January 20, 2022

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Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink and Senior Official for International Organizational Affairs Erica Barks-Ruggles on the Secretary’s Upcoming Travel to the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hawaii

29 min read

Daniel J. Kritenbrink, Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles, Senior Bureau OfficialBureau of International Organization Affairs

Via Teleconference

MR ICE:  Thank you, operator, and good afternoon.  Glad to have everyone with us today for this briefing.  As we announced officially this morning, Secretary Blinken is preparing to travel to the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting in Liverpool, the United Kingdom, followed by travel to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hawaii.  We’re very glad to have with us today two colleagues from the Department of State who are going to preview the trip for you.

On the line we have with us, from the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Senior Bureau Official Erica Barks-Ruggles; and from the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Assistant Secretary Daniel Kritenbrink.  Our two briefers are going to start us off with some opening remarks here at the top, and then we’re going to take a few of your questions.  I would like to take this opportunity just to remind everyone that the subject of our briefing today is the Secretary’s upcoming travel, so we will look to hew closely to that topic.

I’ll also mention that we are on the record, but the contents of this briefing are embargoed until the end of the call.  Okay.  And with that, let’s go to Senior Bureau Official Erica Barks-Ruggles for her opening remarks.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES:  Great.  Thank you very much, J.T.  I’m very happy to be on this call with my colleague, Assistant Secretary Dan Kritenbrink.  As J.T. mentioned, I’m Erica Barks-Ruggles, the senior bureau official with the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

This coming Sunday1, Secretary Blinken is traveling to Liverpool to participate in the second G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting of the year.  He’s going at the invitation of the UK, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7 this year.  On this call, I’ll preview some of the themes to be discussed at the G7 and run down the Secretary’s schedule.  I will then turn over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink to discuss the other aspects of the trip following that.

So for his agenda, this G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate the G7’s leadership on shared goals and values, to reaffirm our commitment to building back better on global infrastructure, economic recovery, health, and climate.  The ministers will also address international security challenges.  The Secretary is looking forward to discussing areas of mutual interest such as geopolitical and security issues, economic partnerships, vaccines, and global health security, as well as economic growth in the Indo-Pacific region.

I’ll move now to the Secretary’s schedule as it currently stands, understanding that there may be changes.  The Secretary is due to arrive in Liverpool on Friday, December 10th.  That’s this Friday.  On Saturday, December 11th, the Secretary will participate in morning meetings attended by the G7 foreign ministers focused on geopolitical and security issues.  That will be followed by a working lunch, and after that the Secretary will have a meeting on economic partnership and investment with G7 foreign ministers and development ministers.  There will be a reception and dinner to close out the day on the 11th.  On the final day, Sunday, December 12th, the Secretary will attend meetings focused on Indo-Pacific issues, followed by meetings on vaccines and global health security.  These meetings will have in attendance G7 foreign ministers and development ministers, ASEAN members, and invited guests.  This will be followed by a closing lunch.  That concludes the schedule of events for the G7 meetings in Liverpool.

I’ll now turn to my colleague Assistant Secretary Dan Kritenbrink from the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the rest of the trip.  Dan.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you, Erica, so much.  And thanks to everyone for joining us this afternoon.  I’m delighted to be here with you.  As was announced earlier today, the Secretary will be traveling to – excuse me, to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand following the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting in the UK.  The Secretary’s trip will come on the heels of several recent senior-level visits to the region, including by Commerce Secretary Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Tai.  Incidentally, I also just returned from the region over the weekend.

More broadly, the Secretary’s trip is the latest example of the Biden-Harris administration’s sustained engagement with Indo-Pacific countries.  As you will recall, both Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin made Asia their first stops after they were confirmed.  As an Indo-Pacific nation, America’s security and economic interests are intrinsically tied to the preservation of the rules-based order that has served all of us so well.  And these three countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand – are essential components of the Biden-Harris administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

The Secretary’s trip will focus on the following areas: security, health, economy, and people-to-people ties.  He will also discuss the climate crisis, democracy and human rights, and our efforts to address the worsening crisis in Burma.

On security, the Secretary’s meetings will focus on strengthening the regional security infrastructure in response to PRC bullying in the South China Sea.  The Secretary will also discuss unilateral PRC actions in the Mekong River.

On health, the Secretary will highlight U.S. commitments to helping all countries emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Thus far, the United States has contributed over 90 million vaccine doses to the region as part of President Biden’s pledge to help provide 1.2 billion doses to the world.  All of this, of course, has been done with no strings attached.

On the economy, the Secretary will discuss the administration’s Indo-Pacific economic framework, which will enhance economic cooperation with Indo-Pacific nations across a variety of issues, including trade facilitation, the digital economy, supply chain resiliency, infrastructure, decarbonization and clean energy, and workers’ standards.

On people-to-people ties, in addition to highlighting the 25.5 million funding support for the Billion Futures initiative to promote programs on education, English-language learning, and gender equality and equity, which the President announced at the October 2020 – 2021 ASEAN Summit, the Secretary also plans to reaffirm the United States and Indonesia’s ongoing commitment and support of educational exchanges and cooperation on teaching and training through the signing of an education cooperation MOU.  This MOU would also facilitate renewing our Fulbright agreement that suffered as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.

In each country, the Secretary will reiterate to his counterparts the importance of holding the Burmese military regime to account for its crimes and seeking to restore Burma’s path to democracy.

The Secretary will also discuss the importance of further efforts to address the climate crisis through strong action this decade, including accelerating the energy transition, reversing forest loss, and increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change in the region.

As the President said at the recent U.S.-ASEAN Summit, the relationship between the United States and ASEAN is vital for the future of all 1 billion of our people.  President Biden is committed to elevating U.S.-ASEAN engagement to unprecedented levels, expanding our formal engagement and cooperation via new ministerial-level meetings on climate and environment, energy, health, transportation, and gender equality and women’s empowerment.  We strongly support ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.  ASEAN’s success is our success, and vice versa.  ASEAN sits at the center of the region’s architecture, and these three countries are three of the most active and influential members in ASEAN.

The Secretary’s visit will come on the heels of the Summit for Democracy, which begins tomorrow.  Throughout his visit, the Secretary will not only engage with civil society leaders, but will also press his counterparts to strengthen existing democratic institutions and protections.

More specifically on the schedule, in Indonesia the Secretary will meet with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Health Minister Budi Sadikin, Education Minister Nadiem Makarim, and other senior officials to reaffirm the strong U.S.-Indonesian strategic partnership and the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region to our two countries.  They will also discuss responses to COVID-19 and the climate crisis as well as expanding cooperation in areas such as maritime cooperation, global health, education, and the digital economy.  The Secretary will also express our support for Indonesia’s chairmanship of the G20 in 2022.

In Malaysia the Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Sabri and Foreign Minister Saifuddin to discuss peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific as well as our strong bilateral relationship and comprehensive partnership rooted in robust security, economic, and people-to-people ties.  While in Kuala Lumpur, the Secretary will also hold a hybrid virtual and in-person town hall with Malaysian alumni of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI, and he will also meet with members of the U.S. embassy community.

In Thailand, the Secretary will reaffirm our treaty alliance with Thailand.  He will advance climate policies and also discuss steps to achieve a sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery.  The Secretary will reiterate our support for Thailand’s upcoming 2022 APEC host year and discuss how we can advance our shared priorities in that context.  In meetings with Prime Minister Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don, the Secretary will highlight our shared principles, including the protection of human rights and revitalization of democracy at home and abroad.  The Secretary will also meet with Minister of Environment Varawut to discuss cooperation on leveraging new technologies that harness clean energy.

I’m confident this will be a tremendously successful and productive visit that’ll underscore the U.S. commitment to ASEAN’s centrality and our ongoing collaboration with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific so as to strengthen the regional architecture that has benefited us all.

Again, delighted to be here.  I look forward to answering any questions you may have.  Let me turn it back over to J.T.

MR ICE:  Thank you, Senior Bureau Official Barks-Ruggles and Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink.

Operator, would you go ahead and give the instructions one more time for getting into the question queue, please?

OPERATOR:  And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone.  You may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing 1-0 again.  If you’re using a speaker phone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers.  Once again, if you have a question, please press 1 then 0.

MR ICE:  Thank you so much.  Okay, let’s – to start us off, let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin.

OPERATOR:  Will Mauldin from The Wall Street Journal, your line is open; please, go ahead.

MR ICE:  Will, you might be on mute.

QUESTION:  Yeah, sorry about that.  Yes, for those of you making it on the trip, I just wanted to ask what message Secretary Blinken will have, or what message maybe you already had, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, for these countries in terms of U.S. major economic engagement in the region.  We’ve heard about some small projects potentially, or some small development finance, or maybe some kind of one-off industry standard groups.  But I’m wondering on when it comes to major trade liberalization or major development finance, what is – what can the U.S. say to show that it’s interested in this – working this region, compared with say China, where there’s a deep economic integration as the major economy in the region?  Thanks so much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Well, thank you very much for your question.  I think the first point that I would make is I anticipate that the Secretary will highlight the massive trade and investment flows between the United States and the region that already exist.  Again, the United States believes that our future prosperity and security is intrinsically tied to the Indo-Pacific region and specifically to the ASEAN region, and I think that’s a fact that we should not overlook.

I also anticipate, based on my own recent travel there, the Secretary will have an opportunity to discuss the President’s newly announced Indo-Pacific economic framework in which we hope to engage partners in the region in some of the most important and dynamic areas of the 21st century economy.  And as the President announced at the East Asia Summit, we intend to focus on issues such as trade facilitation, building and securing resilient supply chains, energy and the environment, and other issues related to making sure that our economic and trade policies benefit our respective middle classes.  Thank you.

MR ICE:  Let’s next go to the line of Jennifer Hansler.

OPERATOR:  Jennifer Hansler with CNN, your line is open; please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  I was hoping you could just discuss a little bit about whether Chinese military basing is going to be a topic of conversation on this trip, and particularly do you intend to discuss concerns around the base, Ream Naval Base?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Jennifer, thank you for your question.  I think it would be natural on any trip to the region to talk about the larger security context, of course.  I anticipate that the Secretary will again reiterate our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, our commitment to principles such as freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, and our belief that all disputes should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law.  Our desire is to support the rules-based order from which all countries have benefit – have benefitted, and to ensure that all countries are able to freely make their own choices unburdened by coercion.

I think it is certainly possible that the issue you raised related to the Ream Naval Base in Cambodia could come up, but I think it’s important simply to focus on the larger context, which I mentioned a moment ago.  Again, we’re interested on promoting peace, security, and stability in the region, and we oppose any actions by the People’s Republic of China or any other actor designed to destabilize the region and undermine that rules-based order that I have described.  Thank you.

MR ICE:  And let’s now go to the line of Christopher Woody.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you all for —

OPERATOR:  Christopher Woody with – your line is open; please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you all for your time today.  I wanted to ask two brief questions about the security aspect of the stops in Southeast Asia.  Firstly, how are you – how is the State Department coordinating with the Defense Department on the engagement on that issue with those countries?  And secondly, U.S. officials, they frequently say that this is not about asking these countries to choose between the U.S. and China.  But when you talk about countering Chinese bullying, how do you engage those countries to do that without asking them to choose the U.S. over China?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you very much for your question – excuse me.  Certainly we do, of course, coordinate closely with our colleagues at the Department of Defense.  I think what’s important to keep in mind, including based on our most recent interactions in the region, including my own travel, is there’s a great deal of enthusiasm for engaging in the United States, and I think there’s tremendous convergence among our partners in the region, including these three countries in Southeast Asia, a convergence in terms of the vision we have for the kind of region we want to live in – again, a region that is free of coercion, a region where large countries do not bully the weak, and where all countries play by the rules.  That is certainly the context, and I think all of our partners in the region agree with that.

To help to effect that vision, we’re engaged diplomatically with these partners to ensure that countries carry out their activities in accordance with international law and that disputes are resolved peacefully.

We also engage in a range of military-to-military cooperative activities.  We also provide assistance, including assistance to build the capacity, the maritime capacity of our partners in the region, and of course, the U.S. military is also active in that region so as to support and enforce international law.

We absolutely are not asking countries to choose in the region.  That is not the game that we play.  But we want to make sure that countries have choice and have the ability, again, to make their own decisions free from coercion.

So that is what we choose.  We choose that vision of a rules-based international order in which all countries large and small play by the rules.

MR ICE:  And let’s go to the line of John Hudson.

OPERATOR:  John Hudson with The Washington Post, please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  One of the reasons it’s the G7, not the G8, is because of Russia’s actions in the Ukraine.  So are we expected to see something significant coming out of that related to Ukraine?  And similarly when it comes to China, was there going to be an effort to show that the United States is joined by other countries beyond just Great Britain when it comes to a diplomatic boycott or a statement related to China and the Olympics?  Thanks.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES:  I’ll take the first half of the question and then turn it over to Dan.  We do expect that Russia will be discussed.  As my colleague intimated, the larger security context is always going to be discussed.  And our goal with Russia is to have a relationship that is predictable and stable.  We’ve been very clear-eyed about Russia’s aggressive behavior towards its neighbors.  We’re watching it closely.  And we’re working with our partners to be very clear that when Russia’s behavior crosses boundaries that are expected of responsible nations, that there will be costs to that.

So we will be discussing that, and I think that we’ve obviously had a lot of unity of purpose with our G7 allies about our concerns on this.

But I’ll turn to Dan to answer your question about – the China aspects – portion of your question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you, Erica.  Well, look, similar to the  comments that Erica just made, I think I would anticipate it would be natural for the issue of China to come up, and I think if you look at the G7 joint statement that was released earlier this year, certainly there was reference to discussions related to China.

Specifically on the issue of the Olympics, I don’t have anything new to announce regarding the Biden administration’s decision not to send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.  And I think as we have noted at the podium both at the White House and here at State, we have consulted with allies and partners and informed them of our decision, but we can’t speak for those partners, and we expect that they will make their own decisions on their own timelines.

MR ICE:  All right.  Let’s next go to the line of Nike Ching.

OPERATOR:  Nike Ching with Voice of America, your line is —

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you very much for this call briefing.  I would like to ask about the new Indo-Pacific economic framework.  Will Secretary Blinken formally fill – reveal the specific contents of that initiative in Jakarta?  And if I may, could you please confirm or refute if a January U.S.-ASEAN summit in Washington, whether or not in person or virtually, is being discussed?  And finally, if I may, Indonesia is the world’s largest and most populous Muslim majority nation.  Will Secretary Blinken meet with the religious groups there, and what is Secretary Blinken’s approach to Muslim organization there as he has been very much vocal in advocating for the rights of Uyghurs?  Thank you so much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Nike, thank you for your questions, and I hope I got them all.  Let me take a stab at responding to each.  I think I recorded at least three.

As I noted at the top, I think that the Secretary will speak to the President’s announcement regarding the Indo-Pacific economic framework on which we plan to engage our partners in the region, including the countries on this stop.  And I think that I’ll leave to the Secretary what he may say on that, but I’ve outlined certainly the key principles that we’ve identified in that framework.

Secondly, I don’t have any comment or anything to announce on any possible U.S.-ASEAN summit.  I will simply just underscore, as we’re demonstrating through the Secretary’s visit, we place tremendous emphasis on our strategic partnership with ASEAN.  And again, many of the members of ASEAN are among our closest partners in the world and the region, and certainly that includes these three countries.

Thirdly, regarding Indonesia, again, Indonesia is a leader in ASEAN, is a leader in the region.  They’re a strategic partner.  It’s one of the reasons why the Secretary is traveling to Jakarta.  We are delighted that Indonesia will host the G20 in the year ahead.  We look forward to supporting Indonesia’s chair year.  And also over the next three years Indonesia will be the U.S. country coordinator for ASEAN.  So there are many reasons why Indonesia is such a key partner.

At the same time, I would say that the democratic values that we share is another reason why this partnership is so important.  As the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, the world’s third-largest democracy, we believe that Indonesia provides a large platform for religious tolerance, plurality, and inclusion, and we hope to highlight those issues while we’re there.

I am told that the Secretary will attend a vaccine clinic hosted by the largest faith-based NGO in Indonesia, and I hope that those comments are responsive to your question.  Thank you, Nike.

MR ICE:  Okay, and with that, I’m afraid we are out of time for our briefing today.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for joining us, and I’d like to send a special thank you to our two briefers today, Senior Bureau Official Barks-Ruggles from the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and Assistant Secretary Dan Kritenbrink from the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  A big thank you to you both.

With that, the briefing is ended and the embargo is lifted.  Have a good rest of your day.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thanks, everyone.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES:   Thanks, everyone.

 

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More from: Daniel J. Kritenbrink, Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles, Senior Bureau OfficialBureau of International Organization Affairs
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