Senior State Department Officials Preview Secretary Kerry's Trip to Paris and Beijing

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
Via Teleconference
November 7, 2014


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you so much, and welcome to the call, everyone. I will talk in a moment just briefly about the Paris stop that we’ll be doing first, and then [Senior State Department Official Two] will preview both the Secretary’s speech tomorrow morning on our relationship with China and then the trip a little bit. This is all on background as senior State Department officials. There’s no embargo for you all to report on it. We’ll post the transcript after we are wheels-down in Beijing, so – but you all can report on it now. And so we’ll do just a few remarks and then we’ll turn it over to questions.

So we leave tomorrow for Paris, as everyone knows. Currently on the schedule we have a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Fabius. Most of the conversation will be about a couple issues. First, the P5+1 negotiations with Iran; obviously, we are heading close to the deadline on the 24th, and this will be a good opportunity for the Secretary to talk to one of our P5+1 counterparts ahead of his trilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif and former EU High Rep Cathy Ashton in Oman, which is going to be later in the trip, which we’ll background on at the time. But this will be a good chance for him to touch base in advance of that meeting with one of our closest counterparts on this issue.

They’ll also discuss ISIL and the coalition against ISIL, actions we’re taking in Iraq and Syria – obviously, France is playing a key role, so we’ll have discussions on that – also have discussions on Ebola and what more we can all do to confront that crisis. And obviously, lastly, on Ukraine, there’s been, obviously, as folks know, a lot of news over the past few days just with elections over this weekend – a lot of updates on that front to talk about as well. I’m sure other topics will come up, but those are the big ones on the agenda for France.

There may be some other meetings that come on to the schedule for the Paris stop, but nothing confirmed at this point. So I think that is basically what we will all be doing in Paris, and now I’ll turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Two] to talk about the speech and the China portion of the trip.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Great. Thank you very much, [Senior State Department Official One]. The Secretary is giving a speech tomorrow at SAIS, as you know, in which he’s going to focus within the context of our Asia Pacific rebalancing, particularly on how constructive U.S.-China relations benefit the United States, benefit China and the region, and, frankly, benefit the global community. I would suggest that you listen and look for three really important messages in what the Secretary lays out tomorrow.

First and foremost, I think he will make a convincing case that the rebalance, which aims at promoting U.S. economic and security interests in tandem with that of our allies and partners and benefiting the global economy, is not an anti-China strategy. In fact, managing U.S.-China relations productively and in ways that serve U.S. interest is a key part of the rebalance. Other elements – prominent elements of rebalance, of course, as you all know well, include strengthening and modernizing our alliances, engaging in – with new partners, and strengthening multilateral institutions. And it’s worth mentioning, by the way, that those priorities are all reflected in the itinerary and the agenda for President Obama’s upcoming trip to China, to APEC, to Burma, to East Asia Summit, to Australia, to the G20, but have also been a hallmark of the work that Secretary Kerry has been doing throughout the year.

That’s why the Secretary and the President have been focused on getting U.S.-China relations right, and that’s something that the Secretary is going to dig down on. You’ll hear from him proof points of how the high-level engagement that he’s conducted and that the President and other senior officials have conducted with the Chinese, including the groundbreaking session that he hosted in his home in Boston, are enabling us to expand areas of cooperation and to manage differences. This goes well beyond what we do through structured interactions like the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. And I think it is very relevant to the bilateral piece of the President’s upcoming trip.

Secondly, I think that you will hear from him a convincing case that although there is a competitive dimension to the U.S.-China relationship, which we are working to ensure is the healthy kind of competition that strengthens and grows the respective economies of the countries concerned, that the U.S.-China relationship is not principally about competition. It’s also very much about cooperation. And we are leveraging the growth of China, the rise of China in ways that advance U.S. and broader interests through global cooperation.

So that means that increasingly we are working with the Chinese to ensure that the expansion of their interests beyond their own borders, the expansion of their capabilities beyond the region, bring with them new responsibilities and new opportunities, and that whether it’s – the issue is Ebola or violent extremism and ISIL, or whether it’s climate change and environmental degradation, or frankly whether it’s regional challenges like Afghanistan nearby, or Iran further afield, or North Korea in their backyard, that the scope and the depth of U.S.-China cooperation can be and should be increased.

And then thirdly, I would flag for you that you can expect to hear very directly and very convincingly from Secretary Kerry that we do not give China a pass on problematic behavior or paper over areas of disagreement. That means we discuss human rights very directly and it means that we advocate for responsible behavior. That’s true with regard to cybersecurity. It’s true with regard to human rights in different parts of China. It’s true with regard to freedom of the press and the ability of journalists to function, and of course, it has been part of what lies behind our urging that China show restraint and live up to its commitments with regard to Hong Kong.

The – so much for the speech. The Secretary will arrive in Beijing on November the 9th for the APEC foreign ministerial meeting. And he’ll be joined there by some economic counterparts. And over the course of a day and a half in the APEC ministerial, he and his counterparts will discuss both the APEC priorities that China has championed – that includes economic integration and development and so on – but he will also push for the U.S. priorities which are now firmly embedded in the APEC agenda and build on the APEC leaders meeting hosted by President Obama in Honolulu a few years ago. That includes clean energy and oceans. It includes women in the economy and their economic empowerment, anti-corruption, education, energy, regulatory transparency, and so on.

While he is at the APEC Ministerial, we expect Secretary Kerry to hold bilateral meetings on the margins not only as needed with the Chinese since this period in advance of President Obama’s arrival gives the Secretary an opportunity to work on further building out a definition as to what President Obama and President Xi will be able to accomplish in their meetings, but he’ll also have bilateral meetings as things currently stand with the Australian foreign minister; the new Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who has just been installed; the Japanese foreign minister, Secretary Kerry’s longtime diplomatic partner; and also the foreign minister of New Zealand.

Secretary Kerry will also subsequently participate in President Obama’s bilateral meetings with the Chinese following the APEC Leaders’ Meeting, so on Tuesday, November the 11th and Wednesday, November 12th. And in that regard, as I think the speech will preview and as I alluded to, there’s a significant expansion of global cooperation between us and the identification of real opportunities as to how the United States and China, given our respective size, economies, influence, weight, and so on, can, by collaborating, make a real difference, can, quote, “bend the curve,” so to speak, and have a very significant and very positive impact on the problems that confront the world now. That includes the issues that I mentioned. It also includes enhanced cooperation on global economic issues including trade and investment inasmuch as the size and scale of our respective economies make for a significant impact when we cooperate.

The last thing I would mention is that both with respect to the economic and the security agenda, APEC and the East Asia Summit and the G20 are hugely important multilateral events. Two of them are economic in nature, one of them is the platform for strategic and security dialogue and cooperation. And in all of these multilateral fora, we look for meaningful ways to cooperate with China to ensure that the agenda advances and that wherever we can avoid working at cross-purposes we are instead working in tandem.

So I’ll stop there. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great. Thanks, [Senior State Department Official Two]. Moderator, we can go to questions now.

OPERATOR: Certainly. And ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press the * followed by the 1. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in the queue. If your question gets answered and you wish to remove yourself from the queue, please press the # key. Again, *1 if you have a question.

And we’ll first go to the line of Warren Strobel with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. This is for Senior Official Number Two. I’m just wondering whether in the Secretary’s speech tomorrow morning or in the meetings that are taking place in Beijing the subject of the Asia Development Bank will come up and whether you expect the United States to sort of restate its opposition to that bank in its current form. It’s obviously a point of contention in the relationship right now.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I take some issue with the premise of your question that it is a point of contention or that it is the target of U.S. opposition per se. The issue of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank has been discussed in depth between, for example, Secretary Kerry and State Councilor Yang when they met in Boston. And while I don’t know for sure, I feel fairly confident that it would make it onto the agenda of the high-level talks upcoming in – the high-level bilateral talks upcoming in Beijing, precisely because expanding investment in infrastructure in Asia and the character of new multilateral development banks is of importance to both the United States and China.

The U.S. position is often thumb-nailed as opposing the AIIB. The correct take on the U.S. position is that at the same time we welcome an augmentation of resources for investment in infrastructure in the region, we have a strong interest and we think all countries have a strong interest in ensuring that new institutions embody the standards of governance and transparency and the safeguards that have evolved in other international banks such as the IMF or the Asian Development Bank and so on. In other words, we’re all for new initiatives and new institutions. We want the new institutions though to start not at a low level, but start at the high level building on the best practices and the conventions that have been developed over the years including through trial and error.

So our message to the Chinese and the message of other countries, both those that have opted in in signing an MOU and those that have opted to wait pending clarification, is that the world wants China to show what it has in mind in terms of the governance structure for the AIIB and that that structure should be clearly defined as soon as possible.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great. Let’s go to the next question.

OPERATOR: And that’s from Carol Morello with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I have a question for the second briefer also. Do you have – do you see any evidence that any of the steps the Administration’s taken in the last year, such as the Justice Department’s indictment of five Chinese hackers, that that has succeeded in getting the Chinese to curb these cyber provocations? And what other steps is the Administration prepared to take if these provocations continue?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks

, Carol. Well, look, in diplomacy, we, like others, have a range of tools. And the – among the tools that we use are direct high-level engagement; technical-level consultations and work; public statements to, as appropriate, draw international attention to an ongoing and unresolved problem; and lastly, and maybe most importantly, pointing out the realities at work.

The action by the Department of Justice to bring charges in response to a criminal act is not a diplomatic play. This is the natural outgrowth of the unfettered and ongoing cyber-enabled theft of U.S. intellectual property and corporate proprietary information that then finds its way back into Chinese enterprises and emerges on shelves as products.

When crimes are committed, the Department of Justice is obligated to act. What we say to the Chinese is that the way to prevent this kind of legal action is by curbing the underlying criminal behavior. And moreover, we point out to the Chinese that the rampant cyber-theft perpetrated against U.S. companies is harming and undermining the support for the U.S.-China relationship among one of the most influential stakeholder groups in the U.S., namely the business community.

So it is certainly premature to say that the mix of U.S. policies and diplomatic actions or the events, such as an indictment, which are the result of the problematic behavior have translated into a clearly measurable resolution of the problem of Chinese-based cyber-enabled theft. It remains a problem. And on that basis, I have every expectation that, as Secretary Kerry has done in each of his meetings with the Chinese – and I know other top officials, including Secretary Kerry’s dialogue partner in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Secretary of the Treasury, and the President regularly do – that the problem of cyber-related behavior and the importance of the U.S. and China working together not only to stem that particular problematic behavior but also to help develop effective international rules and norms governing cyber behavior will be a priority. Over.

QUESTION: Is he going to be pushing it in this – at these meetings?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The problem of Chinese-based cyber-enabled theft is a serious problem that is unresolved, and as such, remains an important issue for discussion in all of our bilateral meetings, including the upcoming ones.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great. Moderator, let’s go to the next question.

OPERATOR: And that’s from Pamela Dockins with Voice of America. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, my question is for briefer number one. You mentioned that during the Paris stop, one of the topics that will be discussed with the French foreign minister is the Islamic State. Is the U.S. seeking any additional action, any expansion of France’s role in helping the U.S.-led coalition?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, Pam. Obviously, this has been an ongoing dialogue with the French about what role they’re playing in the coalition, and we’ve said throughout this whole process that it will continue to be an ongoing conversation about what role they’re playing. Nothing specific to preview for you. Obviously, each country makes their own decisions about what they can do along the five lines of effort in this coalition. So nothing specific, but I think it’s a good point to take stock of where we are, of what different countries have contributed, and really to build on the work that General Allen and Ambassador McGurk have been doing in having conversations with countries around the world, not just the French, about the coalition. So it’s a good touching-base point, but nothing specific to preview for you or that I know that is on the agenda in terms of that.

I think we can go to the next question.

OPERATOR: And we’ll go to Lara Jakes with the Associated Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. Briefer two, I’m wondering if you can just take a step back for a second and give us a status check. I’m sure you get this question frequently, but as we head over to China, I’m wondering if you can kind of assess where the U.S. stands in its – the lifeline of the pivot to Asia, specific to China. I mean, it was such a huge priority for this Administration a couple of years ago, and maybe due to world events, I mean, perhaps it’s inevitably taken a back seat to other crises in the Mideast and in Eastern Europe. I’m wondering if you agree with that.

And briefer number one, could you just clarify – we don’t have an embargo on any of these conversations, right? It’s embargoed for everybody else ‘til we’re wheels up?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Correct. It’s un-embargoed for you all.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You’re welcome.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, thanks, Lara. The – I’m proud to say that the U.S. strategy of rebalance in the Asia Pacific region is alive, well, and strong. In fact, it’s been said that what’s happening now is that the rebalance is going global. And by that, I mean that our engagement with our allies and security partners and those relationships are better than they have ever been. Our engagement with the regional institutions in the Asia Pacific – and I would say that the level of our participation and the quality of the agenda in those institutions is better than they have ever been – or whether it’s our economic engagement, our championing of values, or our cooperation with emerging partners like China is no longer exclusively focused on Asia.

When Secretary Kerry met in New York at the UN General Assembly with all 10 foreign ministers from ASEAN, they jointly issued a very important statement on the need to oppose ISIL and denigrate it and what it stands for. The U.S. engagement in the Asia Pacific region includes expanding cooperation in meeting global health needs, including on Ebola, and expanding cooperation on global climate change and the environment.

Now, in terms of other, more prosaic metrics, this will be President Obama’s second trip to Asia in 2014. That’s pretty telling. It’s occurring against the backdrop of serious threats, including the ones that I’ve mentioned, as well as other challenges in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Ukraine, et cetera. And yet the President is going to Northeast Asia, to Southeast Asia, to Oceania, and he’s attending these important multilateral meetings as well as having bilateral visits and talks.

Secretary Kerry has been to the Asia Pacific region eight – this will be his ninth trip in something like 20 months in office. And let me – as any of you who have traveled with Secretary Kerry know, these are not quick in-and-outs. He hits multiple destinations. He has extensive engagements across the board with government officials, with civil society, with religious leaders, with cultural and educational events. The United States is present and accounted for in the Asia Pacific region in a very significant way. I won’t belabor the point by going on, but I will mention that whether it is the Secretary of Commerce showing up with a significant group of CEOs to multiple countries in Asia with a focus on growing sectors and industries, whether it is the top science advisor or the counselor to the President showing up in a distant Pacific island for a forum that tackles environmental issues and fisheries management and climate mitigation, or whether it is Secretary Kerry or President Obama showing up again and again in the Asia Pacific region, there is a wide and impressive range of evidence taken seriously by our partners in the region that the U.S. is all in in the Asia Pacific region, and we are in to stay.

Over.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great, thanks. Are there any other questions?

OPERATOR: We do have a couple more in queue.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Who are they – go ahead. Who’s next?

OPERATOR: We’ll go to Nicole Gaouette with Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Go ahead, Nicole.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks for the call. I wanted to ask briefer number two – you touched on this a little bit in your answer to the last question, but when you talk about wanting China to take on greater global responsibility, is there a particular area of concern that the Secretary and/or the President are going to be pushing during this trip? And the second is whether we’re going to see any deliverables, and if so, what they are and what you can share with us.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I mean, the short answer, Nicole, is that the most promising areas of U.S.-China cooperation are priority areas where our interests coincide. And increasingly, our interests coincide in countering violent extremism and countering terrorism in all its forms. They coincide in terms of helping to manage crises of global health. And given the extent of China’s economic and commercial presence in Africa, including in Western Africa, we’re seeing the Chinese step up in helping the international effort to deal with Ebola in what to me seems like an unprecedented way.

And I think there is clearly a convergence of interests between the U.S. and China in tackling the environmental challenges that threaten Chinese development and growth, which are part and parcel of the broader problem of global climate change. And then on areas like Afghanistan, a neighbor of China’s and potentially a source of instability, China has a strong interest in ensuring that the gains of recent years are preserved and are built on.

So those are examples of areas of convergence where we think there’s both the opportunity for greater global cooperation and a strong need for it. I’ve got a bursting list of deliverables, but I would say merely that in dealing with the Chinese, it ain’t over till it’s over.

QUESTION: Okay. You can’t (inaudible) one for us?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And in any event, I’ll leave it to the President to roll out what (inaudible) of his visit are.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks.

QUESTION: Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great, thanks. Let’s go to the next question.

OPERATOR: And that’s Matthew Pennington with the Associated Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hello. This is a question for official number two. You mentioned that you’d like to cooperate on countering violent extremism. Are you concerned at all that this could be seen as a vindication of China’s oppressive sort of actions in its far west against Uighur Muslims?

And another thing is regarding – there are many people now who are saying that the rebalance is going to sort of fizzle out unless TPP gets through and that there’s movement forward on that. I’d like your reaction to that sort of sentiment.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Right. We are very mindful of the distinction between violent terrorism and civil disobedience and peaceful dissent. And we take great pains to ensure that there is no confusion or eliding of these two things.

And part of our ongoing conversation with China about the situation in Xinjiang, as it has been a part of our conversations with the Chinese about the situation in Tibet, is to raise the concern that unnecessarily harsh and repressive policies prove to be counterproductive and help to drive and accelerate the trends that can incubate extremism rather than to stop it. But that is not to be confused with the U.S. unqualified commitment to oppose terrorism throughout the world through what we consider to be legitimate and appropriate means. And whether it is through our counterterrorism dialogue with the Chinese or whether it is in the context of our discussions about Afghanistan or our discussions about Iraq and Syria, we are open to cooperation with China on countering terrorism and countering violent extremism.

With regard to TPP, I am a passionate believer that the progress that is underway in the negotiations among the 12 TPP partners can make a huge contribution not only to U.S. interests and not only to the rebalance, but to regional and global economic growth. There’s a saying, in English, “You want it bad, you get it bad.” Well, we want it good – namely, a high-quality, high-standard, credible and authentic and inclusive trade agreement that genuinely opens markets and removes barriers. We’re talking about 40-plus percent of the world’s GDP when you look at the 12 members.

And so this is something worth fighting for, and we think that the very considerable progress that is being made augurs well for the ability of the leaders to send a signal of direction and encouragement to their trade ministers and to accelerate the process to reach the goal. Over.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great, thanks. Do we have any more questions?

OPERATOR: No further questions in queue.

SENIOR STATE DEPRATMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Well, thank you, everyone. Again, senior State Department officials, no embargo for you all. Follow up with me on any questions you still have, otherwise we will see you all on the plane bright and early tomorrow morning. Watch the speech; listen to it. I know we’ll be in transit but – to the airport – but it’s going to be great and trip’s going to be good and we’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks, guys.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: See you in Beijing.