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Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on China

March 14, 2022

Via Teleconference

2:59 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Thanks, everyone, for joining us today. So, this call is on background. It is attributable to a "senior administration official." And the contents of this call are embargoed until the end of the call.

For your reporting -- sorry, for your awareness -- oh, my God -- for your awareness, not for your reporting, the speaker on this call is [senior administration official].

So, again, as a reminder, this call is on background to a "senior administration official."

With that, I'll turn it over to you for some top remarks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. And thanks to everybody for hopping on. I'm sorry for keeping you all waiting just a little bit there.

So I think you all have seen the readout that went out from the White House just a little bit ago, so I won't rehearse what was in there. You've got that.

But, you know, we just wrapped a meeting in Rome, of course between the National Security Advisor and his PRC counterpart.

The two covered a range of issues of interest to the United States and the international community. It was an intense seven-hour session reflecting the gravity of the moment, as well as our commitment to maintaining open lines of communication.

While this meeting had been planned for some time, it was a timely and important conversation in this crisis moment. The two officials covered the whole range of issues in the U.S.-China relationship. They had an extensive conversation on Russia/Ukraine, with the National Security Advisor laying out where we are, how we got here, and what the risks are that we see lying ahead.

The two sides discussed DPRK because that is also an escalating situation that demands our attention. We agreed that officials with responsibility for this issue from the two sides will deepen their conversations in the near future.

Additionally, they discussed crisis management and ways to manage strategic risk, following up on the discussion in November between President Biden and President Xi on the importance of doing so, toward the goal of managing the competition between our two countries to ensure that it does not veer into conflict.

The National Security Advisor also reiterated our One China policy based on the Taiwan Relations Act, Three Communiqués, and Six Assurances. And he underscored concerns about Beijing's courses and provocative actions across the Taiwan Strait.

This meeting, of course, comes not only amid Russia's intensifying invasion in Ukraine, but also the intense work in recent months with our allies and partners in Europe and Asia.

The National Security Advisor described to Yang the unity of the United States and its allies and partners, the unprecedented coordination with our European and NATO Allies in particular, as well as the intense and unprecedented engagement by Asia Pacific allies in bringing the cost on Russia for its actions.

The President, as you know, has been coordinating closely with our Indo-Pacific partners to support the solidarity. And, of course, just less than two weeks ago, President Biden convened a secure video meeting of the Quad leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to discuss the war against Ukraine and the implications for the Indo-Pacific.

So that is what I've got on the meeting, and we'd be happy to take a couple of questions.

MODERATOR: Thanks. Could we re-up the directions again to ask a question please?

Q: Thank you. Can you tell us: What is the current financial situation between China and Russia? And was this call -- this meeting so urgent, particularly because of the threat that Russia -- the possibility Russia might default as soon as Wednesday? And is Russia seeking a bailout from China? And is that your prime concern more than weapons right now -- to stop China from bailing out Russia?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thanks so much, Andrea, for the question. So let me just clarify with a bit of context that, you know, this meeting had been planned for some time. In fact, discussions about planning this meeting started soon after the virtual meeting between the two leaders, which, of course, that meeting was in November. I believe the planning conversations for this meeting today took place -- started in December.

So this was the date that had been agreed upon by the U.S. and China quite some time ago. But, of course, the context in which the conversation is taking place has shifted since the original conversations about this meeting.

So I wouldn't want to somehow convey that there was an urgency necessarily, or that this meeting was timed based on some particular events vis-à-vis Russia/Ukraine. Rather, again, this was a long-planned, long-discussed meeting where, in fact, the timing of it landed, we think, was a really timely and important moment in this crisis.

So that's kind of on the timing piece of it.

You know, on the question about, you know, the financial situation and what our concerns are and whatnot: I mean, number one, I'd have to sort of refer you to Russia and China, respectively, about what the situation actually is. But, you know, what I would just say, in general, is that we do have deep concerns about China's alignment with Russia at this time, and the National Security Advisor was direct about those concerns and the potential implications and consequences of certain actions.

MODERATOR: Can we do our next question, please?

Q: Hi, thanks so much for doing this. I just want to follow on Andrea's question. Does the U.S. have information that China has expressed an openness to providing Russia with the requested military and financial assistance that we've all reported on? And has any assistance been provided from China to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine started?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Kaitlan. I do not have any comments for you on that.

Q: Can you say why you don't have any comment?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I --

OPERATOR: All right, our next ques- --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Inaudible.)

OPERATOR: Sorry.

MODERATOR: Let's let [senior administration official] finish that thought.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not going to comment on the specific reports. You know, what I will say, in general, in terms of concerns vis-à-vis what China may be considering, or what kind of support it could provide: You know, the National Security Advisor was clear, I think, over the weekend.

But we're not communicating via the press with the PRC. We are communicating directly and privately with China about our concerns, about the kinds of support that other countries might be providing to Russia.

MODERATOR: Great. Next question, please.

Q: Hello, thank you. You said it was an intense seven-hour meeting. Why was it so intense? Why was it so long? What did you ask China to do? Was it a successful meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was a lot of -- a lot packed in there, so I'll try and hit all of those, Steve.

You know, why was it intense? I would say, number one, you know, this was pretty -- this is a -- there's a lot of gravity in this moment. And I think the conversation reflected the intensity of that. And I think it was also a very candid conversation, which I -- you know, I think is also important.

Why was it so long? Well, you know, it had been planned as, you know, a relatively lengthy set of meetings -- set of exchanges. We had several sessions throughout the day, including, you know, a one-on-one between the two officials, as they have done previously. And, you know, I think -- I mean, there's practical reasons there, which is, you know, the National Security Advisor and Director Yang flew great lengths to meet. So, important to take that opportunity to cover the wide range of issues, you know, not only in U.S.-China relations, but of, you know, international interest and import. So, I think that is the reason for the length.

You know, on the question of, you know, of a specific ask: You know, I would just say that this meeting was not about negotiating any specific issues or outcomes, but about a candid, direct exchange of views and articulation of those. And I would suppose it depends on how you define success.

But again, we believe that it is important to keep open lines of communication between the United States and China, especially on areas where we disagree. And it's incredibly important to be able to have, you know, candid and direct conversations about those things. And so, I'm certain that that was what occurred today.

Q: Hey, [senior administration official], thanks for doing this. I'm going to try to get you to say something on those reports on the assistance that Russia had requested from China. And I'll try a different way.

When you guys say, you know, that there -- that you're looking for substantial and material support that could be provided, what do you define it as? Is there a red line that China could cross, but if they don't, then there's no consequences for them?

And then secondly, you know, this is a pretty high-stakes moment, as you've said -- you know, also in the context of all of these reports. And I don't know if your candid conversations necessarily always lead to the Chinese understanding exactly what you want from them. So, does it warrant a call between the leaders to follow up and really drive home the points you made today?

And then thirdly -- sorry, because my line is still open -- what did you take into this meeting from allies? And how concerned are they on these reports, on the intel that you shared with them?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Jenny. Love the -- the, like, triple, quadruple questions we've got going here. I'm not too jet-lagged yet to lose track.

So, on the first question -- look, I'm just going to reiterate that we do have deep concerns about China's alignment with Russia at this time. And the National Security Advisor was direct about those concerns and the potential implications and consequences of certain actions.

But again, we're not communicating via the press with China. We're communicating directly and privately.

I don't have anything for you on the question about a call between the leaders, other than, again, we believe it's important to maintain open lines of communication.

And I said I was going to remember your last question, and now I can't read my handwriting here. So, what was the third one?

Q: I think it was concer- -- are our allies and partners concerned about --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, our allies. Right. Yes. Of course, of course, of course.

Look, again, not going to be able to confirm any reports or comment on any new reports that have been in the press. However, as I noted, we have been, you know, working closely, consulting closely with allies and partners over -- you know -- well, over the course of the entire administration, but certainly very intensively in recent months.

You know -- and I would refer you to other capitals to characterize their own views, other than to say that I know that, you know, the -- much of the world is, you know, watching the decisions that various governments are taking in this incredibly important moment.

MODERATOR: Thanks. I think we have time for just one more question, so could we queue that up, please?

Q: Again this Hyeongjoo, VOA. Thank you for this opportunity. My question is about discussion on DPRK. So, could you be a little bit more specific on what Jake Sullivan's message to his counterpart, especially, as you may know, the situation in Korean Peninsula is escalating by North Korea's continuous provocation?

And also, we have a news report, citing South Korean officials, that North Korea intercontinental ballistic missiles launch might be imminent. So what did you ask China to do in dealing with the North Korea? Especially, did you discuss the Chinese continuous objection at the U.N. Security Council to respond the North Korean missile test?

And also, how would you respond if North Korea launched the intercontinental ballistic missile? How would you respond?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question. So, obviously -- oh, there's a bit of an echo. Okay, it's better now.

You know, obviously -- you know, we have serious concerns about the recent escalatory actions that we have seen from the DPRK. You know, the National Security Advisor was clear with Director Yang not only about those concerns, but also, you know, about the steps that we believe are necessary in this moment and the work that we hope to be able to engage with China on.

We do think there is a history of the United States and China being able to work together on this issue, in addition to, obviously, the United States continuing our close work with our allies in Seoul and Tokyo.

And, you know, that's where the two sides -- the National Security Advisor and Director Yang -- discussed ensuring that there are follow-up conversations in the near future, building on recent discussions between, you know, our Special Representative Sung Kim and his Chinese Special Representative Liu Xiaoming in order to further discuss specific ways that the United States and China may be able to press the DPRK on a different path.

MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, everyone. That was our last question. As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a "senior administration official." The embargo on the contents of this call have now lifted.

If you have any more questions, please feel free to reach out to me and we'll make sure to get back to you. Thanks, everyone.

3:18 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on China Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354910

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