Press Roundtable in Tokyo

Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Tokyo, Japan
April 18, 2016

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you all for being here, and I apologize for being late – sorry to keep you waiting. I had a very good and productive day here in Tokyo, but let me just say here at the outset that in the United States, our hearts really go out to the victims of the Kyushu earthquake, and this is foremost on our minds today. And we’ve worked closely with the government in Japan to be responsive to any requests for assistance, and as you know, we’ve been able to provide, at the request of the government, some assistance including transport planes and other assets that hopefully will make it easier to reach people in hard-to-reach areas, and also be able to help get relief workers and supplies to the site of the earthquake. But our focus is very much on that, and this is what friends do for each other and with each other in times of crisis like this, and we appreciate the extraordinary efforts of the government of Japan to respond to the needs of the people.

That having been said, just very quickly a few things that I think are worthy of note: First I just wanted to cite the very important leadership of Japan in conducting the G7 meetings, the ministerial that have already taken place and of course the meeting among the leaders that will take place in the weeks ahead. And I had some opportunity to talk about that with Foreign Minister Kishida, but we’ve been very impressed with Japan’s leadership of this effort. It really reinforces the fact that, from our perspective, we have with Japan what is really a global partnership, and if you look around the world from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to dealing with ISIL, combating disease, dealing with climate change, caring for refugees, working from cyberspace to outer space – Japan is playing a leadership role in partnership with the United States and with other countries, and we couldn’t be more pleased at that partnership that is, again, increasingly global in nature.

But right here in the region, the main area of concern is North Korea and the actions that it continues to take to develop its missile and nuclear programs. And we’re working very closely together on that. Tomorrow I’ll have the opportunity to go to Seoul with my Japanese counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Saiki, to conduct another meeting among Japan, the United States and Korea, and that will focus on many things, but it will certainly focus on our common efforts to deal with the provocations from North Korea. So we look forward to continuing that very important work that we’re doing together.

With that, though, let me stop talking and see if you have some questions.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Fifield from the Washington Post. On North Korea, obviously you’ve got these meetings going on. We’ve got these sanctions in place and yet we still hear all of these threats from North Korea, and today we heard there were signs of preparations for a further test. So is there anything practical that you think the three of you can be doing to try to stop that test from happening?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, I think – look – what’s critical is the implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolution, because it has real teeth in it, and if it is fully and effectively implemented, it has the possibility at least of changing the calculus of the leadership in North Korea, but it takes some time not just to implement it, but for the effects to become obvious. But we’re looking very carefully at the provisions that would cut North Korea off from the international financial system and that would go in particular to critical trade for North Korea, the export of things like coal, gold, rare earth materials the proceeds from which fuel the nuclear and missile programs, as well as the supply of things like jet fuel to North Korea. So the test will really be in the implementation and in the effect that it has, and that’s going to play out over the next weeks and months. That’s what we’re looking at.

At the same time there are measures that countries can take both in support of the Security Council resolution and indeed in addition to it that will further sharpen the choice for North Korea. Japan, for example, has said that ships that dock in North Korea will not be able to dock here in Japan. And South Korea is doing the same thing. Measures like that can have an impact as well, again in sharpening the choice for the DPRK. But I think it will come down to implementation of the resolution, and there China has really a lead role to play because of its unique relationship with North Korea, but the evidence that we’ve seen to date suggests that China is taking its responsibility seriously. But we’ll know better in the weeks ahead as the implementation really takes effect.

QUESTION: So far you approve of the way China is implementing the resolution?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s our sense that China is taking this seriously, that it is very frustrated with the actions that North Korea has taken. It shares the common objective that we have of denuclearization, and for those reasons – first of all it supported the Security Council resolution. That in and of itself was very important, and now it seems to be taking steps to implement it, but I think we won’t know for sure for a little bit more time. Again, in the weeks ahead we’ll see if the implementation is taking place, if it’s sustained – that’s very important – and what impact it has.

QUESTION: Minami from Reuters News. I have two questions. The first one is on the trilateral meeting with Japan and Korea, and the recent national elections in South Korea. It could diminish the prospects for cooperation between Japan and South Korea, both diplomatic and military. I was wondering if you shared this view. And the second question is, there was an apparent missile launch last week, and Pyongyang watchers have warned that North Korea will conduct another test. If that does happen, what will the U.S. response be? What is your general analysis?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: With regard to trilateral cooperation, first I think that the very courageous decision that both Prime Minister Abe and President Park took in resolving the “comfort woman” issue has created some space in which one of the I think positive results can be both more cooperation between Japan and Korea on a bilateral basis, but also with us on a trilateral basis. Of course it’s important that that agreement be implemented fully, but I think we see a real prospect there in having created more space to do that.

It’s very hard to predict what will result from the elections. All I can tell you is, I think you saw on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, President Obama, Prime Minister Abe, President Park together – that in and of itself is very strong evidence of the determination of our three countries to work together on a trilateral basis, and now the work that I’ve been charged with, with my counterparts, is to turn that commitment into practical steps, both in the security area but also beyond in many other areas of potential cooperation. As it happens, the United States, Japan and Korea have all in different ways played leadership roles in many different areas, and if we can do that increasingly together, I think that can make us even more effective. Climate change, global health security, supporting refugees, working in development in different areas, women’s empowerment – an issue that is of concern to all three of our countries – these are some of the many areas where we can deepen our cooperation, and it’s in the interest of all three countries, so I think that both in the security area and beyond, we will strengthen and deepen the cooperation among us.

QUESTION: So just to clarify, what you’re saying contradicts what …

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think it’s always hard to predict the political implications of a particular election, so I’m not in the business of doing that. From my perspective, the responsibility that I have is, we saw the three leaders very clearly state the intent and desire to deepen our trilateral cooperation in the meeting they had in Washington, and now those of us in the respective administrations are working to make that concrete and to look at very practical areas of cooperation. So that will be the test.

With regard to further provocations from North Korea including another nuclear test, I think the fact that the international community came together so strongly in the Security Council resolution should be evidence to North Korea that there will be a very strong response to further provocations, and it will simply be digging a deeper hole than it’s already in. And I hope that it has taken very careful note of the very strong response from the international community with the latest Security Council resolution, and factors that into its thinking about any further actions. But certainly there would be an additional strong response in the event of another nuclear test.

QUESTION: Everybody’s curious about a possible visit of President Obama to Hiroshima during the G7 summit, and I know this decision must come from the White House, but at this point what could you say about when the final decision will be made and what will be the factors to decide whether he goes or not?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, as you said, that is a decision that is with and for the White House, and having worked at the White House for six-and-a-half years and now at the State Department, I know that it’s my responsibility to leave those decisions to the White House, which is exactly what I’m going to do. But the question is before them, and I’m sure that they’re looking at that very carefully.

Second, I would just say that as you all know, Secretary Kerry was in Hiroshima very recently. I think he expressed himself with great eloquence about the impact that it had on him, and it was very personal and deeply felt, and there really was, I think, a very somber reflection on our shared history that took place. And as important an extraordinary commitment in Japan, both the resilience of a community to rebuild but also a very strong determination to look forward and to work closely together toward our common objectives of reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, to making sure together that additional countries don’t acquire them, and to supporting the peaceful use of nuclear power. So I think what we saw with the Secretary’s visit is a shared vision and a common agenda going forward.

QUESTION: Timing of the decision possibly in May or later this month? Can you say?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Nothing. I have nothing for you. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: I’m Arai with Kyodo News. Just a follow-up question: What would you think if President Obama visits Hiroshima? What kind of impact will that have on East Asian countries, relations between Japan and Korea, or China? Some people expect some negative effect.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: I can’t really speculate on a hypothetical event. Again, I would simply say that on the larger issues, most recently reflected at the Nuclear Security Summit, at the top of the President’s agenda is moving closer to this vision of a world without nuclear weapons. We’ve taken steps in the United States to increase the role of our conventional weapons to defend our interests and at the same time to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, all the while making sure that as long as we have nuclear weapons they are effective and safe and secure. A very strong commitment to non-proliferation, and I think the work that we did, for example in getting the agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, is very clear evidence of that, as well as the work of the Nuclear Security Summit itself and the common commitment that we have to denuclearization of the DPRK. So I think the President has a very clear agenda when it comes to these issues that he’s demonstrated repeatedly over the past seven years.

QUESTION: Sankei Shimbun. How do you see the reaction from Kerry’s visit to Hiroshima, domestically or internationally?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: I can’t really speak to the reaction here – it’s not my role to do that. I can just tell you that from his perspective – because I’ve spoken to him about it – it was a very powerful and moving experience for him, and I think I really can’t do better than what he himself said, as well as wrote, in the book at the museum.

QUESTION: Just to return to the possibility of North Korea conducting another nuclear test, you mentioned additional strong response. Does that mean the United States will consider new U.N. resolution or stronger measures within the current?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: I don’t want to get into the specifics, but we are certainly looking at what additional steps would be taken in the event of further provocations from North Korea, including another nuclear test, but there are a number of possibilities. But at this point, it’s premature to get into the specifics.

QUESTION: I want to ask a question about presidential elections. I want to know about the influence on Japan if Trump were elected.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, one of the great things about my job is that I just do diplomacy; I don’t do politics. So I will take a pass on that question, but thank you.

QUESTION: Two questions: What do you hope to achieve (inaudible), and second is the North Koreans are preparing for (inaudible) next month, which may explain some of the recent provocations. Do you see North Korea taking a more conciliatory stance once that event is over, or do you think this hard line will continue?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: First with regard to the talks in Seoul, this is the continuation of a process that we began last year to look to see if there are areas in which the United States, Japan, and Korea could deepen our cooperation on a trilateral basis, and as I said earlier, it’s both in the security area – and there I think the importance of that effort is even greater in the wake of the provocations from North Korea – but also in areas beyond security. We’re looking at the places where we’re already taking significant actions and asking ourselves if doing that in a more cooperative way, in a coordinated way, can have an even greater impact. As I suggested, it’s everything from health to climate, to women’s issues, to development and so forth. So that’s what we’re doing, and we’re doing it on a regular basis so that, at the instruction of our leaders, we can really translate the vision and desire to deepen our cooperation into very practical things. So what I think you’ll see emerging in the days ahead, and then with further sessions over the rest of the year, increasingly are practical steps that we’re taking together as three countries.

I can’t begin to predict what actions North Korea will take, and this is actually at the heart of the problem because there are two things that are happening: One, while we’ve taken significant efforts over the last eight years to make it more difficult for North Korea to advance its weapons program and its missile program – and we’ve had some success in making it harder to get technology, for example, or harder for them to sell things to get the resources to fund the program – the fact remains that those programs continue, and as long as they continue, they get closer to the day when they have technology that not only can strike here at our allies and partners, and at us, the Americans who are in the region – that’s already unacceptable – but also closer to the day when they have an intercontinental ballistic missile with a miniaturized warhead that can also strike the United States, and that of course is also unacceptable. But the combination of that with a leader who acts seemingly irrationally makes the problem all the more important and all the more urgent, so I can’t predict what will happen in North Korea after the party congress, but it’s precisely because it’s so hard to predict the actions of this leader that it’s urgent that we deal with the problem that is posed by the combination of nuclear weapons and missiles.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Yuka Koshino from the Wall Street Journal. So you mentioned about the fact of cooperation, and in terms of security there are constitutional and legal restrictions in terms of the defense cooperation between bilateral relations between the U.S. and Japan, and also trilateral relations. How do you see the security cooperation restriction, and do you also expect further defense cooperation?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: So, I think first I should say we’ve had a very important year in the Alliance between the United States and Japan, and very important work was done. First, the security legislation itself in Japan was a very important foundation, but as a result we’ve been able to advance the Defense Guidelines between us. That’s significant. We have a new agreement on host nation support that is significant. We were able to reach an environmental framework agreement as well, and now I think what we’re working on is translating these agreements into practical work, to implement them. One of the things that’s so powerful is that for the last 70 years Japan has been a model for democracy, for human rights, for the rule of law, and for working to advance peace and security in the region and indeed around the world. And its ability to play an even greater role in that direction, I think, will benefit not only countries in the region but countries around the world. Already I think we’ve seen just in the last couple of years, you know, Japan’s engagement in working to support the stabilization in Iraq as part of the counter-ISIL coalition, working to support refugees around the world but also everything – peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, in Haiti, refueling operations in the Indian Ocean, and of course its navy engaged in counter-piracy – all of these things were happening already. What is important now about the Defense Guidelines and the security legislation is that it creates a basis for expanded cooperation and expanded engagement in new domains, new areas like space, as I mentioned earlier, or cyberspace. But also, further engagement in peacekeeping operations, potentially, in humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief, and then our own support for each other, logistical support among our militaries. That too – there’s now a basis to do that.

And what this really does is, it enhances Japan’s ability to contribute in the region and around the world to the advancement of the rule of law, of democracy, of human rights, of helping to keep the peace, and responding to disasters, responding to humanitarian needs, adding to the global good. So I think this is a very positive development, and of course we have to work through all of the details and we have to do it, of course, consistent with the law, the Constitution of Japan. But I view this as having tremendous potential for Japan’s increased contributions to the greater good in the region and around the world.

Thank you. Thank you all very much.