LiveAtState: U.S. Foreign Policy in Asia

Jake Sullivan
Director of Policy Planning 
Washington, DC
November 22, 2011

MODERATOR:  Hi. Welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department’s interactive online web chat platform for engaging international media. Today, we would like to welcome Jake Sullivan, the Director for Policy and Planning for the State Department, where we will be discussing his recent trip to Asia and U.S. foreign policy on the tails of his trip, and looking forward to his upcoming trip to Burma.

If you are ready, you can go ahead and start submitting your questions now in the lower left-hand portion of your screen that says, “Questions for Jake Sullivan.” And we will get to as many of your questions as we can in the 30 minutes we have.

If you would like to continue this conversation after today’s program, you can do so on Twitter by using the hash tag Jake Sullivan or you can follow us on the State Department’s official web – Twitter handle @StateDept.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Jake. Welcome to the studio.

MR. SULLIVAN:  Thank you so much. And thanks to everyone for joining us. I had the privilege over the course of the past couple of weeks to join Secretary Clinton as she participated, along with President Obama, in both the APEC and the East Asia Summit leaders meetings, and in between those two trips to travel with Secretary Clinton to two of our treaty allies in Asia, the Philippines and Thailand. And between that engagement and the President’s trip to Australia, this was an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate, after nearly three years of investment in the Asia Pacific, that we are here to stay as a Pacific power, a resident power, in military terms, in economic terms, and in strategic terms.

And over the course of the next several weeks and months, we will continue to lock in that investment and to show that American leadership and American engagement in the Asia Pacific can deliver for the United States and its people, for the people of the region, and indeed for people around the world. And I’m also looking forward to joining Secretary Clinton next week as she travels to Korea for a high-level development forum, and then on to Burma for the first trip that a Secretary of State has taken there since the mid 1950s.

So with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR: Great. We already have a lot in the queue. I just want to go ahead and preface this, that if I mess up your name, I’m very sorry, so I’d like to apologize in advance.

Our first question comes from Zhou Yongjin: What do you think about Hillary’s speech on constructing trans-Pacific network at East-West Center, and what does it mean for China?

MR. SULLIVAN: The Secretary gave the third in this series of speeches that she’s delivered in Hawaii sponsored by the East-West Center while we there for the APEC meetings. And the basic thrust of her speech was that after World War II, the United States built a transatlantic network of alliances and partnerships and institutions that have really stood the test of time, that have delivered results for the American people and for the people of Europe, have helped deliver prosperity and security for millions of people around the world. And her argument was that while we have taken a lot of steps over the past decades to begin the work of building the sorts of institutions and partnerships in the Asia Pacific that can deliver the same kinds of results, our task now is to double down on that effort, to really build a network of alliances and partnerships and institutions that are durable and dynamic and up to the challenges that we face today.

And that goes for every country in the expanding geography of the Asia Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of North America, and it very much includes China. The United States seeks a strong and thriving China as an important player in international affairs and in helping shape the future of the region. And we believe that a China that embraces the rules of the road and lives up to its responsibilities and participates in an effective way in this transpacific network can be a benefit to its own citizens and to all citizens in the Asia Pacific.

And so a large part of her message was about having this network be something that is open to and inviting to all countries, including all of the emerging powers. And she had a special message for China in the speech, which was essentially what I’ve just described.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Bingru Wang from Phoenix TV: Secretary Clinton is going to visit Burma next month. How does the improved U.S. relation with Burma play into the reengagement in Asia Pacific strategy, and is Secretary Clinton going to test Burma’s real intention or make the tie closer with Burma?

MR. SULLIVAN: First and foremost, her trip to Burma is about the people of Burma. The United States, for decades, has been focused on the human rights, the dignity, and the opportunity of the Burmese people to chart their own course and be able to live up to their potential. So her focus above all is about how we can encourage an effort in Burma to give more opportunity and more voice and more human rights to the people of Burma.

And in that regard, right now today, Burma stands at a critical moment in history. And the message that she will carry with her when she goes to Burma is very simple: We want to encourage the path to democracy, we want to encourage greater protection for human rights, we want to encourage national reconciliation, and we want to encourage Burma becoming a more responsible member of the international community. And in carrying that message, she will engage both with the government and with Aung San Suu Kyi and with members of civil society and the ethnic minorities. And along the way, her metric will be one that is grounded in the future of the Burmese people to be able to have a voice and a say in the affairs of their own country and a capacity to contribute to the region and beyond.

As far as how it plays into the broader strategy in the Asia Pacific, this is very consistent with the overall approach that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have taken. It falls under three basic pillars: security, prosperity, and values. And in all three dimensions we are looking to engage the Burmese Government to help move that country forward to a place where it can be a positive force in the Asia Pacific and potentially, if it takes the right kinds of steps – steps that are irreversible and very much in keeping with the underlying values that have guided our Burma policy all along – it can be a positive partner for the United States.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Liang Jianfeng, from New Express China: Chinese state-owned newspaper Renin Daily (ph) commented in an article yesterday that President Obama and State Secretary Hillary are performing recently a show about U.S. returning to the Asia Pacific. What’s your comment on this? And if you accept that it’s some kind of U.S. returning, how will you describe it? In other words, why this time? What’s the goal? And how does the U.S. Government supposed to reach it?

MR. SULLLIVAN: Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear throughout their travels in Asia that the United States has always been a Pacific nation. That’s true by geography and its true by orientation. It’s true by all of the work that we’ve done over the last 50 years to underwrite security in the Asia Pacific, to contribute to prosperity in the Asia Pacific, and to promote democracy and values that have led to better lives for hundreds of millions of people there.

So America’s engagement in the Asia Pacific is not new, but in some ways it is newly important because we stand right, as Secretary Clinton has said, at a pivot point. We are in the process of ending the war in Iraq. We have entered a transition in the war in Afghanistan. And so for the last 10 years, while our foreign policy has been guided largely by responding to threats, in the 10 years looking out ahead, the decade that lies before us, we have a chance to turn to a foreign policy based indeed on continuing to respond to threats but chiefly on opportunities. And the Asia Pacific is a place where opportunities are everywhere – economic opportunities, opportunities to take on some of the big transnational challenges of our time, whether it’s climate change or nuclear proliferation.

And so what the Secretary and the President were conveying throughout their travels is that the United States is all in, we’re doubling down on our investment in the Asia Pacific at this time, because we see the world’s center of strategic and economic gravity shifting there. And we want to extend and expand all of the dimensions of our engagement in the region to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves there to advance America’s interest and values, but also to advance the interests and values of all of the people of the region.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Lam Bui: What role did the U.S. President’s recent trip to Asia play in U.S. policy towards Asia?

MR. SULLIVAN: I think the trip was a very important extension of what has been three years of what we call forward-deployed diplomacy. That’s a term that the Secretary first used about a year ago. And what it means is dispatching high-level delegations, new aid programs, new forms of partnership, every conceivable diplomatic development and strategic asset the United States has, to every capital and every corner of the Asia Pacific region. That has been a process that hasn’t made headlines in the same way. It’s been a slow daily exercise of deep engagement by the United States throughout the Asia Pacific. And so the President’s trip comes at a time when we can really put a fine point on that engagement, when we can show – from visits to our allies, from engagement in major multilateral institutions, from bilateral meetings with our most important partners including the Chinese and the Indians and the Indonesians – that the United States is a Pacific power and that we are here to stay.

And so above all, I think that was really the message that the President was trying to convey on this trip. And I think he was also trying to explain, as the Secretary did, that the effort of the United States to play a leadership role in the Asia Pacific does not end with this trip. It didn’t start with the trip and it doesn’t end with the trip either. Every day going forward, we will continue to expand and deepen the set of investments that the President talked about on the trade side, on the strategic side, on the diplomatic side, and in terms of expressing and advancing the values of freedom and democracy that are such an important part of America’s engagement in this region.

MODERATOR: Just a quick reminder that if you would like all of the latest news from the State Department, you can follow us by using the Twitter handle @statdept. That’s @s-t-a-t-e-d-e-p-t.

Our next question comes from Qin Chen: Some experts argue that it is in China’s action and refusal to listen to the concerns of its neighbors that have created an opening for the United States to increase its involvement in Asia. What’s your comment?

MR. SULLIVAN: My comment is that the United States’ pedigree in terms of being a credible partner in the Asia Pacific is really unmatched. For five decades – longer in fact – I think we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Philippines alliance on the deck of a destroyer in Manila Bay. So for 60 years or more, the United States has been the most important player in underwriting regional security and keeping the shipping lanes safe for commerce, in creating the conditions for economic growth that could be broadly shared across the region, in helping nurture and encourage democratization in countries that had previously been ruled by autocrats.

So the United States’ history in this region and the understanding of the nations of this region of the unique role that the United States could play is something that isn’t about any other country. It’s about our capacities, our history, our partnerships, and it’s combined then with a strong signal that this Administration sent from the very first months in office. The Secretary took her first trip, breaking tradition with other Secretaries of State, to the Asia Pacific. She went to Indonesia, to the headquarters of ASEAN, and announced that we would sign up for the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. She returned to Asia a number of times. The President went to Asia in November of his first year and has equally made a commitment to locking in this increased investment in the Asia Pacific.

So I think chiefly the reason why the countries of the region are looking to the United States to play a more active and engaged role is about us and our relationship with them and not about any other country.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Jiang Wei from 21st Century Business Herald in Beijing: My question is President Obama made some tough remarks against China in the APEC meeting, which is rare during the past three years. Some Chinese analysts consider it is a change in U.S. policy on China, which means he will focus more on challenge than opportunity. Do you agree that there’s a change?

MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t agree that there’s a change. Our policy towards China has been clear and consistent from the start of this Administration. This is one of the most consequential relationships that the United States has, not just today but really at any time in our country’s history. And it’s a complicated relationship in many ways. But the fundamental point is that the United States believes that a strong and thriving China is in our interest and is in the global common interest. And we believe that we should be pursuing, as the President and the Secretary have said from the beginning, a positive and cooperative relationship with China.

Now, at the same time, building a relationship of the kind that we’ve built over the last two and a half years also means being candid about places where we disagree, like on human rights, or on places where we believe that it would be in both of our interests for each other to take certain actions. So on the economic side, the President and the Secretary have been clear that we believe that China should seek for its own sake and for everybody else’s sake to end certain kinds of competition distorting preferences, to level the playing field for U.S. and other foreign companies that seek to do business in China, to allow its currency to appreciate more rapidly. And these are things that were not newly stated in the past few weeks. They’ve been part of U.S. policy for some time. And they are things that we talk about with our Chinese interlocutors in private as well as stating them candidly and forthrightly in public.

So when the President saw President Hu in Honolulu and when the Secretary saw State Councilor Dai, they had extensive discussions on this aspect of the relationship, on how certain types of economic reforms in China could lead to greater stability and growth in China, could lead to greater economic rebalancing across the Asia Pacific, and could lead to an improved global economy for all.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Matthew Pennington: As the U.S. steps up its engagement with Burma, is it considering restoring an ambassador to the country? Currently, the highest level rep in the country is the chargé d'affaires.

MR. SULLIVAN: The Secretary obviously is engaged in intensive preparations for this trip, including broad consultations across the interagency. And we are looking at a wide range of steps that the United States could take to encourage and support reform in Burma. But in terms of any specific step, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the Secretary’s ability to work through that with her colleagues and then discuss it when she gets on the ground in Burma.

I would say, however, that the United States’ expectations have been clear from the start, and that is that while we very much appreciate and encourage the steps that have already taken place, we are also looking to Burma and the government in Nyapyidaw to take further steps down the path of reform and national reconciliation. And that will be the message that the Secretary carries with her when she goes to Burma next week.

MODERATOR: The next question comes from Tao Zhang: Did South Asian countries or Australians invite U.S. to increase its presence in Australia at first, or did the U.S. raise this question to them first?

MR. SULLIVAN: This was a subject of intensive consultation between the United States and Australia. We have as deep and as effective a security dialogue with our Australian allies as we do with anybody else. And so the discussion about increasing the U.S. troop presence in Australia grew organically out of those conversations. It was something that the Australians sought. It was something that the United States was also eager to provide. And so it’s not a question of somebody asked or somebody else asked. It was rather a matter of both countries looking to our shared security challenges and agreeing that one among many ways of helping address those challenges was to add a rotational deployment of Marines up in Darwin.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Lam Bui: U.S. Secretary of State mentioned in her speech the possibility of upgrading bilateral relationships with Vietnam. So in which areas and which level would U.S. want this relationship to upgrade, and how long will it take to fulfill?

MR. SULLIVAN: This is something that she’s had extensive discussions with her Vietnamese counterparts about. We are looking over time to build a strategic partnership with Vietnam, and that strategic partnership would encompass all of the fields of endeavor. Vietnam is engaged with us in discussions about the Trans Pacific Partnership. Vietnam and the United States have had intensive consultations on questions around maritime security. Vietnam and the United States have talked about increasing the level of exchange at the people-to-people level between our countries.

But the Secretary has also been clear that if a strategic partnership is to emerge between the United States and Vietnam, it will be critical for the Vietnamese Government to take steps to protect the rights of its citizens both with respect to freedom of speech and with respect to freedom of religion as well as to providing broader political openness in the country.

So it’s a comprehensive conversation that we’re having with the Vietnamese right now. And when the Secretary was in Honolulu she had the chance to meet with Vietnamese President Sang and to convey to him our deep desire to pursue this strategic partnership but to do so in a way that is consistent with a set of universal values that the United States feels very strongly about.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Ik Jae Choi: The U.S.-Korea FTA

ratification was just passed in the Korean assembly a few hours ago. This was a physical blow in the Korean assembly in the course of ratification. I would like to get your comments on this. Two, now we are trying to put a lot of efforts to resume the Six-Party Talks which is for resolving the North Korean nuclear issues. However, we don’t have a breakthrough on the resumption of the Six-Party Talks. What are the main barriers to get over for this issue?

MR. SULLIVAN: With respect to the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Korea, the United States is very pleased that the Korean Government has ratified the FTA, which the United States ratified a couple of weeks ago and will now enter into force. This is a critical economic tool for our two countries and for regional prosperity, but it’s also a strategic signal of how deeply both of our countries are invested in the alliance.

As somebody who works at the State Department, I have the benefit of staying out of U.S. politics and I will try to stay even further out of Korean politics. So I can’t speak to the comings and goings inside the Korean assembly, but I will say that the end result of ratification is something that is very much welcome here and that we believe will pave the way for an even stronger U.S.-ROK alliance as we look to the future.

In terms of North Korea, Special Representative Bosworth recently conducted two days of negotiations with the North Koreans -- two days of discussions with the North Koreans in Geneva and made clear the United States’ position that it is important that the DPRK continue its dialogue and focus on its dialogue with the ROK, and at the same time that it take irreversible steps to denuclearize, that it end provocative actions, and that it come into compliance with its commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement and under various United Nations Secuity Council obligations.

We’ve been clear that the United States is not interested in taking a bunch of steps forward only to end up right back where we started. And we’ve also been clear that we don’t want to pay twice for something we’ve already given before in terms of our willingness to step up to the plate and make commitments. We’re looking first and foremost to North Korea to take steps, irreversible steps on denuclearization and substantial clear steps to come into compliance with its international obligations, even as it – we look to it to deepen its engagement with the South.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Younghae Choi: Secretary Clinton will visit Busan, Korea to participate in the Development Aid Conference on November 29th. What is her message to the developing countries in this conference, and what is her remarks regarding development aid during her visit in Busan?

MR. SULLIVAN: The Secretary will participate in a high-level forum on aid effectiveness in Busan and will become the first Secretary of State to attend one of these, because she believes fundamentally that development and diplomacy are two interlocking pillars of both American power and of the capacity for generating global security and growth. So she feels very strongly that we should not have dividing lines between development and development ministers on the one hand, and foreign policy and foreign ministers on the other hand, that these are two parts of an overarching approach to foreign policy and national security.

So in her speech there, she will talk about the various changes the United States has made over the past three years in terms of the way that we approach development: a greater focus on country ownership, the countries who receive our aid have a greater say in what it is that that money will be spent on; a greater focus on results, having a relentless focus on the benchmarks for what actually will produce progress towards growth in these countries and a number of other steps. And at the same time that she takes responsibility for donor nations to take certain actions, she will also call to responsibility countries that are receiving foreign assistance to have the political will to make the reforms necessary on corruption, on transparency, on mobilizing domestic resources for development that will produce long-term growth in their countries and that will make those aid dollars ultimately truly effective.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Liang Jianfeng: Given some international strategy observer have said U.S. is about to make the APEC impracticable with TPP and isolate China in economic sphere in the area, can you explain the long-term strategic purpose on TPP and what are the U.S. foreign affairs think tanks’ views on these issues?

MR. SULLIVAN: The TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is a high-quality free trading area that is built on the premise of open architecture; that is, it is open to anybody who chooses to meet its high standards on labor, on environment, on innovation, on competition standards, and so much else. And so it is not an exclusive club. It is a club of countries that are looking not just for more growth but better growth. And we invite all of the countries of the Asia Pacific to look at the standards that underpin the TPP and make the choice about whether they would like to enter discussions with the various partners that have launched a set of negotiations and are working towards a trade agreement.

Ultimately, the United States sees the TPP as part of a larger effort to move towards a free trade area of the Pacific. We believe strongly, as we have for decades, that free, fair, open, and transparent intercourse among nations of the Asia Pacific is the best way to produce balanced, sustainable, and inclusive growth. And we very much believe that China has to be a part of that and that China and the United States must work together to help generate the kind of growth in both of our countries and in the region as a whole that is sustainable, durable, and lasting. And that will require reforms in China even as it will require the United States to be responsive to concerns that China raises about some of our economic practices. So we are not looking at TPP as something that takes the region down a different path but rather as part of a long-term project of increasing and improving economic integration, trade, and commerce in the region.

And as for APEC, the United States was proud to host APEC this year and believes that we have left APEC even stronger than we found it when we took over the chairmanship a year ago. And we are proud to pass on to Russia as host of next year’s APEC an invigorated institution that shows that it can get things done on many of the core agenda items of the forum.

MODERATOR: We have time for one more question. It comes from Lauren McGaughy: Do you expect any imminent additional positive changes in Burma coming out of the Secretary's visit, or is this simply a visit to check in and further demonstrate our willingness to engage?

MR. SULLIVAN: The United States looks to Burma to take additional steps on all of the matters that the Secretary and the President have talked about: releasing all political prisoners, engaging in a serious national reconciliation process, making a full and effective transition to democracy over time. What will happen in the immediate aftermath of the President’s -- excuse me, of the Secretary's visit is ultimately up to the government in Naypyidaw. All that the Secretary can do at this point is to go see the government there, to see civil society, to see Aung San Suu Kyi, and to gain more information and analysis of what is actually happening on the ground, and then to convey a very strong message about what the United States and the international community hope to see in Burma.

And then over time, we will continue that engagement even as we pursue our two-track strategy of both engagement and maintaining a set of sanctions on Burma that are meant to give Burma a choice, that it can follow a path to become an effective and responsible member of the international community or it can choose to turn back and head in a direction that has left it isolated over time. We believe that the first flickers of progress, as President Obama put it, is allowing Burma to chart the right kind of course, but there is much work left to be done. And that is what the Secretary is going to convey. And she’s going to describe the elements of what she sees as being that work when we arrive to see the government and many other aspects of Burmese society when we arrive in the country next week.

MODERATOR: Great. That’s all the time that we have for today. I would like to thank you all for your great questions. And I would like to thank you for joining us in the studio today.

There will be a full audio and video copy of today’s program available shortly for download. And if you would like to get the latest information or you’d like to continue this conversation, you can do so on Twitter by using the hashtag Jake Sullivan. You can also get the latest information from your region by following our East Asia Media hub on Twitter using the Twitter handle @eAsiaMediaHub. Thanks for joining us today.