The Perfect Enemy | Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability
August 11, 2022

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability – United States Department of State  Department of State

Read Time:18 Minute

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’ve had a productive and meaningful two days here in Cambodia.  We’ve still got a few meetings to go this afternoon, but it’s been a very productive couple of days so far, and then we’re heading, as you know, to the Philippines later today.

We covered a lot of topics here in Phnom Penh, but let me begin with the situation in the Taiwan Strait.  Yesterday the People’s Republic of China launched nearly a dozen ballistic missiles toward Taiwan.  They landed in waters to the northeast, the east, and southeast of the island.  Japan reported that five of those missiles landed in its exclusive economic zone, understandably causing them and all of us grave concern.  The People’s Liberation Army has now declared seven restricted zones near Taiwan and say that they will extend a range of military exercises through Monday.

These provocative actions are a significant escalation.  We’ve seen how Beijing has attempted to change the status quo on Taiwan for some time – for example, more than doubling the number of aircraft flown over the centerline that separates China and Taiwan over the past two years; pursuing economic coercion, political interference, cyber-attacks against Taiwan.  Now they’ve taken dangerous acts to a new level.

The United States has conveyed to the PRC consistently and repeatedly that we do not seek and will not provoke a crisis.  President Tsai has said the same thing.  China has chosen to overreact and use Speaker Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to increase provocative military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait.  We anticipated that China might take steps like this.  In fact, we described this exact scenario.  The fact is the Speaker’s visit was peaceful.  There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate, and escalatory military response.

Let me say again that nothing has changed about our “one China” policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Communiques, and the Six Assurances.  We don’t want unilateral changes to the status quo from either side.  We do not support Taiwan independence.  We expect cross-strait differences to be resolved peacefully, not coercively or by force.

We’re not alone in this.  ASEAN released a statement yesterday about the need to de-escalate tensions in the Taiwan Strait.  The G7 has rejected Beijing’s attempt to coerce and intimidate Taiwan.  There are serious concerns not only for Taiwan but for the possibility that these actions by Beijing will destabilize the broader region.

For our part, the United States will not be provoked.  We’ll continue to do what we’ve done for a long time.  We’ll support cross-strait peace and stability and a free and open Indo-Pacific.  You’ll see that in the days and weeks ahead.  We will stick by our allies and partners and work with and through regional organizations to enable friends in the region to make their own decisions, free from coercion.  We’ll take further steps to demonstrate our commitment to the security of our allies in the region, including Japan.  We will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.  We’ll continue to conduct standard air and maritime transits through the Taiwan Strait, consistent with our longstanding approach to working with allies and partners to uphold freedom of navigation and overflight, which has enabled the region’s prosperity for many decades.  Almost half the global container fleet and nearly 90 percent of the world’s largest ships passed through the straits this year.  That’s just one reason why these actions by Beijing are so disruptive.

We’ll continue to support Taiwan in cross-strait peace and stability.  Secretary Austin has directed that the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan remain on station in the general area to monitor the situation.  In short, the world will see us continue to support the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and advance our shared goals throughout the Indo-Pacific.  That is what the region expects of us: to be a steady and responsible leader.

Another major topic of conversation was the crisis in Burma.  The regime’s execution of four democracy activists despite pleas from many – including the ASEAN chair, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the ASEAN special envoy – has alarmed and horrified people across the region and around the world.  I urge my fellow ministers to continue to press the regime to end its brutal violence, to release those unjustly detained, to allow humanitarian access, and restore Burma’s path to democracy.  We also have to increase economic pressure, do more to stop the flows of arms and revenue to the regime, insist on accountability for the atrocities that have been committed, and we strongly urge the international community not to endorse the regime’s plans for sham elections next year.  They can be neither free nor fair under present conditions.

One of the participants in the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum meetings, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, visited with regime leaders in Burma just a few days ago, calling them a friendly partner.  That directly flies in the face of ASEAN’s hard work to bring the violence to an end.

On the matter of Russia, as we’ve said many times, the Kremlin has not only attacked Ukraine;  it’s also attacked the UN Charter and ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which enshrines the principles of independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity for all nations.  Russia is a party to that treaty, as it’s a party to many other agreements that it’s signed over the years and now violates in Ukraine.  It’s in the interest of all countries and people in Southeast Asia, the broader Pacific region, and the world that Kremlin end this aggression and its painful global consequences.  We’ve heard many countries here condemn Russian aggression, just as they did in joining 141 countries at the United Nations for a UN resolution supporting Ukraine and calling for an end to the aggression.

I want to very much thank Cambodia again for serving as ASEAN chair and also for hosting us this week.  The United States is grateful for our cooperation with ASEAN on so many urgent priorities, including fighting COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, strengthening cyber security, ensuring freedom of navigation, supporting the lawful unimpeded flow of commerce.  We support the central role that ASEAN plays in the region, and now we look forward to the summit in November, where we’ll launch the first comprehensive strategic partnership between ASEAN and the United States.

A few hours ago, Yohannes Abraham, a close advisor to President Biden, was confirmed as our next ambassador to the U.S. mission at ASEAN.  He will be an excellent partner for all of our friends in ASEAN.

This has been my first visit to Cambodia as Secretary of State.  I have to tell you I’ve been struck by and deeply appreciate the friendliness, the warmth of the Cambodian people that I’ve had an opportunity to meet and interact with.  And I’m also glad to say thank you in person to our outstanding embassy team, led by Ambassador Patrick Murphy.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with a group of alumni from our YSEALI program – that’s the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.  I met with farmers and food producers from across Cambodia who are partners of ours through the global food security program Feed the Future.  In my constructive and candid conversations with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, we discussed the best way to ensure that all of Cambodia’s people enjoy a bright future by protecting democratic rights, preserving Cambodia’s independence, pursuing inclusive economic growth.  The United States looks forward to deepening our partnership with Cambodia on these fronts and many more.  We’re grateful for our longstanding friendship with the Cambodian people, and I thank Cambodia again for showing us such warmth and hospitality these past two days.

With that, I am happy to take some questions.

MR PRICE:  We’ll start with David Brunnstrom with Reuters.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary, I wanted to follow up on your remarks on Taiwan.  We’ve heard from the U.S. side that it’s maintained communications with China over the fallout from Speaker Pelosi’s visit.  Can you tell us how exactly that’s been done?  We saw Foreign Minister Wang Yi walk out of yesterday’s dinner, but he was at the EAS today.  Have you had any contact with him at all in Cambodia?  And has the United States asked Taiwan to show restraint to in response to China’s military activity?

And one more, if I could.  We saw you make a point of walking into last night’s dinner with Foreign Minister Hayashi.  Was that a show of solidarity with Japan after these missiles?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Let me start with the first – the last part first.  Foreign Minister Hayashi is a good friend and colleague, and sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.  We happened to be walking in together because we were talking together in advance of the dinner.  But irrespective of that, we stand in strong solidarity with our partner and ally, Japan, including with regard to the very dangerous actions that China has taken by firing off these missiles, including five that, according to Japan, landed in its exclusive economic zone.

With regard to China more broadly, we have open lines of communication.  When I had the opportunity to see Foreign Minister Wang Yi a few weeks ago in Bali, we had a lengthy conversation then about Taiwan.  The question of the possibility of the Speaker’s visit came up, and I was extremely clear with him about the importance of not using that visit, if she decided to proceed with it, as some kind of pretext for escalation or other actions that China has now, in fact, taken.

In the meeting that we just had with all of the ASEAN foreign ministers, we had a vigorous communication about the situation in and around Taiwan, and I reiterated the points that we’ve made publicly, as well as directly to Chinese counterparts in recent days again about the fact that they should not use the visit as a pretext for escalation, for provocative actions, that there is no possible justification for what they’ve done, and urged them to cease these actions.

But I think what’s very important is this is not just our view.  It’s the view of many countries throughout this region.  I’d refer you to the statement that ASEAN itself put out yesterday.  It’s the view of countries well beyond the region, including the G7 countries.  You saw the statement that the G7 put out.  And we look to China to take account of the views of many countries around the world.

For our part, we don’t seek, and do not want, a crisis.  We’re prepared to manage what Beijing chooses to do; I think that’s the case for all else involved.  And it’s in no one’s interest that this escalate further and that there be any kind of crisis.  But we look to Beijing to act accordingly.

MR PRICE:  Hasanah Isa, PNN TV.

QUESTION:  So good afternoon, sir.  I’m Sokheng Pa from VOD Khmer.  I have the question, and thank for your remark.  Absent your state – (inaudible) Department of State that you met Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday, and you urge him to reopen civil and political space before 2023 election.  May you have clarify?  What do you want Cambodia to do, exactly?

And the second question: Do you wish to see the reinstatement of CNRP and the return of Sam Rainsy and (inaudible) Kem Sokha, for them to join political life?

And late – CNRP again, the last one is, if – yes.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Let me say a couple of things.  First, we had a very lengthy exchange about a number of issues with the prime minister yesterday.  We’ve made clear that our strong desire is for a positive relationship between the United States and Cambodia, one that we would hope to deepen even further.  But one of the things that stands in the way of strengthening the relationship between our countries are concerns that are shared about eroding respect for human rights, the weakening of democratic institutions here in Cambodia.

As a friend of Cambodia, we’re urging the authorities to uphold the kingdom’s international obligations, its commitments to protect human rights, to protect fundamental freedoms, including those which are also enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution.  We made known our concerns.  I made known our concerns directly to the prime minister, and we’ll continue to speak in support of multi-party democracy.  We are not focused on individuals, personalities, or parties.  We’re focused on the process and making sure that that process is open, transparent, and allows full and genuine participation by representatives of all the Cambodian people.

I should also mention that I raised a number of cases of concern when it comes to human rights, and we focused on this both with regard to the systemic challenge and also specific challenges.  So I mentioned a number of people where we have concerns, including a dual citizen, Seng Theary.  And I met this morning with Kem Sokha, and this is, as you know, a key opposition leader.  And again, the purpose is not to support in any way any particular individual, but the principle of the need for democracy, the need for respect for human rights, the need for an open, transparent, participatory system that would only strengthen Cambodia – strengthen its – strengthen it at home and strengthen it around the world.

MR PRICE:  Edward Wong, New York Times.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  You’ve mentioned several ways in which the U.S. might try and counter some of the aggression that you say you’ve seen from Beijing.  All of these are military counterweights that you’ve presented.  And I think, in general, there has been a lot of talk from the U.S. Government about new military alliances like AUKUS or partnerships, maybe putting more missiles in the region, things like that.  Do you think that there is an inevitable spiral going on in the region, where militarization on all sides is occurring which might lead to greater crises?

And then what do you say to the widespread criticism that the U.S. is refraining from entering into ambitious trade agreements in the region, and is thus missing an economic piece of competing with China here?  People say that IPEF is a pale shadow of what TPP is.

And finally, do you have any comments on Brittany Griner’s conviction yesterday in Moscow, and have you spoken with Lavrov about this here?  Lavrov told reporters earlier today that he was surprised he hadn’t tried to talk to him about various issues.  Thanks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great, thank you.  First, there is nothing inevitable about crisis, nothing inevitable about conflict.  On the contrary.  I think it’s incumbent upon us and incumbent upon China to act responsibly and to manage what is a very vigorous competition between us, to manage that competition responsibly.  That was very much a key part of the conversation that I had with Wang Yi over – the foreign minister, over five hours in Bali just a couple of weeks ago, and it reflects what I said today as well, including with all of our ASEAN colleagues.

I think what we’re hearing around the region is an expectation from all of the countries, virtually all the partners in ASEAN, to do just that.  That is our responsibility.  That’s exactly why we made very clear that we do not want, we do not seek, and we will not take actions to provoke a crisis.  We call on China to stand back from the actions it’s taken, which are a serious over-reaction to the peaceful visit of Speaker Pelosi to Taiwan and, I think, consistent with what they’ve been doing for several years now, which is making it clear that they will no longer abide by the status quo when it comes to Taiwan.

What we’ve said all along – and it’s been the foundation of our management of Taiwan for more than four decades, successfully, in making sure that it was not a source of conflict, and that the people in Taiwan could flourish – is we have said that the differences between the mainland and Taiwan need to be resolved peacefully, not coercively, not by force.

So it is incumbent upon China to continue to seek to resolve those differences peacefully, not to use coercion, and certainly not to use force.  But what we’ve seen in the last couple of years is China moving in that direction.  And what we’re hearing from countries around the region is that that’s the last thing that they want.

I’d add also, we spend a lot of time talking about so many of the challenges that our countries face together:  the need, the desire that I think people in all of our countries have to build a sustainable recovery from COVID, to continue to manage global health challenges, to deal with climate change, to pursue the need for an energy transition and new energy infrastructure.  These are the kinds of things that our citizens expect us to be working on together.  That’s what the United States is committed to doing.

What we don’t seek, and what we don’t want, are efforts by any country, whether it’s China with regard to Taiwan or the South China Sea, or Russia in terms of its aggression against Ukraine, to disrupt international peace and security because it’s incredibly dangerous, it violates basic principles that undergird relations between countries – for example, sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence – and it takes time, focus, and attention away from the things that our people want us to be working on together.  So that was one of the cases that I also made today with the Chinese foreign minister, the Russian foreign minister, and all of our colleagues from ASEAN.

With regard to trade, we put forward, as you know, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and it’s gotten an extremely positive response from more than a dozen countries that have signed on to be founding members.  And it remains an open, inclusive process, and I expect that other countries will join in.  And what IPEF, as the acronym goes, focuses on are economic areas that are going to be critical to the 21st century economy.  For example, digital trade.  For example, securer supply chains.  For example, governance, combatting corruption, all of which are absolutely vital to trade and investment moving forward.  Trade facilitation is also a part of that.

The response has been extremely positive, and we’re now in the process of really building it together with all of the founding members, shaping the different pillars of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

With regard to Brittany Griner and to Paul Whelan, a few things on that.  I think, first, we’ve all seen the sentencing, conviction of Brittany Griner to nine years in prison, and that further compounds the injustice that’s being done to her and her wrongful detention.  It puts a spotlight on our very significant concern with Russia’s legal system and the Russian Government’s use of wrongful detentions to advance its own agenda, using individuals as political pawns.  The same goes for Paul Whelan.

We put forward, as you know, a substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on.  And what Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning, and said publicly, is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that, and we’ll be pursuing that.

MR PRICE:  We’ll take a final question from Sorath Sorn, CamboJA.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  My name is Sorath from CamboJA News.  I have the question about the election.  After the coming election, the opposition leader will sue by the ruling party as the NEC.  And so what do you think about this, and what is your expectation about the Cambodian election next year?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, one of the things – thank you.  One of the things that I shared with the prime minister and other Cambodian interlocutors is our expectation and, I think more important, the expectation of the Cambodian people that elections in Cambodia will be free and fair and genuinely participatory so that everyone in Cambodia can be represented in the elections and, depending on their outcome, in governance.

Our purpose is not to be for any individual or any party, not at all.  As I said earlier, it’s about the process, making sure that there is a genuinely democratic process when it comes to Cambodia’s elections.  That’s what we’re looking to, that’s what I shared with the prime minister.  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.