Joint Press Availability with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama and Republic of Korea First Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam

Press Availability
Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 5, 2017

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. It is a great (inaudible). (Inaudible) really grateful for your presence here today.

Since our inaugural deputy-level trilateral forum here in Washington almost two years ago, we’ve met six times carrying to new heights a relationship of strength, vibrancy, and principle. Our regular discussions have set what I believe is a rock-solid foundation for long-term trilateral cooperation that remains central to the defense of our shared interests and the protection of our shared ideals. Together, we have strengthened a trilateral relationship that is strategic in value.

We share a common purpose in addressing the region’s most acute threat: North Korea. The United States is committed to protecting ourselves, defending our allies, meeting our treaty obligations, and providing extended deterrence guaranteed by the full spectrum of U.S. defense capabilities.

In the wake of accelerating demonstrations by the DPRK of its illicit nuclear and missile programs and capabilities, we continue to work together with partners around the world to put extraordinary pressure on the North Korean regime – sustained, comprehensive pressure. This past year saw the unanimous passage of UN Security Council Resolutions 2270 and 2321, as well as coordinated actions imposed by our three countries, which increased international sanctions on North Korea to unprecedented levels and sent a very clear message that the international community will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea and that the Kim regime will face ever-increasing consequences for its callous and reckless nuclear and missile pursuits.

Our three countries are committed to seeing the UN resolutions implemented fully by all countries, and our efforts have had real, practical effects. Gone are the days when DPRK-flagged vessels sailed freely from port to port moving illicit cargos. Gone are the days when the North Korean national airline, Air Koryo, had similar unfettered access to international airports. Gone are the days when North Korea could move the proceeds from prohibited activities through the international financial system. Gone are the days when North Korea’s diplomats could function as money launderers and bagmen for the regime’s illicit revenue streams. And the regime’s international income is further diminished as it finds fewer markets willing to employ North Korean laborers whose hard-earned wages, instead of going back home to their families, are going to the regime for its nuclear and missile programs.

All of these developments add to the pressure that the Kim regime feels – pressure that we hope will lead it to make the smart decision to come back to credible negotiations to end its nuclear weapons programs. And as we have repeatedly made clear, we remain ready to engage in that effort. All of these developments are testament to the work our three nations have done together. Our goal is simple: a peaceful Korean Peninsula free from nuclear weapons.

We’ve deepened a trilateral relationship that’s also tangible in its impact. And even as we’re addressing very hard security challenges, we’re also working together to seize opportunities. We’ve cultivated a partnership that matters not only to our governments, but most importantly to the people that our governments are to represent and serve; a partnership that engages civil society and our communities of business, science, health, and many others.

Just since our last meeting in Tokyo in October, our cyber security experts have shared best practices on protecting critical infrastructure and responding to cyber attacks. Our space security officials have discussed the norms of responsible behavior in uncharted frontiers. And our energy experts have worked together to help accelerate the development of clean energy technology.

Finally, we’ve expanded a trilateral relationship that increasingly is global in scope. Today, our discussions once again underscored the essential place of this partnership in defending a rules-based, norms-based, institutions-based international order dedicated to the progress of all nations. Virtually every advantage that we enjoy in our three societies draws a direct line to this international order – from the goods we buy that flow freely across borders, to the public health systems we rely on to stop outbreaks from becoming epidemics, to the environmental protections we’re counting on to preserve our planet. At a time when this order faces serious challenges, there are few countries that are doing more to uphold it and, as necessary, adapt it than our three.

Now, eight years after President Obama rebalanced the sights of the United States toward Asia, I believe we can take common pride in the growing momentum and substantive record of our partnership. A little while from now, we will be putting out a fact sheet – and maybe it’s already been distributed – that goes through the key outcomes of the U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea trilateral vice foreign ministerial meetings, the six of them that we’ve held over the last two years. And I would urge you to give it a look because it demonstrates that in this work that we’re doing together, we are delivering tangible benefits for all of our people. As we look forward to the future, I’m more confident than ever about the prospects for our relationship and the impact of our leadership.

And let me just say that as my tenure as Deputy Secretary of State comes to a close, I especially want to express my gratitude to my Japanese and Korean friends for their commitment to this process and, indeed, to our friendship, because the three of us are not just colleagues. We’re friends, and I’ve enjoyed extraordinary warmth, hospitality every time that I’ve gone to Japan and Korea. It’s truly been one of the highlights of my service in government.

So thank you all very, very much, and now let me turn to you, Sung-nam.

FIRST VICE FOREIGN MINISTER LIM: (Via interpreter) The sixth ROK-U.S.-Japan deputy-level trilateral forum was successfully put together by Deputy Secretary Blinken and the U.S. side. Thank you for your preparation. Vice Minister Sugiyama, following the last October meeting in Tokyo, it is great to see you here in Washington, D.C. again. With the start of a new year, the fact that we got together for the deputy-level trilateral meeting demonstrates our strong will for friendship and cooperation among the three countries.

Today’s meeting was very meaningful in that we assessed the significance and accomplishments of three-country cooperation through this trilateral forum over the last few years. Especially in his New Year’s speech, Kim Jong-un expressed his strong will to strengthen nuclear and preemptive attack capabilities and stated that North Korea is in its final stage of preparation of testing ICBM. As such, North Korea directly challenges the international community’s calls for denuclearization. Thus, Korea, the United States, and Japan agree to strengthen our collaborative efforts to induce North Korea to go for denuclearization.

Over the last couple of years, the vice ministers of the three countries have actively communicated with each other more than ever before. Such frequent actions indicate the symbolic importance of cooperation. Today, we got together here in Washington, D.C. again, where the inaugural deputy-level trilateral forum took place in April 2015, to review the accomplishments and confirm the bright future of a trilateral cooperation. In this regard, based on the tangible and substantial outcomes of trilateral cooperation, we adopted a joint fact sheet.

The joint fact sheet includes the North Korean issue, which is our top priority in the three-nation cooperation. And I believe it will serve as an important milestone of trilateral cooperation that goes beyond the boundaries of the region. Over the years, the three countries have had intense discussions as to how to work together for stronger sanctions and pressure against North Korea. This contributed to our prompt and effective response to North Korea’s two rounds of nuclear tests. We adopted the strongest and the most comprehensive UN Security Council Resolutions 2270 and 2321 and continued our efforts to ensure the international community’s full compliance with the sanctions.

While stepping up the UN resolutions, we also filled the loopholes with unilateral sanctions against North Korea. In the meantime, the three countries made all-out diplomatic efforts to deepen North Korea’s isolation. And by publicly raising North Korea’s human rights issue – including North Korea laborers – we led the international community united against North Korea and called for the need to address North Korea’s issues in a more comprehensive manner.

Going forward, in order to ensure the international community’s full compliance with the Security Council resolutions and effectively implement unilateral sanctions and deepen North Korea’s isolation with stronger sanctions, the three countries will continue to work together. The scope of trilateral cooperation has expanded beyond the Asia Pacific region to cover global issues. Korea, the U.S., and Japan share the future vision of peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region. As is shown in the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative, we formed a consensus that multilateral cooperation in the region should continue.

In addition to Middle East issues, the three countries have also addressed other various diplomatic and security issues which I believe very meaningful. With common values, the three countries have made respective contributions to global challenges. While pursuing trilateral future, we entered a partnership. Cooperation and development of global health security, women, cyber security, maritime, and North Pole are some of the key examples. In addition, in the new collaboration field of space, energy, and new technologies, we also explore ways to achieve mutual benefits that can lead to global prosperity, hoping that it can develop into an example of best practice for cooperation.

Going forward, I hope that this trilateral forum as well as other high-level consultation channels continue to develop so that ROK, the United States, Japan can respond to North Korea’s nuclear threats as well as promote regional peace and prosperity. Thank you for your attention.

VICE FOREIGN MINISTER SUGIYAMA: (Via interpreter) Today, our sixth deputies trilateral was hosted by Tony Blinken, the deputy secretary of state. My heartfelt thanks to you. In terms of specific issues, this is our last deputies-level trilateral under the Obama Administration. Tony Blinken, Mr. Deputy Secretary, this was your last deputies trilateral to chair. We heard from Deputy Secretary – from Vice Foreign Minister Li, rather – Lim that we had four consultations last year. We had a very fast-paced schedule. I think that all of this is a reflection of Deputy Secretary Blinken’s enthusiasm for this process and also a testament to his leadership. I don’t think it would have happened without that.

Let me once again pay my respects to the deputy secretary from my heart. At the same time, Vice Foreign Minister Lim – I’m sorry to talk about personal things – he is a longtime personal friend. For me to be able to see Vice Foreign Minister Lim so often is something that I’ve been very happy about.

During today’s consultations, Deputy Secretary Blinken and Vice Foreign Minister Lim have already had detailed presentations on what we discussed: North Korea, maritime security, space, cyber security, health, development cooperation, disaster response.

We’ve talked about global cooperation on a broad – across a broad spectrum. We have deepened our mutual understanding and we have very much strengthened the cooperation between our three countries.

This will be a bit of a repetition here, but let me also touch on the major agenda items, just give a brief explanation of what we discussed. First, above all, these deputy-level trilateral talks from their outset were focused on North Korea. Despite the fact that the U.S. is in a political transition and despite the current domestic political situation in the Republic of Korea, our trilateral unity is unshaken. There are absolutely no gaps for North Korea to exploit. Today, we had very close consultation and we reaffirmed that the – Japan, the U.S., and the Republic of Korea will respond firmly to any North Korean provocation. I think that it’s fair to say that that was a significant result.

Let me just give you one detail. As was already touched on, the most recently adopted Security Council Resolution 2321 – we agreed that to ensure the effectiveness of that and other relevant resolutions that we will closely watch the status of their implementation and seek constructive roles. Japan, the U.S., and the ROK have taken independent measures and we will continue our close trilateral cooperation in order to seek to achieve synergy. We had complete agreement on this. The North Korean nuclear program and missiles are clearly representing a new level of threat. In this context, it is indispensable for Japan, the U.S., and the ROK to deepen their security cooperation. Via the Japan-ROK GSOMIA, we wish to share information. We want to engage in missile defense, space, cyber, U.S.-Japan-ROK operational cooperation. We want to continue to pursue specific areas of cooperation. We had complete agreement on this as well.

There was a mention of North Korean human rights issues from Vice Foreign Minister Lim. I brought up the abduction issue, and we confirmed that the three of us would continue to cooperate to seek an early resolution of the abduction issue.

Our trilateral cooperation is not limited to the Korean Peninsula. The maritime security field requires a rules-based maritime order founded on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We confirmed the importance of maintaining this order. We share concerns about conflict, maritime conflict, in the South China Sea, and we emphasize the importance of restraint and demilitarization.

Also, the deputy secretary and the vice foreign minister mentioned these other points, so I’ll be brief, but we had a discussion of global cooperation and we welcomed the fact that we have seen specific progress in various fields. We also agreed to further pursue our cooperation in these fields.

In conclusion, as I mentioned at the outset, the U.S. will soon transition to a new administration. In spite of this – this was Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken’s last meeting as chair – the deputy secretary, Vice Foreign Minister Lim, and myself, as I said, completely agreed including on wanting to continue on the path of close trilateral cooperation by advancing this close partnership and wide cooperation between Japan, the United States, and the Republic of Korea. The three of us completely agreed on this. That is what I would like to report to you in conclusion.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.


DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Inaudible) explain this to our colleagues so they know what our little conversation was about? (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Okay. So we had some technical problems with the simultaneous interpretation, so we will provide the translation of the two ministers’ remarks to the press pool so they’ll have it. And we’ll do the press availability right now. We can do in whichever language you’d like.

So we will begin with a question from the U.S. side. Mr. Steve Herman from the Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you, gentlemen, for taking some questions. Vice Minister Sugiyama made some reference to a new level of threat from North Korea. And I’m wondering, what specific advances with the DPRK nuclear and ballistic missile program have you detected and what most concerns you?

And perhaps Deputy Secretary Blinken can address the question that we’ve heard for some time now – vows to get Beijing to apply more pressure on Pyongyang, but there – it doesn’t seem to have been much effective. How satisfied are you with China’s cooperation from your requests?


VICE FOREIGN MINISTER SUGIYAMA: (Via interpreter) Very well, I will begin. I’ll be speaking in Japanese here. I hope that you can hear me in English. So the question was about my reference to the North Korean threat having entered a new level, and what I meant, and what my understanding of that issue was. I think that’s what the question was.

Clearly, what I can point out as a matter of fact is that the North, over a year, has had two nuclear tests, and last year was the first time that they’ve done that. They’ve had several nuclear tests in the past, but for them to do twice a nuclear test in one year, last year was the first time, and that’s not all I mean. I don’t have detailed materials in – before me as to when, how many times they did missile tests. Many of them may have been failures. Many of them may have succeeded. I can’t speak to those specifics here since I don’t have data in front of me, but what I can tell you without question is that the frequency and the precision has also increased. Even though there were failures, I think that they are more accurate. I think that we can say that with absolute certainty.

As to how we are analyzing that capability, this touches on intelligence, so I will refrain from touching on details. I will say, though, that even if you listen to what I just said, the military threat from North Korea has entered a phase that represents a level that is different from now. I think that it’s very much fair to say that.

MODERATOR: Our second question will (inaudible).

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: I will. I’ll take it. Thank you. Just to underscore what Vice Foreign Minister Sugiyama said, I think he’s exactly right. What we’ve seen over the last year in particular – two nuclear tests and a truly unprecedented level of missile tests – 24 – and even if these tests don’t achieve their objective, even a so-called failure is progress because the North Koreans learn from every single test. They apply what they’ve learned to their technology and to the next test. And in our assessment, we have seen a qualitative improvement in their capabilities over the past year as a result of this unprecedented level of activity.

But at the same time, we have been far from sitting still – to the contrary. Over the last eight years we have systematically deployed defenses to make sure that we were in the best possible position to stay ahead of the growing threat. And we’ve seen that in Japan, in Korea, in Guam with additional missile defenses, with radars, on sea, on land. And as a result, we’re in a much better position than we were eight years ago to defend against the threat.

But with every passing day, the threat does get more acute. And you heard what the North Korean leader said in his most recent remarks about the possibility of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. So our cooperation together and with other countries in making sure that we have in place the best possible defenses is critical and that will remain going forward. But at the same time, it’s absolutely, vitally important that we exercise sustained, comprehensive pressure on North Korea to get it to stop these programs, to come back to the negotiating table, and to engage in good faith on denuclearization.

Over the past year, we have strengthened sanctions and other forms of pressure to truly unprecedented levels, things that we have not seen at all in the past. And these efforts are making it much more difficult for the regime to earn the hard currency that it needs to support its nuclear weapons programs while also sending a very clear message that the international community simply will not accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

So we have the sanctions imposed by the two principal UN Security Council resolutions – 2321 and then before that, 2270. They specifically target North Korea’s hard currency revenues by cutting over one-quarter of their annual export revenues of about $3 billion every year. Critically, the most recent resolution, 2321, imposes a hard, binding cap that will cut DPRK’s coal exports, which is their single largest source of external revenue, by more than 60 percent. In this effort, China is a critical participant. Indeed, it is the critical participant. China played an important role in developing and passing both resolutions. Now it’s vital that China play that same role in actually implementing the resolutions. We’ve seen positive signs in the last weeks with regard to China’s actions in implementing the new coal restriction, but that needs to be sustained, it needs to be carried forward.

All of this takes time, and putting together a sustained, comprehensive pressure campaign involves not just China but countries throughout the region and, indeed, around the world, and it’s what we talked about a little earlier. It’s not only denying the revenues from coal exports and other kinds of exports; it’s making sure that North Korean workers who are sent around the world to earn currency for the weapons and missile program can’t do that anymore. It’s making sure that Air Koryo can’t land with illicit cargos. It’s making sure their ships are stopped and inspected. All of that is being put in place in a systematic way and in ways that it hasn’t been before.

The final thing I’ll say is this: The reality about sanctions – and we saw this in the case of Iran where it took us years to build up internationally the kind of sustained, comprehensive pressure that resulted in Iran coming to the table – sanctions don’t work until they work. And so we have to stick with it and build that pressure.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Our next question is from Mr. WonSup Hyun of MBC.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question. I am Hyun WonSup from MBC. I have two questions. My first question goes to Deputy Secretary Blinken. You have mentioned about ways to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons. In his New Year’s speech, Kim Jong-un has mentioned that he is in the final stage of ICBM testing, and one North Korean defector diplomat has said that in the initial part of the Trump Administration North Korea will complete its nuclear weapons and, as a nuclear power, it will engage in negotiations with the United States.

And as was mentioned before, there were several international sanctions; however, whether those sanctions were effective is something that we are thinking of these days. Some experts are saying that the United States has to consider some other military measures, including the preemptive attack, where they have to go ahead with negotiations with North Korea in order to address North Korea’s nuclear threats. What is – would be the most effective ways to address this issue? So we would be grateful for Deputy Secretary Blinken gives an answer to this question.

My next question goes to Vice Minister Lim. The Korean and the U.S. Governments have discussed the deployment of THAAD and that it was mentioned that they will push ahead with the deployment as early as possible, and this will be completed some – according to some sources, will be completed within this year, and because of the potential of early presidential election there is a possibility for the THAAD to be deployed earlier than the schedule. So was there any discussion for the potential timeline of deploying THAAD? Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. The effectiveness of sanctions and pressure requires two things. It requires determination and it requires patience: determination to build a sustained, comprehensive pressure campaign; and the patience to see that take hold and have effect. And it’s not like flipping a light switch. It takes time. But what we’ve done in the last year particularly is to put in place the building blocks of that sustained, comprehensive pressure campaign, as I described a few minutes ago, and it’s across the board. And I believe that as long as we sustain it and build on it, it will have an effect. And it will require the regime in North Korea to make a choice – a choice between continuing to pursue nuclear and missile programs that are unacceptable to the international community – not just the United States, not just Japan, not just Korea, the entire international community – or, if it doesn’t, it will face growing isolation and growing pressure in a way that will make it impossible for the regime to deliver on the basic needs of its people.

Again, the purpose here is not to bring the regime to its knees. It’s to bring it to the table to negotiate authentic, credible steps toward denuclearization. And again, as I said a moment ago, it’s important to understand that it takes time to do this, and the Iran example is a very good one. We spent years building our own domestic sanctions against Iran and then, in this Administration, several years putting in place an international framework for sanctions and pressure. People said it’s not working, it’s not working, and then all of a sudden it worked. The pressure got to a point where Iran made the wise decision to come to the table to engage. We were able to get an interim agreement that froze the program in place, started to roll it back in certain respects, got inspectors in. That created time and space to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that has produced a very positive result for the security of the world. I would hope that the DPRK would be inspired by that example, and to add to its inspiration we are putting in place these comprehensive, sustained pressure and sanctions.

FIRST VICE FOREIGN MINISTER LIM: (Via interpreter) During today’s trilateral meeting , the THAAD issue was not discussed. When new – when the reporter has mentioned in his question, our target is to deploy this within this year, and based on the agreement between Washington and Seoul, without any hitch or problem. Our position is to go ahead with regional plan. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Our final question is from Mr. Tomoyuki Kawai from the Nikkei.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (In progress) – Kawai from Nikkei. First of all, for Deputy Secretary Blinken, President-elect Trump has talked about China. He’s criticized their militarization of the South China Sea. He’s talked about allies and reducing the costs for U.S. troops in the countries that the U.S. is aligned with, and he’s talked – made other statements on Asia policy. We wonder what kind of talks that you have been having with the incoming administration, and what kind of changes do you foresee on Asia policy between your Administration and the new one?

Moving on, these are questions for Japan. And how do you – what differences do you see in your relations with the U.S. with the Trump Administration? We’d like to hear your policy as to how you see the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the U.S. cooperating under a new administration.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. I can’t speak for the incoming administration. What I can speak to are American interests, and those interests remain constant across time and across administrations. Our interest in the Asia Pacific region could not be deeper, could not be more important. When we look to the future and the reason that we’ve engaged in the so-called rebalance to Asia, it’s because we see a future for the United States in the region. It is simply critically important to our own success and our own progress going forward. More than a third of the world’s population and GDP will be in this region – five of our treaty allies, including the two that are here with me today. Over the next ten years, two-thirds of the world’s middle class and economies that are growing – young, vibrant populations that are more connected than just about anyplace else on Earth.

So as a result of looking at those interests, we engaged in the rebalance, which is simply a way of saying, taking into account our interests, how should we dedicate our time, our resources, our focus? Those should be done – that should be done – in a way commensurate with our interests.

So I believe that any future administration looking at the interests, looking at our commitments to our allies – commitments that are in our mutual interest – would continue this approach. That’s in the interest of the United States.

VICE FOREIGN MINISTER SUGIYAMA: (Via interpreter) Very well. So since it’s a question from a Japanese journalist, I will try to answer that question first, the second question first. President-elect Trump’s Asia policy, what do we think about it? I believe that was basically what you were asking.

It’s true that Prime Minister Abe has spoken with President-elect Trump for some 20 minutes on the telephone and met with him for 95 minutes in New York City. President-elect Trump – his personality and the basic feel of the person, if you will, the prime minister has had a chance to see those. And some of that was shared with me, perhaps in part.

But basically, the prime minister met Mr. Trump as the president-elect. There’s only one president of the United States of America, and that is still President Obama. Certainly, the Government of Japan, our prime minister, our foreign minister, all of us have great interest in what kind of Asia policy a Trump Administration might have, and we are in the process of gathering information on that very subject.

But the president-elect has not yet taken office, and I think that it would not be appropriate for me to give a detailed presentation at this stage. But having said that, Deputy Secretary Blinken also mentioned this, but the Asia policy of the U.S. as a whole, will it be exactly the same as what we have now? I doubt it. But basically, I don’t see the direction as changing in a significant way. For example, the U.S.-Japan mutual security treaty is at the foundation of U.S.-Japan relations, and since it’s – I’m not saying this just because Vice Foreign Minister Lim is here, but the U.S.-ROK relationship is also a pillar, a significant pillar, of the U.S.’s Asia policy. I don’t think we’ll see changes on that order. The U.S.-Japan security alliance, the U.S.-ROK security alliance, and our trilateral cooperation here among U.S. allies, I don’t see big changes in these areas.

As to further details on what kind of policy might emerge, I think we ought to wait until the president-elect takes office, and I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say more.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. That concludes the press conference. Thank you very much.