Updated: March 6, 2021
Secretary’s Aircraft En Route to Anchorage, Alaska
October 6, 2020
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MODERATOR: State Department Official One, Two, Three. All right. Why don’t we start with you hitting the highlights of the trip, what you take away.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right, highlights. A very positive and likeminded interaction throughout the day, not just – we had the Quad as the major event in the afternoon, along with the dinner. But then throughout the day we had bilats, a good chance for the Secretary to get back to Japan, meet the new Prime Minister Suga. Again, these were all important and timely opportunities to interact with the cornerstone of security in the region, our ally Japan.
Again, bilateral interaction with the Secretary and his counterparts from India, Australia, and Japan. And about, what, two and a half, three good, solid hours of interaction on these topics of mutual interest and concern, and there’s no avoiding the fact that it’s China and its actions in the region that make the Quad actually matter and function this time around. As you know, there was an earlier effort back – 2007 – that for a lot of reasons was discontinued. But the first ministerial last year on the sidelines of the General Assembly demonstrated that we had a lot to talk about. We didn’t get to it all, and so that led to a number of Quad activities throughout the year. Most recently, we participated at my level in the senior officials meeting that teed this activity up. And we found areas that we hadn’t thought of before.
When you think of the Quad, you think of security. But as the Secretary said yesterday, security comes in many forms – economic security, protecting intellectual property rights. I mean, all things that we do, to include the traditional security, all figure into this.
Finally, the different perspectives that you get from four very different countries, but all democratic, all sharing the same values – those differences of perspectives, those diverse perspectives, generated a seriously productive and creative interaction yesterday. I mean, tons of notes. We’re trying to hurry up, because we could always use more time. And so for our – from a – that perspective, it – I’m sure there will be much follow-up to this. And a lot of great ideas.
QUESTION: So can I jump in, or do you guys want to make —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: — yeah, since we have a little time? Yes. What kind of a framework are we looking at here? Because there were some analysts who sort of likened this to an Asian NATO. What are we looking at going forward?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I mean, one of the projects out of this is to think through what those people sort of balk at: hard, specific language here. Yet nonetheless, as I said, the value set, the worldview and all those things, set up a number of follow-on activities that we can – that we can move out with.
I mean, one of those is just simple freedom of movement and navigation. This is what made the Indo-Pacific idea resonate so well through the region, because it doesn’t just stop at one place. It’s all the things that affect – that brought India into this, their concerns about the ability to move freely in the Indian Ocean, through the South China Sea, East China Sea, and all those. So we can talk about, like, a geopolitical framework. We can talk about economic. We can talk about all those things.
I can’t speak right now to any decisive or firm freedom of —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Can I jump in here?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, please.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The Secretary did say earlier today that he would move to institutionalize the framework. But in terms of what does this kind of multilateralism look like, the Secretary has talked at length about results-oriented multilateralism, about – right? – voluntary groupings of likeminded nations who, as Senior Official Number One just said, share common values of democracy, the rule of law, a respect for human rights and individual freedom.
And that’s what we saw today. This was a significant step forward, I think it’s safe to say, from a year prior. These principals speak frequently – not just with the United States, but you’re seeing warming relations, as the Secretary said earlier today, among these parties. And that’s significant, too, whether it’s India-Japan, or Australia-India.
So when you think about this grouping, you have to think about it, I think, in a broader framework. But it’s also copacetic with how the Secretary has brought likeminded nations together in the Five Eyes foreign minister meeting, in the likeminded group of countries that he’s put together.
So this is a piece of a much larger vision, I think, for multilateralism that really works – effective multilateralism.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: If I could just maybe add one thing that has come up now, just given the time that we’re in – obviously, public health, health security, COVID, responding to that, is on everybody’s mind. And when you consider the damages done to our economies and the sort of different models that are being put out there for dealing with it, it’s another mechanism we could use to talk about that as well. And so that was a big part of the agenda as well.
QUESTION: In their brief remarks, it was only the Secretary that really explicitly mentioned China. Are you concerned that they’re not as forward-leaning on countering that threat as you guys are? And do you risk alienating them if you push that message too far and they’re not comfortable with it just yet?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. That is the concern. I mean, if you look at the conflict on the – in the Himalayas between China and India, something that has been in the past handled according to unspoken or unwritten rules in the past to prevent these things from getting out of control, and then you look at what happened here recently, where you’ve got actually people beating each other to death – no. We – it’s not – I mean, if you look at the single thing that’s driving all this, it’s a sudden turn toward gross aggression by the Chinese Government in its entire periphery. I mean, you take it all the way around the Indo-Pacific and its western borders; you’re seeing things that you haven’t seen before, and these are responding to that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: And I think it’s – and Chinese aggression certainly draws a big part of this, but it’s also about the different models that we stand for, democratic countries and an authoritarian model, and which ones will be sort of more successful in the long run. We obviously believe ours is the one to follow to ensure that countries can best deal with the problems that they face and the common challenges that we have.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But we also have to frame the problem correctly. This isn’t about a U.S.-China dispute. This is about the free world versus Chinese authoritarianism. And the Secretary speaks frequently about that, and that’s the way he framed his discussions, and there was a lot of agreement around that table.
QUESTION: I just want to go back to what you just said about India and that border dispute. So do you think the way it turned out this time, or do you think the way Indian Government has handled that border dispute, was an evidence of Delhi being more forward-leaning about all of this, maybe wanting to take that position against China there and apply it to their wider strategy towards them?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So yeah, I don’t want to speak for India.
QUESTION: I mean, your I impression of, like, because you were talking about a change here, a shift here.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right.
QUESTION: So your impression of that, I’m curious about.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would note that the change coming out of Beijing as – there seems to be a race to get to certain goals. They talk about their 2021 centenary goal, their 2035 goal, and their 2049 goal. They’re accelerating. There’s also been this unfortunately bashing of nationalism inside the PRC by the government, which then corners it to do things that it otherwise would have been able to back down from.
And so the – as a growing power, they need to understand that there are things that great powers do. They participate in arms talks when they have a nuclear capability with delivery systems. These are all things that we’ve talked about that – they talk about, again, the U.S. versus China. It’s everybody is saying if you’re going to have these capabilities and if you’re going to have this economic power – WTO, you should use it in ways that are acceptable to everybody and not exclusively for your benefit as part of a global system.
QUESTION: But you said that a lot of ideas were thrown out. I know the Australian foreign minister mentioned health care as one example. Can you be any more specific on specific outcomes from these meetings, the joint military exercises or freedom-of-operation navigation?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: As the Secretary said yesterday, I mean, economy is an obvious one. When we talk about security, we think of these gray airplanes and all this stuff here, but security – I mean, if you undermine a country’s economic security, it’s just the same, right? I mean, it’s right up there.
So these are things that as we look around we have opportunities to cooperate and unify. These things have existed all along – WTO – but we’re actually emphasizing that now. I mean look, everybody is suffering from the coronavirus, right, from COVID; all economies are down. This is a good chance to join up to help each other. I mean, look how much – what, $20.5 billion the U.S. has put toward a vaccine. I will note that China volunteered 2 billion at the WHA back in April, and as far as I can tell, we haven’t seen any of that money. China promises a lot, but they don’t necessarily deliver unless you force them. And that’s an area that this group can help ensure that they live up to.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: You’ve also seen, just to cite some tangible things, cooperation between our diplomatic corps in Geneva on human rights and the COVID area. You can see cooperation on vaccines and other health alleviation measures which you’ve already done with these countries.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: You can think about our development finance corporations, which many of these countries have. Japan is quite active, for instance, in that space, as are we.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: And coordinating those efforts so that they’re used to best effect, not just us doing something, them doing something, and nobody knowing what each other’s doing on it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But most importantly to speak up when we see disinformation campaigns or Chinese Communist Party propaganda. It’s important that we shine a light on what the Chinese Communist Party is doing.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And that’s a really good point, the disinformation part. In the past, the U.S. but a lot of other countries were afraid to actually put real critical thought against what was coming out in terms of propaganda. The dual effects of what the Chinese did as far as covering up the virus and some of their diplomats putting out just bizarre and over-the-top what they call wolf warrior diplomacy has helpfully gotten countries who would otherwise have denied or explained away this activity to actually question it, and look at numbers and claims that are coming out of the PRC and challenging them. So it’s time to do that, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And when you think about Australia, for instance, and the disinformation campaigns down there, the influence campaigns – they had a senator resign because of links to the communist party, if I have that right. So they’ve had economic coercion leveled against them. That was another topic of conversation today, a very important topic, seen as something that is not going to go away, isn’t a one-off, is probably a constant in the future.
MODERATOR: One last question.
QUESTION: One each, hopefully. Just wondering, like, I think recognizing the threat is one thing, but committing to stand up against this is like one step forward. Were you happy with the commitment that you got from all of these countries in terms of taking action against China? Because it’s their biggest, like, export market; it’s super important economically.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So let me give you an example. Australia, like five years ago actually, stood up and took action and identified United Front Work activity in its own country, identified penetration of its democratic and educational processes and all that. Japan is doing the same thing, and India is doing the same thing as well. So it’s not just the U.S. dragging folks who are maybe unwilling or hesitant to. Everybody likeminded is looking at erosion of democracy, of free market economy and all that, and they’re taking action.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: These are common challenges and these are common actions that we’re talking about, so absolutely.
QUESTION: Can I just have one quick final question? While we’ve been here traveling, the country has been very focused on the President’s health but also the outbreak tied to the White House. Did that come up at all in your meetings, and does it hurt America’s image on the world stage that there’s an outbreak at the White House while you guys are overseas traveling?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The topic of health care obviously is on everyone’s mind. How you handle a pandemic, there’s no science to this. There is a balance between dealing with the economic aspects, the damage you’re doing to that, and obviously the health concerns. So at the same time you’re trying to mitigate and contain, you’re trying to come up with solutions. I mean, we’re all wearing masks. That was an easy step. We are getting through scientific vaccine development. I mean, rather than just coming up with something and hoping it works, which we’re seeing on the other side —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And everyone wished well of the President.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah, absolutely. And I think everybody recognized that we’re leading in this area, and part of working together to solve the problem writ large.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s a measure of the significance of the meeting that the Secretary traveled over here and that the Japanese hosted during this time.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Right, absolutely.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: All right. Thank you all.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you. Appreciate it.