Background Briefing at 2012 ASEAN Summit

Special Briefing
Senior Administration Official
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
July 12, 2012

MODERATOR: Okay. We are in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for the meetings of the U.S.-ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit. Here to give you an update on how the morning meetings went, including the Secretary's bilateral meeting -- including her meeting just now with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang. We have two Senior Administration Officials. First is [Senior Administration Official One] -- hereafter Senior Administration Official Number One -- and we have [Senior Administration Official Two], hereafter Senior Administration Official Number Two. [Senior Administration Official One], can you lay it out for us?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you very much. It is good to see you all today. I will just go quickly and make a couple of points, and then [Senior Administration Official Two] will follow up.

We have essentially done three things this morning. The first was the multilateral meeting called the East Asia Summit. The Secretary made a presentation at that. Secondly, we had a substantial meeting with Foreign Minister Yang. And third, we had a series of bilateral meetings, including with Indonesia, Australia, and others in the margin. And I will try to give you a couple of points on each of them, if I may.

In the East Asia Summit session, Secretary Clinton made a very broad and wide-ranging presentation that highlighted, really, the multi-faceted nature of our approach.

MODERATOR: And they have had a chance to see the tape.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, so you've seen it. So you know all the things that we are working on. And I must say that there has been, in all of our private meetings, fairly substantial appreciation on the part of ASEAN for the depth of our engagement, and the fact that we are joining with them on issues of their interest, like the connectivity agenda, as a whole.

In the East Asia Summit presentation, she highlighted our commitment to the principles articulated regularly on freedom of navigation, maintenance of peace and stability, a desire for issues of contention to be handled peacefully. And in that discussion, she was very clear that the United States does not take a position on territorial claims. But we are very concerned about the manner in which these are addressed, and we insist that they are engaged by the participants peacefully.

The Secretary went in some detail about the desire to see a continuation of diplomacy between ASEAN and China, and encouraged a process to begin between ASEAN and China on the code of conduct. And this afternoon she will articulate the specifics that we think are important and that should be included in the dialogue that would allow for this arrangement to have the kind of assurances and credibility that would provide reassurance to all those in the region, as a whole.

I think it would be fair to say what we are witnessing is the maturing of the institution, as a whole. And so, in all of our bilateral meetings, I think most of the ASEANs acknowledge that the institution is under enormous pressure and stress right now to maintain unity as it confronts very serious challenges, primarily associated with the South China Sea. And what we have heard from everyone is that there is a deep appreciation, first of all, for the consistent American message, but secondly that we have highlighted our intention to stand by, to encourage ASEAN unity, and to work towards outcomes that protect interests of large and small. And I will take some questions further on that.

I think the Secretary also underscored that attempts to solve these complex problems through simply bilateral arrangements are, in her words, "a recipe for confusion and even confrontation."

Secondly, the other bilats, very, very helpful sessions with the Australians and the Indonesians. Both of them are key backers of the American role in the Asia Pacific Region. Indonesia, in particular, highlighted their appreciation for the diversity of our message, and they are indicating that they are working behind the scenes to try to encourage the kind of unity necessary, as the organization goes forward. I can talk more about the Australian session subsequently.

In the meeting with Foreign Minister Yang --

MODERATOR: Before you do, can you just give them an update on ASEAN (inaudible) efforts with China to come up with --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. So I think there are probably two things that are underway right now. One is a process internal to ASEAN that is an attempt to basically conclude a communique that -- the substance of which has to be agreed by all the participants. And they are having trouble with that. And we are right in the middle of that process right now. And Indonesia is working to address that. And the reason why that matters is that there has never been a time in the past where ASEAN hasn't had agreements on even the most difficult issues. And even though we are just hours away from the conclusion of these sessions, there is no agreement yet on how to go forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible?)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, no, just -- communique, really, is about what was discussed, what the situation is, and the way forward.

The second issue is the code of conduct. And what ASEAN has done is essentially reached consensus inside the group, as a whole, about what the component pieces of a credible code of conduct would look like. And these elements, at least what we have been briefed on, are encouraging. We will have to see how it plays out over time. But we think that is very important. And essentially, what Secretary Clinton just heard from Chinese Foreign Minister is a careful indication that China was prepared to join the dialogue with ASEAN about the code of conduct in the future.

In the meeting with Foreign Minister Yang, first of all, both sides essentially acknowledged the close coordination on a range of very difficult and challenging issues over the last several months. And I think there is a recognition that many of them were handled in a way that promotes stability and understanding between the two sides. Foreign Minister Yang and Secretary Clinton both blessed a joint statement which articulated very clearly areas -- very broad areas -- where the two sides are working together: disaster relief, science and technology, development, Timor-Leste, some of the broadest agreements on specific, credible cooperation we have ever seen between our two sides. And I urge you to take a look at that.

And we have articulated to all the players that even though we will have disagreements and challenges as we talked about problems, but at the same time we want very much to maintain a ballast in the U.S.-China boat, and to make sure that we are working collaboratively and cooperatively in a number of areas together.

I think, as befitting an increasingly global relationship, the two ministers talked about every specific matter before us: Iran, Syria, cyber issues, the DPRK, all the Asia Pacific Region -- they welcomed upcoming high-level diplomacy. And the Secretary, as is the case in all circumstances, raised both human rights issues, specific cases, and called on the Chinese to continue a serious dialogue with the Dalai Lama. I think the meeting was productive, very candid, and I think there is a clear determination that China wants to be able to find common cause with the United States on a host of issues. And I think the Secretary reciprocated.

I think he began by quoting, as often is the case, some of the language that Secretary Clinton used when she visited Dai Bingguo in a city just south of Guilin last year, that the United States and China (inaudible) 2012 that was marked by stability, and that was their watchword, as well.

Let's stop there.

MODERATOR: Yeah, let's give [Senior Administration Official Two] a chance to make a comment, and then we will go to questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: All right, thanks. I would make two basic points. First, I very much agree with [Senior Administration Official One], that what we are seeing is the maturing of an institution, ASEAN as well as the ARF, that includes growing pains. Some of the strains that come from dealing directly with challenges instead of avoiding them are part of the growth and the evolution of the organization to adapt to real challenges. So, the lesson thus far of the EAS and the ASEAN meetings, I think, are the -- they are neither avoiding the so-called elephant in the room, nor are they pounding their slippers on the table.

And secondly, the way to look at this is in the broader context of the continuum of U.S. engagement, both with bilateral partners in -- throughout East Asia, but also the continuum of our engagement in multilateral diplomacy, particularly in 2010 and 2011. That is both high-level travel and high-level visits to the United States, and active participation in these multilateral and minilateral fora. So this is the third time around in the ARF and the East Asia Summit for Secretary Clinton. And we have made clear our intent is to work with the organizations, to work within the organizations, and to help the organizations to grow and flourish. This is part of our rebalancing to Asia, and it is part of our rebalancing within Asia. And what you are seeing is a steady broadening of U.S. involvement across not only a variety of institutions, but a variety of areas, both political, security, economic, and development.

And I honestly believe that you would hear from the parties, from all the parties here, ranging from the Chinese to the hosts to some of the claimants in the South China Sea, like the Philippines and the Vietnamese, that the U.S. is an extremely constructive player in these meetings.

MODERATOR: And I would just add that, given the enormous amount of travel that the Secretary has done throughout this region, and the diplomacy that she does at home with all these countries, she has been able to build the kind of relationships and to emphasize the importance, not only of our working bilaterally with each of them, but of them using the benefit of ASEAN to pull themselves together and to have both the constructive U.S.-ASEAN and China-ASEAN and U.S.-China-ASEAN relationship to the extent that we can.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: This is our fourth ASEAN Regional Forum, not our third. It is not a big deal, but just --

MODERATOR: Let's start here with you.

QUESTION: Do I understand correctly that Indonesia is trying to get this communique together, and one of the sticking points is how specific the communique should be about this problem of the South China Sea, and whether they should mention specific disputes (inaudible) Vietnam? China doesn't want the specificities, and the countries affiliated to China and ASEAN don't want the specific incidents mentioned. Others would like them more generalized -- China would like a more generalized statement, and the others would like more specifics. Could you enlighten us?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you (inaudible). I would say, generally speaking, what we are seeing is also in any organization there is often the emergence of leaders within an organization. So Indonesia's role as the leading country in ASEAN, in many respects, is quite clear (inaudible) very constructively behind the scene. And there are some disagreements, both on words and, quite frankly, plurals of words.

QUESTION: But it (inaudible) seem to me that this issue of how specific to be about the South China Sea is --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I believe that the areas of disagreement are all currently about the South China Sea, most of them having to do with what has transpired around the Scarborough Shoal, and what has taken place in the blocks off Vietnam's continental shelf. And the Indonesians have taken it upon themselves in a way that is a little unusual. Usually that process is always left to the chair. But Indonesia is working very constructively behind the scenes to try to rally consensus. And the Secretary, in her meeting with Foreign Minister Natalegawa, Marty, thanked him for that and encouraged that process to continue.

QUESTION: Do you think they will make it? Do you think they will --


QUESTION: It may not be significant.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Which would be very unusual, frankly. And I --

QUESTION: What does that mean? I mean --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I mean in a larger world, (inaudible) but in the ASEAN context it is very significant. They value their unity. They value the procession of their ability to -- they take pride in their ability to work together to solve problems in what they describe as "the ASEAN way". And frankly, they are loathe to lose that. And now they are having to see if they can struggle through difficult matters.

But as [Senior Administration Official Two] indicated, frankly, that it’s easy when you are simply sweeping issues under the rug or not confronting them. But this process, even though it does carry (inaudible) difficulty, is actually very healthy and very productive.

MODERATOR: Speak to what [Senior Administration Official One] said about the maturing of the institution -- (inaudible).

QUESTION: First, you said that ASEAN (inaudible). Have they reached consensus, or (inaudible) they haven't actually quite gotten (inaudible)?

Second, you said that (inaudible) dialogue in the future with ASEAN (inaudible). Did he agree that (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Let me -- the negotiations, or the dialogue on a potential code of conduct is not some unusual or out-of-the-blue thing. In the document on conduct that was secured 10 years ago, it calls for negotiation towards a code of conduct. And China has consistently stated that it was prepared to do so under the right and appropriate conditions. So that is not unusual. And, frankly, we would expect that process to continue and to get underway -- or to get underway and to continue.

We believe that the ASEANs have reached consensus on what are the component pieces that would be important in -- from their perspective, in a dialogue with China on a code of conduct. And what we know of that process and the substance of the agreement itself, there are many aspects of it that, frankly, are -- would form a very useful construction to be built on, going forward.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) any indication of when (inaudible) such a dialogue (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, they have not directly with us. But in meetings with ASEAN, which have been briefed to us, they have indicated that they have potentially agreed to begin a dialogue in September, which would be in advance of the East Asia Summit that takes place in November.

So, time will tell. And I think our intention is to encourage that process behind the scenes.


QUESTION: I know you were speaking through an interpreter (inaudible). Could you just spell out exactly what you said?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: In a robotic way, or just a normal way? (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: I think --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) code of conduct (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Look, there are a few things that I believe many of the states in ASEAN think are very important. First, some mechanism for the resolution of disputes. There is a desire to be able to have a document that is consistent with and anchored in existing international frameworks like the Law of the Sea, like what is called the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

I think for many they would like a binding agreement that has a quality to it that is not simply a communique, but that is seen as providing deeper assurances to all the key players.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I mean very close. Treaty or state agreement.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Equally binding, anyway.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, or codified. I mean I think there are a lot of ways to do that. But I think -- that would have -- it would have a quality to it in which the states would look to the rules therein as a guide.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Some have used that terminology, others not. I think it is better to say something along the lines of "codified".

QUESTION: (Inaudible) --

MODERATOR: Hold on, hold on. [Senior Administration Official Two]?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: The secret of the code of conduct is actually in the title. We are talking about a code. So whatever the precise legal status ultimately becomes, like the (inaudible), the point is that they want something that will effectively guide in a prescriptive way, and not nearly in a generalized (inaudible). That is the difference between the declaration of conduct that they adopted in 2002 and the code of conduct that they are striving to agree to now.

Second secret to the code of conduct is the word "conduct". This is an effort to ensure that there are what we would call rules of the road that govern the behavior of the parties in the area of the South China Sea. So, what I believe the ASEANs have in mind in terms of managing and preventing disputes and mechanisms for dispute resolution is not that they envisage setting up a competing tribunal to do what the UN Law of the Sea and other fora can and are supposed to do, but that the code will help to prevent and to guide behavior in the event of an incident or a conflict or dispute actually at sea, and would point the (inaudible) disputing parties in the direction of the existing legal recourses such as (inaudible) and so on.

QUESTION: Just to -- I'm sorry.

MODERATOR: I just want to get all around the table before we lose [Senior Administration Official One].

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on that, on how China indicated that it might be able to (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible) mentioned that, the Secretary.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.) But how exactly (inaudible) can that be, given the time (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, all I am going to say is that, obviously, the South China Sea is not the only place on the planet that there are very substantial issues of fishing disputes, territorial matters. And, in fact, where the parameters of the Law of the Sea have been applied elsewhere, they have been actually remarkably effective, not always in solving the problems, but providing reassurance for how to manage them. And I think that is part of what this effort is about.

It is also the case that, essentially, the more attention is paid to this, the more focus there is on the conduct, generally, that that quality of attention and highlighting serves, in many respects, as an effective guide and overall -- helps channel actions of a number of states involved. All right?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) governs behavior in the event of a dispute, but doesn't obviously lay out his territory (inaudible). But dispute resolution can take a very long time. So do you anticipate that business will be on hold until then?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No. In fact, I mean, that is one of the reasons that we are so engaged in this set of issues. And we want all countries to act with prudence and care. By some measures, about a third of global commerce, by value, travels through the South China Sea. By tonnage, upwards of a half. So it is very substantial. A country like Australia views the South China Sea and Japan as a lifeline.

So, from our perspective, it is extraordinarily important to have a predictability about how issues will be managed therein. We believe that some of the sovereignty issues will be very difficult to ultimately be resolved. However, we think it is extremely important that how they are managed and how they are dealt with in advance of that resolution is as critical as anything else.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I am wondering (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Look, I think it would be fair to say that tempers in some of the private meetings have run hot. There have been some very intense back-and-forths. That is not limited to any one delegation. In fact, there are a lot of anxieties. What we have seen -- we talked about this on the airplane -- is that there is -- there are, these issues, attached to these issues are deep nationalists, public sentiments in many of the countries. And so you can sense among foreign ministries great care when tip-toeing around them or engaging on them.

We -- one of the reasons the Secretary and other countries that we have worked quietly and effectively with behind the scenes will articulate the key components in -- that we believe should be in the code of conduct is to ensure that these discussions that we hope that will begin in the fall will be productive, will be concrete, and will be guided with the ultimate destination of a codified code of conduct.

QUESTION: Given the amount of focus that we have had on economic statecraft, what kind of conversation, if any, was there about what appears to be an economic slowdown that China is trying to manage its way through, given that this region is a (inaudible) and vice versa?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: First of all, I think it came up in a couple of ways. The first is a general recognition. One of the reasons why they want these issues to be managed carefully, this is now the global cockpit of growth. And everyone realizes how important and how careful issues must be managed, given slowdowns and uncertainties elsewhere. And that set of views are shared across the region. Right? There is a deep understanding that this is a very critical time, and that these issues have the potential to unravel growth and prosperity. And no one wants to see that. So that is the first thing.

The second. Every one of our counterparts, including the Chinese, the Indonesians, have noted the business and economic engagement that you have seen in every one of the stops the Secretary has made, and the upcoming meeting in Siem Reap. Every one of them has welcomed it, because they understand that it means Americans are bringing investments, jobs, exports to the region. And that is good for the region, as a whole.

Secondly -- third, I think the Chinese have acknowledged that their economy is slowing. But at least in our sessions they have indicated that they are still confident of very robust growth, going forward.

MODERATOR: Good. (Inaudible), go ahead.

QUESTION: You said that they have essentially reached a consensus (inaudible) on the legally binding question (inaudible). Can you talk about who --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, look. To be honest, we have been briefed on the elements therein. I believe that some of the language is still open to interpretation. And as [Senior Administration Official Two] indicated, there is a -- I don't -- he was using colloquially -- the "secret." But the process itself will reveal the comfort level of various countries involved.

And if I may say, the one thing that I would resist in your discussions -- I mean to Jane's question, the only thing I would disagree with is that there is this idea that there is China on one side and ASEAN on the other. In fact, there are very substantial divisions within ASEAN on these issues. And managing those are as difficult and challenging as the issues between ASEAN and China.

And so, what we have are, first of all, disagreements between contending parties that have claims in the South China Sea. And, by the way, there have been many instances of problems and provocations for decades between those countries on fishing, on prospecting, you name it. Then there are disagreements and differences of view within ASEAN, as a whole, and, obviously, China. And the surrounding partners that are represented at the ASEAN Regional Forum themselves have different perspectives. And so, it is a very complex mix. The only thing I would urge you to do is that I think the narrow China-U.S./China-ASEAN is too simplistic, and not accurate.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, I wasn't suggesting that you were the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So what I would be thinking about, going forward, is capturing the nuance of what is actually playing out. And what we are trying to encourage is the emergence of a true unity within ASEAN, an ASEAN that realizes that they will be more effective if they work together, even if on certain issues there is internal disagreement or there is a perception that this will help one member more than another. Ultimately, for the good of the institution, for true influence in global politics -- unity, cohesion is an essential component moving forward. Thank you.

MODERATOR: And that is a great place to stop. We have to let [Senior Administration Official One] go. Thank you.

PRN: 2012/T68-27