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Background Press Briefing on the Vice President's Meetings in Japan

September 27, 2022

Tokyo, Japan

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good evening, everybody. So I will just give a brief recap of the Vice President's meetings and then we'll give you some preview about tomorrow and then take questions.

Obviously, as we said before, a core piece of the mission here was to pay homage to Prime Minister Abe and attend the state funeral. I think the Vice President and the entire delegation was moved by the ceremony and some of the speeches that were made about Abe. And again, she appreciated the opportunity, herself, to pay her respects to the government and the former Prime Minister's wife, and to the country of Japan.

She was also grateful, by the way, after the bilat -- which I'll describe in a minute -- with Prime Minister Kishida to attend a dinner along with the presidential delegation. It was very generous of the Prime Minister, who's organizing this big state funeral, to take the time to host a dinner for the Vice President and the entire U.S. presidential delegation.

But as we also said, in addition to paying tribute to the former Prime Minister, the Vice President was also here to strengthen our relations with Japan and beyond in this region. She had the opportunity to meet not just with Prime Minister Kishida, but also Prime Minister Han of the Republic of Korea, and Prime Minister Albanese of Australia.

And without, you know, walking you through all the topics of each meeting, I'll just sort of give an overview of the core messages because they were very similar in each one.

She was here in Japan, in the region, to underscore our commitment to the Indo-Pacific region that ties in with Prime Minister Abe's legacy, which was important in strengthening the U.S-Japan alliance, but also coining this notion of a "free and open Indo-Pacific."

So it was actually nice for the Vice President to meet with the leaders of Japan, South Korea, and Australia. And in all of those meetings, she underscored the strength of those security alliances.

Obviously, this is a turbulent time in the region. There are security challenges in a number of places -- most recently, ballistic missile tests from the DPRK; recent Chinese provocations, we think, in the Taiwan Strait.

And so in all these meetings she was interested in underscoring for the leaders, for our counterparts, the strength of our alliances. And I think what was clear in the discussions is a real alignment between the United States and these three countries on the security challenges that we face and on the responses that are appropriate.

And she really emphasized something that's been a key theme of the Biden-Harris administration from the start, which is cooperation with allies and partners on key challenges around the world, including security challenges.

And we'll let those other countries themselves characterize their views, but I think it's probably fair to say that they appreciated her presence here. Certainly, the Japanese expressed gratitude to the Vice President to coming -- to coming here -- again, not just for the state funeral, but to build on our bilateral alliance. They expressed appreciation for the U.S. role in the region -- which I think they all see as critical -- and an interest in deepening our ties, which is an interest that we expressed as well.

On one specific issue that I know is of interest to everybody, and I'll just mention because it came up in all the meetings, which is Taiwan. And the Vice President reiterated our consistent view that Chinese actions have been provocative and unnecessary. And the United States policy is to oppose any unilateral change in the status quo. We continue to support Taiwan's self-defense.

It's important to us to work with allies and partners on this issue. And that's one of the reasons that she brought it up in all of these bilateral meetings and why they discussed it, because we need to be aligned. And I think we are significantly aligned. Our allies share the concerns that I articulated. And I think there was a mutual commitment by all the countries involved to peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.

That's what I wanted to offer in terms of the summary of the meetings. I think what we'll do now is ask [senior administration official] to give you a preview of tomorrow's activities, and then we can take whatever questions you might have.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, so for tomorrow, as most of you are tracking, we have two main events, which the way we're sort of thinking about it is: You've heard the Vice President speak a lot over the trip about security and prosperity -- sort of a two-pronged approach -- so tomorrow's events are sort of bringing that to light.

The morning is obviously focusing on the economic front. The afternoon -- with our CEO roundtable. And the afternoon is more focused on the security front, going to Yokosuka Naval Base.

So for the CEO roundtable, we will get you a list of participants and companies. But the idea is that these are Japanese business executives who are active in the semiconductor industry -- different forms of the supply chain related to semiconductors.

The Vice President feels very strongly in the power of -- the convening power of the office. So she is bringing together these executives for a discussion on a few things, all sort of based on the CHIPS and Science Act. She will tout the accomplishment of the Biden-Harris administration, including signing the CHIPS and Science Act, but then sort of talk about next steps and how it will work in practice and what it means in the Japan and Indo-Pacific context.

So there'll be a conversation on -- sort of a three-part conversation, I should say. One is about investment in the United States manufacturing -- semiconductor manufacturing -- and the benefits of that, how it will work under the CHIPS Act, and the associated incentives.

Two will be on supply chain resiliency and the importance of diversifying supply chains to prevent against disruptions.

And three will be a focus on innovation and the research and development component of the CHIPS and Science Act. The U.S. and Japan have a long history of collaboration on this stuff. So the Vice President views this and the investments that we're making in R&D as sort of a next phase of our cooperation on science and technology stuff. So she'll be very interested to hear their thoughts on where this goes next, et cetera.

And I would say, I think the Vice President feels very strongly in the connection between domestic and foreign policy. So when she travels abroad, you will see more of this, and she wants to do more of this: this idea of, you know, making the case to the American people of why our engagement overseas benefits them. And I think this is sort of case in point on that.

The afternoon, we will go to your Yokosuka Naval Base, which is the largest naval installment here in Japan. And she will board the USS Howard and take a tour, meet with commanders, meet with service members. And then the main, sort of, draw will be remarks to service members.

So, as you can expect, she will generally thank the service members assembled there for their service and their work. But I think the crux of the remarks will be to connect what they do every day to our broader national security and foreign policy goals, which are, one, sort of, you know, protect the freedom of the seas, freedom of navigation, uphold international law, and make the case about international commerce -- the free flow of commerce and how their work is really, you know, protecting the billions of dollars of trade that go through the waters of this region every day.

And then she'll talk about their work strengthening our alliances, how their presence here is really a pillar of our security alliance with Japan.

And then, as you've heard her talk about many times, the sort of -- the international rules-based order -- she will speak about how she views that, its importance, and then she will get into, sort of, the threats to the international rules-based order and how she sees them, both recent provocations across the Taiwan Strait, other coercive behavior which we find disturbing that seeks to -- and those that seek to undermine the rules-based order. So she'll speak about that and what we are doing to sort of push back against those efforts and stand up for the international rules and norms that have guided this region for the past 70 years.

So, with that, I think we'll open up for a few questions.

Q: Can I kick off with -- I mean, you mentioned -- you brought up Taiwan and, kind of, similarities across allies. I wanted to talk a little bit about, maybe, some differences in emphasis across these alliances.

President Yoon, for instance, in an interview that aired on Sunday, spoke about how he thinks there might be a little bit of a difference in terms of where you see the primary threat being China, Taiwan; him seeing the primary security threat being North Korea and thinking that that's where the priority should be in dealing with that.

Could you talk a little bit about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say that we don't see those two things as "either/or." I think we agree with President Yoon that North Korean ballistic missile tests and potential nuclear tests are destabilizing, and we condemn them. And the most recent ones are yet another violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, and we absolutely stand by our commitments to the Republic of Korea, which is something the Vice President reiterated in the meeting with the Prime Minister.

So I use the word "alignment," and I think it applies. We recognize those threats and stand by the Republic of Korea in dealing with them.

But we also have concerns about Chinese actions in the Taiwan Strait, so I don't feel like it's a question of, you know, which one is a bigger concern, which ally ranks one above the other. I do think it's fair to say, as I've described it, as increasing the alignment on both of those and other challenges.

Q: The Biden administration has -- I mean, President Biden said recently to "60 Minutes" that he would be prepared to send troops if China did invade. Have you received assurances or any commitments from the Japanese on this trip on what they would do as well if China's aggression continues and, specifically, if there is progress on increasing defense spending?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's only for me to characterize what the United States would do, and that's something that the President addressed himself. Japan can speak for itself on hypotheticals and contingencies.

What I think I can say is that, in discussing the issue, like us, they are concerned and oppose any potential unilateral changes to the status quo and are aligned with the United States in standing for peace and security in the Taiwan Strait and deepening relations with Taiwan.

Q: Did the Vice President also make any commitments or, you know, discuss any specifics with the South Korean Prime Minister when it comes to the tax credit issue with electric vehicles? I know the readout said they discussed it and she would continue (inaudible), but was there any sort of plan finalized, any commitments made by the U.S. when it comes to that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Vice President was not there to negotiate an approach to the issue of electric vehicles that they did discuss.

The readout said they discussed it because they did, which won't surprise you. The South Koreans have articulated concerns about what is in the law. We were well aware of that, obviously; they've been public about it.

What the Vice President did was explain our view, which is as follows: that this law is really a good thing for Americans, the world, and the planet, in terms of what it does for clean energy and climate.

We think that the South Koreans and all of our partners in this region and beyond recognize that, so it's a hugely important step on the climate front and dealing with the climate crisis.

It has, again, we think, many benefits for American workers, for American jobs, for American exporters, but also for other countries, including South Korea and Japan will be able to benefit from this.

It also has a particular provision that the South Koreans have concerns about and raised with the Vice President. And we have heard those concerns widely. She listened very carefully and made clear our commitment to work in the U.S. government -- the U.S. Trade Representative, the Treasury Department -- as we look at the implementation of this law to help address that issue. And that process is going on now, and extensive conversations have taken place.

Q: Can you preview what those talks might look like this week with South Korean officials? And is there any possible workaround on this? I mean, it doesn't seem -- it seems pretty clear there's not going to be a change to the actual legislation. But is there any workaround, possibly involving, like, state governments or local governments working with South Korean companies (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to speculate on what could come out of these talks. All I can say is that we listen carefully, because it's such a close and important ally; we take the concern seriously; and we pledged to put our experts together to work on the issue. But I'm not going to speculate about what could come out of those talks.

Q: (Inaudible) about the trilateral relationship -- you know, U.S., Japan, South Korea, (inaudible).


Q: But obviously, there's issues within Japan and South Korea. How do those issues affect the U.S.'s efforts to kind of bolster the trilateral if you don't have a good bilateral between Japan and South Korea? And what is she doing to advance that on this trip?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So we think a strong and close relationship between Japan and the Republic of Korea is in our interest. You mentioned there are issues between those two countries. There obviously are -- historical. There are issues between lots of countries.

In this case, we're gratified to see that both countries seem determined to address those issues, I think, you know, with a new vigor.

President Yoon has made a real priority of addressing this issue. He's been quite public about it. And it feels to us like Japan is interested in reciprocating because they see a mutual interest in strengthening their relationship.

It's not for us to mediate or negotiate or broker what that relationship and how it advances should look like. But as I said at the top, it is certainly in our interest, in this geostrategic environment that I described, to see two of our closest allies in the world working even better with each other, so bilaterally and then trilaterally with us.

So, we're going to continue to encourage that. The Vice President did it in her meetings here in Tokyo.

Q: On Taiwan, just to clarify, did she bring up the Taiwan (inaudible) meeting? Or did the other countries bring it up?

And more specifically, did the President's "60 Minutes" interview come up or the Speaker's trip to Taiwan come up at all?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the Speaker's trip to Taiwan is the backdrop to the discussions that took place in some of these meetings, in the sense that when I said that they talked about Chinese overreaction, that's what they were overreacting to.

And the most recent developments in and around Taiwan was what we consider to be Chinese overreaction, and firing missiles over the island and so on.

So it came up in that sense. It wasn't a discussion of the Speaker's trip, per se. But obviously, that's the context that has set off the most recent set of discussions and focus on this issue.

I don't believe that the President's "60 Minutes" issue -- or interview came up. There was a broader discussion of -- you know, in the context of a discussion of the geopolitical environment and security challenges we all face, this was among-- among the top ones.

Q: And, I'm sorry, just one last thing on the trilateral thing. You said that the Vice President has been encouraging this, this better relationship. What did she say in that meeting? What is she doing to do that, just specifically?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Made clear what I summarized, which is the United States wants to see it's -- it's --

Q: But she didn't say like, "Hey, we'll host a meeting. We'll -- we're going to -- you know, you should do this. You should think about that"? Like, nothing -- I'm talking like as specific as you can get on that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Like I said, we don't see it to be our role to --

Q: But she didn't say, like, "Hey…" --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: She wants -- she wanted both sides to know that we welcome the process that we're seeing and what the leadership on both sides was doing.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the trip to the DMZ, like how long it's been in the works, whether the Prime Minister stepped on her moment in announcing it, whether that came up in some of the talks and conversations?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, no, I mean, the -- what is typical -- my understanding of what is typical for DMZ: We typically wouldn't announce that that far in advance for a variety of reasons. But we are obviously planning to announce that today, and we are happy to announce that. And as you saw in the statement we put out shortly after, we are prepared to announce that.

The planning behind it, I would say -- look, any trip to South Korea, any U.S. official comes, it's always an option. It's always on the table. And so based off the discussions both internally and with the embassy as we've structured it over the -- this trip over the past two weeks, we sort of came to the conclusion that it made sense and that it was advantageous to go to signal the support for the Republic of Korea; to signal, you know, our commitment.

The key messaging that she's talking about on this trip is how our defense commitments are ironclad. We know there's been a lot of discussions with the Koreans about extended deterrence commitments. And to really put those words into action, we believe it's a powerful signal of that.

So after, you know, discussions internally, we sort of came to the conclusion that this was an important stop for her to make.

Q: Was the test launch -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Q: Was there any exchange in the bilat though about, you know, this is our news to announce or, you know, (inaudible) came up.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We were comfortable with it. We were going, obviously, to announce it soon anyway. But I would just reinforce the policy point. And I think, you know, you can check with the South Koreans themselves in terms of welcoming it -- because, going back to your very first question, you know, about the different threats, this is a demonstration of our interest in this issue.

And I think the Vice President showing up there makes very clear to our friends and allies in South Korea that even when there are other threats in the region -- you know, to Taiwan -- which is more important, whatever -- we're not losing sight of the fact that the DPRK remains a real threat. I mentioned the recent ballistic missile tests.

And so there's no issue there in terms of, you know, announcing it and differences over announcing it. We get the impression that they are -- they will be very happy to see the Vice President demonstrate our solidarity in this way.

Q: I'm curious if, in any of your conversations with Japanese officials on this trip, you discussed Russia's move to expel one of their officials and accuse them of spying this week. Did that come up at all?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't recall that coming up. But the issue of Ukraine and Russia's unjust and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine certainly came up. And if I didn't say that at the top, you know, let me say it, because we've been mostly focused on the security picture here in the region and alignment on Taiwan, DPRK. But we feel there's also alignment on responding to Russia's invasion. And we're grateful for that.

Europe is a long way away. But, one, we want to see our allies in Europe and Asia cooperate with each other. And we mentioned before the Vice President's emphasis on international rules and norms, and certainly sovereignty and territorial integrity is in that category, just like it is for countries in this part of the world. And the Japanese and South Korean solidarity, in terms of imposing costs on Russia and demonstrating support for Ukraine, which was invaded, has been really impressive. And so we appreciate that from these close Asian allies.

Q: Is it still accurate that China has not crossed your red lines with respect to the support for Russia, either militarily or in terms of sanctions evasion?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's fair to say.

Q: There's been some discussion about AUKUS and where the nuclear-powered submarines are going to be built. Any progress in building those in the United States?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have anything for you on that.

Q: Okay. Is that under consideration?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the issue of building those submarines is obviously a key part of the AUKUS discussions, and those conversations go on.

Q: Okay.

Q: When are we going to get the list of CEOs and companies for tomorrow?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we can do it shortly right after this.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, we'll send you an email on the companies that are participating after this.

Q: Bloomberg is intensely interested in that. (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It will be in your inbox soon.

Q: Is it fair to say the test launch kind of sealed the deal on the visit to the DMZ? I mean, was the -- North Korea's test launch. I mean, was that kind of the moment where it was like, we have to do this -- we have to do this (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think our commitment to the Republic of Korea and its security and our concerns about -- you know, there have been a lot of ballistic missile tests recently. So, no, that's not the case. That's not the case.

Q: And clarification: When she was discussing Taiwan, did she echo the President's recent language in describing what the U.S. would do if China were to invade? Did she say that we're prepared to send in U.S. troops?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Like I said, the President's particular remarks in "60 Minutes" didn't come up. What she said was reiterating all of our policy, as the President has articulated, but they didn't interrogate her on that specific (inaudible).

Q: But was she forthcoming in saying that the U.S. would send U.S. troops if China invaded?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They didn't get into detail on military contingencies. She expressed our clear and resolute support for Taiwan's self-defense, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. But there was no specific discussion of who would do what in a military contingency.

Q: So she didn't mention sending U.S. troops?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was no specific discussion of that issue.

Q: Did she seek their support for some kind of a deterrence package, whether that be sanctions or whatever, to prevent the Chinese from moving in that direction?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to get into details of responses discussed. I described earlier an alignment on how to preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we have time for about one more question, and then we got to run. I know everyone is tired.

Q: Do you see any room for, like, trilateral cooperation on military signals, especially as it relates to North Korea? I mean, I know the Vice President specifically brought up trilateral cooperation today. You made a lot of comments about that.

It seems that South Korea very much wants, sort of, signals of U.S. military strength and South Korean military strength. Japan seems interested. Do you think this is something that everybody could work together on and show some -- signal deterrence or something moving forward?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, I described generally the interest in trilateral cooperation and alignment on security issues, but on specific North Korean contingencies, I don't have anything to add to the general point I made.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, I think that about does it. We'll talk more tomorrow, but that's where we are.

Q: Thank you.

Kamala Harris, Background Press Briefing on the Vice President's Meetings in Japan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/358109

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