Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
En Route Brunei
October 9, 2013


MODERATOR: (In progress) for attribution to senior State Department official one, senior Administration official one, who will be briefing on the next few days of the Asia trip and taking some questions on that. So with that, we’ll turn it over to senior State Department official one.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Thank you very much. Before I brief forward, if I could just spend one moment giving you a little observation or retrospective on the meetings that we just had in Bali around APEC, what struck me was that there was a very warm and respectful welcome accorded to Secretary Kerry by each of the leaders. It was obvious to those of us who were either in the meetings or who were in the listening rooms where we could hear and see on screen the proceedings that the leaders dealt comfortably and directly with Secretary Kerry just as they have in the past and would have with President Obama.

I saw President Xi Jinping make his way over to talk to Secretary Kerry. I saw Secretary Kerry interact with the Prime Ministers of Malaysia, of Australia, of Japan, of Singapore, with President Lee. It was a very direct, very positive form of interaction, and the Secretary was clearly and fully engaged with the leaders both in the sessions themselves and in the margins, which is, of course, where a lot more – a lot of work also is conducted at these multilateral meetings. I would also say, as a participant in some of the associated events around the leaders at APEC, that there was a lot of buzz from foreign delegations about the speech that Secretary Kerry delivered at the CEO conference. The keynote speech he gave was described to us by several delegations, quite a few delegations as being the most powerful and the most compelling speech of that entire session.

QUESTION: Was the delegation from the land where everyone is deaf? (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. In fact, I mention –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) have they never heard a speech before (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, they may have been referencing the speeches that preceded and followed it. I don’t know. But they singled it out for special mention as being a very powerful and very good speech, and these were self-initiated, voluntary comments by diplomats that we encountered at dinners and at other events. We didn’t do any polling, so I offer that up as a data point.

And then the last data point I would offer is that in the Secretary’s engagements, in statements made in the sessions, and in what we heard from delegation members below the heads level, there was a universal understanding of the President’s decision not to come. Maybe the most commonly heard line on this topic was: Hey, we all have politics. So that’s it. We’re now en route to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, where the Bruneians are hosting as the ASEAN chair, first, a series of ASEAN meetings with dialogue partners, including the U.S. ASEAN Summit, which will be held later this afternoon. They’re also hosting other meetings with other dialogue partners that we’re not involved in, and then tomorrow, importantly, chairing the East Asia Summit, we can talk about that.

So the Secretary today will have an event with youth leaders. These are students who have participated in State Department-funded exchange programs, who have been active participants in bilateral and multilateral youth initiatives, and who have gone back to their own countries and communities to work on projects that they had a hand in developing. He wants to talk to them, hear from them, and get a sense of their takeaways from the exchange programs that we have facilitated.

QUESTION: So these are kids from all over ASEAN, not just Brunei?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct. All ten ASEAN countries are sending kids.

From there, he will go to the U.S. ASEAN Summit. Now in reality, this is the fifth summit. President Obama began leaders meetings with ASEAN in 2009 and has held them each year of his presidency. The – ASEAN’s, as part of their cosmology, have upgraded this from the gold level of leaders meetings to the platinum level of summits. Now I admit candidly that I’m perhaps not the best person to explain the nuance other than to say that from the ASEAN perspective, it’s indicative of the importance that they place on these annual events. All ten ASEAN leaders who had intended to participate in the meeting with President Obama are participating in the meeting with Secretary Kerry. There’s no change whatsoever to the program or to the agenda.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) following exactly the same program that President Obama (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: With ASEAN, correct.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) same bilats that President Obama (inaudible). Is that what you’re saying?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I did not say that. However, I will say that. The Asia bilats that President Obama had intended to hold – for example, in Bali, the President was scheduled to meet with SBY, President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, as chairman; he was scheduled to meet with Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia – those leaders carried forward on the schedule and met with Secretary Kerry. In fact, President Yudhoyono engineered extra time for the meeting, early time for the meeting, and was able to do it even though it meant he had to push back his press event.

QUESTION: I’m actually asking about prospective (inaudible) summit, but in fact, I’m just curious, now that you run up APEC, hadn’t President Obama had bilats with Putin and Xi on the schedule, and those obviously didn’t – or he never did?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, there was no –

QUESTION: Did he have a bilat plan with Putin?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can let my colleague speak to the questions pertaining to the President, but I will say that in prospectively as had been planned, Secretary Kerry will have a bilateral meeting with President Park of South Korea – the Republic of Korea. He will have a bilateral meeting this afternoon with Prime Minister Li Keqiang of China.

QUESTION: Vice Premier you mean?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Premier – Prime Minister Li Keqiang of China. And we are also – we’ve also scheduled a bilateral meeting between the Secretary and the President of Burma, of Myanmar, President Thein Sein in order to discuss next steps in the ongoing economic and political reform effort in Burma.

QUESTION: Is Burma today or tomorrow?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Tomorrow.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with Xi himself and Putin himself will not be meeting with Kerry.

MODERATOR: Xi was – there was not a plan to bilat with the President – with Xi.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) seeing the Burmese twice?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Okay. Then can you – how many of the ASEAN heads of state are actually going to be at this meeting, recognizing that none who had been planning to meet with the President have canceled? Is it all of them, because it sounds like it is?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. All ten ASEAN leaders will be present today at the U.S. ASEAN Summit.

QUESTION: Okay. So including the Burmese?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Including the Burmese, all of them, and they will all be present again tomorrow at the East Asia Summit along with the Prime Minister of India and the other – Prime Minister of Australia, of New Zealand. As far as I know, the only EAS leader missing will be Putin. Russia will be represented as it has been each year since Russia joined by Foreign Minister Lavrov.

So today the Secretary will, as I said, participate in the U.S. ASEAN Summit. That summit will cover the range of economic cooperation between the U.S. and ASEAN and the ASEAN countries in support of ASEAN’s connectivity and centrality agenda. It will cover a range of social and people-to-people initiatives, including and especially promoting educational exchanges as well as environment and development projects, and it will importantly also include discussion of security and political issues of common concern.

QUESTION: Does that mean the South China Sea?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Particularly that includes the issues of the South China Sea.

We will be issuing fact sheets after the U.S. ASEAN Summit that speak to this full range of issues and provide more specifics on ongoing programs and agreements reached.

QUESTION: Can I just ask quickly, is there something specific that you will be suggesting for the South China Sea to push forward the code of conduct? Is there anything in particular the Secretary will be suggesting on the South China Sea to protect the interests of those who are protesting against China’s policy?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the point I would make is that this is an ongoing conversation between the U.S. and the ASEAN countries about our support for and the prospects for increased coherence and unity within ASEAN.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And unity within ASEAN.

QUESTION: On this particular issue?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As well as the effectiveness of the ASEAN countries in promoting rules-based approaches to areas of disagreement and friction, including and especially in the South China Sea. So you will recall that less two weeks ago in New York, Secretary Kerry hosted a meeting with the ASEAN foreign ministers in which the strategy and principles pertaining to dispute resolution were discussed. I think you can expect the conversation to continue, this time at a higher level over the question of the role of the United States as a longstanding champion of security and stability in the region and as an advocate for the rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation, and the principle of unimpeded lawful commerce.

Now this is an area of, by and large, violent agreement between ASEAN and the United States.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. What kind of agreement? Violent?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s an expression, Matt.

QUESTION: I thought you might have said “silent agreement.”

QUESTION: Violent agreement?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Full agreement. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Strong agreement.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Strong agreement. Sorry if I used an English idiom. And we can come back to the question of the South China Sea in the context of tomorrow’s East Asia Summit.

After the U.S. ASEAN meeting, Secretary Kerry has a bilateral meeting with the Sultan of Brunei in which they will discuss both the issues pertaining to Brunei’s chairmanship of ASEAN in the EAS and bilateral issues, including and importantly Brunei’s strong support for and sponsorship of a range of educational and English language teaching programs, which do a tremendous amount of good in the region, and that will be followed by Secretary Kerry’s bilateral meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. This is not their first meeting. Secretary Kerry met with the Prime Minister during the Secretary’s first visit to China in the spring, but it is a very timely meeting coming as China prepares for its upcoming party plenum.

My understanding is that Prime Minister Li, like his predecessor, plays an important role in China’s economic policy, and so the state of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship and particularly the range of economic issues, both the positive agenda and the problem areas, will feature prominently in their discussions. I feel sure that the Secretary and Prime Minister Li will also discuss some of the regional and global issues of concern to both of us. Now it’s not an accident that the two of them are holding a meeting in Brunei in advance of the East Asia Summit.

Meeting and conferring and consulting on the margins of and in the run-up to important international meetings is a practice that the U.S. and China have embraced under the Obama Administration, and it provides us not only an opportunity to exchange views, but also serves as a demonstration of the U.S. and China’s willingness to collaborate, to cooperate, and to find productive means of engaging in international fora. This is important not only for intrinsic, substantive reasons or for reasons relating to the U.S.-China relationship; it’s important to the countries in the region who benefit from U.S.-China cooperation. We are frequently urged by countries in the region to engage with China directly, and the fact that we are doing so is consistently welcome.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the economic (inaudible). Is cyber falling into that area, and if it’s not cyber, what does? What are the meat of the economic things, because we don’t have much time?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. The cyber issue falls very squarely into economic agenda, because, as we have pointed out repeatedly, the use of cyber as a means of theft of American commercial technology and intellectual property represents a significant problem in our economic relationship. Climate is an example as well of an area of cooperation –

QUESTION: Is there (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Maybe I should just keep plowing through. There’s work that they will do and discuss on climate – Secretary Kerry also launched a climate working group during his last visit as he did a cyber working group – and a range of bilateral and regional issues following up on the conversations that the leaders at APEC just concluded. On the regional front, clearly North Korea is a priority issue, and I think you can expect them to continue the discussion that Secretary Kerry has been holding with a variety of Chinese interlocutors, including most recently Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Washington and New York on how the U.S. and China can cooperate to put even greater pressure on North Korea to abide by its international obligations and engage in serious negotiations to quickly reach a way of putting an end to its nuclear and missile programs.

After the bilateral with the Chinese Prime Minister, the Secretary will participate in the East Asia Summit leaders dinner, which provides an opportunity for informal interchange among the leaders in the delegations. Tomorrow, as I mentioned, he will have a bilateral meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein, a bilateral meeting with President Park, and will participate in the East Asia Summit. The format of the summit this year is a single, extended meeting as opposed to a plenary and retreat. It is structured in, quote/unquote, “retreat format,” which is to say a big circle of armchairs with very few advisors in the room. The chair of the EAS, Brunei, has indicated that they foresee the agenda covering the span of traditional agenda items, including economic-related, social, cultural, developmental issues that are frequently discussed at EAS. These include energy, these include food security, these include climate, these include humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. But also importantly, the chair has indicated that they support the discussion by leaders of priority security and political issues.

Now as you have heard before, it is the consistent view of the United States that the EAS represents the premiere fora at which regional leaders can directly and candidly discuss political and security issues. Those issues do not get addressed at other fora such as APEC, and so using EAS to engage on them, in our view, is important and a high priority. I think that the critical issue to monitor in assessing the upcoming East Asia Summit is the degree to which countries that participate – 18 countries – in fact do discuss issues such as nonproliferation and issues – nonproliferation and maritime security. The Chinese consistently indicate their view that, quote/unquote, “difficult” issues that might fall outside the comfort zone of any member need not be discussed. That is not a view that is held by the U.S. or, I believe, many if not most of the EAS member states, but we will find out. Will countries steer clear of controversial issues such as the behavior of parties in disputed areas at sea, or will they engage directly and hopefully constructively in reaffirming the principles at stake and their goals for a diplomatic effort.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. You’re saying that no country has steered clear, or you’re saying it’s – that we will observe whether they steer clear or whether they address them? I didn’t understand.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What I suggest that you will want to watch in the effort to make sense of what really happened at the EAS and how it mattered, its significance, will be the question of whether countries do steer clear of the controversial issues or engage on them.

QUESTION: Can I ask (inaudible), and I don’t – I’m not going to make too much of this, but when you said “violent agreement” with ASEAN on the South China Sea, is that correct? Because ASEAN is not entirely of one mind about this. The Cambodians, in particular, have been China’s proxy here.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You can go back through the transcript for absolute clarity, but what I said is that there is violent or strong agreement between the U.S. and ASEAN on the principles at stake, principles of freedom of navigation, principles of peaceful resolution. And those principles are, in fact, enshrined in the six points that ASEAN countries themselves have promulgated as guideposts for handling of the challenges of the South China Sea.

I know we’re running late. Let me just briefly say that tomorrow after the East Asia Summit and bilateral meetings, the Secretary will go onto Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he will have a bilateral meeting with the Malaysian Foreign Minister. The Secretary has had good and extensive discussions already with the Prime Minister of Malaysia on the margins of the APEC meetings in Bali. He will attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. He will participate in some further youth-related events, including a meeting with teachers who have participated in the U.S.-Malaysia Fulbright Program. And then in the late afternoon, he will – or mid-afternoon, he will leave Malaysia to travel onto the Philippines for a bilateral meeting with the Philippine Foreign Secretary and a meeting and a dinner hosted by President Aquino and remain overnight and depart on Saturday morning from Manila.

Let me stop there and ask my colleague – do you have anything to add. I was pretty extensive.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Go to questions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Your questions.

QUESTION: I want to raise something. During the APEC Summit, a Chinese person with Xi – Chinese correspondent came back with a story on that China was saying that they did not want Japan, Australia, and the U.S. to gang up on them again on the South China Sea issue. Was that raised at all?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I am not in a position to read out the sidebar conversations between President Xi Jinping and Secretary Kerry. I’m not aware that that issue came up. I have seen statements out of Beijing by spokespeople.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the – not violent agreement this time, but the same idea, the same issue. You said you wanted to – in the ASEAN meeting wanted to explore the prospects for increased coherence and unity within ASEAN. How would you rate that – how would you rate coherence and unity within ASEAN on the South China Sea right now on binding code of conduct, not on the (inaudible) clear principle that we don’t war and these things should be settled –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would describe overall unity among ASEAN as good, certainly significantly improved over the fissures and disarray that were on view last year in Phnom Penh. On the South China Sea, I think that – and specifically to your question on the code of conduct, I think the evidence is clear that the ten ASEAN countries are, in fact, united. They presented a single unitary position in their meetings with China. They have called for progress on a code of conduct, and they have, in fact, reached an agreement with China that developing a code of conduct is not an alternative to implementing the existing declaration of conduct; it’s an integral part of implementing the DOC. Moreover, they have –

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Can you start again?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Moreover, they have reached agreement. The ASEANs have a unitary position on which basis they have reached agreement with China that the work on developing a code of conduct should be concurrent with, not follow, the implementation of the declaration of conduct that was agreed upon ten years ago. And secondly, that the efforts to – the consultations for a code of conduct should begin and are a legitimate part of the ongoing discussion between ASEAN and China. So this represents both a unity, a view among the ten ASEAN countries and some incremental movement in China’s position on the issue as well.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify. You say ASEAN – the ten ASEAN members agree that this should be – the consultation should begin on the code of conduct. Has China agreed to that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.

QUESTION: At (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Your question was whether China has agreed to begin consultations on a code of conduct at the (inaudible) meeting, and the answer according to their own statements is yes.

QUESTION: Will that be (inaudible), because we don’t – it’s not scheduled?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You can – those are questions to put to the ASEANs or the Chinese.

QUESTION: I have a question for you. Understanding, I think, at the top you said there was no specific meeting scheduled – that had been scheduled for Obama and Xi in Brunei, but wasn’t that the general understanding is that that’s where they would meet?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. The Chinese President does not attend the East Asia Summit, so there was never an expectation that the President would see Xi Jinping. There was a meeting scheduled with Premier Li Keqiang, and that’s why Secretary Kerry will be having that meeting this very evening. And the agenda items are the same.

QUESTION: So is there anyone who was supposed to meet with President Obama, EAS or U.S. ASEAN, who is not going to be meeting with Secretary Kerry?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. At U.S. ASEAN and EAS, no.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What’s that? Right. No Asian leader at U.S. ASEAN and EAS. And in –

MODERATOR: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) had the time (inaudible) a pull-aside, and also he does a great deal of the work on the working level with Foreign Minister Lavrov, which was a part of his discussion with Putin when he had the pull-aside.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And in addition, Secretary Kerry, as [Senior State Department Official] said will be meeting President Thein Sein of Burma, which was not on the President’s schedule originally.

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PRN: 2013/T15-11

[This is a mobile copy of Background Briefing En Route Brunei]