Mike Pence photo

Background Press Call on the Vice President's Trip to Asia

November 09, 2018

Via Telephone

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, everyone. The President spoke a year ago at the APEC CEO's Summit in Da Nang and laid out the United States vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. And the President painted a picture of a region that is dynamic, encompasses half the world's population; a third of its economy; it's diverse; and a country -- or a region, rather, that must remain free and open in order for American prosperity and security to be sustained.

And so he laid out that vision. And in other speeches by senior Cabinet officers since, as well as by the Vice President, the administration has put more concrete deliverables and more concrete framing and substance into that vision that the President first laid out a year ago.

I'd refer you to Secretary Mattis's speech that he gave at the Shangri-La dialogue in the spring. I'd refer you also to Secretary Pompeo's speech that he gave during the summer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum where he laid out the economic pillar of freedom for the Indo-Pacific. And of course, the Vice President's speech at the Hudson Institute, more recently, talking about the relationship with China.

So, the Vice President, what you'll see him unveiling over the course of this week are concrete, substantive initiatives that help the country fulfill that, and the President's vision, of a free and open Indo-Pacific. So you're going to see bilateral agreements with some of our longstanding partners, particularly on the economic side, the economic pillar of the strategy that includes things in the digital economy space, in the energy space, as well as infrastructure projects.

There will be agreements that go beyond just bilateral, to trilateral and perhaps even larger initiatives that we will be conducting cooperation with partners in order to fulfill the principles that were laid out in that vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

The basic principles that we're seeking to sustain, and which other countries across the region want to see sustained, include protecting the sovereignty and independence of countries so that they can all have the freedom to be themselves without political and other forms of interference from abroad, from other powers.

It includes maintaining the free access to the Maritime Commons and to air space and international waters and international air lanes so that our commerce can continue to grow.

And he'll also sort of walk the world audience through what it is that the United States has really done substantively in the year since President Trump first laid out that vision and give some very concrete ideas of the new things that we're doing going forward.

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Why don't we open it up to questions?

Q: Yes. This is Patsy Widakuswara with Voice of America. I have a question in relation to how important is ASEAN to the administration. What role does it play in the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy, especially in light of the fact that the administration seems to prefer bilateral trade negotiations rather than deal with ASEAN as a bloc, which is what other major trading partners, including China and the EU, have achieved with their free agreement at ASEAN.

In the same line of questioning, will you rejoin the TPP? Is there any consideration or any discussion about rejoining the TPP?

And one question about the South China Sea. What is the administration doing to ensure countries in the region of U.S. commitment, but at the same time, not creating the sense that they have to choose between Washington and Beijing in light of recent escalation of tensions between the two? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, thanks. Thanks for your questions. ASEAN is central to our country's strategy. It is central to the broader Indo-Pacific region's vision of a free and open order. ASEAN was really started as a means for preventing outside powers from interfering in the internal politics of those countries. So that band of neighbors banded together during the Cold War to ensure that they would not be subverted or unduly interfered in, and so that they could remain -- maintain that freedom to be themselves, as Lee Kuan Yew often put it.

And so we believe that the architecture that ASEAN is a part of, and really the kernel of, is still of upmost importance. It's one of the founding principles of this common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. ASEAN is at the center of the East Asia Summit that the Vice President will be participating in.

It's, of course, part of the U.S.-ASEAN configuration. It's at the center of the APEC configuration as well. And so that is something that our administration's policies seek to bolster and promote. So these sort of spurious claims that we aren't multilateral are kind of laughable, especially when you see the Vice President's schedule over the next week.

In terms of trade, the President certainly makes no apologies for the fact that some of the major multilateral trade agreements that we've entered into in the past have not delivered on the promises that were made by those who negotiated them. And that's been true for broad segments of the American public. It's also been true for the publics in other countries throughout the region. We've seen non-inclusive and lopsided growth and (inaudible) accruing as a result of some of those.

So, naturally, there's been some skepticism among the American public about some kind of new trade agreement that is multilateral rather than approaching these one at a time to ensure that we have the ability to enforce the agreement; that we negotiate; and to ensure that those agreements really do deliver on the kinds of grandiose promises that Americans have heard in the past and have grown skeptical of.

So the President said a year ago that we stand ready to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with any country in the Indo-Pacific that is willing to abide by the principles of fairness and reciprocity.

The President wants to see free trade, but it's got to be fair and we've got to be able to enforce the elements of this agreement. So right now, we're pursuing bilateral agreements. We've even completed some bilateral agreements, as you saw with the KORUS Agreement in the region recently.

On the South China Sea, we have made clear, even from the first day in office, that the United States is going to fly and sail everywhere that international law permits, and we are not going to permit a new order being imposed on the region that undoes the -- that threatens the stability and predictability of the rules-based system that has served all of us in the region, including China well in past decades.

And that is a view that is shared by countries all across the Indo-Pacific region. It's why you see no country recognizing excessive claims by any one country. It's why you see a lot of activity by countries throughout the region and even more broadly, around the world, to demonstrate that we're going to continue flying, sailing where international law permits.

So, I don't -- I think this idea that there's a -- to your last question, that anyone is trying to impose a choice on the countries of the region to choose between one grouping or another, certainly from the U.S. perspective, that's not something the United States is doing. A free and open Indo-Pacific is really a set of common principles. It's not an exclusive grouping. It's not a club. It is a set of values and principles that serve all the countries in the region well and that the vast majority of countries in the region want to see sustained.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thanks. Any other questions?

Q: Thank you so much. Good morning. My question -- first set of question is: Is there any arrangement for Vice President Pence to meet with Morris Chang, who is Taiwan's representative to APEC, either in (inaudible) meeting or in another forum?

And separately, did the United States receive warning from China about meetings or interaction between Vice President Pence and Taiwan's envoy?

And lastly, a follow-up to Patsy's question on South China Sea: How concerned is the United States regarding China insertion in the draft of South China Sea Code of Conduct that put restrictions on ASEAN's ability to conduct military exercises with the security partners outside the region and to conduct oil and gas exploration? Thank you so much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. So, you know, there's nothing at the moment that we have to -- in our schedule related to the engagement that you just mentioned. But you know, we'll share more details about the Vice President's schedule overall as the trip goes on.

The question you have about the code of conduct -- you know, this idea of being forced to choose if, in fact, one country were trying to install some kind of a veto over other countries' ability to conduct military exercises and military engagement on its own terms -- that would constitute a form of interference that I don't believe very many countries in the region would abide, and I'll just leave it at that.

Q: I just want to make sure I read you correctly. So for (inaudible), are you ruling out that there's an arrangement between Vice President Pence and Morris Chang to meet?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I'm saying that we -- what we just ran through in the schedule -- what my colleague just laid out is what we are now ready to publicly announce. And of course, there are a lot of other details in the schedule that are still in flux, as you can imagine, given that you've got, you know, well over a dozen world leaders converging on two conferences at the same time.

So we're still working out the schedule, and we'll announce meetings as they occur.

Q: Have the U.S. received any warnings on China to prevent such interaction over anything regarding Taiwan-related issues?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The United States will meet with whomever the United States wants to meet with.

Q: Thank you so much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Do we have anything else for the questions?

Q: I have two questions. The first one is about sort of the Vice President's ability to speak for the administration. We've heard from a number of different officials and foreign diplomats -- a little worried about how much authority, and how much they can trust various Cabinet Secretaries and even the Vice President when (inaudible) -- does he undercuts them or goes a different direction.

One example is with the Vice President's trip to South Korea earlier this year, he took a very antagonistic tone and didn't meet with North Koreans, and then a couple of months later, the President agreed to meet with the North Koreans and it seemed like there was a little bit of a disconnect there.

So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how the Vice President might be seen as the carrier of the President's message, especially as it relates to China, right before the President is going to meet with President Xi?

And then secondly, if you could talk at all -- I don't know if this has already been asked about the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. Does the Vice President have a message to bring to these summits about that issue? And what's the stance of the administration about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Got it. It cut out a little bit at the very end, so I didn't get your second question. We'll come back to that.

But for the first one, I just want to say, the idea -- well, the Vice President spends hours a day with the President of the United States. The relationship is remarkable. And the President asked the Vice President specifically to do this trip on his behalf because he believed that he would be the ideal messenger for the President on American policy for the region, the President's objectives in trade and investments, and strategically. And that goes for the entire Indo-Pacific strategy. That goes for our bilateral relationships across the region; the relationship and respect for ASEAN centrality. And it also goes for the U.S. relationship with China.

The President reviews carefully, and the Vice President -- I've watched him seek the President's advice on public remarks that the Vice President makes on Asia, routinely, and certainly on all major statements and speeches.

So there should be zero question as to who the Vice President is speaking for and on great authority when he does speak.

And then, could you repeat your second question please?

Q: Yeah. Sure. It was about the issue of the Myanmar and the refugees in Rakhine State. Obviously, the region is grappling with what to do and how hard to pressure Myanmar about that issue. And I wonder if the administration is coming with a specific message from the Trump administration about how that issue should be addressed.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Yeah. I won't get ahead of the Vice President on specific messages for specific countries. I can tell you that we have been quite vocal about the ethnic cleansing that took place last year in August, and the humanitarian catastrophe that that has caused, and which the United States has been the lead in trying to alleviate the human suffering. And also, we've been in the lead in working to hold accountable those who did their worst in perpetrating those acts.

We have, as you've probably seen, put out and designated seven individuals and entities under Global Magnitsky Act. That's close to about 10 percent of all designations ever applied under the Global Magnitsky Act. It's included military units; it's included general officers. And so I'd refer you to those actions and statements that we've been making all along.

We also want to see Myanmar continue its transition towards a more responsive and democratic form of governance. We don't wish to see a return to the long period of military rule. We don't believe it's in the interest of any of the people within Myanmar, to include the Rohingya people; we don't think it's in the interest of regional stability; nor is it in the interest of the United States to see that kind of a reversion.

But we're going to be holding accountable -- we are and will continue to hold accountable those who perpetrated those acts.

Q: Yes, sorry. Thanks for taking my follow-up. Basically, on the TPP question, which I believe you haven't addressed, is there any discussion to consider rejoining? This was very central to the Obama-era pivot to Asia.

I guess what I'm asking for is, if there is no discussion about rejoining, what is replacing that central framework under the freedom -- the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy? And perhaps also, whether Vice President Pence will be highlighting the new U.S. agency, the U.S. IDFC, which is replacing OPIC. How will that be presented -- whether that will be presented as a big offer, I guess, from the U.S. to counter One Belt, One Road?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. The President has said, before he came into office, that he would withdraw, and he made good on that promise. He said that he would renegotiate the NAFTA agreement, and he has made good on that promise. He said that he would improve the terms of our Korea-United States free trade agreement, the KORUS Agreement, and he's made good on that.

The President more recently announced, together with the Japanese Prime Minister, that our two countries would soon engage in negotiations to achieve a bilateral trade agreement. And the President intends to make good on that. The President has also said that he stands ready to pursue bilateral trade agreements with any of the countries in the region, including signatories to the TPP. And I have every expectation that he going to make good on that as well.

I think enough said on that topic.

With the Overseas Private Investment Corporation -- which has been newly empowered by the BUILD Act, which the President recently signed into law -- the OPIC has new authorities. It has new resources available to pursue the kinds of development assistance -- development projects that are true to free and open market-based systems and the kind of high-quality, transparent deals that best serve the United States and serve the region well.

The President, a year ago, when he was in Tokyo, signed an MOU between OPIC and Japan's JBIC. And in the year since, they've been hard at work collaborating on bidding on various projects throughout the Indo-Pacific region. And next week, you'll hear a bit more about that. And in the weeks that follow, you'll hear more about that.

You'll hear about other governments that are participating in that kind of collaboration to effect the kind of clean and high-quality infrastructure, energy, and digital economy projects that the region deserves and that are best going to serve sustainable development across the region. So I encourage you to keep your eye on that.

I also encourage you to think about Secretary Pompeo's speech that he gave at the end of July when he really talked about how American development assistance is designed really to get more private capital off the sidelines. We've already gotten masses of stock of American foreign direct investment into the Indo-Pacific. In fact, the amount is greater than all of China's, South Korea's, and Japan's investment combined, by far. And we are going to keep building on that, and the Vice President will talk a bit about the ways it will continue building on that.

But what we're doing is bringing more private capital off the sidelines. The amount of private capital -- tens of trillions of dollars that's available -- blows out of the water any amount of government assistance that all over the world, governments combined, could marshal. I mean, it makes other countries' signature programs look miniscule by comparison, and it also leads to non-corrupt, high-quality, sustainable forms of development that best serve all of us.

Mike Pence, Background Press Call on the Vice President's Trip to Asia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/351041

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