorporation, like manufacturing in Vietnam, manufacturing -
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean --
QUESTION: -- or outsourcing to some of these companies (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, look - look, I mean, our primary focus right now is in the overall effort of what might be called rebalancing, right? What we have essentially seen over a period of decades is very strong American imports of what is produced in Asia. In order for there to be the kind of stabilizing global rebalancing, the United States has to save more, but Asia has to buy more. And when they buy more, they have to buy more from the United States. And Asia is increasingly serving as a very substantial engine of growth along with the United States. But that is still underutilized and much more needs to be done.
And so one of the things that the Secretary has been trying to do is underscoring that many of these new venues - not new venues, but these venues in Southeast Asia are open for business and for American products.
MODERATOR: Last one, Jo.
QUESTION: Just quickly, could you say how many American businessmen are taking part in Siem Reap? And I had a question --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure.
QUESTION: -- about Laos as well.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. Yeah, okay.
MODERATOR: We'll have a list for you when we get closer.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
MODERATOR: We're just - we're finalizing a list now.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: So my main question was about Laos and about dam projects. Could you give us an indication of what you guys know about the status of the dam projects --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. Thank you. That's very important.
QUESTION: -- because I understand that they may be on hold, but nobody's sure and --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. One of the things that the Secretary called for last year, as you know when we were in Bali, was a moratorium on dams built on what's called the lower portion of the Mekong for fear that if there was a dam or a major dam, that it would disrupt what is really the lifeblood of this vital region. One of the things that she will be announcing - and I'll let us get a little closer in the next day or two - she's going to be announcing - no, no, I'm just - so, I mean, I --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I'm - one of the things that we'll be announcing is a major effort to study, a multinational effort to study the potential effects of a dam or damming along the lower part of the Mekong, and a major water usage effort that we will be strongly involved with.
QUESTION: But do you know the status of those projects? Are they on hold or online?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: A particular dam - I mean, to be honest, one of the reasons that we're going to Laos is to try to get greater clarity on what the status of a number of different water projects are in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
MODERATOR: I forgot Scott. So let's give him one shot.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi, Scott.
QUESTION: On Mongolia --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- does the United States have a position about the corruption charges and arrest of the former president? Is that part of the thriving democracy?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think - look, the Secretary's going to be very clear that we celebrate - sorry - that we celebrate a succession of successful elections in Mongolia, and that in the aftermath of this recent election that the international community is watching in terms of how the rule of law is applied. And I think we are looking forward to very substantial discussions with the key players inside the country about where things currently stand.
MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right. Thank you. Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: You may not know this --
MODERATOR: Thank you. Just wait one sec, I'll be right back.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Has the Treasury yet issued a general license?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: So how's she going to talk about how the sanctions are going to go forward?
MODERATOR: Stay tuned. Stay tuned, okay? Thanks.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)