Press Roundtable in Tokyo

Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Counselor of the Department 
U.S. Embassy Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan
January 26, 2016

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: Good afternoon, and thank you all very much for being here today. It’s a great pleasure and an honor for me to be here at the U.S. Embassy and have the chance to talk with all of you. As you know, I’m here on a short visit to Japan for two reasons – first to participate in the G7 political directors meeting hosted by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, anticipating the ministerial meeting of the G7 that will take place in Hiroshima in April of this year, and secondly to continue a larger bilateral conversation that we are having with the government of Japan and following up the recent visit of Deputy Secretary Blinken. As you know, the U.S.-Japan relationship is a longstanding one, and the U.S.-Japan Alliance, from our point of view, is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the region. But our relationship has been going through an important transformation, as a relationship which has been important for bilateral reasons for both countries and has been important regionally is now becoming important globally. And this has to do with the strategic thinking of the prime minister and his foreign minister, but also their understanding that as we look into the 21st century, Japan and the United States will be facing challenges and encountering opportunities all around the globe. And the willingness of Japan to pursue an expansive and diverse foreign policy agenda – which includes issues such as global health, food security, energy security, development assistance – is very welcomed by the United States but broadly by the global community, and it highlights the tremendous value that Japan brings to the world.

And so it’s a pleasure for me to be here and to engage with my Japanese colleagues, to understand better how we can deepen our collaboration. The global nature of Japan’s engagement is going to be highlighted through the G7 process because Japan will be hosting any number of ministerials addressing all the many issues that define Japan’s engagement around the globe. But it’s a great honor to be here, a great pleasure to be here, and a great opportunity to speak with all of you, and I look forward to your questions.

QUESTION: I would like to ask you about the East Asian foreign affairs, especially about North Korea. I would like to ask how the United States will respond to North Korea’s nuclear test, and did you discuss anything regarding North Korea with Japanese officials? And since you’re visiting South Korea, what will you discuss with them, and is there any possibility that the United States will deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: First of all, Deputy Secretary Blinken was here just a short while ago and engaged on many of these issues and highlighted our condemnation of the nuclear detonation undertaken by the DPRK, and our purpose of affirming our security relationship with Japan and with the ROK in this regard. And I think his participation in a trilateral meeting between the ROK, Japan, and the United States I think highlighted very clearly the nature of the security commitment – but also the nature of the political commitment, because these are three democracies, three countries that respect human rights, three countries that are committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes, and three countries that don’t believe you accomplish things by trying to intimidate your neighbors.

So in this regard, I think Deputy Secretary Blinken’s visit and his message was clear, and I’ll just underscore that. But as we look ahead, it’s important to understand that Japan has been pursuing a very interesting, intelligent and strategic approach to the region, which we see expressed in a variety of areas. But on the security side, the trilateral relationship that it is building between the ROK, itself and the United States, the similar trilateral relationship that it is building between itself, the United States and Australia, the relationship it’s building with India, and then the expansive dialog that it’s pursuing with China, shows that it is committed to building a network of political security and economic relationships that are designed to promote stability, promote prosperity, and promote dialog and peaceful resolution of disputes. And in that regard, it’s sending a clear message that the DPRK is an outlier and that the future does not lie with the DPRK. The future lies with Japan and in this instance the ROK.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a follow-up question on North Korea? One issue is what kind of sanctions we can enforce against North Korea, and I believe that the Deputy Secretary was in China and also Secretary Kerry is in China, and do you think China is ready to impose these strong sanctions such as reducing oil exports to North Korea?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: We’re still in conversations not only with the Chinese, but with the other members of the U.N. Security Council right now looking at what sanctions we might be able to impose through a U.N. Security Council resolution. Those conversations are ongoing. We are talking very closely, obviously, with Japan, but as you noted, Deputy Secretary Blinken traveled to China and Secretary Kerry will be there shortly, so this will be an opportunity for us to continue these conversations. I don’t want to anticipate the results of those conversations, but I can let you know that we are determined to have a strong resolution, and we do believe that it’s important for the region, but also globally, to respond in a strong fashion to the nuclear detonation in the DPRK.

QUESTION: Is it safe to say that one of the major options for the sanctions is to reduce the oil exports to North Korea?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: At this point I wouldn’t anticipate what the sanctions are going to consist of because the conversation is still ongoing.

QUESTION: What part do you expect China to play in the discussions, and also how do you ensure China will comply with the new resolution?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: Well, as a permanent member of the Security Council, if there is a resolution, China will be part of it. And so that in and of itself will be a profound reason for China to adhere to the resolution. I don’t see why it would help draft a resolution and then not adhere to it. So in that regard, I think what we are able to negotiate in the U.N Security Council will be adhere to by all the parties that participate.

QUESTION: Concerning American university (inaudible) contacted the U.S. government in any way, and also did the U.S. government send any messages toward North Korea?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: I’m not going to address that communication between the United States and the DPRK in relationship to the student. I would only say that we hope that he will be released in a timely fashion.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about the G7 foreign ministers meeting. I’m wondering whether you have discussed with your Japanese counterparts about the possibility of Secretary Kerry’s visiting the ground zero or memorial park in Hiroshima.

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: At this point we’re still in the process of discussing the broad outlines of the ministerial statement and identifying areas that are going to be points of discussion during the ministerial meeting. We haven’t addressed the logistics of the meeting yet, so we’re not at that point.

QUESTION: Japan and South Korea reached an agreement to resolve the longstanding issue of “comfort women.” What kind of impact will this agreement have on the relationship among the U.S., Japan, and the ROK in the future?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: First of all, we welcome the agreement. We think that both the Japanese prime minister and the Korean president have shown considerable political vision and political courage in first acknowledging a historical reality that has been a problem in the bilateral relationship, but also in finding a way to address it that will allow both countries to move ahead in a larger bilateral relationship that is extremely important to both countries, but also to the United States and to the region, and I believe it will help open doors to larger cooperation not only on the security side, but also politically and economically. So we think it was a wise decision by both governments, and I look forward in my trip to Seoul to engaging with our South Korean counterparts to understand better how they see the relationship with Japan going forward.

QUESTION: Regarding the Japan-South Korea relationship and the agreement, there is still an issue about the statue of those “comfort women” in front of the Japanese Embassy. What would you say to that?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: Well again, this is something that Japan and the ROK have to address, and from our point of view, we’ll let them address that issue while they look for ways to begin implementing the agreement, because again the agreement itself was an important step forward, and it’s one we support, and we believe that this is an opportunity to address an important historical impediment to better bilateral relations, but one which has been overcome. And so it would be our hope that in the implementation of that agreement that both sides would act in a way that allows the implementation to move forward as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: I still want to ask about China because the issue is whether China is willing to put more pressure on the DPRK. Do you think Secretary Kerry’s visit can change China’s mind?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: Well, I wouldn’t characterize how China is thinking about the U.N. Security Council relationship yet. We’re still in the process of negotiating, but I’m sure that Secretary Kerry will carry a very clear message from the U.S. government in terms of what we would like to see in that resolution, because from our point of view this detonation was provocative and unnecessary, and that the U.N. through the Security Council needs to respond in a way that makes very clear, to the DPRK but also to the rest of the world, that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

QUESTION: I would like to ask about the South China Sea. Right after the launching of the freedom of navigation operation by the U.S. Navy, a Chinese plane landed in the Spratly Islands. So some of the neighboring countries of China have shown their anxiety over the kind of incrementalism of the U.S. Navy’s showing their presence. So how do you cope with that? Do you maintain this track, or step forward with more coercive measures?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: To begin with, the purpose of our diplomacy in the South China Sea is to make very clear that countries need to first of all respect freedom of navigation and respect navigation through international waters. Secondly, that disputes about land claims or maritime claims need to be addressed on the basis of international law, and they need to be addressed in a way that respects the norms and regulations and laws formed over time globally, but also respect the results of legal decisions and arbitration decisions. And currently there’s an arbitration decision that will address a dispute between the Philippines and China. We believe the decision will be coming out in the near future, and this will be, I think, an interesting decision because it will help begin to determine some of the competing claims in the South China Sea. But in the meantime, it’s our belief that it’s not appropriate for claimants to change the status quo while they pursue resolution in some other forums, and we also believe that that claimant should not be taking action that limits what we consider to be freedom of navigation. So we reserve the right to undertake freedom of navigation exercises, and we will do them when we consider them appropriate.

QUESTION: When Secretary Kerry is in China, do you think that he will discuss about the South China Sea, and also the South Korean president proposed the idea to have “five-party talks” instead of the Six-Party Talks to put more pressure against North Korea, and I’m wondering how the U.S. government is responding to that.

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: I’m not familiar with the five-party talks idea. At this point, we think it’s important first to focus on the Security Council resolution, and then we can address what comes next. And I’m sure Secretary Kerry is going to be talking about a full range of issues with China. But it’s important to understand that China is a major player in the region and a major player in the world. And our purpose here is to find ways to engage China and to do so in a positive way and to convince China that it is in its long-term interest to build relationships in the region around peaceful resolution of disputes. And in this sense, I think that what Japan has been doing in terms of its outreach to China is very intelligent and shows, I think, strong strategic purpose.

QUESTION: The U.S. sanctions don’t seem to be working, considering that the DPRK carried out their “first H-bomb experiment.” How serious is the threat? Is it possible in the span of one or two years or five years or maybe a decade that they would actually have an H-bomb?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: It’s difficult for me to say. The purpose of the sanctions is to highlight the rejection of the international community for this kind of behavior and to impose a cost for this kind of behavior. And the extent to which the DPRK decided to go ahead with this detonation anyway, from our point of view, indicated why this next Security Council resolution, the next round of sanctions have to be significant, because it’s important for the international community to send a very clear message. But I’m not going to speculate on the long-term development of North Korea’s nuclear program because we consider it inappropriate and illicit.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. government have any other alternatives besides sanctions in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: We’ve tried any number of ways, but we’re going to continue to work with our partners in the region to pursue this goal. It’s not something we’re giving up.

QUESTION: Is there any possibility to release North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism?

AMBASSADOR SHANNON: By “releasing” you mean remove it? Get rid of it? Oh – reimpose it. I don’t have anything to say on that at this point. We’ll wait and see what comes. But thank you very much. I appreciate your time.