Press Availability at the German Marshall Fund

Press Availability
Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Brussels, Belgium
January 14, 2014

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I’ve been on the job in Washington as the Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific for something on the order of five months or so now, although I have been working the Asia account much longer. I wanted to find a way to come to Europe, to Brussels, to consult in person and in greater depth with my colleagues and counterparts among the European countries and in the EU and in the European External Action Service as early as I could in my tenure. I work closely with European representatives in Washington and meet with them in the region as well, but actually getting to Brussels is important for regular coordination and collaboration. I’ll ask the Embassy to share the particulars of my schedule, although I will say that I’ve had meetings at NATO; I’ve had meetings with David O’Sullivan at the Action Service. Of course, I’ve met just now with Viorel [Isticioaia-Budura], and there are other bilateral contacts that I am having with EU member states.

The short version of why I am here in Europe is that the U.S. is both an Atlantic and a Pacific country. And as important as our policies and strategy towards the Asia-Pacific region are, it’s equally important that we move in consultation with and in tandem with our European partners. The reason is very simple. We have shared interests, and we should operate as the strategic partners that we are. There are things that we each can do in the Asia Pacific region and there are things that we both can do together. It’s necessary and valuable for us to confer. Not everything we discuss is a decision; one of the great advantages of the dialogue between the U.S. and the European Union is that the extent of our shared history and our common values, as well as our common interests, allow us to have very creative, very constructive, very candid, and very practical exploration of options for dealing with both the big opportunities and the pressing challenges in the Asia Pacific region. The Asia Pacific region is hugely important to each of us because it’s so important to the global economy. It’s hugely important to each of us because what happens in the Asia Pacific region is consequential to our interests – both our economic interests, but also our common strategic interests.

We work together on issues of economic trade and investment; we work together on issues of development, energy, climate and the environment; we work together on crisis management and planning with regard to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; we work together on issues of democracy promotion, democratic reform, promoting good governance, and championing universal values of human rights; we work together on education and on people-to-people exchanges; we work together on institution building; and we work together on regional security and peace building. Now, the Asia-Pacific region is by no means the only area in which the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. and the EU, collaborate, but it’s the area of my responsibility and therefore of particular focus. So, I’ve had very helpful, very fruitful conversations thus far. I will continue them tomorrow at a meeting with the Asia directors from throughout the European Union. This is not a one-off proposition -- as I said, I am in regular touch with various EU interlocutors -- but I think I have an agreement today that we will find ways to deepen and intensify the dialogue over the period ahead. So, let me stop there and let me hear if you have any questions.

QUESTION: What are the prospects for restarting the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The answer really hinges on whether the collective effort by, in the first instance, the five parties, which is to say China, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and Russia, combined with the very considerable international pressure applied through the implementation of UN sanctions, has brought North Korea’s leaders to the realization that there is a path ahead through which they can achieve the security and the prosperity that they claim to seek, but that the path that they are currently on is a dead end. The U.S., and I would venture to say the other four parties, are committed to using diplomacy and the six-party talks to negotiate a quick and permanent end to North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and pursuit of nuclear armed ballistic missiles is a major -- if not the major --driver of instability in the Asia Pacific region. The antidote to that threat is authentic and credible negotiations. So it is our hope that North Korean leaders will come quickly to the realization that no threat, no bluster, and no provocation will bring them security. Only negotiations that focus on stopping, rolling back, and eliminating their entire nuclear program will allow for the economic development for their people and the security that they claim to seek.

QUESTION: Very quick follow-up. Do you see any glimmers of hope that the North Koreans are coming around to that realization?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I think that the indicator to watch for would be an affirmation on the part of North Korea’s leaders that they stand by the commitments that they have made, including and especially the 2005 six-party joint statement to complete verifiable denuclearization, and they accept their international obligations under a host of UN Security Council resolutions. That’s the glimmer that what we should all be looking for.

QUESTION: [inaudible] How do you assess the situation in East Asia, especially among Japan, China and South Korea. For example, Prime Minister Abe hasn’t had bilateral meetings with his Chinese counterpart or South Korean counterpart probably for one year. After visiting the Yasakuni shrine, the situation is much worse than before. So can you play a role to solve this difficult situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Look, the global economy is still fragile and for the world’s second and third largest economies, Japan and China, to be at odds is something that we can’t afford. By the same token, Korea and Japan are two leading economies and two leading democracies in the Asia Pacific region. For Japan and Korea to be at the odds is something that the region and the world can’t afford. The U.S. and the rest of the international community have an important interest in seeing relaxation of tensions and improved diplomatic relations and continued close cooperation among all the countries in North East Asia. It is unfortunate that tensions and bad feelings have risen to the current level, but it is within the power of the governments and the people concerned to lower tensions, to lessen the political strains, to find ways to handle legacy issues from the previous century with sensitivity and respect and to build on the platform of common interests that unite not only the U.S. and Japan, or Japan and Korea, but all of the countries in the Asia Pacific region. For our part, the United States has a close and intensive dialogue with each capital. We make our views known. We urge each party to exercise care, restraint, and good judgment, and the challenge for all concerned is how to find a path forward that builds on shared interests, and contributes to the stability, the growth and the prosperity of North East Asia.

QUESTION: To what extent do you actually consult with the European Union and vice versa when negotiating trade agreements in Asia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I am not a trade negotiator, but I have close friends who are, including the U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman, and I think there is an extraordinary level of communication and consultation on global trade issues between him and other senior trade related officials in the U.S. Government, including senior State Department officials, including the Secretary of Commerce, and our European counterparts. For my part, here in Brussels, I have discussed with my colleagues and counterparts the importance we place on TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership, what we seek to achieve, the work that we’re doing with other economies in the Asia Pacific who are not currently members of or negotiating TPP, what some of our initiatives are in the ASEAN context. We also talked about APEC, which will be held in China this year, and more broadly we agree on the tremendous value to all of our citizens of a trading system that is free, that’s fair, that’s open, that’s inclusive, and again, while I am not a trade specialist, we did acknowledge that the efforts to achieve those goals are underway concurrently in Asia on the Pacific side through TPP, and on the Atlantic side through T-TIP. When you boil it all down, our citizens will be huge beneficiaries of the accomplishments, in terms of opening markets and lowering barriers if collectively we are successful in achieving these high-standard agreements.

QUESTION: You’ve heard that in Asia the arguments against the TPP are mounting, and you have no doubt heard all those arguments already, so there are no surprises, about government policies being strapped down by corporations in court. I am wondering whether or not the U.S. is worried about whether it can win the public relations campaign that comes with selling the TPP and its benefits.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: We have 11 other member states as committed to telling the story of the benefits of TPP as we are. We have a host of other countries clamoring to accede to or to join TPP further down the road, and we have extensive discussions with yet more countries in the Asia Pacific region about steps that they can take and how we can work together to make headway on trade facilitation, on good investment principles that will help pave the way for them to also join TPP. So my view frankly is that if successful this is an enterprise that will sell itself on its own merits. It is always darkest before the dawn. It’s at the very last stage of any trade negotiation when the toughest issues are engaged on and the darkest clouds seem to loom heavy, but it is my conviction that every country and every leader that has embarked on these negotiations has done so in the conviction that they and the region stand to gain significantly in the short term and in the long term from this high quality, inclusive agreement, and I believe that every member of the negotiations is in it to see it through.

Moderator: We are pretty much out of time. This might have to be our last question.

QUESTION: Back to my colleague’s question [inaudible]. Secretary of State proposed during his recent trip to East Asia – to China, Japan, and I think South Korea – to help with minimum confidence building measures in order to avoid a surprise incident. Is the United States ready to take a follow-up lead to organizing a more [inaudible] process? And if so, in which way and in which forum would you think most favorable for something like that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The Japanese government and the Japanese Prime Minster have frequently and repeatedly proposed to China that there be practical crisis prevention and crisis management mechanisms put in place with regard to the East China Sea to ensure that no incident is allowed to escalate or spiral out of control. And the U.S. has strongly endorsed that. The ASEAN countries, in connection with the effort to create a code of conduct for operations in the South China Sea, have at various points proposed – and in a few bilateral cases have succeeded — in developing mechanisms like hotlines or agreed rules of engagement with China, although as yet there is no comprehensive set of measures. Clearly, all countries that share the maritime and the air space, whether in the East China Sea or in the South China Sea have a responsibility to good peace and security to ensure that no accident or no inadvertent incident could emerge as the trigger for a spike in tensions. We, the U.S., have numerous procedures in place. We have a variety of direct dialogues, and we certainly encourage all the countries in the region to work bilaterally and multilaterally to ensure good communication, crisis prevention, crisis management. One of the fora that helped build the techniques and the lines of communication that are important to averting incidents and maintaining peace, include the mechanisms related to ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the ASEAN Defense Ministers meetings. This is something that Secretary Kerry, that Secretary Hagel and other U.S. officials have championed. There are also a number of joint exercises, many of which are led by the United States, including the upcoming exercise, RIMPAC, that bring together militaries in the region and help them develop experience in co-operation and in some cases joint operation.

QUESTION: Including China?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Yes, in fact, China will come as an observer to RIMAPC at the invitation of the United States, and China’s participation in a range of disaster response and search and rescue exercises, including some organized by Brunei as ASEAN chair in 2013, were very constructive steps.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much.