Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit
3:04 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Thank you. And thanks, everyone, for joining. So this call is on background. It is attributable to a “senior administration official.” And the contents of the call are embargoed until the end of the call.
For your awareness and not for reporting, our speaker on the call today is [senior administration official]. So I’m going to turn it over to you to give some remarks and we can take some questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, guys. And thank you all for joining. And I’m sorry to be a couple of minutes late. We’re trying to balance, you know, 10 delegations here in Washington, so it’s substantial. And I’m grateful to [moderator] and her team for arranging this.
So I’d like to do a couple of things today. I’d like to explain and give you some background for the ASEAN Special Summit, which will be taking place here in Washington, D.C. — at the White House, at the Willard, and at the State Department — on Thursday and Friday. And then just preview quickly — and we’ll do more of this next week — the upcoming travel of the President to South Korea and Japan.
So, just quickly, I think as you know, President Biden very much looks forward to welcoming the leaders of ASEAN to Washington, D.C. — again, on Thursday or Friday — for full days of discussions the 12th and 13th for what we are calling a U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit.
And this is the first time in its 45-year history that ASEAN leaders will be welcomed together to Washington, D.C. We’ve had summit meetings before in the region, and also during the Obama administration, there was a meeting in Sunnylands. But this is the first time they’ve gathered together in Washington, D.C.
So just by way of background, guys: So, you know, we think this is important for obvious reasons. You know, there is a daily urgent set of demands as the West, the transatlantic community is engaging deeply on what’s going on on the battlefield in Ukraine. And that obviously takes an enormous amount of time, focus, energy, and resources currently of the senior leadership.
But it is also the case there is a deep recognition that fundamental long-term challenges are playing out in the Indo-Pacific. And the United States is committed and determining to ensuring that our engagement in the region is broad, is broad-based, and is sustained.
So part of that will be the hosting of the summit. Part of it will be the trip to South Korea and Japan. And as part of each of those stops, there’ll be a range of engagements, including the fourth Quad meeting at the leader level in just over a year. That will be hosted by Prime Minister Kishida in Tokyo on the 24th of May, next week or the week after next.
So for the U.S.-ASEAN Summit, the program is as follows:
On Thursday, tomorrow, Speaker Pelosi and other senior leaders from Capitol Hill will welcome the ASEAN leaders to the Capitol for a bipartisan working lunch. And, obviously, this is important because, for many years, one of the most important areas of engagement for Capitol Hill was in Southeast Asia, and that continues.
And so, it’s important that the leaders from the region see the bipartisan commitment to the Indo-Pacific that we certainly have seen over the course of the last year and half.
After that, the ASEAN leaders will move to the Willard, where they will meet senior American business leaders and CEOs to discuss ways of strengthening economic cooperation between one of the most dynamic regions on the planet and the United States.
They will be joined by a variety of folks, including Secretary of Commerce Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Tai. There will be discussions at this session about key challenges ahead in technology, post-COVID recovery, issues associated with climate and energy. The desire is to have these senior — these senior business leaders from across the United States engage and think about how to engage more directly going forward, given the dynamism in the region as a whole.
After that, President Biden will be hosting the ASEAN Leaders for an intimate dinner in the White House, for an opportunity to listen to the leaders about their aspirations for where they want to take ASEAN and how the United States can help in that in the period ahead.
Day two: Vice President Harris and Secretary of State Blinken will host ASEAN leaders for a working lunch at the State Department, and it’s focused primarily on — the lunch — on maritime cooperation, pandemic recovery, and health security.
Vice President Harris will also host a discussion with ASEAN leaders and other Cabinet officials from across the interagency regarding climate action, clean energy, and sustainable infrastructure.
Let me just take a moment here that — I think part of the ambition of this summit is to broaden and deepen not only the level of engagement in the U.S. government but in certain key parts of the government like the State Department, the White House, and DOD, but to broaden it across every element of our government.
So we are seeking discussions and programs on education, on maritime domain awareness, on forestry across the board. So the idea here is to make sure that the ASEAN leaders see the breadth and depth, again, of the U.S. commitment to ASEAN as a whole.
And as you know, this is building on an area of expertise for — and interest for Vice President Harris. She traveled to the region at the end of last year, and she’s interested and excited to engage with the leaders about opportunities for U.S. — enhancing U.S. ties with Southeast Asia going forward.
And then, later in the afternoon, President Biden will host a discussion with ASEAN leaders on how to deliver directly for people in the region and beyond.
So, you know, I think the desire here is to have an intense set of discussions with, again, all our senior officials who will all be present and business leaders to indicate how seriously we take the relationship between the United States and ASEAN.
And I think you can expect to see the United States taking steps to deepen our longstanding cooperation in a whole host of areas. We’ve got some ideas for how to pursue new avenues of dialogue. I think we’re going to be thinking about how to invest in our countries and work on driving inclusive prosperity.
And I think it is also clear that the United States will also focus on efforts to promote respect for human rights, the rule of law, and good governance. And we will together address the ongoing crisis and challenges in Burma.
On the President’s — so I’ll just take a minute, [senior administration official], really quickly — the President’s travel. He will be going — he will be going to South Korea to meet the new President who has just been sworn in. And he will then be proceeding to Japan.
We’ll have more details on the travels as we get closer, but I just want to understand that — you know, I want you to understand that, really, since the President’s inauguration, we’ve done a lot in the region.
I’ll just give you a couple of examples for background in your stories.
So, we’re the first administration that has taken the Quad — that’s the United States, Australia, India, and Japan — to the leader level. We’ve had a number of meetings, and they all — again, as I’ve indicated — they will meet in Tokyo on the President’s travel.
We have decided for the first time in seven decades to share sensitive nuclear submarine technology with another country. We launched AUKUS that binds and bonds Australia, Great Britain, and the United States in a fundamental endeavor to deliver on the promise of nuclear-powered submarines.
But this partnership will also include more areas of technology cooperation with other countries. We’ll have more to report on that as we go forward.
I think what we have also seen is substantial engagement in the Pacific. It’s — clearly, the Indo-Pacific is a broad region, and too often we speak a lot about Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, India. But it’s equally important to focus on the Pacific, and you will be seeing indications of that going forward.
We’ve also broadened and deepened our discussion with Europe and Asia about each other. And we’ve seen unprecedented Indo-Pacific cooperation in the challenges that Europe has faced since the invasion — the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more generally.
So, I think it’s a multifaceted approach. The President and our team will have more to say on details on the Indo-Pacific Economic Forum, some of the details of what we hope to accomplish in the Quad, a number of other initiatives that are in the works.
And I think the sum total of the next couple of weeks is intended to send a concerted message that we are following through on the strategy of investing at home, working with top partners and allies, and laying out clearly what our goals and objectives in the Indo-Pacific are.
I’ll stop there. I’m happy to take a couple of questions. But that’s sort of the background about where we are. Okay.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, [senior administration official]. That was a really helpful laydown of what’s to come in the coming days.
So, Operator, could you please give us the directions on how to ask the questions?
Q Hey, [senior administration official]. Thanks a lot for doing this. I just wanted to —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, John. Thank you.
Q — (inaudible) — yeah, thanks. Is it true the President is not going to be doing any bilateral meetings with the ASEAN leaders in town? You probably saw the remark from the Cambodian minister who said that the U.S. hosts “should be more generous to guests.” I’m just curious if you think that’s a fair criticism.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I had not seen those comments. I can just assure you that the United States is bending over backwards to be the best possible host. The President will have a quick, private time with each of the leaders. We put enormous effort into the program as a whole.
I would also just underscore that this is really a meeting with ASEAN as an institution, and we are in many ways following the recommendation of individual countries in the region that said that the United States has to take the necessary steps to bolster our engagement with the institution, and we’re seeking to do that.
So, we’re trying to balance opportunities for private interaction with individual countries but a larger engagement with ASEAN as a whole. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.
And so, I would simply say that we have tried very hard to send a very constructive message of how deeply we want to work with partners in the region, and we’re grateful that so many countries have decided to join us in this endeavor.
Q Thank you. Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing this. I have two questions. The first one —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, Patsy. How are you?
Q I’m well, thank you.
I understand that the issue of Russia and Ukraine will be brought up. I’m wondering if you can give us some details about how hard would the President be pushing on Russia. For example, will you discuss the issue of secondary sanctions?
And then, if you could elaborate on your statement this morning that the U.S. wants ASEAN leaders to play a more deeply engaged role in Myanmar; I think that was the term that you that used. Will you be urging something more towards the enforcement of the five-point consensus or something beyond that? Thank you.
Q So, just on the first question: First of all, I expect that there will be a broad discussion of Ukraine and Russia. I think ASEAN leaders are very interested to hear the American approach, both where things stand in terms of next steps. And I don’t want to get ahead of what is to come in terms of anything beyond that, but I expect that there will be a fulsome discussion on Ukraine, on Myanmar — on Burma.
I think, obviously, we’ve had substantial consultations with countries in the region and interested parties who are deeply focused and, frankly, frustrated by what we’ve seen take place inside the country.
I think we saw some of the initial steps that the ASEAN had taken. I think some of those steps have stalled, and we’re looking for an indication that ASEAN and, perhaps, the help from other countries supportive of ASEAN will take the lead in basically determining what are the appropriate next steps for the institution with respect to its demands and expectations inside the country.
Q Hi, [senior administration official]. Thanks — thanks for doing the call. I know that you said that you’ll release more details on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework coming up soon, but what degree — to what degree do you expect to discuss that framework with the ASEAN leaders here? And maybe you could detail for us which ASEAN country you are aiming to get to join the framework, if at all.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. So, look — and I very much appreciate the question. And I will say we are engaged in very substantial conversations with ASEAN countries and engaged in, you know, close deliberations on the way forward.
And as I indicated, we will have more to say on this. But this is a subject of deep conversation not only between the leaders but expert groups that are meeting around the edges of every meeting currently.
Q Hello. Radio Free Asia would like to know specifically, like, who is from — who is representing Myanmar, and is the National Unity Government involved in this summit in any way.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, again, we’ll have more to say on this tomorrow. We have had diplomatic engagement with the government in exile. We are in discussions about the best way to represent what has transpired in Burma and how to represent that in the meeting.
I think one of the discussions has been to have an empty chair to reflect our dissatisfaction with what’s taken place and our hope for a better path forward.
I think we’ll have more to say about that. And, clearly, Burma will be a subject of intense deliberation in all of our meetings.
MODERATOR: Thank you, [senior administration official]. And thanks, everyone, for joining.
As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a “senior administration official,” and the contents of the call are embargoed until the end of the call.
If you did not get your question in or have more questions, please feel free to reach out to me and we’ll get back to you for sure.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much, [senior administration official]. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
3:24 P.M. EDT