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Sunday, October 19, 2014

STATE DEPARTMENT: SPECIAL BRIEFING (ON BACKGROUND) ON CHINA / US SPECIAL MEETING - RELATIONS

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
October 18, 2014


MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining us. This call is on background for attribution to a senior State Department official. We will be reading out – [Senior State Department Official], for the purposes – for those of you who need to know the source, will be reading out the Secretary’s meetings over the course of the last 24 hours, and then we’ll take some questions.

So with that, I’ll turn it over to [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you very much, and thanks to all of you for joining us today. Secretary Kerry invited China’s top foreign policy official and a very small team to come to the United States and, in an extraordinary gesture, to come to Boston, his hometown. Instead of meeting with the Chinese in Washington, D.C. and in the State Department, as is conventional, instead Secretary Kerry opened his home – his personal home – and I think over the last day, day and a half created really an unprecedented and substantive dialogue between the U.S. and China that builds on the work that he has been doing across a spectrum of issues to ensure that the U.S.-China relationship is firing on all cylinders. 

What’s special about the consultations over the last day-plus is, among other things, the fact that the Secretary was able to create a very informal atmosphere. He broke with the tradition of formalistic, heavily structured dialogues with a phalanx of officials on both sides of the table, microphones and so on, and instead created the opportunity for both a comprehensive but also an in-depth, dynamic, and free-flowing discussion that covered the issues that each side really cares about. 

It is significant that State Councilor Yang, who himself had just returned from extensive overseas travel with his president and is in the throes of preparing for both the upcoming APEC leaders meeting but also the party plenum that is beginning early next week in China, was able to take time and in fact decided it was important enough that he took time to fly from China to Boston for these consultations.

The program began on Friday when – shortly after State Councilor Yang and his small team arrived in Boston. Secretary Kerry and his wife opened their home and hosted the state councilor to a dinner. It was a substantive dinner, although it was not a formal working session. I think it shows, among other things, the power of American hospitality. There was a graciousness to the event. There was a New England cast to it, both in terms of the menu and in terms of the memories that were awakened in State Councilor Yang, who has extensive experience in the United States as a former ambassador.


They were able to talk in broad but strategic terms about the U.S.-China bilateral relationship, and the evening was capped with a really extraordinary entertainment by a very talented Chinese American harpist from the Boston Symphony Orchestra who combined both Western music and a Chinese folk tune in a very powerful and moving way. I know everyone enjoyed that a great deal.

Today, on Saturday, the Secretary and the state councilor held two substantive sessions at a hotel, had a working lunch in which they were joined by John Podesta, the counselor of the White House. They had some one-on-one time to talk in depth without note-takers. And Secretary Kerry also escorted the state councilor and his delegation to John Adams’s residence and gave them a little flavor of American culture, American history, and a personalized tour.

In terms of what they discussed and what they worked on, I guess I would organize the issues in perhaps three categories. First, they discussed in some depth the urgent global problems and regional problems. That includes the common efforts to stem the spread of the Ebola virus; the international effort to degrade and destroy ISIL and to promote unified and effective counterterrorism programs; the work underway among the P5+1 on the Iran nuclear problem; the longstanding challenge of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, which has been a central focus of both the U.S. and the Chinese; the situation and the needs of Afghanistan, a country of importance to both of us; and of course, the important global issues related to climate change, environment, and clean energy.

Perhaps the second tranche could be characterized as bilateral issues or bilateral areas of cooperation. That means first and foremost some of the economic trade and investment issues between us. It means some practical cooperation on clean energy and environmental policies. They discussed the upcoming APEC leaders meeting and the agenda there. And they also talked about the steady improvements in U.S.-China mil-mil relations.

The third category, just broadly, even though the day wasn’t organized along these lines per se, was a set of candid exchanges on areas of disagreement, problem areas, aimed at narrowing differences and finding ways to manage them effectively. And that includes human rights, and Secretary Kerry, as he always does with the Chinese, raised both the basic universal principles at stake and very specific cases – the situation in Hong Kong, which is very much in the news and on people’s minds; the longstanding differences between the U.S. and China regarding cyberspace, when it comes specifically to the issue of protecting economic corporate secrets and proprietary information; and they also touched on areas such as the maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The last thing I’d say before opening to questions is to anticipate the question of: What is it that they accomplished? First of all, what State Councilor Yang and Secretary Kerry conducted over the last day-plus were consultations. This was not a negotiation that produces specific outcomes or a communique or deliverables. I would say that the results from this effort over the last 24 hours will be incremental, it will be increasingly visible over time. It’s part of a continuum of work to flesh out what is increasingly described as the sort of new model which we define as a combination of practical cooperation and effective management of differences.

Clearly, the conversations here in Boston will contribute to the upcoming visit to China by the President and the meetings that he will hold with Xi Jinping by deepening the understanding of each other’s positions and identifying areas for greater progress. And I think today and last night represent a contribution to the long-term health and the productivity of the U.S.-China relationship.

MODERATOR: Great. With that, we’ll take some questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, for questions, again, just press *1.
We’ll go to the line of Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. Please go ahead; your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, thank you, [Senior State Department Official]. I want to ask: Why is this the first time you decided to have this informal meeting with the Chinese state councilor? And we know the Sunnylands is pretty successful, so (inaudible) in the future, and do you expect the Chinese side to do the same thing (inaudible) China? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, thank you. And that’s a good question, although you broke up slightly, so I may have missed a word or two. I think that it is fair to say that the spirit of Sunnylands infused the conversations and the style of the conversation that Secretary Kerry and State Councilor Yang conducted. It may be a sign of the maturation of the bilateral relationship and the increased ability of the U.S. and the Chinese side to speak directly and strategically that they were able to hold this kind of informal session. 

I’d be speculating as to whether or not it would have been possible to host this kind of meeting in the United States in prior years, but without a doubt the tremendous effort that Secretary Kerry – and, of course, President Obama – have put into establishing high-level and serious lines of communication with the Chinese, along with the commitment to seeking out areas of practical cooperation without papering over our differences, has helped make it possible to engineer a meeting of this informality and this flexibility. 

We don’t have a strict view as to what the right mix of formal and informal meetings are, and it’s for the Chinese side to decide whether they want to reciprocate in a similar fashion. But I think that everyone who participated in the meetings last night and today came away feeling that we had had an extremely substantive and productive encounter.

MODERATOR: Great. Let’s take the next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go the line of Matthew Lee with the Associated Press. Please go ahead, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks. [Senior State Department Official], I’m wondering, when you say that the results are – you described the results from this as being incremental but will become increasingly visible over time – does that mean that the candid exchanges on the problem areas in particular – the human rights, Hong Kong, cybersecurity, and the South China Sea – there wasn’t anything really new to come out of that? It was just basically a restatement of both sides’ positions?

And then secondly, on Ebola, the Secretary and others in the Administration have been pretty clear that they don’t think China has been doing its – pulling its weight, or doing its fair share on Ebola. And I’m just wondering if you were able to get any kinds of pledges and an increase in their assistance on that point.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, Matt. It would be absolutely wrong to think that the discussions here in Boston of the sensitive issues constituted simply a restatement of old positions. I feel that these were constructive conversations in which both the Secretary and the state councilor listened, were able to probe, and in I think quite effective ways were able to begin the process of thinking through how the other side might be able to take steps that could help generate progress and mitigate concerns. There was a clear sense of focus on making headway and not defending territory in the form of rhetorical positions. 

Now, whether and when we will begin seeing the Chinese make headway on the issues of concern to us is a question to which I don’t have the answer. But I can say with confidence that Secretary Kerry got a full and careful hearing. These were not combative discussions, although they were direct, candid, and no holds were barred. It’s important to create an environment that permits the Chinese to really hear us out, and by the same token, on some of these issues, it’s also valuable to demonstrate to the Chinese that they too are getting a thorough hearing of their positions and their concerns.

On Ebola, I would note that the Chinese prime minister recently in Europe announced a fourth tranche of significant contributions to the international effort to stem the tide of Ebola. I would say that there’s a broad consensus that as a whole, the international community needs to do a lot more. So it’s not a matter of which country is pulling its weight. It’s a matter of what each country can add to the global effort. The Chinese have a lot of capabilities and both an incentive to address the crisis in West Africa, but as best I can tell, also see an interest in their own right in doing so.

MODERATOR: All right. We’ll take the next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. That comes from the line of David Brunnstrom with Reuters. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, (inaudible)? 
MODERATOR: Yeah, we can hear you.
QUESTION: You can hear me okay. I just wanted to ask what you’re talking about on the ISIL issue, whether there was any sort of an agreement or sense that China was willing to do more there. (Inaudible) to the summit, does the United States share the desire and the hope that the text of the bilateral investment treaty can be announced at that (inaudible)? 

And then just slightly looking ahead to the Indonesia stop, this actually has got a lot of bilaterals (inaudible) there with Southeast Asian counterparts. And how much of an issue is the South China Sea going to be there? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, thank you, Matt. The Secretary and the state councilor had a pretty extensive discussion about the threat from ISIL as well as the problem of foreign fighters. This ties in, of course, to the broader issue of international cooperation on counterterrorism. 

The Chinese have publicly indicated that they don’t “join coalitions,” but at the same time, they have made clear that they share our view and the international view that the threat posed by ISIL is a serious one that requires considerable efforts along multiple lines of effort. The Secretary and the state councilor talked about what our respective strategies are, where we see areas that require greater effort and greater cooperation, and they discussed also how the U.S. and China can coordinate better over the coming weeks to make sure that we’re each doing everything that we can on this account.

They also talked about the issue of the bilateral investment treaty. Now this was not, as I said earlier, a negotiating session. But there was a strong shared view that promoting investment in both directions and ensuring that there is a solid legal framework governing investments between us is a high priority. And they took stock of the work that our teams have underway and agreed to each go back to their respective capitals and encourage continued progress.

As far as the upcoming bilats by the Secretary in Southeast Asia, I think we can plan a separate conversation to go into that as a preview in a little more depth.

MODERATOR: Great. We’re ready for the next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll hear from Elliot Waldman with Tokyo Broadcasting. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: We can.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thanks for doing this. I just wanted to go back sort of along the lines of Matt’s question. And on the problem areas, the third bucket that you identified, did you get a sense that the sort of more informal environment contributed to any kind of softening of tone at all from the Chinese, especially on the issue of cyber where there’s been particularly – at least in their public statements, particularly vociferous and rebutting U.S. claims? So did this new kind of informal dialogue spur any kind of, I don’t know, softer tone from the Chinese on these issues?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Well, let me be very clear: We’re not looking for a softening of tone on the part of the Chinese when it comes to cyber or other areas of significant difference. We are looking for an improvement in behavior. What the conversation over the last 24 hours between Secretary Kerry and the state councilor allowed was an exploration of what we see as the problem, what we see as the downstream consequences if China doesn’t take steps to adjust behavior and to remedy these problems, and how we think a process could be shaped that would lead to outcomes and adjusted policies that work within the Chinese system but that are more respectful of international rules and norms.

Now I’m very much of the view that the kind of – the informal and relaxed structure of these conversations allowed both of the top diplomats to probe, to explore, and to get off the defensive in ways that are harder in large-structured meetings. But again, these are difficult issues and we’re embarked on a long-term effort to positively influence Chinese behavior on problem areas.

MODERATOR: Great. We have time for just a few more questions. We’ll go to the next one.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We’ll hear from Lalit Jha from PTI. Go ahead. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this call.
MODERATOR: Hi, Lalit.
QUESTION: Hi. I wondered if the question of Afghanistan came up during talks with Secretary Kerry when Secretary Kerry held the talks with the Chinese counterpart on Afghanistan post-2014. And did the Secretary express his concern about the human rights situation in Tibet? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Well, thanks for that question. Yes, Secretary Kerry and State Councilor Yang did discuss Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is an area in which the United States has a huge investment in the recovery and in the stability and in the future of that nation. Afghanistan, of course, is a neighbor of China, and the Chinese clearly have a stake in the reconciliation efforts that are underway and in longer-term stability. They exchanged views on the political situation and discussed how each country – and particularly how China can help support the new Afghan Government.


Without going into too much detail about the content of the conversations themselves on sensitive issues, let me just say that the traditional areas of concern with regard to the U.S. and China pertaining to human rights all came up.

MODERATOR: Great. We have time for one more question.
OPERATOR: Thank you, and our last question will come from Masayoshi Tanaka with NHK TV. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Just to follow up on the Hong Kong protest, what message did Secretary Kerry convey to Mr. Yang? And secondly, are there any discussions on the Japanese – Japan-China relations? If yes, what did they discuss? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as I said, I’m not going to go into the specifics of what precisely was said in these conversations. But the Secretary did share with the state councilor our perspective, our views, our hopes, and our concerns with regard to the situation in Hong Kong, both in the short term and beyond.
I know that the Secretary and the state councilor did discuss the situation broadly in the Asia Pacific region, the issue of good relations between China and its neighbors, as well as an exchange of views on the maritime disputes and issues there as well.

MODERATOR: Excellent. Thank you, everybody, for joining the call. Just as a reminder, everything can be attributed to a senior State Department official, and of course, we’ll be sending out the transcript as soon as that’s ready. Thanks for joining us.