Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell on the Secretary’s Travel to Japan, Mongolia, and the Republic of Korea

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David R. Stilwell, Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Via Teleconference

MS ORTAGUS:  Thank you very much.  Good morning, everyone in the U.S.  Good evening, everyone who is in Asia.  Thank you for joining us for this on-the-record conference call to discuss Secretary Pompeo’s upcoming visit to Japan, Mongolia, and the Republic of Korea.

We’d just like to address right off the top the Secretary is in Croatia today on his – he’ll be back to the U.S. very soon.  He did gaggle on the plane with our traveling press regarding this trip and if he was still going and other trips.  So the Secretary has addressed all of that.  The transcript has been out on our State Department website I think for a few hours now.  So we’re going to continue to proceed with this call, but I would refer you – any questions that you have that are related to COVID or traveling or anything of that nature, if you could please take a look at his gaggle this morning with the traveling press.  I think you can get all of your questions answered there.

So just moving on, the Secretary is intended to travel to Tokyo, Ulaanbaatar, and Seoul October 4th through the 8th for meetings with his foreign ministry counterparts and other senior officials.  While in Tokyo, he will participate in a second gathering of the Quad foreign ministers from Australia, India, and Japan.  This visit reflects the strong partnership between the United States and our partners and allies in the region and demonstrates our commitment to continuing the good work that is being done on the full range of bilateral, regional, and global issues that affect prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

The State Department official joining us today is my friend David Stilwell, assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  While this call is on the record, please note that it is embargoed until the completion of this teleconference.  You can also get into the question queue at any point by dialing 1 and then 0.  As always, we ask you to try to limit it to one question if you can because we would like to take as many questions from as many reporters as possible.

I’ll now turn it over to Assistant Secretary Stilwell for his opening remarks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  Thank you, Morgan, and thank you all for joining us this morning.  We’ll run down through the desired objectives and the itinerary here for the trip.

So the Secretary will meet with his counterparts in the region on the 6th, 7th, and 8th of October.  As Morgan said, first stop is in Tokyo.  The timing is great considering Prime Minister Suga taking the helm in Tokyo now, and gives us the chance to reaffirm the bilateral relationship based on shared values and common regional and global vision.  The U.S.-Japan relationship, as we’ve said before, is the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific.  The seven-decade alliance is built on the common foundation of commitment to democracy, human rights, economic development, security, and people-to-people ties.

We thank former Prime Minister Abe for his vision in evolving our alliance, deepening investment in trade, strengthening security cooperation, and advocating for a free and open Indo-Pacific.  We see Prime Minister Suga’s decision to host this – his first visitor from the United States as an affirmation of our ever-strengthening partnership.

So our shared values lead us to stand shoulder to shoulder in dealing with regional and global challenges.  We are committed to the complete denuclearization of the DPRK, the end of the DPRK’s illicit ballistic missile programs, and the resolution of the abductions issue.  Together with our Quad partners, the United States and Japan stand up against PRC efforts to bully its neighbors, and we’re united by shared responsibility to uphold the benefits of democracy, human rights, economic development, and security and people-to-people ties.  So once we’re complete with – so we’ve got bilateral activity in Tokyo, obviously.  But we’d also like to thank Foreign Minister Motegi for hosting the second Quad Ministerial on the 6th of October.

Just a quick summary here.  The Quad is an informal grouping of likeminded partners formed to deepen cooperation on sub-regional issues and shape a more closely-aligned Indo-Pacific region.  As with our other sub-regional groupings including the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral group, the Quad members are heavily focused on concrete collaboration on shared challenges.  The core of the Quad partnership rests on a commitment to continued dialogue and work toward mutually agreed-upon outcomes.  Quad membership is driven by shared interests, not binding obligations.

The Quad was not formed to exclude nations.  It was a group formed in 2004 as part of the effort to coordinate our respective humanitarian assistance and disaster relief responses to the Indian Ocean tsunami.  And it was revived, the Quad was, in 2017.  Quad collaboration has grown beyond humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and now focuses on furthering our shared vision of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.  This last year has seen some of the Quad’s most remarkable growth, to include a focus on ASEAN centrality in our respective approaches to the region.

The Quad seeks to establish, promote, and secure Indo-Pacific principles, especially as PRC tactics, aggression, and coercion increase in the region.  Recent discussions among the Quad have focused on building cooperation with, in, and among members on issues including maritime security, cyber and critical technology, infrastructure, counterterrorism, and the Mekong regional cooperation.

So from there we will travel to Ulaanbaatar, as Megan noted – as Morgan noted, sorry – in Mongolia.  This is a – this is my first trip, and I think it’s the Secretary’s first trip as well.  We’re proud to establish and foster the relationship as strategic partners.  The U.S. is also the third neighbor and committed to supporting Mongolia’s efforts to strengthen Democratic institutions, enhance sovereignty, and diversify their economy.  This visit is an example of the importance the United States attaches to the U.S.-Mongolian relationship.

We have shared values with Mongolia.  The citizens of our two countries share a strong commitment to democracy, including respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of religion.  Mongolia’s democracy is a model for the region.

Economically and in trade, U.S.-Mongolian trade and investment ties are strong and growing stronger.  One example is the $350 million Millennium Challenge Corporation second compact, which will increase the supply of fresh water to Ulaanbaatar by 80 percent.  Also, Mongolian cashmere is of the highest quality, and through USAID, we are actively supporting Mongolia’s efforts to scale up value-added processing of cashmere in Mongolia.

And finally, people-to-people ties.  The U.S. has great respect for traditional Mongolian culture.  Just last month we announced a major financial support of $200,000 through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation to preserve the Choijin Lama Temple Museum in Ulaanbaatar.  Over the years we’ve invested $2.5 million to help preserve Mongolia’s cultural heritage.

And then finally, we will finish up the trip in Seoul, South Korea.  So in Korea, we’ll reaffirm the ironclad U.S.-ROK alliance, which is a linchpin of peace and security in the region.  ROK is a critical partner on regional and global issues, including combatting COVID-19, advancing peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, and strengthening regional ties under the Indo-Pacific strategy, along with ROK’s new southern policy.  Our relationship is grounded in our shared values.

On the corona, we value our close cooperation with the ROK on COVID-19.  The ROK has shown how a democracy can successfully combat the pandemic with openness and transparency.

On economic and people-to-people ties, the U.S. is the ROK’s second largest trading partner and top foreign investor after Japan.  The ROK is a major investor in the United States.  Our countries share a commitment to free trade, human rights, and democracy.  Our two peoples are bonded by a shared history of friendship and sacrifice.  And we continue to advance our cooperation on regional and global issues under the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy and, as I said, the ROK new southern policy, and we welcome the ROK’s growing foreign assistance contributions and encourage them to continue in that regard.

So at all three stops the Secretary will meet with leaders as well as his counterparts, and this trip demonstrates strong U.S. commitment to our allies and partners as well as the region.  And with that, I look forward to your questions.

MS ORTAGUS:  Great.  Thank you.  Let’s start with Danh Lee from Zing News.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Mr. Stilwell, I’m, again, from Zing News.  I’m calling from Vietnam.  My question is, U.S. in late August announced sanctions on Chinese entities involved in maritime actions in claim in the South China Sea.  Is – will there be talks on these maritime issues and international cooperation enforcing these sanctions?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  I appreciate that question.  Yeah, as you note, there are Chinese companies that are state-owned enterprises that are conducting activities, as you mentioned, in the South China Sea, destroying a bunch of natural habitat, coral reefs, and all those things.  And that activity extends to a number of areas to include developing ports and others.

And so, yes, these are all topics that can and will probably be raised during this, but as far – the – there’s much to talk about in Quad cooperation.  As I mentioned that the ASEAN centrality and supporting ASEAN is an area where all four countries share a common interest, and therefore, as you mentioned topics such – like this will likely come up.  Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS:   Thank you.  Nick Schifrin, PBS.

QUESTION:  Dave, thanks for doing this.  Just very quick COVID question.  I know the Secretary has said that he was thinking about whether to go on the trip.  He’s now just said that he is going to go on the trip.  Whether there’s any changes to the trip because of the President’s diagnosis.

And my main question is about Taiwan.  Is the Secretary considering going to Taiwan given some of the PLA Chinese moves over the strait that have been more aggressive militarily recently?  Thanks.

MS ORTAGUS:  I’ll just take the first question and refer you to the Secretary’s transcript from his gaggle this morning.  And Dave, I’ll let you answer the Taiwan question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:   Hey, Nick, again good hearing your voice and all that.  No, no further travel to announce at this point.

MS ORTAGUS:  Okay, great.  Soyoung Kim from RSA.

QUESTION:  Hi, good morning.  So I have a question regarding Secretary Pompeo’s visit to South Korea.  So can you share with us what Secretary Pompeo will discuss with South Korean counterparts regarding North Korea?  And as a side question, is Secretary Pompeo expecting any sort of October surprise between the U.S. and North Korea before the election?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  Okay.  Thanks for that question.  In your interest, I think I covered the broad-brush topics during the stop in Korea.  You know, we have a very productive relationship with Korea and so there’s going to be lots to talk about.  And then we look forward to interactions with – at all levels of the Korean Government.  Thanks.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thank you.  And I’m sorry.  I forgot to remind everybody to dial 1 and 0 to get into the question queue.  Matt Lee, AP.

QUESTION:  Thank you.   Hey, Morgan, just logistically – a very – you’ve mentioned this gaggle.  You’re talking about the one from Rome to Dubrovnik?  Because that was where he said he was not sure.  And then as Nick said, he did say he was going to go ahead with the trip at the press conference in Dubrovnik.

So – but then there’s also – if I’m reading the pool report right, he’s going to do another gaggle on the way from Dubrovnik home.  So which gaggle are you talking about?  And should we all presume that since this briefing is going ahead that the trip is going ahead?  And then on substance, Assistant Secretary Stilwell, in Seoul on the – what’s the latest on the SMA?  Is there anything going on there?  Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thanks, Matt.  I would say all of the above, the gaggle, the press conference.  I think the press conference transcript is out.  If not, it will be soon so I don’t have anything beyond what the Secretary said.  Dave, go ahead.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:   Thanks, Morgan.  Yeah, on SMA, the discussions are ongoing and will continue.  And not a lot more to update on that.

MS ORTAGUS:  Great, thanks.  Nico Pandi from Jiji Press.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Should we expect a joint statement after the Quad meeting?  And if so, do you anticipate it’ll concern Chinese activities in South China Sea and Hong Kong?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  So I think you’ll see public availability related to.  As far as the joint statement, probably not.  And as I mentioned before, there are going to be a lot of areas for discussion.  And the ones you mentioned are out there and obvious.  But the great thing about this is it’s really productive and it can be freeform as well.  The first one last year in New York was very similar.

So again the bringing together of four distinct perspectives on issues has been very helpful.  This is the wonderful thing about the Quad is we have shared values but different perspectives, and from those come great ideas and elegant solutions.  Thanks.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thank you so much.  Humeyra Pamuk, Reuters?

QUESTION:  Hello, David.  Hello, Morgan.  I just wanted to ask, so it’s the Secretary’s first trip to Asia – East Asia in over a year and the first one since COVID began.  In the minds of Asian allies, obviously, the threat posed by China is always front and center not least due to proximity.  But now given the U.S. election is so close, meaning they don’t know if they’ll be dealing with the same administration in a couple of months’ time, how successful do you think you will be during this trip in terms of getting concrete pledges, concrete deliverables out of them?

And if I may, the President last week said at the United Nations that China was to blame for unleashing the coronavirus onto the world.  Then is China by extension responsible for infecting the President, would you say?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  Hey, thanks for that question.  My experience in both regional travel, interaction with everybody in East Asia Pacific Bureau as well as dealing with Congress, we are all pretty much on the same sheet of paper with respect to the main issues in the region.

What we want to get back to what we had before the corona broke out is an economy that benefits the – everybody – the people.  We’ve seen a lot of corporation in the first three years before the global economy and movement was shut down related to corona, and we’re trying to get this whole thing jump started again.  But as far as changes and transitions, I – again, these issues are not controversial.  And I strongly believe they will continue. Thanks.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thanks, Humeyra.  Okay.  Will Mauldin, Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  I wanted to ask about the – I didn’t see this addressed in Secretary Pompeo’s comments – if you, Assistant Secretary Stilwell, were involved in any kind of notices to allies or even adversaries about the coronavirus diagnosis of the President and how they should treat that and what would change or what wouldn’t change on foreign policy?

And then on the – specifically on the trip, I was wondering what message you think this sends to Beijing that the U.S. is traveling to neighboring and nearby countries like Mongolia, South Korea, Japan?  And certainly, there have been issues with Mongolian minorities within China.  What do you think Beijing would take away from this, and what message would you want to send to them?  Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  Yeah, the first question, I’ll just send – relay you to the White House.  Again, that’s not my bailiwick.  I’m not going to weigh into that.  As far as messages, this just – as I said in the opening, this just reaffirms a long-term commitment and the beauty of logistics if you’re in Northeast Asia taking advantage of the opportunity to see your likeminded allies, partners, friends in the region.

And so I’ve been dealing with Mongolia in this job, in my previous job as well in the Pentagon.  It’s been a positive relationship.  Third neighbor policy has been outstanding benefits for them and for us.  And as you know, Mongolia has been a strong contributor to peacekeeping operations and we encourage that.  We’ve talked a lot about other aspects of the relationship in my opening comments as well.  So it’s a trip to Northeast Asia, and this is a great chance to meet with and visit Mongolia.  Thanks.

MS ORTAGUS:  Okay.  The final person we have in the queue is Nike Ching, Voice of America.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for the call.  Good morning, Morgan, and good morning, Dave.  I just wanted to follow up on Nick’s question on Taiwan.  Can we rule in or rule out during Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Asia a virtual meeting or other engagements with the Taiwanese leaders?  And how would any tele-meetings be consistent with the U.S. public law which is Taiwan Travel Act?  I’m asking this because there are rumor – there are speculations and just wanted to get clarification from both of you.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  Well, I think the question on Taiwan is appropriate.  We have made statements of late to talk about things like the Six Assurances and the rest.  Again, Taiwan is a very capable ally and – or a capable partner in the region, especially in the areas of economics and culture.  But as I said before, we have no travel to announce.  And – but we – again, go back to our primary interest in ensuring and insisting that the issues with the mainland and with Taiwan are resolved peacefully and through dialogue.  And that’s what you’ve seen the administration steps are reinforcing that, that commitment made by both sides, as you know.  So, thanks.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thank you much, Nike.  Thank you to everybody for dialing in.  Have a good Friday.  And please e-mail us with any questions.  Thanks, Dave.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL:  Thanks, Morgan.  See you.