Interview With Bingru Wang of Phoenix TV

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
May 31, 2016

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry, for being with us today.

SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure. Thank you.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about S&ED. We know every year S&ED covers almost everything of United States and China’s relation. This year, what’s on top of your agenda?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we want to talk about the ways in which China and the United States can cooperate and work together on any number of global issues. I mean, we are very powerful economies, powerful countries. Some people want to try to create a sense of tension and clash, but I think it’s much more important to be working on the things that we can do to cooperate together and to make a difference.

For instance, we’ve worked very hard on the Iran nuclear agreement. We were very successful in working together. We worked very hard on climate change. And China was very helpful, instrumental in helping to move to a different place so we could do the agreement in Paris. We’ve worked very hard on trade issues, on economic issues. On Ebola we worked very closely together. So – and North Korea is another example.

So there are many places where China and the United States need to cooperate together. We will have differences, but we need to manage those differences in an effective, thoughtful way.

QUESTION: Talking about this mechanism, S&ED, first of all, will this be the last round of S&ED? And how do you think this mechanism contribute to U.S.-China relation or is just talk for the sake of talking?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it’s not – the S&ED is not talk for the sake of talk, because out of the S&ED came our cooperation on climate change. Out of the S&ED came a better understanding of our mutual interests regarding the nuclear program of the DPRK. And I can go on. There are many things where we’ve reached better understanding of each other’s interests. I hope it will continue, because I think it’s very valuable. And I hope – providing you have the right president, I’m confident that people would see the reason for continuing.

QUESTION: One of the most sensitive issue is South China Sea, especially this year. The international arbitral tribunal is going to announce their result. How are you going to address this issue to your Chinese counterparts? Because for many Chinese, it’s very hard to – Chinese to understand the United States is not even a signatory to the UNCLOS, so how can you ask China to obey the rules while yourself didn’t even sign up to it?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re a signatory. We haven’t ratified it, but we are a signatory. And the United States supports UNCLOS and we live by UNCLOS. Even though we have a Congress that has not yet ratified it, we, the Administration, live by UNCLOS. So we agree to abide by the rules.

Now, international standards encourage countries to resolve differences diplomatically. We encourage China not to engage in unilateral reclamation activities in the South China Sea, unilateral militarization efforts in the South China Sea. And we do the same for the other claimants. No country should be engaged in reclamation unilaterally or in militarization. We encourage China – and by the way, we take no position on the claim. I can’t tell you if China’s claim is legitimate or not legitimate or historical or not historical or would stand up in arbitration or not. I don't know.

What I do know, what President Obama knows, is the region will be much safer and much better if whatever differences there are in claims are resolved through either the judicial process, through a legal rule of law process, or by direct negotiation between the parties. And that’s what we encourage. We want a diplomatic, appropriate solution that respects rule of law.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on this. But the United States does send warships time to times to the South China Sea to challenge China’s sovereignty. You can argue this is for the sake of freedom of navigation, but actions speak louder than words. (Inaudible) send a signal for other parties to interpret your intention.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, freedom of navigation was – is simply that. It’s not provocative. Unless you have a reason to want to prevent it, it’s simply freedom of navigation. And we’ve been doing that for decades now, for 40 years or more. I mean, this is a longstanding right of exercise of freedom of navigation.

So we’ve historically always had freedom of navigation exercises. And if you don’t have any negative intent, it really shouldn’t worry you at all that somebody is doing a freedom of navigation exercise. We have Russia, I think even China has conducted exercises. Russia conducted exercises while President Obama was in Alaska last summer. We didn’t get excited about it because people have a right to do a freedom of navigation.

QUESTION: Will you support the Philippine – president just proposed a bilateral talk with China on South China Sea. Will you support the bilateral talks?

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely. We think it’s a very good idea.

QUESTION: Not based on the result of the tribunal.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, we think it’s a very good idea for – I welcome the president reaching out. I think it’s very good and I hope that it can be constructive.

QUESTION: How about China just also proposed military exercise between China and ASEAN countries.

SECRETARY KERRY: The ASEAN has a right to make a decision about what they want to do with respect to that. Contrary to public opinion, the United States is not sitting around plotting ways to try to block China’s increased ability to have an impact. China is a very powerful country. China is rising economically. China will one day be the biggest economy in the world. Why? Because it’s the biggest country in the world in terms of people, population. That’s okay. That’s fine. We’re not worried about that because we know that what matters to us is the integrity and the strength of our own economy, so that our own citizens are able to work and our own citizens are doing better. And each country will obviously place the welfare of its own citizens at the highest place, and we understand that.

But we’re not trying to contain China. I say this again and again. We do not sit around and wonder about what China is doing in Asia or in Southeast Asia or in Africa or – we don’t – this is fine. We’re everywhere. A lot of countries are everywhere. And that’s the way the world is today.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, you have achieved tremendously in the past three years – you just mentioned the climate agreement and Iran deal. But when it comes to North Korea, why the North Korea policy is not as much successful? Is there anything the United States can do more, or are you going to leave this difficult issue to the next administration?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, we’re constantly working on North Korea. In fact, we have meetings on it this very week before I come to China.

We believe that China has the greatest ability to have an impact on North Korea. Everybody knows that. China is their next-door neighbor. China is the route through which all of the commerce of North Korea really passes. China’s banking goes through Beijing. China provides food aid to North Korea. China does trading with North Korea. Obviously, China puts enormous amount of gas supplies into North Korea. So China is North Korea’s lifeline, not the United States, not Russia, not Korea, not Japan – South Korea. So in the end, China is the country that has the greatest single ability to have an impact on Kim Jong-un’s thinking and on North Korea as a whole. And we are not asking China to do the impossible or to do the unreasonable, but we do believe that all of us could do a little more than we are doing today, including the United States. And we are looking at different things that we could do that could have greater impact also.

QUESTION: So what can the United States do more?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there are ways in which the United States can have an impact in terms of our own defense in order to protect ourselves. There are ways the United States can have an impact on unilateral sanctions or on getting other countries to be stronger in applying their sanctions to North Korea so that it has a greater impact on North Korea’s decision making.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure. Thank you very much.