Press Roundtable at Embassy Tokyo

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary of State
Tokyo, Japan
January 24, 2014


DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon everyone, and with that kind introduction I think I should stop right here. Thank you all for making the time this afternoon. I’ll make a few very brief introductory comments and then look forward to responding to your questions.

I’m delighted to be back in Tokyo and to have another opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance. I’ve had very useful and productive discussions here in Tokyo over the course of the day with Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, Foreign Minister Kishida, Defense Minister Onodera, and of course my old friend, Vice Foreign Minister Saiki.

I also had a chance to meet with the U.S. business community here in Japan, a meeting that underscored the importance of our bilateral economic relationship, a relationship that will be greatly enhanced by the TPP agreement that our negotiators are working hard to achieve.

In my meetings today we consulted on a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global issues. We reviewed progress on our joint efforts to modernize the U.S.-Japan alliance, building on the very successful 2+2 meeting that Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel held here with their counterparts in October. We agreed on the importance of expanding student, congressional, and people-to-people exchanges to further strengthen the bonds that tie our two societies together. We reviewed a number of global issues in which Japan and the United States cooperate closely, and compared notes on pressing international problems such as Syria, Iran, the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. I welcomed Japan’s role in peacekeeping as well as in development assistance, where we are coordinating to maximize the effectiveness of our aid.

We held in-depth discussions on Asia-Pacific issues including North Korea, maritime security, and regional cooperation. The United States and Japan have worked closely to deal with the threat posed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. We reaffirmed the importance of close coordination with the Republic of Korea, China, and Russia in order to convince North Korea that it must negotiate in good faith and come into compliance with its international obligations through complete and verifiable denuclearization.

We also agreed on the importance of addressing territorial disputes and maritime boundary issues, whether in the South China Sea or the East China Sea, through diplomatic channels and without coercion or the threat of force.

Lastly, we discussed our shared desire for good relations between Japan and its neighbors. I have just come from Seoul and Beijing, where I conveyed the same message. Northeast Asia is a key driver of global economic growth, and the United States is strongly committed to stability in this region. For this reason, we encourage both Japan and its neighbors to make best efforts to improve relations, to find constructive ways to deal with sensitive issues, and to advance our common goals of regional stability and prosperity.

So once again, it’s a pleasure to be back in Tokyo, and I look forward to your questions.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this today. My name is Mochizuki with the Asahi Shimbun. I just (inaudible) on the China-Japan relationship. The tension between China and Japan has been increasing, especially after Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, and you conveyed a message from the U.S. government to China and the Japanese government at this time, but could you elaborate on the message that you brought to them? And also, what kind of response do you think you will get from them regarding this issue?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Well first, as I said, I want to reaffirm the importance of the alliance between the United States and Japan, which is the cornerstone of everything else that we try to build across the Asia-Pacific. Second, the message that I’ve conveyed here with regard to regional stability, and that I conveyed in Seoul and Beijing, is very straightforward, and that is that we strongly encourage our allies in Tokyo and Seoul and the increasingly important country of China to find constructive ways to deal with sensitive issues of history, to work to improve relations, and to work to build stronger common efforts toward regional peace and prosperity. I think it is deeply in the interest of all three of those countries as well as the United States to create that kind of atmosphere, given the shared threat posed by the ambitions and behavior of the North Korean leadership, given the reality that the main driver of economic growth and the most dynamic area of the global economy is right here. It’s in all of our interest to try to create that kind of atmosphere.

QUESTION: There was a report yesterday that Secretary Kerry is planning a visit to China, probably next month. If you are planning such a visit by the secretary to China, what are going to be the most important items on the agenda?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I think in the U.S.-China relationship there are a number of extraordinarily important issues – I’ve mentioned several of them already, especially North Korea, where you know we work closely with China as well as with Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Russia amongst the five parties to try to produce progress toward a negotiating process that produces the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. So that’s obviously an important issue.

But there are a whole range of issues connected to the global economy, like non-proliferation -- whether in North Korea or Iran -- on which we work closely with our partners in Beijing, and you know we look forward to continuing those conversations whenever Secretary Kerry is able to visit.

QUESTION: John Yui from NHK. Today did you tell the Japanese leadership what kind of steps should be taken from the Japanese side to improve the relationship with their neighbors, and did you also discuss President Obama’s trip to Japan?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: We certainly talked about how to take full advantage of the possibility of further encounters, whether it’s the possibility of President Obama being able to travel here or other high-level meetings, and I think we have a rich agenda before us in 2014 in the U.S.-Japanese relationship and a lot that we can accomplish together.

In terms of encouraging our allies and partners in the region to try to reduce recent tensions and create a more stable atmosphere, I think the countries themselves are going to have to make decisions about what kind of steps are possible and what makes the most sense. But I think what’s important is that our friends recognize a common stake in reducing tensions and dealing especially, as I said before, with sensitive issues of history in a constructive way.

QUESTION: So you didn’t ask assurances that Mr. Abe is not going to visit?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I don’t want to go into the details of private conversations, but I think our main message is the one that I described before, and that’s encouraging our friends to look at constructive ways of dealing with those kinds of issues, looking forward at ways to improve relations, and I’ll leave the details to our private conversations.

QUESTION: My question is about how much you’re worried about Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea -- especially Japan/China – and their bilateral relationship getting worse and possibly reaching the stage of some kind of military confrontation. How much are you worried about that kind of stuff?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I have a fair amount of confidence that countries like Japan, like China, can look ahead and see their common stake in avoiding the kind of tensions that we’ve seen recently, can look at steps that can reinforce common interests, and look at ways in which relationships can be improved. Those things are very much in the shared interests of all of those countries as well as of the United States, so we’ll continue to do everything we can to encourage improvement and I hope very much that leaderships will realize the importance of moving in those directions.

QUESTION: Nami Inoue from TBS. The Marine base relocation plan in Okinawa is moving forward, but on the other hand, last weekend in Okinawa there was a local mayoral election where the anti-relocation mayor was reelected. How will the U.S. address the will of the local people?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I would just say three things. First, I’ve learned over the years not to comment on other people’s local elections. Second, it’s a reality that the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, I think, is a very important contribution to Japan’s security and our ability to fulfill our obligations. It also plays an important role in regional security, and plays an important role in helping both the United States and Japan be able to deal with contingencies, whether humanitarian tragedies or natural disasters. But third, we’ve been very well aware of the concerns of local communities. We’ve done everything possible to take those into account in reaching the agreement that we reached with the Japanese government on the Futenma replacement facility. We’ve made progress, which we welcome, toward the implementation of that understanding, and I have every confidence that we’ll be able to follow through working with our Japanese partners so that we reduce the U.S. military footprint in the most heavily populated areas of Okinawa, address the understandable concerns of people in local communities, and at the same time sustain a military presence that matters in all the ways that I mentioned before.

QUESTION: My name is Hirano. I’m from Nippon TV. Thank you for doing this. There’s a report that when Prime Minister Abe was in Davos, Switzerland, he compared the current Japan-China relationship with the Britain-German relationship before World War I, and there’s growing criticism within China and South Korea. If you have seen this report, what is your reaction to this and even after the Yasukuni visit, what do you think about Abe’s making these kind of harsh comments?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: I don’t want to get into historical comparisons. I’d reinforce what I said before about the importance for Japan as well as for the Republic of Korea and China to find ways to deal constructively with very sensitive issues of history and to find ways to improve relations. I’ll note that I didn’t see the press accounts that you mentioned, but I saw the speech that Mr. Abe delivered at the beginning of Davos and in that speech I saw a number of references to just those points that I made before – the importance of working together in the interest of promoting economic growth in the region, and the importance of regional cooperation.

QUESTION: Additional question to Okinawa issue. Okinawa’s governor has urged the Japanese government to close Futenma base in five years. Do you think it’s realistic or not?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: All I would repeat is what I said before, and that is that I think we are now making progress toward Futenma replacement facility, which I think will on the one hand sustain an important military presence which is in the interest of both the United States and Japan, and on the other hand reduce the U.S. military footprint in the most heavily populated areas of Okinawa and address the concerns that local residents have raised. And I think the approval of the landfill permit in December, last month, was a significant step forward and we want to now build on that in the months ahead and move as quickly as we can to the fulfillment of the agreement.

Thank you all very much. Hope you have a good afternoon.