The White House

Office of the Vice President

Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Vice President Joe Biden's Trip to Asia

U.S. Ambassador’s Residence
Tokyo, Japan

12:40 P.M. (Local)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On background, senior administration officials.  You can direct quote us.

So with that understanding, I’ll just give you a couple minutes at the top and then I’m going to be happy to answer a few questions.  The Vice President has just finished meeting with a bipartisan group of members of the Diet, and then he did a short one-on-one meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Aso.  And this meeting really kind of covered the breadth of the issues in the U.S.-Japan alliance and relationship and gave a good, comprehensive flavor for the agenda he has here today and tomorrow, and in particular in his meetings with the Prime Minister.

The U.S.-Japan alliance we believe is at a high-water mark across the board, and really has never been in a stronger place.  And that’s one of the messages that the Vice President will underscore during his time here.  And he will discuss a wide range of issues in the political, security and economic realms.  He will consult with Prime Minister Abe, as he just did with members of the Diet, on our alliance modernization, including the efforts to bring to closure the move of the Futenma facility on Okinawa, and a range of ways in which we’ll collaborate together within the framework of our alliance on a host of security-related issues.

TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will obviously be a crucial component of his discussions with the Prime Minister, as it was here with members of the Diet, as we try to bring to a conclusion a high-standard trade agreement that encompasses 40 percent of the world’s GDP.  And before going into his meetings today, he had the opportunity to get briefed by the TPP negotiating team that’s here on the ground, led by Assistant USTR Wendy Cutler.  Mike Froman was just in town a couple of days ago negotiating, and the Vice President is not here to negotiate, but he is here to drive a message at the political level about the importance of getting this thing done and getting it done right in a way that works for U.S. businesses and workers and also works for Japanese businesses and workers and all of our TPP partners.

Obviously, the issue of the air defense identification zone will be a subject of discussion and consultation with the Prime Minister, as will the broader situation in the East China Sea, and a host of other regional security issues.  And the Vice President will reiterate our view that we are deeply concerned by the sudden announcement of the ADIZ; that we consider it a unilateral effort to change the status quo in the East China Sea; that we view it as a provocative action, an uncoordinated action at a time when tensions were already running high; and that this is not the kind of thing that contributes to greater peace and security in Northeast Asia or in the Asia Pacific region. 

And we will want to be consulting closely -- the Vice President will consult closely with Prime Minister Abe and later this week with President Park, two of our treaty allies, on this specific issue and on the broader set of issues related to the East China Sea.  He’ll also have the opportunity to have extensive conversations with President Xi on these matters as well.  And we can talk about that a little more when we get to questions.

Obviously, at the same time that we want to see a lowering of tensions between Japan and China in the East China Sea and the advance of diplomacy, we also want to see a stronger relationship between Japan and Korea, two very important allies to us, and strong relations between the U.S. and Japan and the U.S. and Korea.  And Japan and Korea can contribute to the sort of positive security environment that has made this region’s remarkable economic progress possible.

There are other issues as well -- North Korea, Iran, Syria, go down a list of ways in which we are cooperating with the Japanese.  And it is truly a full-breadth agenda across all dimensions and components.  And that’s what’s going to be on display in the many hours of meetings that he’ll end up having with Prime Minister Abe later today, and it’s what was on display earlier today when he met with members of the Diet.

So with that basic outline, we’d be happy to take some questions.

Q    Can you help us understand I think this sense of a disconnect between the Japanese and the U.S. on the FAA’s ruling for American airliners?  Did you sense in your meeting with Mr. Aso that the Japanese are somewhat -- that there was a need for some clarity of where the U.S. is on this?  And in hindsight, could the thing have been handled in a way where there was less confusion around it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So let me just start by saying that there wasn’t a ruling by the FAA on this issue.  In fact, contrary to reports, the FAA didn’t issue guidance with regard to the Chinese NOTAM, the notice to airmen.  What the FAA has done is simply reiterate longstanding practice that for the safety and security of passengers, U.S. civilian aircraft operate consistent with NOTAMs the world over. 

In terms of the U.S.-Japan position on the ADIZ, there is fundamentally no daylight between us.  Nothing that the FAA has done constitutes any kind of acceptance or recognition of this.  And the United States has clearly set forth that our military aircraft will continue to operate normally without regard to the ADIZ.  So the U.S. government position on this and the Japanese government position on the ADIZ are the same insofar as we see this as a provocative and unilateral effort to change the status quo.  And it was done in a way that is not in keeping with international norms or practice.  And from the U.S. government’s perspective, we’re going to operate without regard to it; our aircraft will continue operating normally.

So there shouldn’t be any misunderstanding about where the FAA is on this.  I think the meetings with Prime Minister Abe later this afternoon will provide an opportunity not only to consult closely on our respective views on what has happened here, but also to discuss the way forward.  And I don’t want to prejudge that conversation in terms of how we proceed from here.  But I can say that we head into that conversation in the same place as Japan with respect to our very strong views on the Chinese government’s announcement of this ADIZ.  But do you want to add something?

Q    Can we just ask a clarifying question?  So is it the U.S. government policy today -- FAA, all parties combined -- that commercial airliners are not required to give the tracking data or identification data to the Chinese in this case?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Look, I don’t --

Q    I mean, I’m just trying to understand exactly where the policy is.  I think there’s a lot of confusion.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.  Yes.  What the FAA has done here is simply reiterate the longstanding practice that the safety and security of U.S. passengers on -- and all passengers on U.S. civilian aircraft operating internationally operate consistent with NOTAMs, respond to NOTAMs.  That is the guidance that -- not the guidance; that is the practice or the policy that the FAA has the world over.  There’s nothing specific to this ADIZ. 

There’s no guidance with respect to this announcement.  It is merely a statement of FAA policy with respect to NOTAMs anywhere in the world, in any region -- in Europe, in Africa, in Asia -- that U.S. carriers operate consistent with these NOTAMs.

Did you want to add something on that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.  Just on Mark’s question, I would just add the issue that you raised, Mark, about the FAA did not come up in the meeting with prime minister -- Deputy Prime Minister Aso.  In fact, there was a unanimity of views among the entire group that the U.S.-Japan relationship is at an all-time high, that we’ve got a strong agenda for security cooperation, diplomatic cooperation, economic cooperation, and that the alliance is central to peace, stability, security, prosperity in the future.

So the conversation was largely future-oriented.  There was a lot of appreciation for the quick, strong, robust U.S. response -- statements by Hagel and Kerry -- to the ADIZ announcement.  So there was no sense of daylight or difference in views between us.

Q    So those things said, is it -- in the later meeting with Abe, is there going to be a joint statement or a written joint statement from the two parties formally asking China to withdraw this ADIZ announcement?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m not going to prejudge the content.

Q    That’s been reported by Japanese press.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I mean, both Abe and Biden will make statements this evening after their meeting.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  There won’t be a written joint statement on the ADIZ, though.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  You should not expect that.

Q    Okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That was not -- that was never in contemplation, so it’s not like --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Right.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  -- we had been working towards one and decided not to do it.  I don’t know where that news report came from.

Q    But you’re calling it, like, a provocative act.  Are you asking China to roll that back then?  Is that -- or has that already been the policy -- the statement?  Or is -- and if not, is that something that you’re considering that would happen later today, or Japan is asking for?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  From the key -- from our perspective, the key thing is to give the Vice President the opportunity to consult with Prime Minister Abe, and then, frankly, to go to Beijing and be able to talk directly to the Chinese about this.  So we don’t want to get ahead of those conversations in terms of laying out our approach moving forward.  We have made clear our deep concerns about this.  We’ve done that publicly; we’ve done that directly with the Chinese.  And we’d begun consultations, intensive consultations with both the Japanese and Koreans, but that’s no substitute for the Vice President being able to talk leader to leader on this issue.

Q    Did Japan’s government reach out after this reiteration of the policy on cooperating with NOTAMs went out, to say, what’s going on here?  And what was the U.S. response to those concerns?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don’t know, colleagues, if you want to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Look, there’s an ongoing dialogue at multiple levels between the U.S. and Japan, as well as the U.S. and Korea, the other affected parties by the ADIZ, and frankly, an ongoing dialogue with the Chinese as well.  And that gets to my colleague’s point that the visit of the Vice President to the region at this juncture creates the opportunity to have both a substantive and political level discussion about the implications of this particular move and the broader questions of what kind of response we are making and what kind of actions we are seeking.

The Japanese government and the U.S. government have been conferring. The key point with regard to the Vice President’s conversations thus far was the meeting he held with the leaders of the major political parties in Japan.  There was a strong consensus that the quality and extent of U.S.-Japan cooperation is excellent and that maintaining that high degree of unity in the alliance and in the overall relationship continues the trend of stabilizing the region and allowing us to respond to provocations and respond to problems in ways that reduce risk and lower tensions, not precipitate confrontation.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Dave, let me just get back to your question.  I mean, the two things that we all -- we are calling on China to do is exercise restraint in terms of further provocative actions, including how it implements its ADIZ procedures, to avoid increasing tensions or any acts that would raise the risk of miscalculation.  In addition, we’re also calling on China to avoid any further destabilizing actions such as creating a new ADIZ over contested territory without any kind of prior consultation with other potentially affected parties.

So those are sort of two core elements involved.

Q    And on that note, did you ask the Japanese and Aso, will you ask Abe anything along the same lines of any provocative acts in response to China’s move that would then increase tensions?  I mean, Japan is -- their government is saying their airlines should continue flying in there.  I mean, what do you consider Japan a provocation, I guess?  Are they free to sort of fly through that airspace as they see fit as far as you’re concerned?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I mean, that’s -- I’m not going to prejudge what the VP is going to say to Abe and what Abe is going to say to him.  We can talk about that afterwards.  I mean, as longstanding policy, irrespective of the ADIZ, the Senkakus issues or other issues, we sort of regularly call on all parties to pursue dialogue and diplomacy, common restraint, and in particular, as the VP said in his interview with Asahi, we think there’s value in pursuing crisis management mechanisms, confidence building, to sort of lower the tensions, to create channels of communication so in crises, those situations don’t escalate.

Q    Do you have -- with Aso, you didn’t ask anything particularly about Japan reaction to the ADIZ announcement by China in terms of what Japan is doing or may contribute to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I mean, we know what Japan is doing.  I mean, we’re in constant consultation.  We have diplomatic channels.  We have defense channels.

Q    And you’re comfortable with what Japan is doing or not doing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I would say we’re in very close consultation with Japan about their reactions and we regularly, as a matter of principle, underscore the importance of dialogue, diplomacy, restraint by everybody.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I mean, fundamentally this is about a troubling action taken by China and that has required us to work closely with the Japanese and Koreans to develop a response and sort through what the implications are.  So the focus here should not really be on the question of where is Japan in all of this.  It should be on the nature of this announcement, the steps that China has taken, and what needs to be done to ensure that we get a lowering of tensions.

Now, we would argue across the board that it is -- we want to see a lowering of tensions and an advance of diplomacy with respect to the East China Sea.  That goes for all of the parties concerned.  But sitting here today, the actor that has injected greater risk, uncertainty and the potential for miscalculation or escalation with this latest action is China.

Q    You said you mentioned containment.

MODERATOR:  Thanks, guys.

Q    Can I have one more?  Is that possible?

MODERATOR:  One more.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Him and Steve.

Steve.

Q    Or you go.

Q Well, Futenma -- I mean, you said you mentioned Futenma, and right now the Japanese have agreed -- or you all agreed to close the base, move the Marines.  That would seem to be possibly a moment for Aso and Abe to come back.  The other part of that equation is, what is the offset or the replacement for Futenma, which was decoupled?  And so has there been any move by the Japanese government to be -- move more expeditiously in now providing an alternative, which they’ve put on hold?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Do you want to take that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.  I don’t think that characterization is entirely precise, because the move from Futenma is a move to Henoko, Camp Schwab.  There’s no ambiguity whatsoever on that score.

Q    So we’re not dividing the Marines and sending some to other bases off Okinawa?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, you’re referring to an agreement updated earlier in the year that has to do with the number of Marines and the degree of funding for Guam --

Q    Right, okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  -- not Okinawa.  But no, the conversation at the political level with party leaders today -- and I would suspect it’s indicative of all the conversations the Vice President will have in Japan regarding the Okinawa Futenma issue -- was positive and forward-looking.  There is a clear commitment on both sides to follow through with the commitments made, and it was clear from what the Vice President heard in the meeting today that there is strong bipartisan consensus in Japan that it’s important to follow through on the specifics regarding the Futenma relocation facility, and the parliamentarians made clear that they are very much engaged in and very much supportive of that effort.

If I could just say, at the risk of being the skunk in the garden party, as salient an issue as the ADIZ is, I think my colleague made the point that it goes to a bigger problem, which is a problem of behavior in sensitive regions and contested situations.  A hallmark of the U.S. approach has been our ability to confer, to consult and to discuss with the relevant parties in a candid way, and that’s not limited to our allies.  Obviously, the level of coordination between the U.S. and our allies is extremely good.  But our ability to confer and to discuss openly even difficult issues with the Chinese is also an important part of our diplomacy.  The Vice President, by virtue of his extensive interactions with the senior leadership in China, has the ability to have that kind of candid conversation.

MODERATOR:  Thanks, guys.  Appreciate it.

END
1:01 P.M. (Local)

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