U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: READOUT of US–ASEAN Summit 2016
September 13, 2016/10:00 p.m. EDT
Nina Hachigian, U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN
Cynthia Gire, Bureau of Public Affairs
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the US–ASEAN Summit conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session, and instructions will be given at that time. [Operator instructions.] As a reminder, this call is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to our main speaker with the Office of International Media and Engagement, Miss Cynthia Gire. Please go ahead.
Thank you, and greetings to everyone from the US Department of State’s Office of International Media and Engagement. I would like to welcome our journalists who have dialed in from throughout the Asia-Pacific. Today, we are joined by Nina Hachigian, United States Ambassador to ASEAN. She is speaking to you today from Jakarta, Indonesia.
Now, for the ground rules. This call is on-the-record and questions should directly relate to today’s topic, the US–ASEAN Summit. In addition, the entire contents of the call are embargoed until the conclusion of the call. We will begin with opening remarks and then open it up to your questions. And with that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Hachigian.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Cindy, for setting up the call so we can talk about last week’s summits. Am I coming through clearly? Let me just check.
Can folks hear me? Okay. Engagement with ASEAN, because it is a strategically important, economically dynamic region at the heart of the Asia-Pacific, continues to be a central part to the US rebalance to Asia. President Obama has made nine trips to Southeast Asia and eleven trips to Asia, more than any other president. And, as you know, last week he became the first US president to visit Lao, PDR.
The United States is committed to our strategic partnership with ASEAN because it advances our shared interest in sustaining a rule-based order in the Asia-Pacific, in which countries can pursue their objectives peacefully and in accordance with international laws and norms. President Obama hosted the ASEAN leaders for the first time in the United States, for the special US-ASEAN Summit, in Sunnylands, CA this past February, to affirm our strategic partnership.
Since then, the United States and ASEAN have continued to deepen and broaden our engagement. As the President said in Laos, “We’re guided by the shared visions of the region that we put forward at Sunnylands—open, dynamic, and competitive economies; mutual security; and the peaceful resolution of disputes and respect for human rights. In short, a region where all nations play by the same rules. That’s a vision that we advanced here.”
At the US-ASEAN Summit, the president and ASEAN leaders talked about a variety of activities and programs, including support for the ASEAN economic community and expanding programs to strengthen people-to-people ties, like the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative that we call YSEALI, and the Women’s Leadership Academy.
On the economic front, leaders discussed US-ASEAN Connect, which we around the office call Connect, a new strategic framework for a US regional economic engagement with ASEAN and the ASEAN member states. We are expanding our economic bonds, creating business opportunities and new jobs for citizens in all of our countries.
Connect reflects both the US government and the US private sector’s desire to support ASEAN’s continued integration, including the success of the ASEAN economic community, and to increase US-ASEAN trade and investment ties.
President Obama announced some exciting new programs and initiatives under Connect last week, including the Women’s Livelihood Bond, which will leverage over $50 million in private capital to lend to women owned micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; Clean Power Asia, a new multimillion dollar program to increase the supply of renewable energy connected to the grid in ASEAN; and a digital economy series in ASEAN, to help ASEAN build a vibrant, regional, digital economy that can drive innovation and inclusive economic growth. You can find out more about all of these initiatives, and many, many, many other programs, at the new website, usaseanconnect.gov.
In addition to creating new economic opportunities, we are nurturing a regional network for the young people of ASEAN to collaborate on solving common challenges and building an ASEAN identity. YSEALI, the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative, launched by President Obama in December 2013, now engages nearly 100,000 participants, age 18 to 35, in all ten ASEAN countries.
I got to see and feel the enthusiasm and passion of these motivated, engaged, creative, energized young leaders because I had the chance to speak at the opening of the workshop that we hosted in Luang Prabang. They met President Obama the next day and peppered him with all kinds of questions.
As the president said at the YSEALI event, none of our countries anywhere in the world can truly succeed unless our girls and our women have every opportunity to succeed—the same opportunities as boys and men do. That is why he launched the US-ASEAN Women’s Leadership Academy for YSEALI, at the US-ASEAN Summit. It will provide an annual capacity building leadership seminar, bringing together mentors and young women, ages 25 to 35, from all ten ASEAN member states. And that will take place in October, in Jakarta, the first one.
We look forward to watching these young women develop strong networks that will carry them forward to influential positions in all of their fields.
In addition to these tangible programs, the leaders at the US-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit, discussed major strategic issues facing the region. The East Asia Summit has really become the premier leaders-led forum for strategic, political, and security issues, and in the lead-up to the summit, I was pleased to see, and participate in an expanded role for the EAS Ambassadors who worked hard in Jakarta, together, in preparation for the summits. And that was a new development this year.
The EAS leaders issued a statement on nonproliferation in which the 18 countries represented voiced our grave concern about DPRK unprecedented missile and nuclear testing, and urged the DPRK to comply with its international legal obligations. Pyongyang’s actions are destabilizing and unlawful, violating multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, as well as the DPRK’s own commitments.
EAS leaders also issued a U.S.-sponsored statement on trafficking in persons and migration, in which they affirmed ASEAN’s convention on trafficking in persons that it passed last year, and in which they pledge to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of these vulnerable populations. President Obama also noted the refugee summit that he will be hosting at the U.N., in coming weeks, to rally further support.
Leaders also had a robust discussion on the South China Sea during the EAS and the US-ASEAN Summits. Almost every leader raised the issue and the vast majority noted the importance of addressing the dispute in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS, the Law of the Sea Treaty.
ASEAN affirmed the importance of respect for legal and diplomatic processes, as well, in the chair statement of its own summit and emphasized the importance of self-restraint and non-militarization. All in all, we had very successful summits. And with that, I will hand it back over to Cindy to open it up for questions.
Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s event. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation, and limit yourself to one question related to today’s topic, the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Laos. [Operator instructions.] And with that, our first question comes from The Straits Times. Please go ahead.
Good morning. This is Tan Hui Yee from The Straits Times. My question is what are the U.S. initiatives with ASEAN that will continue even after Mr. Obama steps down, and which may be under review afterwards?
Thank you for that question. We expect all these initiatives to continue. I mean, of course, every administration coming in reviews everything that’s going on, but all of these initiatives are based in our shared interests in economic growth, in stability, in people-to-people ties, and I don’t expect that any of them are going to go away. I mean, I can’t be 100% sure of that, but I’m not expecting any major changes in our policies and our programs because they are well liked by both sides.
Thank you. Our next question comes from Vietnam, Tuoi Tre News. Trung, please go ahead.
Thank you. Good morning. I would like to ask about the Philippines and US relations. The Philippines President Duterte, has just announced the Philippines will stop joining the United States in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. And how does the US react?
I’m sorry. Could you repeat that? I heard the first part of your question but not the second part. Could you ask it one more time? Apologies.
Okay. The Philippines President Duterte has just announced the Philippines will stop joining the United States in the freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. How does the U.S. react to this? Thank you.
Sorry. The connection is not very good. I’ll tell you the words I heard were Philippines and South China Sea, but I didn’t hear the words that connected those.
Freedom of navigation and operation, between Philippines and the U.S., in the South China Sea.
Oh, okay. I think I understand what you’re saying. First, let me say that the U.S.-Philippines relationship is one of the most enduring and important relationships that we have in the Asia-Pacific region. It’s been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years. With the new administration, we are currently beginning to have meetings and discuss our shared priorities and programs and that’s what I have to say about it at this time.
Thank you. [Operator instructions.] Our next question comes from Cambodia, The Cambodia Daily News.
Hi, my name is Janelle. Thank you for taking this time. I wanted to ask you what the significance of Cambodia continuously blocking joint statements on the South China Sea is, and if you saw any impact on ASEAN relations, or cohesion, during the summit?
Thanks for that question. ASEAN is made up, as you know, of ten very diverse countries with different points of view. They, however, did issue a very strong, unified statement on the South China Sea after their summit in Laos.
And it affirmed full respect for legal and diplomatic processes without resorting to the threat of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including UNCLOS. They said that they remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some leaders on land reclamation and escalation of activities which have eroded trust and confidence.
They emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions. They welcomed the progress made on confidence building measures with China. They talked about the importance of the early conclusion of the code of conduct.
So, I’m just reading to you little bits of the statement that they made, and it was quite consistent with what they said all year long, and very consistent with the language that they issued in July—it may actually even be identical—which all of them signed onto. So, it may have taken some time, but they did end up being able to really speak very strongly, and in a united voice, on the South China Sea.
Thank you. Our next question comes from Nikkei. Cliff Harvey, please go ahead.
Cliff: Yes, Ambassador, if I heard it correctly a while ago, you said that the U.S.-Philippine relations is one of the strongest in the region, but the office of President Duterte, yesterday, said that the new administration is adopting a foreign policy that is “less dependent” on the U.S. Also, Mr. Duterte also said that the Philippines will no longer join freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. So, I’d like to know, how do you evaluate that kind of position of the Philippines? How do you evaluate that direction of the Philippine foreign policy and how does that affect the US-ASEAN strategy?
Okay, first of all, just to clarify what I said, I said that the U.S.-Philippines relationship is one of the most enduring and important relationships in the Asia-Pacific region.
Okay. I would refer you to President Duterte’s office for questions about his remarks. I fully expect that this alliance will endure and remain strong because it is in the great interest of both nations to maintain it. I think you’re referring to joint patrols, not freedom of navigation operations, but joint patrols. I would just refer you to our defense department and the Philippine’s defense department to give you more detail about that.
Thank you. Our next question comes from VN Express in Vietnam. Please go ahead.
Hi. It’s Viet Anh from VN Express. Can you hear clear? My question is how do you see the situation that ASEAN country did not mention the ruling of (audio disruption) by Philippines in their summit in Laos? The Philippines President did not attend the summit between ASEAN and the U.S. Thank you.
Well, the official explanation that I heard while I was there was that he wasn’t feeling well, which is why he didn’t attend the India-ASEAN Summit, either, which came right before the US-ASEAN Summit. But I would just refer you to his office to clarify his remarks about why he didn’t attend the US-ASEAN Summit.
Thank you. Our next question comes from Cambodia. That’s Thmey Thmey News. Please go ahead.
Hello. This is Visal. I’m from Cambodia. I have a question. As we know that the Obama Administration is going to end very soon and, so far, the United States has implemented the Asia-Pacific pivot. My question is that strategy is really successful, and if so, what are the concrete examples that you can show us? Thank you.
You want concrete examples of—? Can you say that one more time? The rebalance strategy?
Can I try it again? Are you hearing my question?
Sure. I think I heard most of it. That the Obama Administration is ending soon, and you wanted concrete examples. Did you want concrete examples of the rebalance strategy? Is that what you were asking?
Yes, that’s what he asked.
Go ahead and try again. Is that right?
Okay. Well, I am a concrete example of the rebalance strategy, for one, we opened a mission to ASEAN. We joined the EAS. We signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. The TPP, we’ve initiated the TPP negotiations. We have just launched the US-ASEAN Connect. We’ve started the YSEALI program, which now has 100,000 people in it. We have very much strengthened our alliances in the region with Japan, with South Korea. We have broadened our relationship with China.
The president has come to the region more than any other president has. We are rebalancing our forces in the Pacific. I can’t really think of a way in which we haven’t increased the tempo and the degree and the effectiveness of all of our programs in Asia. We’ve spent on the order of $4 billion over the last five years in just development assistance in ASEAN alone, not including defense, not including many other kinds of assistance and not including the rest of Asia.
So that just gives you a sense of the scale. We increase our commercial engagements—I could go on and on and on, but will maybe give someone else a chance to get on the phone and ask a question.
Thank you. Our next question is from Bloomberg News in Singapore. Please go ahead.
Yes, it’s Jason Koutsoukis from Bloomberg News. Ambassador, do you think ASEAN should have made a stronger statement on the South China Sea last week?
I think they did make a strong statement on the South China Sea last week. I was just reading parts of it, and I read it over again this morning. It’s quite strong. It’s very clear on respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force. It shows that they remain seriously concerned. They emphasize the importance of non-militarization, etc.
I think, though, what you might be getting at is that in the language of diplomacy, everything reads fairly more mild than it might in the newspaper or in other areas of life. In the language of diplomacy and in the language of ASEAN, this is a very strong statement. ASEAN doesn’t ever name individual countries and, it is generally tries to only speak in the language of respect. But we have a statement that says we remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments. That is a very strong statement in the terms of ASEAN.
Should it have addressed the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling though?
You know, I think it did, in the sense that—well, first of all, in the discussion, leaders did raise that. So that’s one point. Eight ASEAN countries issued individual statements after the arbitration. And in this phrasing of affirming international laws and legal processes, that is acknowledging that is one way to solve these disputes in an important way. So, I think that they have indirectly affirmed the ruling.
Thank you. Our next question comes from ABS CBN in the Philippines. Please go ahead.
Yes, good morning. This is Chiara from ABS CBN. My question is, in stark contrast to the warm U.S.-Philippine relations from the previous Aquino administration, we now have a president who recently admitted that he couldn’t even find it in himself to attend the US-ASEAN Summit because he felt, in so many words, the U.S. had no moral ascendancy to question his human rights violations. What it was, he said, the US atrocities that was the very reason why the war in the Southern Philippines persists to this day.
And, as you know, after that Duterte even eventually hinted that the US Forces in Manila need to go if the region is truly to attain any peace. So, my question is, what does the U.S. plan to do about Duterte’s seeming desire for the U.S. to back down from its presence in the Philippines? And would you be willing to actually send the U.S. Special Forces home?
Okay. There’s a bunch of different questions that you’ve asked there. First of all, let me say that the Philippines foreign minister and its defense ministry both issued statements yesterday affirming the importance and the closeness of the alliance. The U.S. military presence in the Philippines is at the request of the leaders of that country, and we will continue to consult closely with our Philippino partners to appropriately tailor our assistance to whatever approach the new administration adopts. We have seen no official requests.
We have a wide range of shared concerns and shared interests with the Philippines, and we’ve been able to work effectively together to advance those interests. President Obama has committed to doing that in the four months remaining.
And in terms of the ASEAN Summit next year, I have no doubt that the Philippines will be fantastic hosts in a very important year—the 50th birthday of ASEAN, and the 40th anniversary of U.S.-ASEAN relations.
I think I answered earlier the question about why he didn’t attend the U.S.-ASEAN Summit.
In terms of the point on human rights, I think President Obama addressed this in his speech in Laos when he was talking about the rebalance. He said, I’m just quoting now, “We speak out for these rights not because we think our own country is perfect, no nation is, not because we think every country should do as we do, because each nation has to follow its own path. But we will speak up on behalf of human rights because we believe they are the birthrights of every human being and that countries are stronger when they affirm and uphold those human rights.”
Thank you. I know we don’t have much time left. I would like to thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today and ask you, Ambassador Hachigian, if you have any final words before we close the call.
Yes, thank you Cindy. I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you for the good questions that you’ve asked. As I said, next year is a big year. We’re going to be celebrating 40 years of U.S.-ASEAN relations, and we have a lot to celebrate. We are now strategic partners, and we share broad cooperation on many interests. I am fully convinced that the next administration will find our engagement with ASEAN as important and rewarding and enduring as this administration has found it. So, thank you very much.
Thank you, and thank you to all of our callers for participating in today’s briefing. If you have any questions about the call, please contact me at email@example.com. And that concludes today’s call. I’ll turn it back over to the operator.
Thank you very much, Miss Gire. That does conclude our conference for today. Thank you for your participation and using AT&T Executive TeleConference Services. It’ll just take me a moment to bring us back into the host room. One moment please.