Asia Pacific Telephonic Media Briefing

William R. Brownfield
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Washington, DC
October 8, 2015

Click here to hear the audio of the call.

MODERATOR: Thank you and greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Media Engagement. I would like to welcome our journalists who have dialed in from across the Asia and Pacific region. Today, we are joined by William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, who will brief us on U.S Maritime Security Support for Southeast Asia and his recent trip to the region. This is a very important discussion, and I appreciate all of you taking your time out of today to participate in this briefing. Assistant Secretary Brownfield will be speaking to us today from Washington, DC.

Assistant Secretary Brownfield will begin with brief opening remarks. We will then open it up to your questions. For those reporters participating in the call, please remember to press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 30 minutes. And with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Brownfield.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Thank you very much, Lauren and for me, good morning; for you, good evening to everyone on the line. May I start with a brief apology? I know this call was scheduled once a little bit before. I appreciate all of your patience in working around my scheduling difficulties although if it makes you feel any better, I had to get up at 4:30 this morning to make this call. Whereas I would’ve been much more relaxed at the original call time and you could’ve gotten up early in the morning.

Second warning for all of you if you can -- if you will indulge me please and that is, I may sound a little bit stupid and slow this morning. I did stay up to watch the Chicago Cubs play the Pittsburg Pirates last night. It kept me up quite late. All of you who know anything about baseball will join me in wishing the Chicago Cubs the very best since they have not won a championship since the year 1908. And that surely deserves some sympathy and understanding around the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I returned last week from a visit to Southeast Asia, accompanying and accompanied by the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard Admiral Paul Zukunft who is in fact, the United States of America’s Senior Maritime Law Enforcement Officer. And at each of our stops, we discussed and worked issues related to what we call the Southeast Asia Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative; an initiative that was announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in December of 2013 during his first visit to Hanoi in Vietnam. Admiral Zukunft and I visited together Vietnam and the Philippines and I, prior to Admiral Zukunft’s arrival, visited Indonesia as well. The fourth country that is part of this initiative, Malaysia, we could not visit. The fault was completely ours. We simply were not able to work through the necessary timing and coordination to permit the visit.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this initiative at this time constitutes more than $100 million of United States assistance for Maritime Law Enforcement to these four nations from all sources, not just my own from the State Department INL but from all parts of the United States government that are part of this process. The support comprises construction and infrastructure, equipment including vessels, training and capacity building and support for greater regional cooperation and coordination. The initiative is based on six basic principles. First it is the governments of the region themselves who will decide what sort of cooperation, what sort of support they wish to receive from the United States government. Second, the initiative is law enforcement on the seas and the waterways. We are not completely stupid. We are aware that there are other issues at play in the region but our support is focused on maritime law enforcement; trafficking, illegal fishing, protection of reefs and national patrimony. This is what our initiative focuses on.

Third, the initiative is completely transparent. We are doing nothing behind closed doors. Whatever support or cooperation we offer is available for public observation at any time. Fourth, we are prepared to cooperate with any element of the governments of the region that is involved in maritime law enforcement. In most cases this involves the Coast Guard or the Coast Guard equivalent of that government and that nation but it may also involve the national police who in the United States as well as throughout Southeast Asia have some marine police responsibilities and it may also involve fisheries ministries and the enforcement mechanisms that they have. The fifth principle is that we encourage regional cooperation. At the end of the day, many nations share a large maritime region, referred to as depending upon where you are, the East Sea, the West Sea, the North Sea or the South China Sea and regional cooperation must be part of the law enforcement solution.

Sixth and final principle, we encourage and work with other potential international donors in this effort. This is not purely an effort of the United States of America working with the nations of Southeast Asia. Other nations obviously have an interest in and a willingness to support the governments of Southeast Asia in enforcing the laws of their own maritime region. Ladies and Gents, I would describe our visit as positive at each of the stops. We had an opportunity to discuss both what we had already done over the last 18 months as well as what we propose to do in the course of the next two years. And I would suggest to all of you in closing that my observation is at least in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, their capability for greater and more effective maritime law enforcement in their maritime domain is better today than it was two years ago.

Those are my opening comments and now, Dr. B, I turn this conversation back over to you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Brownfield. With that we will begin the question and answer portion of today’s event. As a reminder, for those asking questions, please do state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question today related to the topic – U.S. Maritime Security Support for Southeast Asia. And with that, I’ll remind you to press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. And we will start with our first question. Could you please open the mic of Thanh Nien Media Corp from Vietnam?

OPERATOR: Yes, your line is open.

REPORTER: Hello, can you hear me?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: I can hear you fine, please go ahead. Good morning or good evening.

REPORTER: I have one question, at your principle said that you asked also the support from the request from the Southern -- Southeast Asia. So what do the Vietnamese government’s request the US have in the time of maritime law enforcement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Sure, that’s a very good and very proper question and I will give you a simple answer. Obviously each of the four nations and the four governments involved in this initiative have a different set of realities in terms of their maritime law enforcement interest and each has different government organizations responsible for maritime law enforcement. The Vietnamese system is to allow its Coast Guard and independent law enforcement institutions to be responsible for all maritime law enforcement in Vietnamese waters. Consequently, all of our cooperation on this issue is with and through the Vietnamese Coast Guard. The Vietnamese Coast Guard has suggested that it would be helpful for them to have the infrastructure, which means some degree of construction for additional training facilities as well as for additional maintenance and support facilities for their vessels and their Coast Guard.

We have agreed and we are working closely with the Vietnamese Coast Guard in terms of providing and assisting them in developing that capacity and capability. The Vietnamese Coast Guard has suggested that it would be helpful for them to have additional equipment that they can use on their vessels, which they acquire as well from other sources, we have agreed and are working closely with them to ensure that whatever equipment they receive is compatible with their basic boats and vessels and that the system will be interoperable so that it can communicate with other vessels in other regions of Vietnamese waters.

Finally, the Vietnamese Coast Guard has suggested they would welcome close relations and cooperation with the United States Coast Guard and I can tell you with absolute certainly since I was accompanied by the United States Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Zukunft, that the United States Coast Guard welcomed that closer cooperation and we look forward to the two institutions, both of which have a proud tradition of enforcing the laws in their maritime waters. We look forward to greater cooperation between them in the years ahead.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Steve Herman from Voice of Americans. Can you please open his line?

OPERATOR: Mr. Herman, your line is open.

REPORTER: Yes, good evening from Bangkok. Assistant Secretary, it sounds like you had a pretty hectic schedule out in this region and this may be related to the previous question but when we’re talking about these coast guards and marine police in this part of the world, obviously their enforcement activities tend to deal around with what are recognized maritime borders and we’re all aware that there are conflicts between different countries as to where those borders extend to. So how does the United States avoid getting drawn into those territorial problems if it’s cooperating and assisting these coast guards in the region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Sure, fair question, although Steve, I correct you at the start. Of course we did not have a hectic visit. I will acknowledge it was rather long, 12-hours of jet lag does eventually wear down even a young fellow like myself. May I offer the following logical response and then give you a bit more detail? I would remind you that I am the Assistant Secretary of State for Drugs and Law Enforcement. I do not do -- it is not in my legal authorities to do military work or national security work. I support law enforcement. Our initiative therefore, is a law enforcement initiative, working with other law enforcement organizations around the world and specifically in Southeast Asia to permit them to perform maritime law enforcement in their territorial and EEZ waters. And I want to be very clear on that point because I know others are perhaps looking as to whether there is a different purpose. There is not. I do acknowledge logic and common sense will tell you that a nation that is better able to enforce its maritime laws will be better able to address other issues as well. But that is not the purpose of this initiative.

You are correct in noting as anyone would note who listens to the superb reporting from VOA in Bangkok that there are other issues at play in this maritime domain. The United States government on that issue has clearly stated its position and while I have nothing specific to do with that, I can certainly restate the United States’ position. We have said that there, as a matter of principle, are three things that we encourage all governments of the region to do; or if you will, not to do. One is no additional land reclamation. Second is no militarization of the maritime region. And third, no new construction in that region. Now, the United States government has articulated these points publically and privately. And those of you who have been paying attention to ASEAN, the regional organization that most logically provides guidance on this matter, will no doubt notice that those are exactly the same three principles endorsed by ASEAN.

So may I conclude by saying we do have a position on these issues but that is not what the Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative is about. It is about law enforcement and the ability of the governments of the region to enforce their laws in this maritime domain.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will be coming from Vietnam from Toan Quach at the Zing Online Newspaper. Could you please open the line?

OPERATOR: Toan Quach, your line is open.

REPORTER: Thank you. Mr. Brownfield, Early this year there is news that Vietnamese Coast Guard is to receive six fast patrol vessels from the U.S. government. How does this deal relate to the decision of Washington to ease military embargo on Vietnam, and what are other projects that the Department of State will implement next to help improve the Vietnamese Coast Guard capabilities? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Yes, your line broke up a little bit but I believe what I will offer you is some guidance in terms of how we are working with the Vietnamese Coast Guard to develop greater capabilities. Ladies and Gentlemen, whether we are talking about Vietnam or the Philippines or Indonesia or Malaysia, certain things are consistent throughout in terms of maritime law enforcement. One obviously is that you need the capability in order to enforce your laws as sea, you need the capability to get out there where the laws are being violated by illegal fishing, by traffickers, by smugglers, or by those who are stealing from the national patrimony whether it is reefs or whatever. That is a matter of vessels and equipment because if you’re going to enforce laws at sea, you have to be able to operate at sea.

Second, you must be able to communicate. There is nothing perhaps less useful than a vessel that can put to sea but is unable to communicate with those who could guide them in on the suspect criminal or allow them to reach, board and search and if necessary seize a vessel engaged in criminal activity at sea. Third, whether it is the Vietnamese Coast Guard or any other, there must be a system in place normally on shore and normally at one or more designated locations or bases where the host government, your government has the ability to determine what is happening in its maritime domain. How many ships are out there, where are they, what do they appear to be doing, how can we sort out and differentiate between those who are obviously engaged in lawful activity from those who are probably or possible engaged in criminal activity. This maritime region is one of the busiest waterways in the entire world. Obviously no coast guard has the capability to stop and search every single vessel that moves through this maritime region, nor would we want them to.

So with the Vietnamese Coast Guard as with the Indonesian, Philippine and the Malaysian maritime enforcement authorities, we are working to provide greater capability to have what our Coast Guard calls maritime domain awareness. A knowledge of who is out there and a sense of what they are doing. So my answer to your question is that our cooperation will be to those basic objectives, which is to say, to ensure that the coast guard of Vietnam, like all of the others, has the right equipment in order to perform the maritime mission. Second, that they are able to communicate with one another and coordinate their own activities and third, that they have a sufficiently clear picture of what is happening in their maritime domain so that they can use their limited resources in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

All of our training, all of our equipping, all of our support and infrastructure is focused on those three objectives. Our fourth objective, to remind, is to improve coordination within the region itself. Since obviously all the governments of Southeast Asia have a common interest in cooperating to ensure that criminal activity that affects all of them does not take advantage of maritime boundaries and borders in order to avoid law enforcement by moving from the waters of one nation into the waters of another. I hope that is helpful in responding to your question.

MODERATOR: Thanks, very much, Assistant Secretary Brownfield. Our next question will be coming from Jonathan Cox in Cambodia with the Khmer Times. Can you please open his line?

OPERATOR: Mr. Cox, your line is open.

REPORTER: Good evening, Mr. Secretary. Regarding ASEAN, do you see any indications that rapid trade liberalization through the ASEAN economic community could increase drug and precursor smuggling in the region? And will the Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative do anything to address that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Yeah, you know that’s a very good question and a very important question. A very important question to think about as we look ahead. I’m now hearing a echo -- good, I’m no longer hearing that echo and I will tell you, I don’t think we have yet given it systematic thought but civically as relates to the recently announced TPP, but I will offer you based upon my own experience, the impact that trade agreements can have and I would use for that purpose, several trade agreements that have occurred here in the Western Hemisphere, the first of the big ones being NAFTA, between the United States, Canada and Mexico. And then additional trade agreements that have linked up most of the other countries of Latin America, not all but most, with the United States and the North American market with free trade agreements.

Now, it is the position of the government of the United States that when properly constituted, free trade agreements are good for commerce, good for the economy and therefore good for all the countries involved and that is a good thing. It is also acknowledged, however, that as you increase the amount of trade, as more goods and people and services across national boundaries and borders with minimal intervention by governments and states, it also allows those engaged in criminal activity greater opportunity to move their product as well.

So the simple answer to your question is, yes, we who are involved in, or support, law enforcement are going to have to take a careful look at how a regional free trade agreement is going to impact potential trafficking and criminal activity. You mentioned drugs. I could mention other forms of trafficking as well. Trafficking in counterfeit or unauthorized goods. Just simple smuggling. Trafficking in illegally acquired wildlife, trafficking in persons, whether it is unlawful migrants or the even more repulsive and repugnant trafficking in underage children or young girls for sexual activity. There is no end to what a professional trafficking organization will traffic in order to make money. And we who are involved in law enforcement are going to have to take a careful look at our systems, our procedures, our resources, our priorities as we try to ensure that a free trade agreement accomplishes the objective for which it was negotiated and that is to accelerate and simplify and reduce the cost of trade between nations while at the same time, ensuring that we are able to identify, combat and eventually stop the movement of illegal trading or trafficking under that umbrella. That’s our challenge. In another year, you can tell us how well we’re doing.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We are going to take one more question from Cecil Morella with the AFP. Could you please open the line?

REPORTER: Good evening Mr. Secretary. Do you hear me?


REPORTER: Yes, sir, I’d like to ask you how do you describe the extent of the problem of piracy in this region and how does the US assistance apply to this particular problem? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Yes, that is an excellent question. And for the nations of the region, as well quite frankly as all the nations of the world, piracy in its purest form is one of those activities that blurs the distinction between a law enforcement or criminal activity which is therefore a policing matter and a security activity which is a proper issue for Armed Forces and generally for navies around the world.

Piracy is clearly a problem in some parts of the Southeast Asia Maritime domain. I presume it does not take a genius to realize that if you’re dealing with and talking to the governments of the states that have a maritime boundary along the Malacca Strait that piracy is very much an issue on their minds. And whether you’re talking to maritime police, to coast guard or to navy officials, you will find that this is a high priority issue.

Well our Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative will integrate the piracy mission into our coordination, cooperation and capacity building support for coast guards around the region. We do not suggest that this is exclusively a police or law enforcement issue but we do clearly agree that any institution that is involved in or engaged in maritime law enforcement must have the capability to take on, combat and where possible, defeat those who are engaged in piracy. In many ways, the challenge is very similar to that of dealing with illegal traffickers, illegal fishing or those who would abuse the national patrimony of any country. You must identify the vessel that is engaged in this activity, you must be able to run that vessel down because it will flee, obviously and then you must have the capability to actually stop, board and seize that vessel, which normally it requires some degree of armed and weapons capability because pirates very rarely agree to submit themselves to law enforcement. And whether it is a navy mission, a coast guard mission or a police mission in many ways, depends upon where the pirates are located and who is the nearest government authority that is available for taking them on.

There are other legal issues as you know, which go beyond our law enforcement initiative in terms of which government and which courts would have jurisdiction, whether pirates are to be treated as national entities or international or stateless entities, and then finally what laws to apply against them. These are issues that go beyond our initiative but the simple answer to your question is yes. Piracy and maritime piracy are very much included within our maritime law enforcement initiative.

MODERATOR: Thank you Assistant Secretary Brownfield. And if you will allow me, we have just one last, last question from Momoko Kidera with Nikkei in Japan. Can you open her line?

REPORTER: Hello, can you hear me?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: I hear you fine and I’m glad to have one more question. Fire away.

REPORTER: Well my question is do you expect Chinese expansion in South China Sea that will affect maritime law enforcement in the region in any way or did you discuss the matter with any officials from Southeast Asia that you met in the visit? And the same thing, with all the enhanced law security, what’s the role of the Chinese regulation is important, have you been cooperating with the Chinese as well as Southeast Asian countries or is it possible that you may be doing so? I hope I’m not repeating the same question that someone else has made as I missed the beginning part of the session with my technical problems. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: Not to worry. We all live in the 21st Century where the technical problem is a simple fact of life. Those are fair questions and I will offer you a careful response because I am of course not just the Assistant Secretary for Drugs and Law Enforcement, I am also a diplomat trained in my profession to choose and use my words carefully.

I said it in the beginning of my presentation that our initiative is a law enforcement initiative. That we do acknowledge as your question suggest, that there are other issues at play beyond simple law enforcement, that there are matters related to sovereignty and matters related to location of maritime borders that are not law enforcement issues. I said at the start that our initiative is designed to address the law enforcement aspects of this. And that sovereignty or maritime borders are not law enforcement issues, they are larger political, diplomatic and security issues.

Now, will the Law Enforcement Initiative have potential impact on other issues? Perhaps it will. That is not the purpose of the Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative of the United States of America in Southeast Asia but I do acknowledge obviously a stronger coast guard or police capability will presumably have an impact across all the interests that any government might have in the region. My government is aware of that, I might add, your government, the Government of Japan is aware of that as are a number of other governments that are interested in playing a helpful role on maritime law enforcement in the Southeast Asia region.

You asked whether we are in communication with the Government of China on this initiative. I will tell you that we are in constant contact with and communication with the Government of China. It is an extremely important relationship both bilaterally between China and the United States and obviously globally. Less than three weeks ago the Premier of China visited the United States of America where we had excellent discussions and conversations.

The Government of China and the Government of the United States meet regularly and systematically to discuss law enforcement issues through a mechanism that we call the US/China Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement. And I have the honor of co-chairing the United States side for these discussions. So we are in constant communication. That said, to answer your questions and I do not know if you heard when I said this the first time, the United States Government has taken a clear position and made a clear declaration as to what we encourage all parties to do in terms of the sovereignty issues in this maritime area. We have suggested three basic principles; first, no additional land reclamation in the maritime region. Second, no militarization in the maritime region and in the island and shoals found therein. And third, no new construction in this maritime region.

If these three principles sound familiar to you, it is because they are exactly and precisely the same three principles adopted by ASEAN, the regional organization that logically should play the leading role in this matter as they have addressed this issue. That is the best answer I can give you to your question at this time and I thank you for the question.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Brownfield. I know we don’t have very much time left. I would like to thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today and ask if you have any final words before we close the call?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BROWNFIELD: I will offer, because I realize I am entitled to a cup of coffee and you all are probably entitled to dinner before very much longer so I will not speak at great length. What I will say to all of you as perhaps our most important conclusion from this recent visit that the Coast Guard Commandant and I took to the Southeast Asia maritime region is key to addressing the criminal and law enforcement issues as well as any other issue in the maritime region, is better coordination, cooperation and communication between the governments of the region. The extent to which the governments can cooperate and communicate and coordinate is the extent to which the issues that are causing difficulties for all or most governments in the region will be successfully addressed.

My government wishes to play a helpful role as relates to law enforcement. I am proud to have as not our partner but as the leading United States Government institution in this effort, the United States Coast Guard, an organization that for more than 225 years, has successfully performed the maritime law enforcement mission along the United States Atlantic and Pacific regions. They are an excellent partner. They are in my humble albeit biased opinion, perhaps the finest maritime law enforcement organization in the world. We look forward to continuing to work with and cooperate with the governments of the Southeast Asian region and we do hope that when this initiative is concluded, everyone will conclude that the only people who did not win from this cooperation are the traffickers and the criminals. And Ladies and Gentlemen, if we can get to that point, I will be prepared to say this initiative was completely successful. Thank you all very much and I wish you a very pleasant evening.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And thanks to all of our journalists for participating in today’s call. If you have any questions about the call, please feel free to get in contact with me. And that concludes today’s call.