Background Briefing on North and South Korea, China
QUESTION: On (inaudible) readout of North Korea?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, there was a preliminary meeting this morning to work out some of the specific details, and then Ambassador Wi Sung-lac from the South Korean team met this afternoon at 3:00 with his North Korean counterparts, and they met for several hours. We have not yet had a detailed readout from the South Koreans on the session. But the meeting went longer than anticipated, and we are looking forward to hearing more from the South Koreans later this evening about what transpired.
We did talk, I should say, in our meetings with the Chinese this morning. We had asked Foreign Minister Yang to weigh in with the North Koreans about the importance of this meeting, and at the outset of the meeting, we had a substantial set of exchanges on North-South relations, on North-South dialogue. Foreign Minister Yang underscored the efforts the Chinese side had taken to encourage the North, and also indicated that they held high hopes for next steps in diplomacy. I think we, on our part, with the Chinese, indicated that it was imperative that they communicate directly to North Korea, that they take this opportunity for diplomacy and not contemplate further provocative acts, and that the politics in South Korea had shifted significantly, and no one could anticipate that South Korea would continue to demonstrate it’s very responsive – that no one could anticipate that South Korea wouldn’t respond if provoked.
Sorry, guys, I’m a little tired, so I’m a little – go ahead with questions.
QUESTION: The North Koreans had (inaudible) of meetings of next steps between the U.S. and North Korea. Are you trying to have a meeting with North Korea?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. I think the next step is for the United States to have extensive discussions, first with the South Koreans and then with the Japanese. And then, at that time, we’ll together make a determination on the way forward.
QUESTION: Is that something you would expect to happen at the trilateral meeting tomorrow?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. In fact, at the trilateral meeting, I imagine that the primary issue for discussion will be to ensure that we are closely aligned on the way forward with respect to North Korea.
QUESTION: And would that include reaching a decision on the Six-Party Talks or on their common position on the Six-Party Talks?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t – I don’t want to anticipate because I just don’t know what’s taken place with respect to the North-South meetings. You all have seen, there are some reports out from – that have been backgrounded by the North Koreans, but we have not yet seen what the South Koreans have said. So we’ve – I tried to reach them before I came to this meeting, but it appears as if all of my interlocutors and the foreign minister are on the phone back to Seoul. So as soon as they’re done with those discussions, I’ll get something for you and sit down with you. But I anticipate that our meeting over lunch tomorrow will be primarily about whether there was progress in the sessions.
Again, guys, I mean, just so you understand, there’s no determination to rush into anything. I mean, this is – when you deal with the North Koreans, understanding the importance of patience is clearly a virtue in this respect.
QUESTION: What kind of thing do you regret – expect for North Korea to take in the step forward? Do you have, then, a good meeting with U.S. --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look --
QUESTION: Do you have any specific expectation from North Korea to take --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, we have said that our primary expectation is that we see productive diplomacy with respect to South Korea, and that we need to see a clear and sincere indication on the part of the North that they are prepared to work constructively with the South. In addition, I think we’ve also laid out that with respect to Six-Party Talks, we need to see the determination on the part of the North Koreans that they will be prepared to take a series of steps that underscore their commitments to address issues related to their nuclear programs and other issues that have concerned the Six-Party participants.
QUESTION: Would you expect the question of food aid also to come up at tomorrow’s meeting? I realize that they’re not tied, but that’s another sort of pending decision that seems to be also related to what the South Koreans --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. All I can say is that on – first, as you know, no decision has been made on food assistance. But we are closely coordinating and in deep discussions with South Korea about all matters of our diplomacy with the North, including matters associated with food assistance.
QUESTION: Surely, even though you don’t want to predict what might happen on the decision coming up tomorrow, surely the fact that they met is a hopeful sign, right? Or no? For the resumption of the Six-Party --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s a good question. I – let’s be clear, though, that for a few months, there was a back channel North-South dialogue that took place that did not result in substantial progress. And so there – it’s – the North-South dimension of diplomacy has historically been quite challenging. But rather than even characterizing hopeful or not, I’d rather – I don’t want to mislead you guys because I have not – no, I mean, we think it’s an important step that they met today, but we don’t know what the result of the meeting was. The fact that they met in a high-profile setting like the ASEAN Regional Forum as opposed to some secret setting --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- probably has some significance, so --
QUESTION: Is that something you might put on the record, that last thought?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t think so because --
QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- you know what? Guys, the only reason I’m not – and if you hear me hesitating, it’s because, look, we’ve been down this road so many times before. And so we want to be careful that we understand what the road is first. And so I’ll – as soon as I know more, I will let you know. And I did – the – one of the reasons we were late, we did try to call all the numbers of the South Koreans, so that I could have more to say to you. But I just don’t have more, so I’d rather not go beyond what I know right now.
QUESTION: Well, no, I think the point, I mean, is that if you have a back channel discussion that fails, you can always deny that that’s (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right. That’s right.
QUESTION: Now that they’ve met, they came with – both of them came out and spoke on camera --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- saying that they had a good and productive meeting or whatever the words were that they used.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think --
QUESTION: I mean, it’s --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, I think --
QUESTION: -- isn’t that a significant --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I think it – I would leave it to you to make that – but I do think that there is some significance to the fact that they have done this in a very – this is a very high-profile setting here at the ASEAN Regional Forum.
QUESTION: Are we done with Korea? Can we move on to --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Whatever you guys want to ask. Go ahead.
QUESTION: One more thing on Korea: I’m wondering if you could tell me what you got from the Chinese about – you said they had said what they had done to work on the North Koreans?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think there’s been a Kim Jong-il visit and rumors even of a Kim Jong-un visit, who knows.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: But what have they done? What did they say they’ve done?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, I think it would be fair to say that in our last set of meetings with Chinese interlocutors at – in Hawaii, they made clear that after Kim Jong-il left China, one of the first things they did was very publicly suspend North – these quiet, discreet North-South talks. And the Chinese were both surprised by that and displeased. And we’ve been in close consultation over the course of the last couple of weeks about what our expectations and our hopes were for this meeting, and we asked the Chinese to weigh in. You may want to --
QUESTION: Yeah. No, I got it. Yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, sorry – to weigh in with the North Koreans about the importance of this meeting. And they have underscored at every level that this is what they’ve done.
QUESTION: So --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- is everyone done with Korea?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Just ask – you can jump around. We can ask any questions.
QUESTION: The South – and the South China Sea going to be in the meeting with Yang, the Chinese spokesman came out and was very – I mean, he was very upbeat – at least it appeared to be – he appeared – he sounded very upbeat about the situation there with the usual – the kind of usual caveats that the U.S. has to – everyone has to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity. What was the tone of that conversation like between the Secretary and Yang? And did you get the impression that the Chinese are really serious about a mechanism that – about the mechanism that (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, I think the subject of the South China Sea and the agreement that was reached between ASEAN and China came up in every single one of our meetings, and we had very broad discussions with every interlocutor. Secretary Clinton welcomed this as an important first step; indicated, though, that it was just that, a first step, and that further actions were going to be necessary to reduce tensions, to improve communication, and to develop a framework for how to deal with these challenges, both legally and also operationally.
She underscored that the United States had strong principles at stake. We indicated that freedom of navigation – by some measures, about half of the world’s global produce and trade travel through the South China Sea, and that we have profound interests in freedom of navigation, open and unimpeded commerce, and also an area in which peace and prosperity were not threatened.
We had a substantial discussion between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Yang about whether, in fact, freedom of navigation was at risk, with the Chinese asserting that there were no such threats. And we underscored quite clearly that we’d seen a number of incidents, not all involving China – in fact, several other states involved – that raised our concerns.
The – I think it would be fair to say that Foreign Minister Yang went out of his way to underscore the importance of a good meeting and forward momentum and progress between the United States and China. In addition to the discussion about North Korea and the South China Sea, both sides – you will have seen it put out a – after working pretty hard over the course of the last couple of months – a series of joint ventures that we’re going to work on together in East Timor and disaster relief and also in search-and-rescue. Now, these may seem like modest areas of cooperation but they’re actually quite significant, and they send a signal that the United States and China are determined to work together and find areas of common pursuit.
I think, as I told you guys this morning, Secretary Clinton is going to have a very substantial presentation on the South China Sea tomorrow, in which there will be some new features to our overall approach. And I think, from the Chinese perspective, they are focusing primarily on joint endeavors in ecological, oceanographic, hydrographic interactions among ASEAN states and China. We think these are important. They improve confidence. But there are other steps that we are going to articulate tomorrow that we think will be important with respect to how to legally think about some of the very real challenges when it comes to interpretation of sovereignty matters and the like.
QUESTION: I get the sense that Yang bristled at the idea that there might be a threat to freedom of navigation?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. In fact, I think – to be honest, I think ASEAN, the United States, other states have done a very good job at presenting a public stance of concern by recent activities. I think China has come to these meetings with a clear determination that they want to ease anxieties and they, I think, met with Secretary Clinton in that spirit. So it was quite productive. The interactions on North and South were very good. We did discuss human rights issues and the Dalai Lama. The Chinese were solemn on their presentations on what they would call their core interests, the Dalai Lama and Taiwan, and I think Secretary Clinton stated very clearly our interests in both situations, our commitments to the defense of the Taiwan Relations Act and maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and explained the context in which we meet with the Dalai Lama. But that was a very --
QUESTION: Isn’t that almost pro forma at this point?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, it wasn’t pro forma. I’m trying to think of what’s the right word. It was very careful. I’ve been in meetings before in which some of the rhetoric can get carried away. It was polite, respectful --
QUESTION: From his side?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Both sides. Both sides. Look, it was – the meeting with – between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Yang was very productive, professional, great tone, clear determination on both sides, but I would say particularly on the Chinese side, a clear signal of the desire to keep U.S.-China relations on a positive plane and to maintain forward momentum, given upcoming visits. And also, 2012 will be an important setting for China as we go through the major party congress. And I think they very much want to ensure that relations with key states, including the United States, are relatively positive.
QUESTION: But would you – I mean, judging from their attitude in discussing the Dalai Lama and the Secretary’s response, would you presume – diplomats don’t presume, but do you think that – essentially, that that storm may be passing, particularly as the Secretary heads to Shenzhen, that that is not going to color her interactions with Dai Bingguo on Monday?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think – look, I imagine that the matters will be raised, but I think it is also the case there is a recognition on both sides that we have other very important issues to talk about. And the fact that neither of these meetings have been canceled and we had a very productive session with Foreign Minister Yang today on a really very broad range of issues – we also discussed how we would cooperate at the East Asia Summit going forward – I think that’s a pretty indication that both sides understand the stakes, yes.
QUESTION: Do they deny that there is (inaudible) crackdown going on (inaudible) lawyers, dissidents, and things like that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it would be fair to say that we continue to have substantial disagreements on human rights issues.
QUESTION: In the meeting with Chinese – I mean, the Secretary’s statement on Burma and her ASEAN intervention was quite strong –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: Did she bring that up with the Chinese?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She did, yes.
QUESTION: And what was her message to them?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She basically indicated, look, what we’ve seen over the course of the last couple of years is that relations with Beijing and Nay Pyi Taw have become much closer. China’s the biggest investor inside the country. They have very substantial contacts. The Secretary made an appeal that China urge the new rulers in Nay Pyi Taw to take the necessary steps to, again, differentiate themselves from the previous military rulers. I think in all of her sessions she was very clear about what we expect and some of our disappointment with respect to what we’ve seen take place inside the country.
She also was very clear, by the sort of rotation scheme, Burma is supposed to take over the chair of ASEAN in 2014. But I think the Secretary was very clear that without some substantial changes and a clear determination to do a better job in terms of domestic environment more generally, the treatment of minorities, political prisoners, Aung San Suu Kyi, that it would be difficult to envision a decision whereby – Burma taking over the chair in 2014 would be greeted with sort of a welcome response.
QUESTION: And can you characterize what the Chinese response to now leave Burma alone?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t – I think much more in the listening mode, taking notes on that issue.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about that, one more thing (inaudible) it seems like that. I just wonder why they (inaudible), why did she (inaudible) focus on this region (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. Well, look, guys, I mean, what we’re trying to underscore is that the engagement by the United States is multifaceted. We clearly have a strong diplomatic engagement on a range of issues. You’ve seen that now over the course of the last couple of years. Some of the most important partners in the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, are from Southeast Asia. But it is also the case that there are still substantial human needs, there are major issues associated with climate change, and the Secretary is determined to sort of demonstrate a multifaceted approach across a range of arenas to reflect the deep American commitment to all aspects of diplomacy, commerce, and welfare in Southeast Asia.
Anything else, guys? Yes.
QUESTION: In this morning’s briefing, you mentioned the Secretary will pursue an intervention towards South China Sea. Can you elaborate on what this intervention – is it a new (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. And that’s – today was the East Asia Summit; tomorrow is the ASEAN Regional Forum, and at that – tomorrow at 10:00 o’clock she will roll out her intervention. So what I had – was going to suggest is – that’s going to take place from about 10 to 12 – is that I will meet you guys immediately after that and brief you in detail, walk you through – we’ll have printouts of the presentation. I’ll kind of interpret for you, if that would be helpful, what our line will mean. And what we have done primarily today is sort of orchestrate the timing of when she’s going to speak and what some of the other countries will likely say.
QUESTION: Does that mean that, kind of like in Hanoi last year where you basically – you have it set it up with the Philippines and other countries to mention this first, and then –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: If I could say actually, I think a lot has changed since last year. Last year, there was a lot of reluctance and uncertainty about who was prepared to speak, whether there would be echoes of concern on certain issues. That’s not the case this year. I think the more important issue here is to not orchestrate responses but much more to make clear that what are a few responsible steps that could be taken that are reasonable and what can be expected over the course of the next several months.
QUESTION: Well, I guess what I’m asking is – I mean, has it been choreographed to the point where someone is going to – whether it’s the Philippines or someone else to say, wow, this is a great thing, and we could use some help and maybe some ideas (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. I think – I mean, it’s a great question, but it’s actually going to – I mean, this – tomorrow it’ll be much more who gets their hands up first to be able to – because a lot of --
QUESTION: Well, how specific should we expect her to be?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She’ll be – we have a very specific, very clear approach for how to deal with the next steps.
QUESTION: But is it legalese or is it –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Some of it – there are some aspects of it that are – look, we believe that the next phase has to be phased in --
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, you’re talking about laws, new treaty –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.
QUESTION: -- like specific articles of that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. We won’t – I mean, we’re not a party yet of that, but we will talk about how our approach – the recommended approach is based in (inaudible) context.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) international law?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Yeah. And I think I can help you guys explain what’s that – and by the way, we talked extensively with China and told them what the nature of our approach will be.
QUESTION: And their response?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it would be fair to say that there are elements of our response that are quite reassuring, but --
QUESTION: To them?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: To them, yeah. But I think overall – I mean, and we’re taking pains to underscore that we do not want to make the South China Sea an arena of U.S.-Sino conflict or misunderstanding. That is not our intent. And frankly, the last couple of days have been reassuring in that respect, and what we are seeing is a determined effort on the part of the Chinese Government to be responsive and proactive to the concerns that developed over the course of the last couple of months.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks very much.