Update on U.S.-Asia Policy by Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel
Transcript and Video
Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, spoke at Asia Society New York on November 4, 2015, ahead of President Obama’s November 2015 trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Philippines and the U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia summits in Malaysia. Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran moderated a question and answer session after Russel’s remarks. (1 hr., 34 min.)
As prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Josette, for the kind introduction. It’s great to be at the Asia Society — This is a great organization that does so much to nurture relationships and build human capital across the Pacific.
I was here in New York just over a month ago for the U.N. General Assembly, immediately after Xi Jinping’s State visit to Washington.
While we were here, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry, and others of us met with leaders or Ministers from most of the countries in Asia.
In the five weeks since, we’ve hosted the Presidents of Korea and Indonesia in Washington. I joined Secretary Kerry and Secretary of Defense Carter in Boston for meetings with their Australian counterparts Columbus Day weekend.
Secretary Carter today is in Malaysia meeting with Defense Ministers from throughout the region, and the President plans to travel there in two weeks.
The pace of our high-level diplomacy shows the premium this administration places on building deep, durable relations with the Asia-Pacific.
This sustained engagement is coupled with strong support for investments by business and institutions in both directions across the Pacific.
The result is a “new normal” of relations with the region where big accomplishments have become a regular occurrence: We’ve strengthened our alliances through state-of-the-art, long-term security agreements. Far-sighted environmental cooperation is lighting the path to a low-carbon future.
Our engagement with ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has promoted a trend towards reform that has helped these ten countries towards economic integration, just as re-energizing APEC has helped us bring economies together around the Pacific.
One of the benefits has been the revitalization of rules-based open forums — like APEC, and more recently the East Asia Summit — that are establishing the institutional frameworks to promote peace and prosperity for all in the region.
And most recently, five years of intensive negotiations have paid off with the conclusion of the landmark TPP — the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
There’s a lot going on in our relations with the Asia-Pacific right now. We’re seeing a substantial return on our investment in the Rebalance. So what I’d like to do is describe six important events and the trends they reflect, and then open it up for discussion.
Three of these are recent developments — the conclusion of the TPP deal, President Xi’s visit to the United States, and the trilateral summit of the leaders of Japan, Korea, and China.
The other three events, coming up in the next several weeks, are Burma’s election, President Obama’s travel to APEC and the East Asia Summit, and the climate conference in Paris.
Let’s start with TPP. First and foremost, this is a trade deal — and it will support high-paying jobs and strengthen America’s middle class in many ways. It will cut taxes on U.S. exports; everything from beef to tractors. In important ways, it will help American small businesses to export by eliminating obstacles and opening markets.
TPP sets favorable new rules for economic engagement in industries we are particularly strong in. It will reduce subsidies to state-owned enterprises abroad that make our businesses less competitive. TPP’s internet provisions are especially valuable to us given our lead in services and the digital economy. And its provisions on transparency and dispute resolution will protect American investors.
TPP is one part of a larger program to strengthen the Pacific region economically — it has its roots in APEC, another forum where we’re doing exciting work, as I’ll describe later.
But calling TPP a “trade agreement,” doesn’t do it justice.
Even without the provisions on trade, it would be a world-class agreement on labor rights. It would be a landmark environmental agreement.
It sets high standards on good governance. … On development and poverty reduction. And because these provisions are embedded in a trade agreement, it has mechanisms for enforcement.
Countries like Vietnam won’t see the full economic benefits of TPP if they don’t live up to their commitments to meet international standards on labor rights, for example. It includes capacity-building and training that will help the less-developed TPP members meet their obligations. This deal is engineered to succeed.
And most importantly from my perspective, TPP is a strategic agreement. It is the economic leg and the “crown jewel” of the Obama Rebalance strategy.
TPP convincingly demonstrates that sustained engagement by the U.S., as a Pacific nation, is shaping an open, prosperous, rules-based region. That’s why TPP is worth as much to Defense Secretary Carter as a new aircraft carrier, as he recently said.
Now, I mentioned Chinese President Xi’s late September visit to Washington. Effective management of the complex and consequential U.S.-China relationship has been a key pillar of our strategy since the beginning of the Obama Administration. We have regular dialogues throughout the year at multiple levels, including at the Cabinet level, on an extraordinary array of issues.
But it’s the high-level engagement through these Summits that have made a critical difference. I think I’ve been involved in perhaps 2 dozen U.S.-China leaders meetings since the President took office.
This dialogue has opened the door to unprecedented cooperation in areas like climate, global health, counter-piracy, Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan. And it has put a “floor” under the relationship that ensures we can deal with disagreements or weather a crisis without risking conflict.
The strength of our approach, which was evident in the September visit by Xi Jinping, is that we have never traded Chinese cooperation on global priorities for U.S. silence or accommodation on problem areas.
Yes, we are building out areas of cooperation wherever our interests and policies align… but we don’t just “agree to disagree” where they differ — as in cyber. … As in the South China Sea. … As in respect for human rights. Now let me unpack that a bit.
America is an innovative, knowledge economy in an increasingly digital world. That means the the use of cyber-capabilities to steal intellectual property and corporate trade secrets, and to transfer that know-how and products to Chinese companies for commercial gain, threatens America’s companies and workers.
After years of denial, we secured a commitment from President Xi that China will not conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft for commercial gain. Now, we’re working to make sure this agreement is fully implemented.
The South China Sea is in the headlines. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all contest the sovereignty of many of the land features there.
Tensions are running high. Nationalism is one important factor in the mix — no country wants to budge. But there are other factors as well, since sovereignty over islands generates legal entitlements over the adjacent seas. The South China Sea is a rich fishing ground that also holds potentially significant hydrocarbon reserves.
Now, the U.S. doesn’t have a claim, and we don’t endorse any one sovereignty claim over another. We simply insist that all claims, territorial and maritime, be made based on international law, and that differences be addressed peacefully through diplomatic or legal means. This means no violence, no coercion, no threats.
We also insist that behavior by all countries respect unimpeded lawful commerce and be consistent with international law, including long-standing, universal principles such as freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
This is not an abstraction for us: first of all, these are vital shipping lanes, carrying over half the world’s merchant shipping tonnage.
Second, Southeast Asia is an important driver of growth, and a crisis there would seriously harm the fragile global economy.
Third, some of the affected countries are U.S. treaty allies and close friends.
But there’s an over-arching reason why we care — and that’s because we are committed to a stable, peaceful system of international rules that protects the rights of all countries, big or small. This is a point that President Obama has made again and again in his meetings with Chinese and other leaders.
But China, in 2014, suddenly launched a massive building spree in the contested waters — devastating the coral reefs, alarming the neighbors, infuriating the other claimants, and raising real concerns about China’s intentions. And in fact, the Chinese military has at times warned U.S. and other ships and planes in the region that they should not enter China’s so-called “security zone.” So the recent transit of a U.S. Navy ship near several of the disputed features serves as a reminder that international law applies to the South China Sea just like everywhere else.
Now, during his visit, President Xi Jinping took a major step forward at the press conference in the Rose Garden with President Obama, when he stated unequivocally: “China has no intention of militarizing its islands in the Spratlys.”
If China follows through on this pledge, we expect the other claimants to follow suit. And even though none of them have even a fraction of China’s military muscle or land reclamation, it’s important that everyone play by the same rules.
Another major development soon after the visit was the decision, by the arbitral tribunal under the Law of the Sea Convention, that it has jurisdiction over a case brought by the Philippines evaluating China’s maritime actions and claims in the South China Sea, including the so-called “9-dash line.”
This case won’t address the question of sovereignty (i.e. who owns which island), but by applying the international law of the sea, it has the potential to resolve some important differences over the rights and entitlements of the claimants to the South China Sea maritime space and its resources.
A third problem set that we addressed during Xi Jinping’s visit is the constriction of political space and human rights in China. That includes increasing pressure on U.S. journalists, academics, NGOs and businesses operating there.
China’s systematic targeting of lawyers and rights defenders, for instance, is at odds with China’s constitution and undermines its proclaimed goal of building a society based on rule of law.
A series of draft laws under consideration by the Chinese government would have a chilling effect on U.S. businesses and institutions – ones that have a history of investing in China and bringing economic benefits to the Chinese people.
The message to President Xi from both political and business leaders during his visit was loud and clear. We hope he takes it to heart.
We have a stake in China’s success and believe firmly that respecting the rights of citizens promotes stability and that repression undermines it.
The third event I want to flag is this past weekend’s meetings in Seoul between the leaders of China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. These are three major economies and key players in regional security. We work closely with all three on everything from North Korea to global warming. Good relations among these three neighbors supports regional prosperity and American interests.
After the trilateral, President Park and Prime Minister Abe held their first summit. We support such talks and hope they become a regular occurrence.
The leaders agreed to accelerate discussions to resolve the sensitive historical issue of “comfort women” … a resolution that would be particularly meaningful in 2015, which is the 50th anniversary year of South Korea and Japan normalizing relations.
We have supported Japan and South Korea’s efforts to work through sensitive historical issues in ways that promote healing and reconciliation.
Cooperation between these two democracies and friends, and together with us, is important to the region, and to the world.
A strong trilateral relationship makes us even more effective advocates for our common values of democracy, free markets, human rights, and international rules. It makes the region more secure and helps us better address global challenges and seize new opportunities.
Now, what’s next? The world will be watching this weekend as Burma conducts an historic election. Aung San Suu Kyi, although she is now barred by the current constitution from herself becoming President, is leading a vigorous challenge to the ruling party.
Now, I have been visiting Burma regularly since I went with then-Secretary Clinton on her first trip in December 2011.
And over the last four years, I’ve seen that reforms have allowed a greater number of voices to be heard. They have fostered an open civil society that engages directly with the government. Media, and freedom of assembly and speech, have significantly expanded.
Burma is also negotiating a ceasefire to decades-old conflicts, and is engaged in political dialogue with ethnic groups. This is essential in a highly diverse country that has suffered nearly 70 years of ethnic-based conflict.
But much work remains. We are pushing the government to live up to its human rights obligations: such as protecting the Muslim community and other minorities, ensuring humanitarian access, and ensuring that internally displaced persons can return home safely.
We’re pushing for protection, opportunity, and ultimately a path to citizenship for the Rohingya that respects their rights, safety, and dignity. And we are clear about the danger from measures like the race and religion laws, and the rise in religious hate speech.
The reform process has been imperfect, and is far from over, but Burma has a chance to hold a successful election: one that produces a new government that is more transparent, more legitimate, and more inclusive than before.
Next, let me speak to the significance of some upcoming meetings. In just two weeks, President Obama will travel to the Philippines for APEC – the long-established organization that sets the economic rules for the region, that steadily advances a vision of growth and integration, within Asia and across the Pacific.
APEC 2015 will continue to push the ball forward.
For example, an initiative the U.S. launched in 2011 will come to fruition: APEC members will reduce or eliminate tariffs on dozens of goods that make “green” economic growth easier and cheaper. These reductions complement the strong environmental provisions in the TPP, and will help American green tech companies.
Most importantly, we are working with our APEC partners to reach consensus on rules governing everything from trade to disaster preparedness to electric vehicles. This smooths the wheels of commerce, and it promotes a regional economic architecture in which the United States is a vital and permanent player.
After APEC, the President heads to Malaysia for the East Asia Summit and meetings with ASEAN leaders.
We’ve invested in ASEAN, through President Obama’s regular participation in the Summit, by sending a dedicated full-time ambassador, and through assistance to ASEAN. Now in its tenth year, the East Asia Summit is the premier leaders’ forum for discussing political and security issues.
The Summit is a testament to ASEAN’s convening power. It brings together the ten ASEAN countries and eight dialogue partners, including the United States, China, and India for a wide-ranging discussion of the leading issues.
It is helping us take the Rebalance global, engaging key players in the Asia-Pacific on issues beyond the region, such as ISIL and the challenge of violent extremism; Iran; cyber security; and global health challenges like pandemic disease.
Secretary Kerry participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum in August, Secretary Carter’s been to the region multiple times this year, including his current trip to KL; and I and many other senior officials have met regularly with our counterparts. We’ve discussed pressing issues and our long term vision for the region.
So look for President Obama to press a forward-looking agenda at APEC and the East Asia Summit — one that supports inclusive economic growth, builds momentum toward a successful outcome at the Paris climate talks in December, increases the region’s ability to weather disasters, empowers women as full and equal economic participants, encourages innovation and aspiring entrepreneurs, stands for fairness and the rule of law, and launches ambitious discussions of digital trade and other issues critical to the future of the U.S. and regional economy.
Then shortly thereafter, world leaders will gather in Paris for the global climate talks. It’s hard to overstate the importance of our cooperation with the Asia-Pacific in the fight against climate change.
The U.S. and China are the world’s two largest emitters, and the ambitious targets our two Presidents set last year, and affirmed this year, were influential in lighting the path to Paris. South Korea is hosting the U.N. Green Climate Fund. Japan has pledged $1.5 billion dollars to it. And nations across the region are on the front lines of climate change due to the huge numbers of people living near coasts, or under the threat of hurricanes.
I chose these six events from the span of just a few months as illustrative examples of how much we’re doing with the Asia-Pacific region, and why. Of how important our work together is, to the region and the world.
The strategic priority that President Obama placed on the Asia-Pacific region when he came to office in 2009 makes sense and has borne fruit. Over the last seven years, we have strengthened and modernized our alliances.
We have invested heavily in the development of an increasingly relevant set of regional arrangements that are setting up systems to resolve our issues through conversation rather than confrontation.
We have established a constructive relationship with China that avoids the trap of strategic rivalry, and built increasingly strong ties with other emerging powers like India and Indonesia.
There’s tangible evidence that a Global Asia is emerging — a region where countries with resources are emerging as global contributors; and where developing countries can reach double digit growth and know that their children will have the kinds of educational opportunities we’d all hope for our future.
It used to be that you could see development in Asia by the growing number of kids that had shoes — now, we see it by the number with iPhones.
And importantly, since our strategy in the region has from the start been rooted in America’s own best interests, we have won strong bipartisan support that gives me confidence that the strategic priority on the Asia-Pacific — the Rebalance — will continue in the next administration, regardless of who occupies the White House.