Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific Strategy
11:07 A.M. EST
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone, for joining us. As mentioned, this is a call to preview the U.S. strategy towards the Indo-Pacific. This call is on background and attributable to a "senior administration official."
As you might have all seen, we updated the invite, and the embargo is now 3:00 p.m. Eastern. So just keep that in mind.
For your awareness and not for reporting, the speaker on the call today is [senior administration official]. And with that, I will turn it over to [senior administration official] for some opening remarks. And then we'll get to some questions.
Over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much. And thank you all for joining.
So, as [moderator] just said, today we are rolling out President Biden's comprehensive vision for an Indo-Pacific that is free, open, prosperous, secure, and resilient.
Secretary of State Blinken is in the region right now to share it with our partners, while continuing to strengthen key diplomatic relationships and advance our shared priorities.
And, you know, I think it's worth highlighting the significance of Secretary Blinken speaking about the strategy while he's in Fiji. The U.S. is a Pacific nation, and we are going to devote significant attention to the Pacific Islands as part of the strategy, which you should be seeing.
So, you know, just to frame this: You know, as some of you remember, Secretary Blinken was in the region in December of last year. And while he was in Indonesia, he spoke about President Biden's vision to more firmly anchor the United States in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen the region in the process. And he'll build on that vision and articulate it more explicitly in the form of this strategy and his statements while he's in Fiji -- tonight our time, tomorrow their time.
I want to take a minute to talk about why we are releasing this strategy and how it's different than others in the past.
For some time, leaders from both political parties, and certainly on Capitol Hill, have recognized the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific. This strategy is part of that tradition and builds on the work of previous administrations and, I think, the broader consensus that has emerged on the importance of the Indo-Pacific region.
It argues that no region will be more vital to the United States in the future and that American security and prosperity fundamentally depend on that of the Indo-Pacific.
I think it's important to make clear that, in our view, this vision is shared in a bipartisan fashion at home, in the region, and also with key partners, including in Europe.
There are two key elements to our approach.
First, the goal of this strategy is to strengthen the U.S. role in the region, which we believe is very important to the region but obviously very important to us.
Second, we seek to build the collective capacity to rise to 21st century challenges and seize opportunities, whether that has to do with climate, with PRC behavior, or preparing for the next pandemic and recovering from this one.
This strategy builds on the work that we've already been doing in the region and, I think, all of you have seen in the first year of the administration. The administration has made history, marking the first and the second time that the Quad -- which, as you know, is the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan -- has met at the leader level.
And as an aside, I would just note that Secretary Blinken was just in Australia meeting with the Quad foreign ministers. This marks the third meeting -- in-person meeting of the ministers and the second standalone meeting and the first standalone in-person meeting of this administration. I think it reflects the continuing commitment to developing the Quad.
Also, other things that we've been doing, and I think all of you are aware: For the first time in seven decades, the U.S. has committed to share our most sensitive nuclear submarine technology with another country, and launching AUKUS was a key way to bolster deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. And building that out, we believe, has significant advantages for the U.S., for our partners, but more broadly for the region.
This is the first -- it is also -- we've seen the first time a sitting U.S. President has addressed the Pacific Islands Forum. And it's the first time that we -- that every member of the G7 and the Republic of Korea have stated publicly the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
We've also -- and you may have seen yesterday -- we announced that we will be hosting APEC in 2023, which we very much look forward to serving to, both to strengthen our engagement in the region but also to advance key economic objectives that will -- we believe can better -- ensure that our economic engagement better serves all of our citizens across the region.
And we've strengthened our alliances and partnerships in Southeast Asia, harmonizing our approaches on critical and emerging technologies and working to strengthen supply chains.
You all have the full strategy in hand, so I'm not going to go through everything, but I'll quickly lay out the key pillars: Number one is to advance freedom and openness. Number two is to build collective capacity within and beyond the region. Number three is to promote shared prosperity. Number four is to bolster Indo-Pacific security. And number five is to build regional resilience.
And I just want to lay out very quickly, and then I'll turn it over to you for questions, about the key ways in which we will put the strategy further into action.
Some of the core lines of effort we'll pursue in the coming 12 to 24 months is:
Drive new resources in the Indo-Pacific, including by working with Congress.
Launch the Indo-Pacific economic framework.
Reinforce deterrence, including by working with our partners in AUKUS.
Support India's continued rise and regional leadership.
Deliver on what we see as the tremendous potential and promise of the Quad.
Expand our efforts in the Pacific Islands.
Grow Japan-ROK cooperation as part of strengthening our ability to work trilaterally. And it's in that context, I note, that Secretary Blinken will be meeting with his ROK and Japanese counterparts in a trilateral meeting in Hawaii tomorrow and that our Special Representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, has just met with his counterparts in Hawaii yesterday.
And then we also -- obviously, as a critical part of our efforts is supporting good governance and accountability and making sure that the citiz- -- that the governments in the region are responsive to their citizens.
And then promoting open, resilient, secure, trustworthy tech, including 5G, OpenRAN, and cyber capacity.
And I think that the key thing is -- to just emphasize: This builds on the longstanding
U.S. engagement in the region. It builds on the work of previous administrations. And it builds on what we see as a very broad, bipartisan consensus in the United States on the importance of the region, including the very strong people-to-people ties that are part of anchoring us in the region and our status as a Pacific nation.
However, it's worth keeping of mind: This is not our China strategy. This -- you know, we very clearly identify China as one of the challenges that is -- that the region faces and, in particular, the rise of China and China's much more assertive and aggressive behavior.
But, you know, our China strategy is global in scope. It recognizes the Indo-Pacific as a particularly intense region of competition.
And over the past year, you've seen some of the key elements of our strategy in action. You know, these include investing in ourselves, aligning with our allies and partners, which will allow us to compete more effectively with China, and also making sure that we're able to responsibly manage the competition so it does not veer into conflict.
We recognize the limitations in our ability to change China, and therefore seek to shape the strategic environment around China by building a balance of influences that advances the future we seek, while blunting Beijing's efforts to frustrate U.S. objectives and those of our partners.
So, you know, I think that -- in that context, I would just note that in our engagements in the past year -- and I think this is very much what previous administrations saw -- we've heard very clearly the importance of the U.S. playing an affirmative, positive role in the region.
There is great appreciation for what the U.S. has been able to do and has helped the region accomplish in the past, you know, however many years. And we really -- you know, if we could go back to it -- we have had strong trading links to the region, going back for, you know, more than -- well over a century.
We've had strong interests in the region. And we've been playing a critical role in the region since the end of World War Two. Countries in the region want to see the U.S. continuing to play an important role. And they want to continue to see an affirmative U.S. vision for what we are doing that is not couched in suggesting that countries need to take sides.
Our view is that what we want to do is to, you know, make sure that we are building on this longstanding track record while at the same time updating our approach to deal with the challenges of today, which obviously include China but also include climate change -- which, as you know, is existential for many of the countries in the region -- but also dealing with recovery from the pandemic, which -- you know, I think one of the things Secretary Blinken will be meeting with the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum while he's in Fiji -- you know, the pandemic has been particularly devastating economically for the islands, for the island states, and -- which also face, obviously, extraordinary challenges from climate change.
So, I think that we believe there is a real interest in a positive U.S. vision that builds on what we've done, that updates it, that recognizes that we have to work with allies and partners in the region, as well as from outside the region, to be effective.
That builds on, I think, the very clear articulation that we've seen from the EU, that we've seen from others about their Indo-Pacific vision, but also builds on those much stronger links that we're in the process of building with key players throughout the region.
So with that, I'll take questions.
Q: Hi. Thanks. Two quick questions. One is: Could you maybe elaborate or just expand a little bit on our thinking of -- or your thinking of how the U.S. policy towards Taiwan and its potential defense may have evolved, or just how you're kind of currently thinking about that?
But also, like, with AUKUS, we saw Australia kind of really stop hedging its bets and maybe kind of sign up with the U.S. and others. Do you see progress on that front with a country like India, which is not quite so sure yet? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, look, let me just first touch on Taiwan. Obviously, we fully recognize the importance of peace and stability in and across the straits of Taiwan.
I think, you know, we explicitly say that we will work with partners inside and outside the region to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, including by supporting Taiwan's self-defense capabilities, to ensure an environment in which Taiwan's future is determined peacefully in accordance with the wishes and best interests of Taiwan's people.
You know, we see -- and I think you've seen our efforts to get more countries to articulate the strong interests that virtually everybody has in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. And I think that we will continue working on that effort.
And I think that we believe that the greater interest in the Indo-Pacific from partners outside the region is a real opportunity to expand the international interest in this and sent very clear signals to all concerned about the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the strait.
With regard to India, I think we very explicitly highlight the importance of, you know, what the last four administrations have all played a very important role in advancing, which is the much greater U.S. engagement, much improved U.S. relations with and much closer U.S. partnership with India.
And, obviously, India's role in the Quad, I think, is a very significant element of that, including the much-enhanced ability to speak frankly about issues in the region; to work together to deliver, you know, essentially, public goods that address, you know, challenges in the region; and to enhance ways in which we can coordinate. You know, so we see this as a very, very high priority.
Obviously, you know, India is in a very different place, in many ways, than Australia, than other countries. But India faces very significant challenges. And I think that, you know, China's behavior in the line of actual control has had a galvanizing impact on India.
And I think that, you know, from our standpoint, we see tremendous opportunities in working with another democracy, with a country that has a maritime tradition that understands the importance of the global commons to advance critical issues in the region.
So, hopefully, that answers your question. But I would just note, you know, there is tremendous appreciation of the importance and the challenges of engage -- of strengthening the engagement with India and a recognition that India is a critical strategic partner, and a desire to continue building on the very good work of previous administrations to significantly broaden and deepen that relationship.
Q: Yeah. Can you hear me?
OPERATOR: Yes, we can.
Q: Okay, sorry about that. I fear this is too much of a 30,000-foot question, but I was wondering if you could take a stab at it. Do you think China came into this administration hoping for a reset, and they've been disappointed and are now acknowledging there's going to be a lot of continuity from the Trump administration pivot on China and what you're announcing today?
And are you trying to design a strategy that can survive any future change in administration and keep at bay some of the arguments, for example, that we saw in Senator Sanders's Foreign Affairs article, you know, "Washington's Dangerous New Consensus on China"? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, those are very good questions. I don't want to be in the position of trying to characterize what China believed or didn't believe. I mean -- you know, but I think that, from our standpoint, we believe that there are some key elements that we lay out in the strategy of our concerns -- and concerns which I think are broadly shared in the region -- about some of China's actions and China's behavior, and that there is a strong desire -- and we've heard that very clearly from allies and partners and countries across the region as we've engaged with them -- there's a strong desire for the U.S. to be there.
I think that in terms of -- you know, I'd -- you know, look, in terms of, like, how long this lasts: I think that what we have seen and what we, you know, have explicitly built on -- that there's been longstanding continuity that is, you know, across administrations and across parties in terms of looking at the basic principles of what we do with the region. That's not to say that everything has been identical. Obviously, there have been differences, and there's been some evolution.
But I think that we can go back a number of administrations and see a much greater focus on the Indo-Pacific -- a recognition of how much of growth in, you know, recent years has been driven by the Indo-Pacific and how much of global growth in coming years is likely to be driven by the Indo-Pacific.
I think that there's also a recognition that the basic ways in which the U.S. deals with the region need to evolve. And so, we've been working on that, and I think we will continue to do this.
I think that the key things for us is: We want to highlight the areas where there is broad agreement because, obviously, that is, you know, reassuring to the region. And I think it's important to also make clear that we fully recognize the debt that we owe to a variety of predecessors, but to make also clear our vision for -- and the President's vision for how we engage with the region.
I think that, you know, one of the challenges is obviously, you know, there -- it's -- and it's always a challenge -- is: How do you mobilize resources? How do you sustain focus to ensure continuity? You know, I think that, in our view, we are continuing to build on what's been done before; we're trying to expand it, trying to modernize it.
You know, I would just note, you know, the focus on the Quad, taking it to the leader level; AUKUS; trying to expand engagement with ASEAN institutionally -- these are things which, you know, in some ways build on what's been done in the past, but will also reflect the President's view and the administration's view of the importance of moving quickly to deal with the new realities that we confront.
Q: Could you explain --
MODERATOR: Yeah. Patsy, did you have a question? We didn't hear you. Patsy? Okay, let's -- let's just go to our next question, please.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hello?
Q: Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: Okay, great. Thank you so much for doing this. Just two quick questions. Could you just talk first about the timing of the strategy? Because President Biden had stressed repeatedly the importance of establishing close partnership with the region, but it's taken over a year for this strategy to finally be released. So, what was the reason behind this?
And my second question is: How much of an impact, if any, does the ongoing situation in Ukraine and Russia have on crafting the Indo-Pacific strategy in how the U.S. wants to work with the region to stand up to Russia? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you for that. Look, I mean, the first thing I'd do is just point out that this is, in fact, the first regional strategy to come out. So, I think that that does signal the importance the administration puts on the region.
I think that, you know, in terms of the time it took -- look, I mean, this is a challenge always to do in a way that brings in and has coordination across the administration, across the different departments and agencies of the U.S. government -- that, you know, we wanted to listen, to make clear that we understood and heard what countries in the region said.
So -- and we didn't want to do this -- and I think the admin- -- the pres- -- the view was not that we immediately roll this out. It's that we wanted to do something that was reflective of input from allies and partners -- input from the region -- and that was a considered view across the administration.
So, you know, hopefully, that -- you know, we believe that we have a document that does those things, that -- and, in particular, that reflects very much inputs that we got from a variety of partners, both in the region and outside.
I would note that one of the things that we particularly call out and is -- the potential we see in cooperation with other outside players that have their own Indo-Pacific strategies -- and I would note particularly the EU, but also France, the UK, other countries in Europe that are significantly ramping up their engagement. We see that as offering a tremendous amount of potential to expand cooperation.
And I think that one of the things that this is particularly, you know, reflective of is -- and the experience of -- in the first year, and it reflects the President's very fundamental view: To be successful, we have to work close with our allies and partners. And I think that that is something that is very much baked into this. And that desire to expand those relationships also change, perhaps, some of the structures, including by emphasizing the Quad, AUKUS -- building up AUKUS. These are things that reflect the understanding of the realities in the region.
In terms of -- on the question about standing up to Russia: Look, I mean, obviously, there are always going to be challenges. And I think that one of the fundamental, you know, issues in American foreign policy is it is almost always hard to provide the kind of, you know, sole focus on one region because things inevitably are happening elsewhere.
I think that we are very confident of our ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. And I would just note that Secretary Blinken is in the region right now. He has done the Quad foreign ministers meeting in Australia, which is, you know, really the continued expansion of form and framework that was created before but which this administration has invested heavily in upgrading and expanding.
He's going to Fiji where he's meeting with the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum. And again, you know, secretaries of state have engaged with them in the past, but it's been more sporadic and usually at their annual meeting.
This, I think, stands out as an effort to engage with them, you know, outside of this sort of structure of their annual meeting.
And then he's going to Honolulu where he'll meet with his Korean and Japanese counterparts in a trilateral, which, again, this is something that we've done before but, you know, we're basically touching three different parts of Asia that sort of -- the Quad, the traditional Northeast Asia, and then obviously the Pacific. And we're doing that at a time when there are immense pressures and demands elsewhere.
And I think that reflects the fact that the administration recognizes the importance of sustained engagement in the region, also recognizes that the United States doesn't have the luxury to only focus on one region or one problem at a time.
In terms of Russia: I think that, you know, this is not explicitly about Russia. You know, if you look carefully what's there, I mean, this is about enduring -- an enduring U.S. vision for how we engage with the region. But we believe that the basic principles we articulate here about freedom of choice, about the ability of countries to chart their own paths are very, very relevant to the current situation. And they reflect an articulation of longstanding U.S views and also the importance we place on working in collaboration with close partners and building -- helping the region strengthen its own resiliency.
And I would just note: We see ourselves as part of that region. And so, we see some of the efforts that we've done to strengthen ourselves as being part of strengthening the region's resilience.
So, hopefully that gives you at least something of what you need. Thank you.
Q: (Inaudible) about the importance of the Indo-Pacific economic framework and the reactions in the region -- a lot of countries, Japan included, had urged the U.S. to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or now the CPTPP -- and whether the framework is enough, or whether this is a disappointment to allies in the region? And it looks for something that was going to work on not only issues like digital and labor, but also market access and a much more comprehensive reintegration or framework -- a little more comprehensive tie into the region.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Totally appreciate your question. I think -- well, a couple of things. I think, one, you can see that one of the pillars of the strategy is to promote shared prosperity. I think we, you know, want to make clear we believe the U.S. is already very engaged economically in the region. We're the largest outside investor. We have extensive trade that supports millions of jobs in the United States as well as in other countries in the Indo-Pacific. We believe this is something that is, you know, very fundamental to our engagement with the region.
We also recognize that the region wants to see further U.S. economic engagement. I think that, you know, we have worked closely with key -- our partners as we have been developing the Indo-Pacific economic framework.
I would note that -- you know, watch this space on more details there. This is coming out, but I think you'll be seeing relatively, you know, in your future as you can -- as I'm -- you're no doubt aware, the, you know, further details on the Indo-Pacific economic framework.
But I think that, you know, we recognize that countries want to see more. We also recognize that, you know, some of the challenges that we're dealing with today and that have really been highlighted in the pandemic -- and, in particular, supply chain disruptions -- are not things that are addressed by some of the traditional framework.
So we think that there is demand for quite a few of these elements. And I think that, you know, the -- our partners are very realistic about the constraints and challenges in which we operate and the President's views on this.
At the same time -- I just want to be very clear -- we recognize that we need to be engaged economically, and we need to find ways to strengthen and expand our economic engagement in order to be successful. I think that the framework will do this.
And I think that our, at least initial, impression is: Yes, you know, there are many countries that have expectations about what they would like to see, but, you know, I think they are all very realistic and recognize that what we are doing is a reflection of our having heard them and our engaging with them to try and address as many of those concerns as we believe are appropriate. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, [senior administration official]. And thank you, everyone, for joining.
As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to "senior administration officials." The contents of the call are embargoed until 3:00 p.m. Eastern.
You also have an embargoed copy of the factsheet and the strategy in your inboxes. If you did not receive it, you can email me or NSC Press. And just, you know, again, those products are also embargoed until 3:00 p.m. Eastern today.
Thanks for your time, and have a good rest of your day.
11:35 A.M. EST
Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials Previewing the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific Strategy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354467