Background Briefing in Hong Kong
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Just really fast, to give you just (inaudible) quick context, the Secretary and Dai agreed a while back that they’re going to look for multiple opportunities to spend extended periods of time together to really go in depth on issues. So today, they spent just over four hours, and it was basically business from start to finish. Most of it was spent in – with small groups of officials on each side. Some portion of it was spent one on one. And at the end of it, of course, they also agreed that they’re going to try and find a time in the not too distant future to do this again.
This also comes at a moment when we have kind of a pretty aggressive work plan, looking forward through to the fall with the Biden visit and then opportunities for interaction between President Obama and President Hu at UNGA, APEC, EAS, and – am I missing anything? (Inaudible), right? And so the atmospherics of the meeting were incredibly sort of informal, very conversational, a lot of give and take. Nobody made sort of extended presentations. It was more a discussion about most of the major issues that you guys could imagine. And it was, I think, for me, the most interesting one of these that I’ve seen so far.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Two] to actually walk through the issues that they (inaudible.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, guys. Give me just – what was interesting also is, frankly, the amount of time and attention they went into the preparation of this. They shut down one of the most important arteries in China for several hours in both directions so we could go to and from the guest house, a huge staff of people basically catering to our every need, a lunch, and then snacks subsequently.
We had put together a game plan for how we were going to conduct the discussions, and we followed it – the Secretary followed it very carefully. We began with – Secretary Clinton began with a strategic overview of what we were looking for in terms of China-U.S. relations – a strong, steady, predictable relationship in which we sought to maximize areas of common interest and work on issues that divided and where we had disagreements.
She then went through a pretty extensive review of the last year and about the areas where we’ve made progress, the dialogues, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the president – the meeting between our two presidents, the establishment of the Strategic Security Dialogue in the Asia Pacific discussions. And we made some commitments about when we would meet subsequently and the issues that we were going to talk about. I think the overall theme was that we needed to work harder to develop habits of cooperation in areas of common pursuit.
Then the Secretary went through the period ahead and sort of underscored how the next six to eight months were critical in U.S.-China relations. We spent a substantial period of time going over Vice President Biden’s visit, and the Secretary articulated the things that we were looking for, but most particularly what was an opportunity for the two men to get to know each other and we’d get a sense from the Vice President about what he was thinking about in terms of his priorities after the party congress in 2012.
We talked a lot about coordinating our visions with respect to the East Asia Summit, APEC, and the ASEAN Regional Forum. And we went through the preparations that took place before the ASEAN Regional Forum, and we agreed that we would follow a similar practice in advance of upcoming meetings, including the East Asia Summit. We committed that we will be meeting with the Chinese in Beijing. This time we had met in Hawaii; we’ll meet in Beijing next to go over such specifics.
We also talked about some specific issues and areas that particular care needed to be used in terms of both sides. From our perspective, maritime issues figured prominently. We also underscored very clearly the risks that North Korea might be contemplating further provocations and the absolute need for China to weigh in strongly on Pyongyang to discourage such actions and to think seriously about working with South Korea first, the United States, and others.
From the Chinese perspective, the things that they obviously wanted us to handle carefully – State Councilor Dai went through Chinese displeasure associated with the Dalai Lama, but it was a careful presentation, and it was, I think, appropriately metered. He also talked about the historic concerns that China has had with respect to Taiwan and American arms sales.
Then as we concluded, we went through the work plan for the upcoming period, very specific sort of discussions on the 2011 high-level visits and engagements and necessary preparations. We did talk about how important it will be after the meeting in New York to sit down and start plotting next steps with respect to the Korean Peninsula, particularly if there is progress with relation to the U.S.-North Korean interaction.
We will meet to talk about specific areas of cooperation. The Chinese noted the four or five areas that we articulated at the ASEAN Regional Forum. They want to do the same thing in upcoming meetings as a whole. We made a request to the Chinese that we would have another strategic security dialogue before the end of this year on sensitive issues that have a political military dynamic, and also we talked about continuing work on Iran to ensure that the P-5+1 process continues appropriately, and also we talked about stepping up our dialogue on issues associated with Pakistan. So that’s pretty much the overall view.
I’d agree with [Senior State Department Official One] very much – very productive. They know each other better now. So they know the sort of the rhythms and the themes that each is going to articulate. They had a very interesting discussion about politics in both the upcoming – running up to the party congress in China, and the Secretary talked a little bit about some of the dynamics that we’re dealing with, some of the themes that she discussed in today’s speech in Hong Kong.
QUESTION: Can I – two really brief things about North Korea? Did you get the sense – well, one, when are the meetings in New York? What days –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think they are Thursday and Friday this week, but they have not been fully established.
QUESTION: And then did you get the sense that the Chinese are amenable to telling the North Koreans and being –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I believe that everything they’re indicating to me – it’s a good question – indicating to us, I believe they’re weighing in very strong on the North Koreans on the need for North Korea – that this is – we’re getting pretty close to the last best or last only chance and to not risk further disruptions. And I think despite the fact that China, in meetings with the United States, will rarely displays open displeasure, I think you can sense behind the scenes, there is substantial unhappiness with what’s transpired with respect to Pyongyang’s intransigence and provocative actions.
QUESTION: Can I ask – on that request you guys made for this additional strategic security meeting, did they say yes? And has that been set?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It would be very unusual for them to agree on the spot to any meeting, any proposal like that. But I think we can tell from the manner in which they responded to our various proposals that they are inclined to look positively at several high-level engagements on critical matters over the course of the next six months or so. Would you agree with that, [Senior State Department Official One]?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: And –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. It’s – I think that with respect to the strategic security dialogue, I think there’s an expectation on both sides that there will be a next session. It’s just a question of scheduling.
QUESTION: And the debt limit, did that come up at all?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. Not in this meeting. As I told you before we left, the Chinese ambassador who was here today did demarche us in a meeting in which his only message to us that that China expects that the United States will fulfill its financial commitments.
QUESTION: But Dai didn’t bring it up?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. He did not.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Two], the Philippines has said it’s going to go ahead with oil exploration in the islands with – in the South China Sea. Did that come up at all?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It did not. I mean, we talked about the South China Sea, and I’m sorry I didn’t mention it. We did talk about the South China Sea. Primarily we reviewed what transpired in the ASEAN Regional Forum. The Secretary ran through the logic behind our proposal. I think most of the themes that State Counselor Dai sounded were familiar from what we had heard with Foreign Minister Yang. But I thought it was a productive discussion. I think there were – I think, overall, we underscored that we want to see progress on the code of conduct, and we carried a message that ASEAN was expecting that process to continue over the course of the next couple of months.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The only –
STAFF: Guys, we need to roll in few minutes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The only thing I would add to that is the Secretary had an opportunity in this meeting to put this issue in a larger context, namely that the United States, as a maritime nation, has a deep interest in freedom of navigation everywhere around the world and that the South China Sea is, obviously, a critical set of shipping lanes. But we believe in the importance of standing up for and working with other partners on ensuring this principal of freedom of navigation is both respected and grounded in international law.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think that’s fair. I think the Chinese – I think their initial conception of this, as they discussed it with us, is somehow that freedom of navigation matters are bilateral issues, that the United States and China working together can ensure. And we tried to articulate that we see freedom of navigation issues are as global matters, and frankly, it’s not for one country to bestow to another, but they are simply rights that we believe provide the foundation for every aspect of maritime activity.
STAFF: All right. Thank you.