Background Press Call By Senior Administration Officials Previewing Vice President Harris’s Trip To Thailand and the Philippines
5:05 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone, for joining us this evening. We’re here to preview the Vice President’s trip to Thailand and the Philippines. And this call will be on background, attributed to a “senior administration official.” There is no embargo on this call. Again, on background, attributed to a “senior administration official.” And by joining this call you’re accepting those ground rules.
Just for your awareness and not for your reporting, our speaker today is [senior administration official], hereinafter will be referred to as a senior administration official. So I will turn it over to him.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [moderator]. And hello, everybody. As I think all of you know, the Vice President will depart tomorrow, Wednesday, November 16th, for Thailand and the Philippines.
I’ll talk a bit about her schedule in a minute, but let me just start with a few points about the trip in general.
The Vice President will make clear that the United States has an enduring commitment to Southeast Asia, following up on the strong message she delivered when she traveled to Singapore and Vietnam in August 2021 and at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Washington, D.C., in May
This work builds on the President’s current and ongoing trip in Southeast Asia. And when you put the two together, I think it shows the deepening of our engagement in this region and the effort by both the President and the Vice President to strengthen our alliances in the region and to invest in critical institutions, mainly ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, and APEC.
Finally, economic growth and advocating for American workers and businesses will be a key theme throughout the Vice President’s trip. Of course, this will be a topic in her time at the APEC Conference in Bangkok, but it will also feature throughout her bilateral meetings the recognition that the Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia directly affect the prosperity of the American people.
Let me turn to the schedule. I’ll try to brief, but bear with me. We’re going to have a full set of engagements over the following days, starting in Bangkok, at the Economic Leaders Meeting of APEC.
And there, the Vice President will participate in Leader Retreats on Friday and Saturday. And in those engagements, she’ll reaffirm our economic leadership in the region in the lead-up to the United States’ 2023 host year, which is something she announced in Singapore in the summer of 2021. And she’ll lay out the key principles we think should guide APEC economies and rally other economies around our vision for the future of the rules-based international economic order.
As part of the proceedings, she’ll outline U.S. objectives and goals for the U.S. host year, focusing on sustainability and building on the foundation — the solid foundation that Thailand set in 2022.
We anticipate she’ll have the opportunity to meet with other APEC leaders on the margins of the meetings. I don’t have any meetings to announce here, but we’ll keep you updated as those encounters occur.
On Friday, November 18th, the Vice President will deliver remarks at the APEC CEO Summit. And in these remarks, she’ll lay out our administration’s comprehensive economic agenda for the Indo-Pacific.
The central message of her remarks will be that the United States has an enduring economic commitment to the Indo-Pacific, and there is no better partner for the economies and companies of the Indo-Pacific than the United States of America.
We believe it’s important to show our track record — everything we’ve done and are going and will do. And this includes our increased diplomatic engagement in the region. It includes IPEF, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which covers supply chains and clean energy to deal with the climate crisis and fair trade and anticorruption; and also the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which focuses on infrastructure investments that are badly needed throughout the region and the rest of the world.
She’ll talk about our historic domestic legislation that we’ve recently enacted here in the United States, including the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, and demonstrate how this also benefits the entire region.
When you put it all together, frankly, we think it tells a very positive story with significant resources brought to the table. We know there is strong demand for increased economic presence by the United States. And the Vice President will make clear we believe we have answered the call for that increased economic presence. And I want to be clear this is just the start of our efforts, with much more to come.
The Vice President will also commit to work with the private sector to increase our business ties with the Indo-Pacific region, through foreign direct investments, supply chain resiliency, and other areas.
On Saturday, November 19th, following the conclusion of the APEC Leaders Meeting, the Vice President will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Prayut of Thailand. She’ll underscore our enduring commitment to Thailand and the work to strengthen our alliance.
The focus will be to deepen bilateral cooperation on areas such as the climate crisis and economic development by accelerating the clean energy transition, building climate resilience, and promoting sustainable development.
We do anticipate some deliverables and outcomes from this meeting, in terms of new initiatives and funding that will deepen our work together, and we’ll have more to say about that closer to the meeting. We also anticipate they will discuss the situation in Burma, as well as other regional and global developments.
On Sunday, November 20th, the Vice President will convene a roundtable on climate and clean energy with a particular focus on the Mekong region. It will include activists who are focused on protecting the environment in the Mekong region and business leaders who are building a clean energy future.
The Vice President recognizes that the climate crisis is at the intersection of so many of our priorities from public health to sustainable livelihoods and economic growth. And she believes that we need all voices at the table, including from the advocacy community as well as the private sector, and that’s why she is convening this group.
They’ll discuss initiatives underway and future ones to seize the economic opportunities from climate action. They’ll also discuss the threats posed to communities along the Mekong River, from droughts, floods, extreme heat, and the impacts of upstream development.
On Sunday evening, the Vice President will fly to Manila, the Philippines.
On Monday, the 21st of November, in Manila, she will have a meeting with Vice President Duterte-Carpio and then a longer bilateral meeting with President Marcos.
The focus with President Marcos will be twofold: strengthening our security alliance and economic relationship.
On security, the Vice President will reaffirm our defense commitments to the Philippines and the importance of our alliance in peace and stability in the South China Sea. They will discuss upholding international rules and norms. The Vice President will also commit to work more closely with the Philippines to strengthen our economic partnership and investment ties. We anticipate there will be deliverables and new initiatives on this front, as well, related to the digital economy and upskilling and accelerating the transition to clean energy.
And later on Monday, the Vice President will have an opportunity to meet with civil society activists, demonstrating our commit- — continued support for human rights and democratic resilience.
She’ll then participate in a moderated conversation, or town hall, with an audience of young Filipino women. The topic will be “Empowering Women and Girls.” As she does all around the world, the Vice President prioritizes lifting up the voices of women and advocating for their economic empowerment and civic participation. This will be the first event of its kind she has done overseas since taking office, and it’ll be a good opportunity for direct engagement with the Filipino people, underscoring the strong people-to-people ties with the Philippines and historic ties.
On Tuesday, November 22nd, the Vice President will travel to Puerto Princesa, on the island of Palawan, where she will meet with residents, civil society leaders, and representatives of the Philippines Coast Guard. This is another historic visit, as the Vice President is the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to visit Palawan.
This visit demonstrates the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to stand with our Philippine ally in upholding the rules-based international maritime order in the South China Sea, supporting maritime livelihoods, and countering illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing.
As part of her effort to uphold international rules and norms around the world, during her engagement with the Philippines Coast Guard, the Vice President will deliver remarks underscoring the importance of international law, unimpeded commerce, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The Vice President, as I think you know, has prioritized maritime cooperation nations throughout Southeast Asia — with nations throughout Southeast Asia. In particular, during the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in May 2022, the Vice President led the session with ASEAN Leaders on maritime security and launched $60 million in new Coast Guard initiatives for Southeast Asia.
And now, in her engagement with the Philippines Coast Guard, which has benefitted from U.S. partnership, training, and equipment, she will see firsthand the outcomes of this partnership and discuss how to strengthen it even further with new funding and initiatives.
During her engagement with the residents of Palawan, she will be discussing the impacts of IUU fishing on coastal economies and their livelihoods.
Finally, on Palawan, let me also note that the Vice President feels very strongly about getting outside of government buildings and engaging directly with people who often don’t get to interact with high-ranking U.S. officials.
Leaving the capital city and going to Palawan and visiting communities there will do just that. And it’s a prime example of the way the Vice President seeks to engage on the world stage.
Thanks for joining. I know that was a lot. But again, we’re doing a lot, the Vice President is doing a lot. And happy to take any questions you might have about the trip.
MODERATOR: Thank you to our speaker. Could our moderator re-up the instructions to ask a question, please?
Q Hi, sorry. I have two questions. And thanks so much for doing this. My first question is: Will the Vice President meet with President Xi at the APEC Summit since he’s going?
And then the second question is: Why visit the island of Palawan, knowing that it’s so close to the Spratly Islands? Obviously, there is a lot of disputes about who owns it. And it’s something that could potentially have an impact to make China upset or, you know, bring back any tensions that were — appeared to be kind of cooled during — or after President Biden’s very extensive meeting with him this week.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Thanks for both of those. On the latter — and I think I ended the presentation underscoring why the Vice President will go to Palawan — it is starting with just this notion of getting outside the capital.
And in Palawan, she’ll have a chance to meet with local communities and fisher communities that are impacted by the climate crisis and environmental challenges and to highlight what we’re doing with the Philippines in that space, but also to highlight the perils and risks to locals from illegal and unreported fishing, which is another thing that threatens their livelihoods. And I think by going there she’ll demonstrate our support and solidarity for the rule of law, maritime law.
And then, finally, as I also mentioned, the Vice President feels strongly about and has highlighted on a number of her trips throughout the Indo-Pacific the importance of freedom of navigation, freedom of commerce. And that is, obviously, highly relevant in the South China Sea and in and around Palawan as well.
So it’s an opportunity to do all of those things, standing with our Philippine ally.
On your first question of President Xi, as noted, I don’t have any meetings or bilateral meetings to announce other than the ones that I did announce.
We do expect that President Xi will be at the APEC meeting. But, of course, I would also note that President Xi just did a three-plus-hour bilat with President Biden.
So we did, as you noted, I think, just had the opportunity to extensively engage in dialogue with China’s leader.
Q Thank you so much for taking my question. I’m wondering if there’s going to be any specific meetings on Myanmar or if you expect that to come up in any particular forum.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I think I noted we do expect it to come up. And if I didn’t note it, I’ll note it now. I mean, we’re focused on a lot of regional concerns, and Myanmar/Burma has been high on the agenda.
Thailand and the Philippines are both heavily impacted by the crackdown by the regime there. They stand in solidarity together in calling for the regime to cease violence and to allow humanitarian aid in and to allow for the appointment of an ASEAN mediator.
And we’re all impacted by the terrible humanitarian tragedies that we’ve seen in Burma, as well as the consequences for the region.
So it’ll definitely be a subject of the bilateral conversations that the Vice President has with the leaders of Thailand and the Philippines. And, of course, Burma is also part of the Mekong region. And, as noted, the Vice President will be doing a roundtable focused on the Mekong, including environmental security, but also it will be another chance to show our support for the Burmese people by drawing attention to that.
MODERATOR: Thanks. I think we’re ready for our next question.
Q Hi, everybody. I had two clarification questions on the schedule and then one larger question. On the schedule, what is happening on Sunday? Was that the roundtable with activists?
And then, secondly, this meeting with the Filipino women — you mentioned that was the first meeting of its kind. I wasn’t sure what made that a first, because, obviously, she’s been engaging with women in previous trips.
And then, lastly, just wanted to get you signed off on kind of what message you hope this trip sends in the region, you know, given the pressure China is under to expand its own influence, and what message you hope to send to Beijing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, Chris, I’ll go, I think, in the order you asked to make sure I answer all of your questions.
On the “first of its kind,” it’s just — obviously, she’s met with women while abroad, but this is going to be more, sort of, moderated conversation, townhall style with a larger group. So it’s just different. But she has obviously engaged with women and done some small roundtables on a number of different topics. But that’s what is different about this one. It’s going to be a more open —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: — free flow, town hall style event.
Then you asked on Sunday. Sunday, I think I said, is the roundtable on climate and clean energy with a focus on the Mekong. Was that the question you were asking for clarification on?
Q Yes. You answered that. Yeah. Okay, good.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Those are two examples on each day of things beyond the government meetings that she’s doing.
And then your third question was about China’s influence in the region?
Q Yeah, what message this trip sends to China, as far as the U.S. commitment to the region.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, China can take the message it wants. The message to the region is that the United States is a member of the Indo-Pacific, we are engaged, we’re committed to the security of our allies in the region.
I think because this is an APEC meeting, indeed it’s an opportunity to not only demonstrate that we’re committed to their security — which I think, frankly, we have been demonstrating from the start of this administration through extensive diplomatic and security engagement and building out our alliances and even coming up with new configurations — but on the economic side, that we’re a real valuable partner as well.
And that’s why I went through some of what we’re going to stress in the APEC meeting, between PGII and IPEF and a lot of what we’re doing bilaterally on supply chains and infrastructure and clean energy and trade and investment.
The message is that: you can count on the United States; we are — we are a friend and a partner.
And so it’s a positive agenda for us rather than a sort of negative (inaudible) about competing with anybody else.
Q Thank you.
Q Hey, guys, thanks so much for doing this. I wanted to know if the Vice President had been briefed about the explosion that happened in Poland earlier today, if she’s communicated with President Biden about it at all, and anything else you can tell us on that matter.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, she has been briefed, and she’s following it closely.
MODERATOR: All right. Well, that does it for us tonight. Thanks, everyone, for calling in. As a reminder, this call is on background — (the call drops).
END 5:25 P.M. EST