Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Travel to the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Russia

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Washington, DC
August 29, 2012

MODERATOR: All right. As you know, [Senior State Department Official] is going to go ahead of us, so he’s not going to be on the plane tomorrow. So we thought we would do the usual back-of-the-plane trip setup here this afternoon.

So here to talk us through the Secretary’s upcoming swing through the Pacific Islands and up northward is [Senior State Department Official], hereafter known as Senior State Department Official. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you, and again I apologize to you guys for being late coming back in here. What I thought I’d do is give you a little bit of background on the stops and then take any questions that you have about any of the specifics. But just to give you a sense of a few things, and a little – some of this you all know so well in Southeast Asia and China, I’m sure. But a few of these things might be a little bit different.

The Secretary’s first stop on this trip will be in the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands this year are the hosts of the institutional organization of the Pacific, or one of the most important institutional – institutions of the Pacific called the Pacific Island Forum. It’s a group that meets yearly with a number of working groups. It’s been in existence almost half a century; it’s very significant. Last year – for their issues – last year, Deputy Secretary Nides went. We had a very large delegation of over 50 representing upwards of 17 different agencies, from Coast Guard to Defense to Interior and the like.

This is part of a process that we have begun at the outset of this Administration, which is really to step up and to reaffirm our longstanding commitments in the Pacific. And sometimes when we talk about the Asia Pacific, the A is the capital and P is small. And our attempt here is to underscore that we have very strong, enduring, strategic, moral, political, humanitarian interests across the region. It’s an area in which we invested substantially historically – blood and treasure.

I just returned about two weeks ago from my own trip around the Pacific. This is the 70th anniversary of some of the most challenging fighting in places like the Solomons – famous Iron Bottom Sound – also places in Papua and elsewhere. We’ve made some major investments there over the course of the last several years. We’ve provided some very substantial financing, upwards of about $7 billion for projects in the Pacific in areas including new liquid natural gas finds and the like. And we’ve done a lot of financing for commercial – airline – airplane purchases in places like New Zealand.

We do, however, recognize that in the Pacific they are facing enormous challenges, challenges associated with climate change, with health. They have enormous problems of sedentary diseases, diabetes and the like, challenges of violence against women and illegal fishing, you name it. And so when the Secretary arrives at the PIF, she’s bringing with her a series of initiatives that are intent on addressing the full range of challenges that the Pacific Islanders face. She’ll be meeting with the leaders, laying out the work that we are doing both through USAID but a number of other agencies, and a number of innovative ideas and projects and plans for dealing with issues like illegal fishing, so-called shiprider agreements, and we will also highlight the extent to which we are now working with other countries to better rationalize and implement our assistance.

In fact, in terms of per capita assistance, the Pacific actually fares quite well, but it’s very poorly coordinated assistance. So we’re working much more closely with Japan, but particularly Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and most particularly, much closer work with China in the last several years. And in fact, we have laid out some areas where the two countries are endeavoring to work together on, for instance, initiatives associated with energy efficiency. This is the largest, highest concentration of sunlight on the planet, lowest usage of renewable fuels and renewable energy technologies.

I’ll be happy to answer any further. She’ll be meeting with Prime Minister Gillard, Prime Minister Key, the head of Cook Islands, the head of the Pacific Island Forum. She will be joined by Admiral Locklear for a number of our security initiatives. And as we roll out our work on environmental issues, on women’s issues, we will be supported by other countries and other key players inside the U.S. Government.

From there, the Secretary will proceed to Indonesia, where she will be meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Natalegawa. I say that wrong (inaudible). We intend to talk about a range of issues. Clearly, Indonesia is emerging as a leading and critical and crucial state in ASEAN. We will be talking with them about upcoming plans for the East Asia Summit, what is their approach to critical issues in terms of building institutions like the EAS and the ASEAN Regional Forum, and to get their take on the aftermath of the ASEAN Regional Forum in July when, as you recall, the ASEAN was unable to reach consensus on a variety of challenging issues, including the South China Sea.

From Indonesia, the Secretary will proceed to Beijing. I will already be there. We’ll be traveling there in the next couple of days with Kin Moy and myself, where we will be preparing the way for the Secretary’s meetings with a range of senior Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao, Vice President Xi. She’ll have a longer meeting with State Councilor Dai Bingguo and also intense meetings with Foreign Minister Yang.

We believe that the full range of issues in U.S.-China relations will be discussed, from developments in Asia, developments on the Korean Peninsula, issues associated with peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region. We will touch on and deal with challenges associated with the South China Sea. We’ll talk about Iran, obviously developments in Syria, Afghanistan – the full range.

I think the Secretary intends very clearly to underscore our continuing interest in maintaining a strong, positive relationship between our two countries. We recognize how critically important that is, and one of the challenges before us is to demonstrate how we deal with areas in which we have differing perceptions and where we face challenging issues on the ground, or in this case in the water.

From Beijing, we will travel first to Timor-Leste. The Secretary will meet with the new leadership there after the recent elections. We’ll underscore our commitment to Timor’s fledgling democracy. We’ll have a couple of other stops. Timor’s – one of Timor’s industries that is growing is in coffee. She will stop at a coffee plantation to be able to review some of the work that is being done there. I think we will highlight the role that the United States and the international community has played in seeing Timor reach basically a new stage of political and economic development in the last few years.

We will then travel to Brunei. Brunei will be the host of the East Asia Summit next year. I think we’ll want to work with them, talk with them about their plans and goals and ambitions for ASEAN and for the East Asia Summit in 2013. The Secretary will renew friendships there. We will thank them for support that they’ve given us in a number of areas, and she’ll have a chance to sit down over a dinner with the Sultan.

From Brunei, we will then go north again and we will go to Russky Island off the shore of Vladivostok for APEC this year. She’ll be joined by senior officials from the U.S. Government, and she will be the representative of the President at APEC this year. And I think our goals there would be to ensure that the very ambitious agenda that we implemented, we rolled out in Hawaii last year, that the full range of initiatives are being implemented; to look at particular challenges that we face in a variety of areas in relation to intellectual property; and we also anticipate doing some meetings with key players as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In addition, the Secretary will host a number – host or have a number of bilateral engagements with leaders where we will review the bidding on particular issues associated with the Asia Pacific. I think I would just simply say that it is a very long, very diverse trip, but the concurrent themes that run through this is a strong, determined effort on the part of the United States to underscore our rebalancing towards the Asia Pacific region, to make clear that we’re here to stay, that we are engaged on an array of issues – strategic, political, commercial; it spans not just Asia, not just Northeast Asia but Southeast Asia and increasingly the Pacific; and that we are working with a full range of partners, allies, friends, and we want to underscore our strong commitment to maintaining peace and stability.

Why don’t I stop there? I’d be happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Do you expect when you make that case – hey, we’re here to stay, we’re not going anywhere – do you expect to have people say you’re not in a position to say that, are you? November is not that far away, and you can’t make any kind of promises for – if there’s a change in administration.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I think the way we would try to answer that is that I think one of the very strong aspects of our Asia policy is that it is profoundly bipartisan. It has been for decades. Everything that we have been able to accomplish in terms of strengthening alliances, certain kinds of new engagements, trade, other kinds of military engagements, have been built on very strong work that has come before. And so I have a very strong view that the effort in Asia is bipartisan, and that there is a strong, indeed, clear, bipartisan view that the lion’s share of the 21st century is going to be written in the Asia Pacific region, and that the United States is deeply committed to playing a large role in that. So I think that’s the context on which we would make that claim, and I believe that it would be supported across the political aisle.

QUESTION: But when this Administration came in, you guys made a big deal out of the fact that the Bush Administration had ignored Southeast Asia and the Secretary went to Jakarta and Indonesia as her first trip as Secretary to say, “Hey, we’re back.” So how can you say that this is – especially with the ASEAN countries who were feeling neglected, as you well know, and who really appreciated the outreach from this Administration – I just don’t get how you can say that when you yourself were out there saying that the last administration short-shrifted ASEAN in particular and allowed this kind of tension to build in the South China Sea, how you can say that it’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, if you look at the Secretary’s piece in Foreign Policy, her speech to the U.S. Institute of Peace, her three longer statements that she has given in Hawaii at the East-West Center and the Asia-Pacific Center, in each of those, she has underscored consistently the strong determination to build on a very solid, bipartisan foundation on Asia policy. And I think that’s the overarching view of this Administration, but I also believe that that is a strong view of those on the other side of the aisle as well.

QUESTION: Don’t forget the Chinese, is it – I don’t (inaudible) – the Chinese – there was the Chinese – the China Daily editorial coming out saying Romney is – wants to bring this Cold War mentality – bad for Asia, bad for us, bad for the U.S. I just don’t --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t really speak to that, and I’m sure that others in the Romney team will.

QUESTION: Could you just sort of talk us through where we stand on the dialogue with the Chinese and the others on South China Sea? I mean, certainly in the beginning of August, you had a sort of eruption – Embassy was getting called in and all of that. Has there been any progress at all on bringing the two sides closer together? Or is this just going to be something that continues to aggravate and come up again and again without getting any, sort of, closer to resolution?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, we’ve briefed you guys extensively on this. I would say that the United States has sought to articulate a very clear set of principles that animate our strategic approach to the Asia Pacific region, and particularly to the South China Sea. Those will continue. We have had very intense consultations with every key player in the Asia Pacific region. I think one of the messages that we seek to carry on this trip is that it is absolutely essential that cooler heads prevail in every capital, and that great care be taken on these issues, and that, in fact, all of the – these complex territorial matters have existed for decades. They have been managed generally effectively for decades, and during this period we’ve seen some of the most manifest Asian prosperity. We need that to continue. This is the cockpit of the global economy, and so care must be taken across the board.

The United States has stated quite clearly that we want all parties to abstain from provocative steps. We think that the appropriate arena for dialogue is between China and ASEAN. We have called at the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit for the resumption of discussions around a code of conduct that we think could allow for a greater confidence among all parties. And I think the Secretary will be carrying that message with her when she travels throughout the region.

I think the key here is that the United States wants to be helpful. We do not take sides on these territorial matters. We care more in terms of how they are dealt with. We insist that they are dealt with diplomatically, without coercion, without threat of the use of force, and those issues are very clear in our overall approach.

QUESTION: Is there concern or is the Secretary in her talks with many of the Indonesians and in Brunei concerned that ASEAN sort of, as a structure, has been weakened by – particularly by the Cambodian meeting and their failure to sort of mount a united front in this dialogue when China’s actually weakening in institutionally?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She’s certainly going to ask in ASEAN about the aftermath of what transpired in July. And I think she’s interested in the answers to the question about what do the leaders of ASEAN – what are the lessons that they take from this, how do they propose to deal with challenging issues going forward?

I do want to just underscore, though, that it is absolutely manifest that these countries must find a way to deal with China. It’s not a matter of geo-strategy. It’s a matter of geography. So they do not have a choice in the sense that they must find a way to engage effectively and pragmatically on issues of mutual concern to both of them. It is in our interest to see ASEAN centrality, ASEAN unity, and a purposeful ASEAN that works not only to draw other partners in, but makes clear that certain rules of the road need to be observed in terms of the conduct of diplomacy and commerce going forward.

QUESTION: Can I just resume that a bit? On – also with the relations between China and Japan and also Japan and South Korea, (inaudible) the APEC Summit, I mean what role did the U.S. connection play in trying to ease some of those tensions? The U.S. has been very close with President Lee, and of course, he made this visit recently --


QUESTION: -- to the disputed islands. What (inaudible) could the U.S. play in trying to reduce some of those tensions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, our traditional approach has generally been to urge both sides, independently China and Japan, to be careful in how they handle these issues, to have a forward looking mentality, and to recognize we have so much more to gain by working together than finding the areas in which there are obvious disagreements and focusing more on them.

I have to say that the recent spate of tensions between Japan and Korea have caused concerns, and – in the United States and elsewhere, and we are, again, urging restraint, calm, and statesmanship in terms of dealing with these issues. I think we would encourage a variety of steps, unofficial dialogues, people-to-people engagements, business endeavors to stand up and speak out on the importance of Japan and South Korea working together as partners in the 21st century. And that’s something that we’re going to be exploring further in our bilateral interactions with both countries in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: On Senkaku, I mean, Toria has taken a lot of questions on this at the podium.


QUESTION: More than she likes, probably. Is it – and she’s tried to make the case that the U.S. doesn’t take a side in this dispute, but it seems to me that’s a hard position to take, given the Mutual Defense Treaty. There haven’t been U.S. live fire exercises on Senkaku since the ’70s, but the Japanese defense ministry continues to pay rent to the family that owns the island of Kuba, for instance, in case the U.S. wants to have those – some sort of exercise. So isn’t it – it seems to me that it’s difficult for the United States to make a case that it doesn’t take a side when you, at the same time, say that these islands fall under the treaty.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, actually, we have a very careful and specific point that is made in this regard. We do not take a position on ultimate sovereignty. We do believe that in the current set of circumstances that Japan has effective administrative control, and we have stated in the past that under those circumstances that the defense of Japan would apply in certain circumstances associated with – but are with the Senkakus. But our desire, to be honest, is to avoid this set of circumstances, to encourage a dialogue, diplomacy, and not speculate about defense-related issues with the Senkakus or, indeed, with other territorial matters that are unresolved.

QUESTION: Of course, the U.S. wants to avoid any kind of military thing and wants a diplomatic resolution, but why – am I misunderstanding or are you parsing it by saying “under certain circumstances” that the defense treaty would apply? Because it has been said from the podium that Senkaku is covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty. I mean, it has been said explicitly like that. So why under those circumstances, under certain circumstances, why –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m just going to – I’m going to let what I stated –

QUESTION: But can’t – I mean, I know Patrick has said from the podium that –


QUESTION: -- Senkaku is covered by the defense treaty. Is – that’s correct, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think what I’ve said I will stand by, and we seek to avoid provocative steps by all sides, and we do not wish to see actions that will lead to conflict and --

QUESTION: I understand that. But are there some exceptions to the rule that are being covered by it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m just – I think I’m just going to stand by what I’ve stated already.

QUESTION: Is there anything in the – have we looked at the agreement? Could there be anything in it that would provide certain exceptions to it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think our intent here is to send a very clear message to all concerned to tread carefully, to avoid provocative actions, and to remember that we have much larger issues to deal with currently in the context of –

QUESTION: Well, I guess I was actually asking if we went to look –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I really guess I don’t have anything – I’m not going to go in –

QUESTION: I’m asking if we went and looked at the actual agreement, would it lay out what circumstances?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. And most of our treaties are purposefully –


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- general. And that clearly is the intent in this regard as well.

QUESTION: Is there more that you could do as a government that just sort of try to be referee or the calming voice? I mean, it’s easy to say, “Everybody, let’s handle this lightly.” It’s like a schoolyard brawl at some points. It seems like –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Which ones were talking about? Just the whole territorial –

QUESTION: All the territorial – I mean, this one in particular, but also in the South China Sea.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, the truth is that almost all the players in the Asia Pacific region on these sets of issues do not want a referee or an intermediary or an honest broker. What they are seeking is a stabilizing presence, a country that sends up very clear messages of the means in which we believe difficulties and challenges can best be resolved. We try to articulate the parameters by – or through which and the diplomatic means in which countries can and should engage when they are at disagreements.

And frankly, we also believe that our role is remind everyone of the bigger picture, which in this case is extraordinarily important. And so we work intensively behind the scenes. We have very intensive diplomacy with all players. We try to make sure that lines of communication are open, that where there are disagreements or misconceptions that we try to work to avoid them. I will say in this set of circumstances it is not unusual that almost every country feels that they are on the defensive, that they are responding to actions elsewhere. And I think one of the things that we seek to do is to provide a greater confidence so no one feels that they need to respond in such a way because they are being driven by external variables and forces. It’s very challenging.

But I do want to underscore, Steve, that this is not unique. These tensions on territorial matters are a consistent and persistent challenge in Asia. It’s a problem for Asia for decades and decades. And we – but during that same period of time, we’ve seen unprecedented prosperity, so it’s just absolutely critical that during these periods where nationalist forces are stirring the pot, when there are a lot of activities ongoing, sometimes questions about coordinations within government, that there’s a steady outside role for the United States to play, and that’s what we’ve sought to do.

MODERATOR: Let’s let Matt and Catherine, that then we got to let [Senior State Department Official] go.

QUESTION: Can we switch to Beijing? Would you expect --


QUESTION: -- Cheng Guangcheng to come up in the dialogue? And then also, could you speak a little bit about what you expect on the Secretary’s to address with Lavrov.



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On the second issue – and this is going to sound bureaucratic, it’s not meant to be – I don’t really work that much on the Russian account. I know that – I know some of the Asian issues that will come up. I mean, Russia is a member of the Six-Party Talks. We will – Russia has a strong desire to see more engagement with North Korea. We will talk a little bit about how we’re both new members of the East Asia Summit. But I would imagine that much of the diplomacy that the Secretary would have with Minister Lavrov would be on the traditional agenda, which is Syria, Iran, some issues in the Balkans. And I would really – I’d like Toria or someone else answer those, but those are the Asian issues. And we have worked with the Russians in the Pacific as well.

On – I do believe in general human rights issues will come up. Whether that specific case will come up, I’m not sure.


QUESTION: Do you have any plans to expand military ties with Indonesia, particular with Kopassus? I know a year or two back you lifted the ban, but to expand on that further?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think on the – look, I think we are seeking generally in Asia to broaden our defense engagements and our interactions. And in that respect, Indonesia is not an exception. We’ve worked much more closely with them on a host of training and exercises. The specifics on Kopassus – and we have worked out some very careful areas where we can work together, and those have been well negotiated between the Department of Defense, key players on Capitol Hill – I would probably refer you directly to the Pentagon about further steps with Kopassus. But I know generally with the armed forces as a whole, given the fact that they obviously play a key role in the region and the impressive steps that SBY has made to sustain civilian rule, that we have sought to build a stronger relationship with the military generally. But the remaining restrictions on Kopassus and what we have planned or have thought about for the future – I’d have to refer you to the Pentagon.

MODERATOR: Okay, guys.


QUESTION: Is there any specific – Brunei as opposed to, like, checking the box, the last ASEAN country --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, look it is true, this is the first Secretary of State ever to go to all ASEAN states. But Brunei has been very, very helpful in a variety of arenas behind the scene. They’ve been supportive of some of our educational initiatives, very supportive in the Middle East. I think the Secretary wants to come to pay her respects, to talk next year about the ASEAN chairmanship and the EAS and talk about how the United States and Brunei can increase arenas of partnership. They have expressed a strong desire to work more closely with us commercially. As you know, they are a part of TPP, but not just that, they want to work with us more strategically and increase our engagement across the board, and I think we’re up for that.

QUESTION: Yeah. And do you expect her to be in a position to say that if the President wins reelection there will be – that you will attend the summit or that – or will she be able to make any pledges on behalf of the Administration if there is a second term?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. I don’t know about any particular conversation between the Secretary and the President. Normally speaking, we at the State Department do not speak and talk about the President’s future schedule generally. I will say that the United States has made a strong goal to participate regularly and in full force --

QUESTION: Well, that’s fine. But, I mean, she announced that in Vietnam that the President would be going to --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’m just saying I don’t know of the conversations that they’ve had, so I’d just rather --

QUESTION: And then very briefly, this is her last Asia trip?


QUESTION: Other than to AUSMIN?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it’s possible that she’ll – she would go to AUSMIN and then the East Asia Summit.

MODERATOR: [Senior State Department Official] would like four more trips between now and when the Secretary – (laughter) --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it’s – given her role in the East Asia Summit, I mean, her past and her support for it, it’s not inconceivable that she would go there, and then also the AUSMIN, so --

QUESTION: Where is it?



QUESTION: No. No, no, no. The East Asia Summit.

MODERATOR: Is in Cambodia, right?

QUESTION: Going back to Cambodia.

QUESTION: I just have one last one.


QUESTION: Can you give us a little more detail on trade, about APEC, the agenda at APEC, just give us a little --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You’re going to have a briefing –

MODERATOR: We’re going to have a separate briefing on APEC at the FPC at 2:30, and they’re going to go through that whole --

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s already started.

MODERATOR: Yeah. They’re going to go through the whole --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. They’ve asked me not to – they’re going to do that. And I’m sorry, it’s my fault for being late. But you’ll have it on the transcript. But [Senior U.S. Trade Official] in State and also [Senior State Department Official] are going to give a very detailed laydown of all of that.

MODERATOR: So we will get that transcript to you guys, and we will circulate it. Okay? All right.


MODERATOR: They’re doing it now, so hopefully this evening. Yeah. Okay, thanks guys. We’ll see you on the plane.

PRN: 2012/1365