Briefing on the Secretary’s Upcoming Travel to Indonesia and Thailand
MR PRICE: Thanks very much, and thanks to everyone for joining this afternoon. We’re pleased to have an opportunity to preview the Secretary’s upcoming travel, departing tomorrow for Indonesia and Thailand. This call is on the record but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call. We have with us two speakers today. We have our Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Dan Kritenbrink; we also have our Assistant Secretary from the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Ramin Toloui. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink will open it up and we’ll then turn it to Assistant Secretary Toloui, and then we will take your questions.
So with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Great. Thank you, Ned, and thanks to all of our friends in the media for joining us. It’s a real pleasure to be with you again, and I’m delighted today to be joined as well by my colleague and friend, Assistant Secretary Ramin Toloui.
It’s been a very busy few months for us here at the department, of course, which I think reflects just how determined the Biden-Harris administration is to strengthening our partnerships and alliances throughout the world. Nowhere else is that more evident than in the Indo-Pacific, where we’ve demonstrated, through sustained engagement both here and in the region, that the 21st century is the Indo-Pacific century.
As we announced just this morning and as Ned mentioned, Secretary Blinken will travel to Bali, Indonesia, to attend the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting. Our Indonesian friends have done an admirable job as the G20 president, and the Secretary looks forward to meeting with his good friend, Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, for a bilateral meeting as well. The Secretary, of course, just saw Foreign Minister Retno at the G7, and they’ll have an opportunity to discuss expanding our bilateral strategic partnership. While in Bali, the Secretary will also meet with his PRC counterpart, .
I’ll let Assistant Secretary Toloui speak further on the substance of the G20 itself, but following his meetings in Bali, the Secretary will next travel to Bangkok. And as you may remember, the Secretary’s travel to Thailand was postponed at the last minute last December, and since then the Secretary has been very determined to get back to Bangkok to engage with one of our strongest allies in the Indo-Pacific. Thailand, of course, is a key partner of the United States in many areas, including in achieving our climate goals and in defeating the COVID-19 pandemic. Our mission in Thailand is one of the largest in the world. It provides support to our many missions in the region and serves as a hub for our regional health initiatives, as we have more than six decades of public health cooperation with our Thai allies.
The U.S.-Thai Defense Alliance is of paramount importance. Cobra Gold, the joint defense exercise that we co-host with Thailand, is the longest-running multinational military exercise in the region. And our Thai friends have also done an impressive job as the APEC host this year, and we look forward to building on Thailand’s success as the United States prepares to host APEC in 2023. Thailand is also an important partner as we work to return Burma to a path of democracy.
As I mentioned at the top, we believe much of the history of the 21st century will be written in the Indo-Pacific. We think that’s particularly the case when it comes to trade and investment. With more than half the world’s population, some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and nearly 60 percent of global GDP, the region is central to our long-term strategic, economic, and commercial interests. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that the President launched in Tokyo in May is integral to realizing our vision for an open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure Indo-Pacific, and we are delighted that both Indonesia and Thailand have joined IPEF.
With that, I will leave it here and I’ll now turn it over to my colleague, Assistant Secretary Toloui. Look forward to your questions later. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Thanks very much, Dan, and thanks also to the journalists joining today to discuss the trip and the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, which is taking place at a time of heightened global challenges and serves as a reminder for why we must also strengthen our commitment to working with international partners.
As Dan noted, we’re grateful to the Government of Indonesia for its leadership of this year’s G20. The theme Indonesia has chosen – “Recover Together, Recover Stronger” – is particularly resonant as it focuses international cooperation on the priority areas that will define our present and shape our future: global food and energy security, global health security architecture, digital transformation, and sustainable energy.
As our response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates, the G20 is a critical force for catalyzing and reinforcing collective action. When the pandemic was at its worst, G20 members came together to offer vulnerable countries assistance, and this important work continues.
We also appreciate that Indonesia has made food security a G20 priority, and indeed, our cooperation to meet this pressing global challenge stands in stark contrast to Russia’s unconscionable war against Ukraine. The Kremlin has done intense – immense harm not only to the people of Ukraine, but also to many millions across the globe. It’s Russia’s unprovoked war that has exacerbated the suffering now buffeting the world’s most vulnerable countries. By laying waste to Ukrainian farms and grain silos, stealing Ukrainian grain, and blocking access to and from Ukrainian ports by sea, Russia has increased food [i]security, malnutrition, and susceptibility to disease for the world’s most at-risk populations. G20 countries should hold Russia accountable and insist that it support ongoing UN efforts to reopen the sea lanes for grain delivery.
The G20’s attention to issues like this and collective work to increase the humanitarian assistance and support to those suffering as a result of Russia’s war demonstrates our resolve to ensuring to – resolve to ensure that this aggression doesn’t go unchecked and that we reinforce our commitment to the rules-based international system that undergirds global stability and development.
And now, Dan and I are happy to take your questions.
MR PRICE: Great. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind repeating the instructions to ask a question.
OPERATOR: Certainly. If you’d like to join the question queue, you may press the number 1 followed by 0 using your telephone keypad. That’s 1 and then 0, please.
MR PRICE: Great. Let’s start with the line of David Brunnstrom from Reuters.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Can you hear me okay?
MR PRICE: We can, yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much for doing this call. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what the purpose is for the meeting with the Chinese foreign minister. I mean, what’s the real priority there? And again, if there’s not going to be any meeting with the Russian foreign minister, what does that say about the relative state of the relationships between the two countries and U.S. relations with China vis-à-vis Russia? And on China, will there be any discussing the tariff issue? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Well, thank you very much for the question. I would say that our top priority in the Secretary’s meeting with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is to underscore our commitment to intense diplomacy and maintaining open lines of communication with the People’s Republic of China. We have often stated that our goal is to manage responsibly the intense competition between the United States and the PRC. So I would expect that in the course of that meeting we’ll be able to discuss having guardrails, so to speak, on the relationship so that our competition does not spill over into miscalculation or confrontation.
But at the same time, I would stress, as the Secretary outlined in his recent speech on China, that the United States also remains committed to exploring areas of potential cooperation, rather, where our interests require it. So I would expect an exchange as well on our potential cooperation on issues such as climate change, global health, counternarcotics, and perhaps in other areas as well.
MR PRICE: And just on your question on the comparison between the two countries – this is Ned – I would just add, as Dan alluded to, our bilateral relationship with the PRC is complex. It is a relationship that is at times competitive, is at times adversarial, is at times cooperative. And that is why continued engagement and dialogue is profoundly in our interest to establish and to reinforce those guardrails so that competition doesn’t veer into conflict. In many ways, the current state of our Russia – current state of our relationship with Russia is simple. It is simple because Russia is waging an unprovoked, brutal war against the people and the country of Ukraine.
And so for that reason, the time is not right for the Secretary to engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov. You should not expect a bilateral engagement with Foreign Minister Lavrov on this visit. We wish, we would like to see the Russians be serious about diplomacy. We have not seen that yet. We would like to have the Russians give us a reason to meet on a bilateral basis with them, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but the only thing we have seen emanate from Moscow is more brutality and aggression against the people and country of Ukraine.
Let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon.
QUESTION: Hey there. Thanks as well for doing this call. Just briefly to follow up on David’s question, and then something else. The – with Russia and what Ned said about not meeting Lavrov, do you expect the Secretary to try to avoid him at all costs? Will he not want to be in the same room as him? What does this mean for broader sessions of the G20? How far will that go to avoid him?
Can ask you about Myanmar/Burma? As you know, Wang Yi actually was just in Myanmar, if I’m not mistaken, or held talks with the junta. There and with him and within – in Thailand, where do you see – where do you see things going? Do you – are you at all hopeful that there could be any progress with moving the junta along? How – where do you see things going now and what do you expect this trip to accomplish or not? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Just in terms of your first question, Shaun, I mentioned before that the Secretary will be a full and active participant in the G20. We’re committed to the success of this G20 ministerial. We’re committed to the success of Indonesia’s stewardship of the G20. Not going to speak at this stage to choreography, but we expect the Secretary can be a full and active participant while also staying true to another overriding objective, and that is the fact that it cannot be business as usual with the Russian Federation.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: And on your question about Burma, I would certainly expect that both in a range of the Secretary’s meetings on the margins of the G20 and in his follow-on meetings in Bangkok that the subject of Burma will feature prominently. And I would expect this is an opportunity for the Secretary to continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms the Burmese military regime’s brutal actions since the coup d’état, the killing of nearly 2,000 people and displacing more than 700,000 others. It’s also an opportunity for us to – again, to continue with our ASEAN partners to promote the ASEAN five-point consensus, to continue to increase pressure on the regime to cut off its sources of funding, and again, to apply necessary pressure to compel Burma to return to a path of democracy.
And I think that, for example, with our Thai partners as well, it’ll be an opportunity to express appreciation for what Thailand has done to assist vulnerable populations and provide cross-border assistance. So again, I certainly think Burma will feature prominently in the Secretary’s discussion.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a couple more questions. Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching from VOA.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for taking the call and briefing. To follow up on David’s question on Secretary Blinken’s meeting with Wang Yi, do you have anything on the U.S. message to China regarding the wrongly detained Chinese Americans in China and the illegal exit bans?
And separately, do you have anything on U.S. plan to expand export bans on China over security and human right concerns?
And also, what is the U.S. message to China on Myanmar, as Beijing has a lot of influence over Myanmar’s military government?
And finally, Ukraine’s foreign minister was also invited to G20 ministerial. Is there any interaction between Secretary Blinken and Kuleba? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Hi, Nike. Dan Kritenbrink. Look, on the subject of exit bans, we have always made clear the United States of America and the Department of State have no higher priority than the safety and welfare of American citizens abroad, and that certainly applies to the cases to which you refer. And so I think you can fully expect that the United States will continue to engage vigorously on behalf of all American citizens, including the specific cases that you referenced.
Now, on the issue you raised, if I understood your question correctly, steps the United States might take in response to human rights and other concerns – and here, Nike, I would again just say issues of human rights also remain central to American foreign policy and to our engagement with the People’s Republic of China. And I would fully expect when the Secretary sits down with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi that he will also have an opportunity to express our views and our concerns related to human rights.
MR PRICE: And just on your final question, Nike, the Secretary will also take part in engagements, including bilateral engagements with other participants on the margins of the G20 beyond the bilateral with Wang Yi and beyond the bilateral with his Indonesian counterpart. We’ll have more information on those engagements as the time gets closer.
Let’s go to Will Mauldin, Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for having this. I wanted to ask, is it fair to say that given the economic realities and the war in Ukraine that food and energy will be main topics of the G20 since it’s somewhat an economic organization? And then will the – will it be possible to get all 20 members to agree on anything such as stopping export bans or export restraints on food? Is there anything broad on those topics or else – or something else that could be achieved? And if not, then what will be – what do we hope to achieve in terms of putting pressure on Russia? How can the G20 do that when countries are divided on many of these issues, many of those – our partners in the energy and food arenas with Moscow? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: This is Ramin. I’ll take that one. You are right that food and energy security are going to feature very prominently in the discussions. The – one purpose of engaging in a forum like that is to first of all highlight the source of the problem, and one important source of the problem when it comes to food and energy security is Russia’s continued war in Ukraine. In particular, I would point to the fact that Russian actions have trapped an estimated 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain and kept it from reaching global markets.
The UN is now undertaking an initiative to try to reopen the Black Sea to commerce to get Ukrainian and Russian foodstuffs and fertilizer to global markets. We support that and we would like the G20 to hold Russia accountable for and insist that it support that initiative. Whether that happens at the level of the G20 or the level of individual G20 countries, that’s an important point that Secretary Blinken will make when he engages his counterparts.
But at the same time, while Russia has been the source of this problem, the U.S. has tried to mobilize solutions. And here Secretary Blinken hosted a ministerial focused on food security in May with the idea of kicking off a call to action and roadmap to address food security. The – President Biden when he was at the G7 leaders’ summit committed an additional $2.76 billion of U.S. assistance as part of a G7 commitment of $4.5 billion to meet urgent humanitarian needs. And so Secretary Blinken at the G20 will be seeking to mobilize additional G20 support to address critical food needs by mobilizing additional humanitarian and development assistance to try to mitigate the harmful effects of Russia’s war.
MR PRICE: We will turn to John Hudson, Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Ambassador, you mentioned guardrails in the U.S.-China relationship. Ned also mentioned it as well. What does that mean in this context? What would setting up a guardrail in the U.S.-China relationship actually look like in real terms? And is the administration also going to use this G20 meeting to push for an oil price cap for – on Russian oil? Is that going to be an objective? What’s the State Department’s view on the oil price cap? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thank you, John. This is Dan Kritenbrink. I would say first and foremost on the guardrails question, I think it’s absolutely critical that we have open lines of communication with our Chinese counterparts, particularly at the senior level; again, as we’ve said, to do everything possible to ensure that we prevent any miscalculation that could lead to – lead inadvertently to conflict and confrontation. I think there’s no substitute for face-to-face diplomacy when it comes to having these kinds of conversations. The Secretary has been in regular contact with PRC State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, but this will be their first face-to-face meeting since October. And of course, as you’ve seen, we’ve been regularly engaging in other senior channels as well, including at the presidential level and at the level of the National Security Advisor as well.
So I think first and foremost, again, to reiterate, guardrails means having sufficient channels of communication and then robust exchanges in those channels to prevent miscalculation. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: And as you know, the G7 leaders discussed the price cap as a way of achieving the objective of keeping global energy – keeping global markets supplied with energy while preventing the Kremlin from earning revenues that allow it to continue prosecuting its war against Ukraine. And we expect that at the G20 this issue of energy security would be something that Secretary Blinken is discussing in not only the formal sessions but also with his bilateral counterparts.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a final question from Iain Marlow.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I appreciate it. Just in terms of the broader messaging at the G20 on Ukraine and some of these other issues, I’m just wondering what that communication will be like in terms of the Blinken-Wang Yi meeting, what the messaging will be from the Secretary on Ukraine in terms of how China fits into the picture. We know that both Russia and China are sort of jockeying to kind of bring people onside, but I’m just wondering what the Secretary might expect on Ukraine-Russia in terms of Wang Yi, what the messaging might be. Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thank you. Look, what I would say to that is – and you’ve this referenced publicly repeatedly – we’ve had a number of communications at senior levels with our Chinese counterparts about what we expect not just from the People’s Republic of China, but from really all responsible members of the international community regarding Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. So I think this will be another opportunity, I think, to have a candid exchange on that and to convey our expectations about what we would expect China to do and not to do in the context of Ukraine.
MR PRICE: Excellent. Well, thank you, every – thanks again, everyone, for tuning in. Just a reminder this call was on the record with Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink and Assistant Secretary Toloui. And with that, the embargo is lifted. Talk to you soon.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK: Thank you.
# # #