Overview of U.S. Policy in the East Asia and Pacific Region
Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
July 22, 2013
2:00 P.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MS. CARRINGTON: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. I'm Margot Carrington; I'm the new director here. Today's my first day and it gives me great pleasure for my first briefing to be with Assistant Secretary Danny Russel. We actually worked together in Japan a few years ago, so again, it's fortuitous timing on my part.
As you all know, Mr. Russel was appointed as Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs on July 12th of this year. He brings a wealth of experience to the position, including at the White House where he was Special Assistant to the President, and National Security Staff Senior Director for Asian Affairs.
I've heard that you've already had directions as far as cellphones, just want to you remind you about that. After Assistant Secretary Russel's remarks he's agreed to take a few questions. We ask at that time that you do wait for a microphone and wait for me to call on you. So with that, let me introduce him or give him the podium and have him give you some remarks. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Great. Well, thank you very much, Margot. Hey, thanks to all of you for coming, taking the time to meet with me today; I appreciate it. This is my first public event – my first press event since becoming Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific. And I also want to thank those of you who are joining us virtually from New York – I'm not sure where to look to see you, but I'm a New Yorker, so I'm with you in spirit. New York's a great town. I'm a little bit envious.
I see a couple of familiar faces here today. I think you know a little bit about me since I've worked hard on Asia for virtually my entire career. There aren't many places in Asia or the Asia-Pacific region that I haven't visited at one point or another; many of them, frankly, in the four and a half years while I was at the White House. But I very much look forward to getting out into the region and being able to see so many of my old friends.
My previous job in the White House was as a staffer, and as a result, I spent all my time behind closed – behind four walls of an office and didn't get out very much. I plan to follow in the illustrious footsteps of my predecessor, Kurt Campbell, and move around, be around, be available, see and be seen in the region. Because the Asia-Pacific region is really where my heart is, and for an Asia hand like me, there couldn't be a better or a more important job than the one that Secretary Kerry and the President have entrusted to me as Assistant Secretary.
So today's Margot's first day. I've actually already been on the job for a full week. I started last Monday. But the reason that I wanted to meet with you all so soon is that I understand the importance not just of getting the message out, but of the work that you do. I know it's no easy matter to make sense of the United States and explain our actions and our policy to your editors and your audiences in the region. I know that you work to separate the gossip from the scoop and try to make sense of can this be true, is this really happening, is this really why, and so on.
Every day I get emails from my press and public diplomacy staff that include articles from your outlets, your newspapers, or summaries of your TV broadcasts and analysis, including the stories that you yourselves here in Washington and in New York are doing. So I read what you write. I care about what you write and how you and your outlet explains what we're doing or tries to make sense of U.S. policy for your constituents, for your readers, matters a lot to me, so I think we'll all be working together pretty closely over the next four years.
Now I also understand that for you to add value and for you to write informed pieces, you need to hear from us and there's only one of me, but the good news is there's a bunch of us in the East Asia and Pacific press office. But you need to ask us for a comment. You need to ask us for an explanation of what's going on. Don't – please don't take somebody else's word for what U.S. policy is. Don't take somebody else's word for what our real motives or our real intention or our real strategy is. We'll get you the answer, if not from me directly then more likely from Jason or Susan or one of my teammates. So I strongly encourage you to stop before you hit the send button on your exposé article and give them a chance to give you our side of the story. And I promise that we'll do everything in our power to get you – to help you get the information that you need.
So I know that you all have all kinds of questions for me, but I'm going to impose on your patience and your hospitality a little bit while I give you a sense of my thinking and a little bit of context, and maybe that will begin the process of answering some of your more basic questions.
First and foremost, the East Asia and Pacific region is immensely important to the interests of the United States. I had the incredible honor to begin working for – directly for President Obama on the very first day of his presidency on January 21st, 2009, and as a result, I can – I understand firsthand his strategic commitment to the Asia Pacific region, the strategic commitment to rebalance our interests and our investments in that region. And I can say with great confidence that there is no let up, no backtracking, no diminution of that commitment.
I have had numerous opportunities to watch Secretary Kerry in action and to talk to him and to listen to him. I was with him in April when he visited Tokyo and Beijing and Seoul. I was present when he delivered an important speech about our dreams for the Asia Pacific region and made it very clear that, as a Pacific nation, the U.S. takes its partnerships in the region seriously and that, as he promised, that he personally will continue the work of leading our efforts to build an active and enduring presence in the region.
I think, frankly, the fact that he decided to bring me over from the White House, a career Foreign Service officer and an Asian specialist, to replace our good friend and colleague Kurt Campbell, and I think also the fact that I was the first Assistant Secretary – regional Assistant Secretary to be nominated and confirmed and to start working – I think these are all indicators of how much importance Secretary Kerry places on Asia Pacific region and how convinced he is that we have tremendous opportunities in the four years ahead.
Let me say a few words just about what I see when I look at the very diverse and a very dynamic region that I'm responsible for in the Department of State. So in Northeast Asia, of course, we have two major allies – Japan and Korea – and having served extensively in both of those countries as a Foreign Service officer, I think I understand the breadth and the depth and the scope and the importance of our relationships with each of these allies.
And of course in the region we also have a hugely consequential relationship with China. With China we're working hard to build a cooperative partnership. It's a relationship that I have been involved in deeply in multiple stages of my career, but certainly very intensely over the last two and a half years as a senior director and special assistant. We also have a growing partnership with Mongolia, a third neighbor. And I had the pleasure of visiting Mongolia first with Vice President Biden and then again with Secretary Clinton and helping to arrange the visit of President Elbegdorj to Washington and to the Oval Office. And, of course, we also have very robust unofficial relations with Taiwan, which is an important democracy and a major economy in the region.
I think that it is very fair to say that our relationships in Northeast Asia are very strong, arguably stronger than they have ever been. I don't think they've ever been in better shape than they are now, and I'm determined, and see opportunities, to continue to advance and improve all of those relationships.
Elsewhere in the Pacific region, we have many, many very close friends, beginning, of course, with our close ally Australia. I know that President Obama and new repeat Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently had a good telephone conversation. I was present in some meetings that Secretary Kerry had with Foreign Minister Carr. Just today I met in my office with my good friend Ambassador Kim Beazley, and I also accompanied President Obama to Australia and was there when he delivered a landmark speech to the Australian parliament in Canberra describing America's strategy in the region. So that's a hugely important part of the world and a hugely important partner.
Similarly, our relationship with New Zealand has grown, has flourished, has expanded over recent years, and I think that there is a lot more that we can and will do together. And we've also made considerable progress in our partnerships and our relationships with the Pacific Island states. That's a part of the world that I know and care a great deal about. Back in the '90s when I was assigned to the UN, one of my areas of responsibility was the Pacific Islands. And I traveled through the region fairly extensively and visited a number of them.
It also strikes me that Southeast Asia is in many ways perhaps our most vibrant, our most dynamic region in the EAP world, but frankly in the global context as well. And in Southeast Asia, the U.S. has and continues to invest very heavily in our relationship with the span of countries from the big ones to the small ones, as well as with ASEAN. So if we take a look at it, if we start at the very big end of the scale, there's Indonesia. We have a thriving, comprehensive partnership with Indonesia. Obviously, there's a special connection between President Obama and Indonesia, but we have built out and are continuing to build jointly a comprehensive partnership that spans a wide range of issues.
We also have two extremely important treaty allies – Thailand and the Philippines, with whom I know we'll be working very, very closely. And we have emerging partnerships with Malaysia and with Vietnam, whose president, by the way, arrives, I think, tomorrow afternoon, and who will be meeting with Secretary Kerry, and then on Thursday over to the White House for a bilateral meeting with President Obama. And that will be quite a historic milestone, I think.
I've also watched closely, and frankly had a small role to play in supporting, the very dramatic, historic, and impressive political and economic transition in Burma. I've seen it firsthand when I accompanied then Secretary Clinton to Nay Pyi Taw and to Yangon, but maybe more dramatically last fall when I went with President Obama to Yangon and saw the reception that he got. This is a hugely important country and a hugely important transformation in the region.
And then on the smaller end of the spectrum, although they are getting an amazing amount of work done, are our close friends and partners like Singapore. Singapore is hosting a visit from Vice President Biden – unfortunately I'm not on that trip, but my colleague is – and Brunei. I did join Secretary Kerry in Brunei earlier this month and, of course, President Obama will travel to attend the East Asia Summit there in October. So from big countries to small countries in Southeast Asia, we have great partners and we have an ambitious agenda. And from Northeast Asia, the Pacific region, and Southeast Asia, we have tremendous interests and a continuity of purpose that I think over the arc of the eight years of the Obama presidency, but certainly in the next four years, will allow us to make some real and lasting accomplishments.
So if I could just take a step back and talk a little bit about how I look at the region, I have to begin where I began back in 2009 when I went to work at the White House. And at that point, President Obama began rebalancing our approach to the Asia Pacific region based sort of generally on what I would call three areas of focus. The first was modernizing and upgrading America's alliances in the region. The second was participating in and investing in regional institutions. And the third area of focus was and is building better, stronger relations with the emerging powers in the region.
Now, I think today, four years later, Secretary Kerry is engaging in the region from a very, very solid foundation, and that what you can expect from the Secretary, from me, and from our colleagues, is work to build out and to diversify that rebalancing, diversify that engagement to make sure that we are covering the span of issues of genuine interest and concern to all of us, and also taking advantage of the tremendous opportunities that are presented both by America's sustained engagement but also by the dynamism of the region itself.
Now, I want to make clear that from the very beginning, from the beginning in 2009 when the U.S. was coming out of a devastating series of economic setbacks in the run-up to President Obama taking office, that a hugely important part of our work, particularly work in connection with the rebalancing, has been our economic engagement. So as diverse as the East Asia region is, one of the common features is the region's economic dynamism. And that dynamism today is a major force fueling global economic growth.
We are in an extraordinary period of growth and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region, and promoting that growth, facilitating it, sustaining it, and harnessing it, frankly, is central to America's economic and strategic interest. That's why we are so determined and so committed to deepening our economic engagement in the Asia Pacific and to promoting economic integration in the region. So that includes, for example, the work we're doing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, but also through other mechanisms. President Obama last year at APEC, and again in Cambodia, announced our enhanced economic engagement with ASEAN countries. He also, in Cambodia, rolled out a comprehensive energy partnership along with Brunei and Indonesia. And it also informs our active work in APEC.
I'd also like to make it really clear from the very beginning that, although we are focused on working with our partners, working with our friends, developing opportunities, we're also very mindful of the problems and the challenges. So I approach this portfolio with a clear-eyed view of problems, beginning with North Korea's nuclear program, with tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea, with broad transnational global challenges like climate change, like energy security, like cyberspace.
And as I made clear in my hearing in the Senate, for those of you who looked at the testimony, also the importance that we place on promoting universal values, not American values – universal values of human rights, of democracy, and working to help ensure basic freedoms for all the citizens of the region.
So if I could take one more step back and talk through the – those sort of three areas of rebalancing before I turn it over to you for questions, and I appreciate your patience here, the first is our five enduring treaty alliances in the Asia Pacific region. These form the foundation of peace and stability. They are grounded in our common commitment to democracy, to the rule of law, human rights, and other values. I've mentioned Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hugely important allies.
I'm seeing a lot of Japanese and Korean reporters here today, so let me make it clear that our treaty alliance with Japan is a cornerstone of our alliance system and security in Asia. We are working hard to modernize that alliance. Prime Minister Abe had a very successful visit to Washington earlier in the year, and I congratulate him and the Japanese people on the upper house elections that took place over the weekend.
Similarly, the U.S.-ROK alliance is stronger than ever and serves as a linchpin for security and prosperity in Northeast Asia. We are working together to implement our joint vision and partnering with global Korea beyond the peninsula. President Park also, in May, had an extremely good visit to Washington. And of course, as most of you know, this year, we are marking the 60th anniversary of the alliance as well as the 60th anniversary next week of the armistice.
The second pillar or area of focus I mentioned is our commitment to institution building. And Secretary Kerry led the U.S. delegation, which I joined, to the ASEAN Regional Forum and to the East Asia Summit foreign ministerial just a few weeks ago. And while he was there, he met with many foreign ministers from the entire region and had an extensive and very good interactive session with his 10 ASEAN counterparts, along with the ASEAN Secretary General. So it is clear to me, and it will continue to be our practice to cooperate very closely with ASEAN on a whole range of issues, a very broad agenda that includes education, economic development, energy, climate, maritime security, and connectivity.
Now, looking ahead a little bit in October, Secretary Kerry and President Obama will travel again to the region, to Bali, for the APEC first ministerial and then summit, where they will work on and underscore progress that we've made toward removing barriers to trade and investment. Then in Brunei, the President will attend the East Asia Summit and the U.S.-ASEAN Leaders Summit, where we're making a lot of progress on initiatives, including some that I have mentioned like the regional energy partnership, but also the Lower Mekong Initiative, which is hugely productive.
The third element of the strategy has always been engagement with emerging powers, and the most conspicuous of them is China and our relationship with China. As I said, I accompanied Secretary Kerry in my former capacity when he visited Beijing, and I was with him last – 10 days ago when he co-chaired the Strategic and Economic Dialogue here in Washington. Those were meetings in which Secretary Kerry and State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who is his opposite on the strategic track, were able to really underscore the global reach and the global impact of cooperation between the U.S. and China, particularly as the world's two largest economies.
I think the S&ED, as it's called this year, and it was the fifth time but the first for the four presidential representatives who chair it – I think this time, we really showed the breadth of our engagement and the continued strides that we are making in expanding meaningful cooperation on issues that are genuinely important to both of our people, to the region, and the world, as well as progress in managing the areas where we have real disagreements, which we do.
So in the strategic track of the S&ED, we discussed regional hotspots – Iran, North Korea, Syria, and so on. We discussed nuclear proliferation, climate change, cyberspace, human rights, maritime security, and relations between our two militaries. And I came away with a sense of continued progress.
So I'll stop here and open the floor to questions, but let me just say – I'll stop there – (laughter) – and turn to questions. But before I do, let me just say that what I want you to take away – I know you've got – there's a lot you want to know, but what I want you to take away from me and what I'm saying is that the U.S. is genuinely, thoroughly committed to deepening our regional engagement and deepening our regional partnerships. And you will see continuity of focus from the State Department and the Administration towards the East Asia and the Pacific region.
I've discussed this issue numerous times now with Secretary Kerry, who himself has a long, long history with Asia and a deep, deep appreciation of the region. So you can count on us to remain deeply engaged in the Asia Pacific region because our interests are so profound in that region.
MS. CARRINGTON: Great. Thank you very much. I sense a little bit of eagerness, so we'll jump right to the Q&A. If you could wait for the microphone and please identify yourself and your media outlet. Okay. We'll start right here. Microphone.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. John Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan. I have a Taiwan question for you. President Ma Ying-jeou is about to transit through New York and he will be the first President from Taiwan to transit the East Coast in a very long time. Is that any indication of the current status of U.S.-Taiwan relations? Will anyone from the State Department or from your office will be going up to New York to meet with the President?
Another very important matter: The President has signed into law a congressional bill urging the State Department to take concrete measures to help Taiwan participate in the ICAO. And the ICAO meeting will soon be held in Montreal, I think, in September. So what concrete measures has the State Department taken or is the State Department about to take to help Taiwan achieve that goal? Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, thank you for that question. Let me answer them in somewhat broader terms. First of all, the starting point for any comment or any conversation about U.S. policy on Taiwan is that it is consistent and it is unchanged. The U.S. One-China policy has been sustained through eight administrations. It is based on the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act, and that will continue to inform our approach.
Second point is that we respect and admire the progress that has been made in cross-strait relations under President Ma Ying-jeou's tenure. We think that the dialogue that he has fostered provides benefits to people on both sides of the strait as well as to the region and others in terms of promoting stability and promoting prosperity. Now, we continue to believe that progress in cross-strait relations can go only as fast and be only as broad as the people of Taiwan and the people on the mainland will accept. But it is certainly a net positive in terms of the region.
On the issue of the ICAO legislation that the President signed, the key point here is that the United States has and continues to support Taiwan's active participation and membership in international organizations where statehood is not a requirement. And we also welcome or encourage Taiwan's meaningful participation as appropriate in organizations where membership itself is not an option. So we will and continue to support Taiwan's participation in ICAO.
QUESTION: What about transit, the President's transit?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I don't have anything to add on that.
MS. CARRINGTON: Let's go to the lady in the second row there.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Genie Nguyen with Voice of Vietnamese Americans. Congratulations to your new post.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you.
QUESTION: As Vietnamese Americans, and you have mentioned that we are expecting the visit of – the first visit of the President of Vietnam, Mr. Truong Tan Sang, with our President Obama. And you have already laid out the important points and throughout the speech of all the importance that you look to further – to develop. And I would like to see – to hear your visions for Vietnam, especially how do you think that will reflect on the agenda and the talks of – between our President Obama and President (inaudible).
And also, Vietnamese Americans, we are a rather strong diaspora, and recently we've been very engaged. We would like to also support you, the State Department, and our President Obama in developing better relationship. We would like to see Vietnam to be active in the TPP, but we also would like to see them upholding the standards of our values, American values, as well as universal values. So would you also please touch on the points of human rights, climate changes, traffickings, and labor rights as well? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, thank you very much. You're taking some of the words out of my mouth. (Laughter.) First of all, let me begin by saying that I have seen, again and again, the tremendous contribution to American culture and to the vibrancy of the nation from Asian Americans and Vietnamese Americans. And so I very much respect and agree with your reference to the important of – the importance of the views and the importance of the role played by Vietnamese Americans in our daily life.
I think that the relationship between the United States and Vietnam has tremendous opportunity. And I believe that Secretary Kerry's personal connection with Vietnam, not only from his time in the military but from his sustained and activist engagement on a number of legacy issues dating from that war, gives us a special asset in charting a course to the future.
Secretary Kerry, as a senator, including then eventually as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made something like 17 visits to Vietnam. He and a handful of colleagues in the Senate played a pivotal role in laying the groundwork for the kind of transformation, for the kind of strategic and comprehensive relationship, partnership that U.S. and Vietnam can build – are building. And now I think he is the ideal person to take that relationship forward over the coming years.
Now, we have an important agenda with Vietnam, in part because Vietnam is close to the heart of our rebalancing. Vietnam is an important emerging nation, coming into its own in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is a major player in ASEAN at a time where America's engagement in the institutions, in helping to foster the rule-building and the consensual progress of ASEAN, is gaining great momentum. And ASEAN – excuse me – and Vietnam is an important negotiating partner in the TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership. Vietnam is, in the scope of the 11 countries, soon to be 12 countries involved in the negotiations, arguably the country that holds down the developing end of the scale. But for that very reason, Vietnam is also, according to the World Bank, the country that stands to gain the most from membership in a high-standards, high-quality trade agreement like the TPP.
And as you alluded to, the U.S. has significant concerns and has paid close attention to the human rights situation in Vietnam. We're mindful of areas of progress, but we're also very attentive to areas where progress is overdue. So although I'm not anymore speaking on behalf of the White House, I know that from the perspective of Secretary Kerry, who will be hosting a lunch for President Sang on Wednesday, that this visit is an opportunity to strengthen our coordination on regional strategic issues, including, importantly, the South China Sea, where Vietnam is, although a claimant, a very responsible voice for a rules-based diplomatic approach.
It's an opportunity for us to deepen our coordination on ASEAN meetings in preparation for the upcoming visit by President Obama to Brunei. It's certainly an opportunity to talk about climate change, not just in the abstract, but in very practical terms, including areas where the U.S. can partner and assist Vietnam in capacity building to ensure that it's using responsible sources of energy and is pursuing energy policies in ways that contribute to efforts to combat global climate change.
Certainly they will discuss the TPP. I think, frankly, that is going to be at the top of the agenda. There's an important round underway in Malaysia right now, and the leaders have all undertaken a commitment to try to bring this to closure by the end of the year.
Lastly, I would say that in the longer term, I know I'm speaking for the Secretary in placing great importance on programs that can enhance the people-to-people connectivity and exchanges. That includes educational programs and other forms of exchange, and that's an area where I hope either at – in the course of President Sang's visit or in the follow-up to it, we can make some progress. Thank you.
MS. CARRINGTON: We'll take the fourth row there, you in the checkered shirt, sir.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Yongjian De from China News Service. I just want to know, did the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang send congratulations for your new position? Because we know you are very good friends and have talked with each other for quite some time during the breakfast in the ASEAN meeting earlier this month. And could you just tell us something about the so-called – the breakfast diplomacy in the ASEAN meeting? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, I think that my second week as a senior diplomat in the State Department would be my last week as a senior diplomat in the State Department if I divulged the content of a privileged diplomatic conversation with the Foreign Minister of a major foreign power – (laughter) – although I don't blame you for trying. But I think that the way that I can best answer your question is to speak a little more broadly. Why is it that I know such a senior official as Foreign Minister Wang Yi? Why is it that I know State Councilor Yang Jiechi or Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui or any number of other senior Chinese officials? Well, it is because the – in addition to the fact the Chinese Foreign Ministry has a very strong team, it's because in the last four and a half years the United States has placed a premium on trying to build a cooperative partnership with China through direct and high-level dialogue. This is an ongoing project. It continues, and it will continue.
We are exploring the areas in which cooperation between the U.S. and China, two major economies, can make a positive and practical impact both on the wellbeing and the lives of the citizens of both of our countries, but also in the region and in the global economy and in the global context. We are also working hard to develop a candid dialogue on areas of disagreement, and there are areas of disagreement, and to make sure that we understand the motivations and the objectives of the other side. The – this was the spirit in which President Obama invited President Xi Jinping to an unprecedented and historic extended, informal meeting in Sunnylands Estate in California early in June, and frankly this is the spirit in which we engaged in the S&ED that I mentioned in my opening statement, and it's what allows us to cover a broad spectrum of issues.
So the U.S. and China don't agree on everything, of course, but we talk about everything. And the willingness – what I will say about the so-called breakfast conversation is that the willingness of a senior official like the Foreign Minister of China to talk directly and constructively to a U.S. counterpart in the context of and on the margins of a major regional, multilateral meeting is emblematic of the determination on both sides to make sure that the lines of communication between us are wide open. It is clearly my belief and my impression that maintaining good lines of communication between Washington and Beijing is a priority also for the other countries in the region. It is clear – and I've heard this directly, repeatedly – that the countries throughout the region expect and want the U.S. and China to maintain a level of high-level dialogue and practical cooperation that will help generate positive results.
MS. CARRINGTON: Please keep your question brief, because we're running out of time. Sir, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for today's opportunity. My name is Mizumoto from Jiji Press, a Japanese news agency. And as you mentioned, on – yesterday Japanese LDP had a victory in the election of upper house of parliament. As a result, Prime Minister Abe can control the Diet, but Japan had a lot of longstanding issues, including a bad relation with China. So following the result of the election, what are your expectations of Abe's stronger leadership? And what are you going to do in your capacity to reduce the tension between Japan and China? Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you. Well, first of all, let me begin by saying that the support in the United States for the U.S.-Japan relationship and the U.S.-Japan alliance is bipartisan, the support in Japan for the U.S.-Japan relationship and alliance is bipartisan, and the United States has worked effectively with LDP governments and DPJ governments. So while I warmly congratulate the ruling coalition for their success in the upper house elections, I'm not taking sides, obviously. But if this is a step that will help facilitate greater continuity of leadership in Japan, I think it will be welcome by all of Japan's friends.
What the election should also remind us is that Japan is a thriving and a mature democracy. Ultimately the direction that Japan takes on any issue will be determined by the people of Japan and by the mainstream views there. So it's something that certainly we in the United States are very comfortable with and feel very good about. We have full faith in the democratic process and in the people of Japan.
The Government of Japan, the Prime Minister of Japan – and I, as it happens, have known him since the late '80s, before he even became a member of the Diet – have, like President Obama, put first and foremost the objective of rejuvenating the economy, promoting jobs, promoting prosperity, and laying the groundwork for a sustainable economic future, and that's an undertaking that has the full support of the United States. It's important that the Japanese delegation is either in or on its way to Malaysia and is expected to begin the process of joining the TPP. The Prime Minister has spoken about the third arrow of economic reform, and I think that this is hugely important, and certainly with the mandate that he has won, we watch with hope and encouragement as he approaches that objective, because a thriving Japanese economy isn't only good for the people of Japan; it's good for the region, and certainly it's good for the United States.
Now, it is true, to your second question, that Japan faces a range of thorny problems with some of its neighbors. These are problems that sometimes seem to get worse and at other times seem to get better. Because Japan is the world's third largest economy and a very close friend and a major regional leader, because China is the world's second largest economy and also an increasingly important player in the Asia Pacific, and because the Republic of Korea also is a thriving, dynamic economy, a U.S. ally, and increasingly a global actor, it's hugely important that the relations between Japan and its neighbors improve, that problems be dealt with in a peaceful and a thoughtful way. We hope that all leaders and the publics will be guided by a sense of wisdom, of shared interest, and will take actions and decisions with a view to the future.
With respect to specific problems, including the issue of the territorial dispute on the East China Sea, the U.S. is very consistent and very clear – both with Japan and with China – clear about what we do and don't have an interest in.
We don't have a claim. We don't take a position on the substance of the territorial disputes. But we do take a strong position and have a strong interest in the peaceful and responsible management of these disputes. And we continue strongly to encourage a process, a diplomatic process that can manage differences in a way that will reduce tensions and promote the kind of cooperative spirit that everyone wants to see.
One more here.
MS. CARRINGTON: Okay. We'll take one more question. Sir, yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. JoongAng from South Korea. My first question is: You mentioned about the North Korean nuclear issue, main – the challenge of the United States. So do you have any new plan to restart Six-Party Talks?
And second question is: Last weekend, Kenneth Bae's family got the letter from North Korea. So do you have any plan to solve that problem? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you. Well, to be clear, I said that I will, of course, focus on North Korea. I didn't say it's the main issue, because in dealing with challenges like North Korea and like the nuclear issue, we believe that it is essential to begin with our friends and to move in tandem with the international community. So our approach is a rules-based approach, it's a principled approach, and it is founded on the simple fact that North Korea faces a fundamental choice. Its pursuit of nuclear weapons has not and will not bring it security, and it certainly will not bring it international respect. If North Korea, however, makes the fundamental choice to think of the welfare of its people and to come into compliance, to begin taking steps to comply with both the UN Security Council resolutions and to live up to – to honor its own commitments, it will find help not only from the United States, but from partners like the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the broader international community.
So our goal is to convince the North Korean leaders to make the right choice. That is a goal shared certainly by President Park. I know it's shared by President – by Prime Minister Abe. And it is also reflected in the policies that we've seen from President Xi Jinping and President Putin. There's a broad international consensus, and North Korea knows what it needs to do. We want to negotiate on the basis of the commitments that North Korea has made and the UN Security Council resolutions. North Korea has to show its seriousness of purpose and its willingness to negotiate a denuclearization agreement, as it has committed to.
On the subject of Kenneth Bae, let me say that there is no greater priority for the U.S. Government than the welfare and the safety of U.S. citizens abroad. We have a protecting power in Pyongyang in the Swedish Embassy. We are in very regular touch with them, because, of course, we don't have diplomatic relations with the North Koreans. We have signaled consistently our hope and concerns – our hope that Mr. Bae will be quickly released, and our concerns about his treatment. And the State Department is also in close touch with his family. But I'm constrained, as a State Department official, about what I can say publicly on the case. So let me stop there.
MS. CARRINGTON: Unfortunately, we're out of time. Thank you very much for coming today.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you all. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to answer all your questions, but we'll have another crack at it. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
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