Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official Previewing President Biden’s Second Day in the Republic of Korea
9:12 A.M. KST
MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. I hope you all had a restful night in Seoul. Apologies for the delay.
Thanks so much for joining us today on this background call. As mentioned on the invite, this call will be on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and embargoed until the call’s conclusion.
Not for reporting for just for everyone’s knowledge, joining us on this call is [senior administration official].
[Senior administration official] has some remarks to make off the top, and then we will take some questions before our speaker has to run into another commitment.
So, with that, I will turn it over to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning, everyone. And thanks for joining both the trip and then joining us this morning. I’ll try and keep this as short as possible and take some questions.
So, as I’m sure all of you know, today the President has a packed day. But before I get into it, I do want to very quickly highlight yesterday’s tour of the Samsung Pyeongtaek facility by the President, President Yoon, and Secretary Raimondo.
I think as you all are aware, this is essentially the model of the facility that Samsung has — is starting to build in Taylor, Texas, that will create 3,000 new good-paying jobs. And it’s also an example of the strong partnership between the United States and the ROK, as well as the value of the relationship in terms of generating investment in the United States. And it’s an example of how the Biden administration is deepening our economic ties with the region to deliver for U.S. workers, businesses, consumers, and of course for people everywhere, including in the ROK.
You’ll see us continue to deepen our economic ties on this trip, including with the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. We firmly believe that much of what happens in the coming decades will depend on how well governments harness innovation — and especially the transformations afoot in clean energy and digital and tech sectors — while fortifying our economies from a range of vulnerabilities that we’ve seen, in particular, driven home by the impacts of the pandemic. And this ranges from fragile supply chains, to the vulnerabilities to disruption, to corruption, to tax havens.
And from our view, this requires a new model that we can move on quickly, and that’s what IPEF will do. We are pleased to see the very strong interests in the region for IPEF and for our economic engagement in the region, which we think reflects the continuing importance of an affirmative U.S. vision for the region, which we highlight in our Indo-Pacific strategy, as well as the desire in the region for continued U.S. economic leadership.
So, very quickly, to walk over today’s schedule.
We’ll start on — the first event will be: The President will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony to pay his respects to those who died to defend the Republic of Korea, many of whom died — many of those who died fought alongside U.S. forces in the Korean War. And I think this reflects the deep commitment to our joint security and to our alliance, and the President’s deep respect for those who paid the ultimate price to defend our freedoms.
I think that this also reflects what we see as one of the major things from the visit — or outcomes from the visit, which is continued collaboration in strengthening our alliance to deal with today’s challenges.
The President will then participate in a bilateral meeting with President Yoon Suk Yeol. They will have extensive discussions on a range of issues, as I’m sure you’d expect. We expect that there will be a joint statement.
And we expect that, you know, really, what we’re doing in this, as much as anything else, is building on the strong alliance — to expand it; to take it to deal with global issues and the issues and challenges of today; and, I think, also to take advantage of the visit, which comes so early in President Yoon’s time in office — I mean, this is unprecedented, as you all know — to really build a strong personal relationship between the two leaders that we think will help propel the relationship going forward.
And as you all know, the relationship between the U.S. and the ROK is something that is extraordinarily important to both countries but, we believe, is increasingly important for the region and to promote peace and stability and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific, as well as around the world.
So, you know, I think some of the key things that we expect the presidents to discuss will be the ROK’s role and the U.S.-ROK alliance’s role as a lynchpin for peace and security.
I think that we expect that there will be some discussions on how to deal with some of the most recent threats and developments that have occurred.
We also believe that there will be discussion on how we can find ways to further expand our cooperation to make sure that we’re ready and — as ready as possible to deal with the threats of today.
I think that, you know, as you would expect, the presidents will discuss DPRK and, you know, reaffirm the continuing commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
We believe that there will be discussion on how we can manage and address the most recent threats, particularly posed by the nuclear program, as well as the ongoing missile program. And very confident the leaders will stress the importance and agree on the importance of all countries fully enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions. And also, we’re going to call on the DPRK to abide by its obligations under the U.N. Security Council resolutions.
I think the will discuss ways forward in — on a variety of issues associated with DPRK. And, you know, I don’t want to prejudge and get ahead of the discussions, but we’re very confident it will be very thorough, it will be very wide-ranging, and very detailed.
The presidents will also recognize the future of the alliance. It’s not just going to be defined by security, as has been the case in the past, but it’s also going to be defined by creating a strategic economic and technology partnership that really will reflect the importance of innovation and technology to both countries and to our work in the region going forward.
I think that the — we expect that there will be some work on how we can better support innovation, how we can support partnership on critical emerging technologies, and, you know, find ways to strengthen cooperation on defense industry issues.
I think that there will be work on — there’ll be discussion of secure supply chains and their importance. And I think that we’re very confident that we will have a discussion about the impact on global economic iss- — on the global economy of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And that we know that there is great interest in both countries on how we can better make ourselves more resilient in the face of disruptions in global energy as well as other economic issues linked to Russia’s invasion.
I think that you can expect some discussion of both nuclear cooperation as well as other technology-related issues. And I think that you can also expect that there will be discussion of the importance of our own economic relationship bilaterally and how we can work together to bring prosperity to the region through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
I think that we also recognize that, you know, as I said before, part of this visit is about turning a bilateral alliance into something that was traditionally very much focused on peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, and then immediately in Northeast Asia, to something that really looks to the region — to the Indo-Pacific region — and to the world.
I think that there’s — there’ll be discussion about the threats posed by climate change, by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of promoting democracy and shared values.
I think that we recognize that we also need to better work together to deal not just with the current pandemic but prepare for future ones. And so, I think that we’ll be looking for ways in which we can better cooperate, and I think the presidents will discuss that.
I think that we will have some discussion on other technology issues, including the importance of a free, open, secure Internet. I think that there’ll be some discussion about cyber. And I think that we will stress the importance of all countries standing together against efforts to destabilize the — or threaten the rules-based international order and, first and foremost, Ukraine. And we expect some pretty extensive discussions on Ukraine.
And I think the U.S. and the President will highlight the great U.S. appreciation for the Republic of Korea’s strong stance on Ukraine, both in terms of imposition of sanctions and taking of economic steps, and we’ll look for ways to expand that.
I think the ROK has been particularly strong on this, because I think they recognize that, because of their own history and our shared history together, the importance of a strong international reaction to invasions of this kind.
I think the presidents are going to discuss the importance of promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, look for areas in which we can expand cooperation with both Southeast Asia as well as on the Pacific Islands, and look for ways in which we can better integrate our efforts across the entire range of Indo-Pacific issues.
I think that there will be some discussions about other issues involving regional security. And I don’t want to prejudge those, but I think that you will see that there — there is a great commonality in terms of our vision of the importance of a strong response to threats to the international order, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.
And I think that we strongly believe that this visit will highlight both what — how strong our alliance is today. But really, this is about building for the future, building a much stronger bilateral alliance and one that deals with strategic and issues globally, but also building a strong personal relationship with the leaders that will propel this going forward.
So, with that, I’ll take a few questions.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much, [senior administration official]. If you have a question, please use the “raise hand” function of the Zoom interface. And we’ll try to get through as many questions as we can.
Why don’t we start with Aamer Madhani from the Associated Press?
Q Hello. I’m sorry, I was having trouble with the mute button there. But so — hopefully, you can hear me.
Is there going to be an explicit message to Kim Jong Un today in what the President says in his public comments? And I was also wondering what, if any, assurances Jake Sullivan got from Yang Jiechi about addressing the North Korean issue in their talk?
And finally, do you — [senior administration official], do you believe there is any connection between the rise in COVID rates inside North Korea and Kim’s seemingly increased saber-rattling? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. And I’m very sympathetic to problems with muting and unmuting.
So let me address a couple of things. I think, first of all, you know, I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions between the leaders. But I think you can expect that there will be extensive discussion about DPRK issues.
I think that we are very concerned about the COVID situation in the DPRK. We’re very sensitive to the fact that they’re — they appear to be facing a quite serious situation. And I think you’ve seen we are — we stand ready to work with others in the international community as needed to provide assistance. And that includes, obviously, the ROK, but it includes others and using the existing international mechanisms, but this is something that is of deep concern to us.
I think that in terms of, you know, your characterization of the increased saber-rattling, what we’ve seen is a fair amount of saber-rattling throughout the year. There have obviously been quite a few tests of ballistic missiles, some of which have been successful.
And I think that, you know, from our standpoint, we are ready. We — you know, we, at the same time, it is very much our desire that we find ways to have a diplomatic approach with the DPRK. We have made very clear we’re prepared to talk to them and with no preconditions, and we’re also prepared to take steps to address their domestic challenges, including COVID.
I think that in terms of the discussion with Yang Jiechi, as you’d expect, there was discussion about the challenges of the DPRK, including their domestic situation, the COVID issue.
I think that, you know, we’re looking for ways in which we and others in the international community can work together to provide assistance as needed.
And I think that the key thing is that we recognize that the DPRK has to make decisions about what they’re willing to do. It is our hope that they will make decisions that will allow for the maximum amount of support in this time of great need and great crisis.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much, [senior administration official]. Next, let’s go to Trevor Hunnicutt with Reuters.
Q Hey, thanks so much for doing this. So, just wanted to follow up on what Aamer asked about a little bit there — was just if there was any level of commitment from China to help on the North Korea situation.
And also, do you expect this joint statement to deal with what you’ve described as China’s destabilizing policies towards Taiwan, its human rights issues?
And also, if you could talk a little bit about what the President is doing this morning.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. So, you know, I think, first, with regard to the joint statement, I don’t want to prejudge the discussions, but I think that, you know, we expect extensive discussions about regional security issues. And the fact that, in our view, both leaders of both countries strongly support preserving peace and stability in the region.
I think that with re- — I don’t want to get into the specifics of the discussions between Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi, but just to say that, of course, we are looking for ways in which it is possible to provide assistance and support to the DPRK as they deal with this COVID outbreak.
I think that, in terms of the broader issues that you raised, I think that we want to find ways to work with the international community to provide support to the DPRK. I think we also want to make clear that the international community stands united in opposition to their violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions and their destabilizing and threatening behavior.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Next, why don’t we go to Esther Oh with NHK.
Q Hi, thank you so much for doing this. Just two questions. I know previously the administration says it has no plans to share vaccines with North Korea directly, but is the President planning to discuss with President Yoon ways that the U.S. and South Korea can work together to provide any sort of direct COVID aid to North Korea?
And my second question is: Will the President directly address the immediate need for South Korea and Japan to improve their bilateral ties? Because the relationship between the two countries — it’s deteriorated significantly in the last several years.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. Those are both, obviously, very good and very important questions. I think that you could expect that the leaders will discuss the COVID situation. I think that it’s — it’s very clear that we have a common interest in doing whatever we can to address this challenge and working through the international — with the international communities through whatever mechanism is appropriate.
I don’t want to get ahead of those discussions, but I think that you can expect that this is something that’s very topical and we recognize that this is of great importance to the DPRK’s neighbors, as well as to us.
I think that with regard to the ROK-Japan relations, I think, you know, we strongly support improved ROK-Japan relations. At the same time, we recognize this is something that both countries are — it’s sensitive and important for both countries. And I think the President will make clear his support while also making clear his understanding of the need for this to be done in a way that’s mutually acceptable and agreeable to both countries.
However, it’s very clear that from the U.S. perspective — and we’ve been clear about this in the past — it is not in our interest for the relationship between the two of our closest and most political allies to not be strong. And so we want — we very much hope and support efforts by either sides, by both sides to take steps to improve the relationship.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. I think we have time for just a couple more questions before our speaker has to hop. Why don’t we go to Paris Huang with the Voice of America next.
Q Hello. Hi, thank you for doing this. So, earlier you mentioned about the — part of this visit is for us to ensure the peace and stability in East Asia. I just would like to clarify: Is that specifically means Taiwan? And what is your assessment on President Yoon’s attitude toward issues around China and Taiwan? And will the language be clearly written in a joint statement? So, that’s the first question.
The second, on the Quad: Is the Biden administration — on the expansion of “Quad Plus” — or is South Korea directly involved with the Quad summit on this time? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, great. So, let me take the first question.
Look, when we talk about maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, we’re clearly talking about the entire Indo-Pacific region. There are a number of areas where there are challenges, and I would note that, you know, very clearly the leaders will be talking about one that is closer to where we are now.
But I think that it’s clear that, you know, both countries have a very strong interest in preserving peace and stability. I think you can expect the leaders to talk about that and to look for ways in which we can work more effectively together to do that.
I think, on the issue of the Quad, I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions. Obviously, you know, I think that this is a topic of great interest. I think that we don’t want to get ahead of the discussion with the leaders, but, also, I think that we have to recognize that the Quad is still developing, and so we’re looking for ways in which we can reinforce and strengthen what we’ve done so far. But at the same time, I think that we welcome any support for the Quad.
But I think that the issue of participation is one that we will still be working on. I think that you can expect — you know, I am biased, but I think you can expect that a joint statement will be clear. And I think we look forward to being able to, you know, really highlight how much we have in common, how similar our viewpoints are on a very wide range of issues, how close the two countries are, and how much we expect them to come closer on a very wide range of issues dealing with the challenges of today, but also challenges that we have (inaudible) to working on.
I think one of the things that, you know, for us — and this is not just a visit in Seoul today; this is about the entire trip — this is about demonstrating the unity and resolve and strengthening the coordination between our closest allies and — or two of our closest allies, and also strengthening our alliances to deal with problems that we are all dealing with today.
So, I think that we’re very optimistic that we are — you know, we’ve done a great deal of groundwork.
I think we have to really recognize — and I’d ask everyone to just be very sensitive to this — this is day 11 for the Yoon administration. This is the earliest that we’ve ever had an American President visit an ROK President in an ROK President’s time in office. It is normal that in — you know, in 11 days, it takes a while for an administration to come up to speed. We’re very impressed with what the Yoon administration has done.
We’re very happy with the work we’ve been able to do together, but I think it’s also important to recognize that it is unrealistic to expect any administration to have fully settled in only 11 days.
So we think that we’ve done quite well. And we’re very, very impressed by what’s been done and by the spirit of partnership, the spirit of tru- — of really genuine allies who are used to being together when times are bad, as well as when times are good. And we’re confident that that’s going to continue, and that we’ll be able to highlight the way forward for the alliance.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. And I think we’ve got time for one last question. So last question. Let’s go to MJ Lee with CNN.
Q Thank you. Given that this bilateral meeting comes, as you just said, 11 days into President Yoon’s presidency and particularly given that he doesn’t have much of a foreign policy background: Are there areas you can point to where you all think, you know, there are serious question marks in terms of President Yoon’s positions on major foreign policy issues and where just the President — President Biden is keen on trying to draw him out today and gain a better understanding of where he stands?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I would push back very hard against the premise of that. I think we are very impressed with the cohesion, the coherence, and the clarity of the Yoon administration’s vision for its — for the ROK, for the ROK-U.S. relationship and the ROK role in the world.
I think that what — in our discussions with them — and look, I’ve done — I’ve been doing this for a long time — I think we’ve been very, very impressed with how focused and how clear they’ve been, how decisive they’ve been. And I think that reflects, in our view, a great deal of potential to really strengthen the alliance going forward.
I think that, in terms of the President’s engagement with President Yoon, I think that, clearly, they’re going to — this — part of the purpose here is two leaders of countries who have a very, very vital relationship, a close alliance getting to know each other. I think you all know: There is no substitute for that kind of direct engagement.
And I think we got off to a very good start last night at the Samsung plant. I think that their interaction was very positive. And I think that, you know, it went very well.
I know that the President was quite satisfied and quite impressed. We’re looking forward to more of that.
I think that part of this is obviously getting to understand each other — I think to understand each other’s worldviews. I think that the President has — looks forward to doing that and getting to know President Yoon.
But I think that this is done in the context of tremendous confidence in the Yoon administration’s commitment to the alliance and clarity of their vision on foreign policies issues. And I think that, you know, from our standpoint, this is about building on a very strong foundation, rather than trying to lay any groundwork.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. And thanks so much everybody for joining this morning.
As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and embargoed until the call concludes, which will be shortly.
Thanks so much for joining. And we, of course, will be in touch throughout the rest of the trip.
9:36 A.M. KST