Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s Meeting with PRC Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi
3:30 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. And thank you for joining us on such short notice. I hope everyone is having a good afternoon.
Today we’re going to have a quick call here on the National Security Advisor’s meetings in Vienna. The call is going to be held under an embargo until the end of the call. It’s attributable to a senior administration official.
For awareness but not for reporting, joining us on the call today is [senior administration official].
With that, I will hand it over to [senior administration official], because I know we are tight on time. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. Good to be with all of you today. Apologies for the sound quality. I’m on a plane making my way back to the U.S., and it’s a little bit hit or miss on comms.
To kick off, the National Security Advisor met on May 10th and 11th with Politburo Member and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi in Vienna. The National Security Advisor and Director Wang had more than eight hours of meetings over two days. The last such meeting in this channel was between Jake Sullivan and then-Director Yang Jiechi. That meeting took place June 13th, last year, in Luxembourg.
This meeting comes as the United States and PRC has sought to increase high-level engagement in order to maintain channels of communication and (inaudible) manage competition. Both sides agreed to maintain this channel between Director Wang and the National Security Advisor.
The National Security Adviser underscored that the United States and the PRC are in competition but that the U.S. does not seek conflict or confrontation. He raised specific issues in the bilateral relationship. He also raised concerns about detained American citizens, underscoring that this is a personal priority of President Biden.
He indicated that the United States stands ready to work with the PRC on issues of transnational concerns, such as counternarcotics. The two sides also discussed local and regional security issues, such as U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific and other regions; the National Security Advisor’s recent robust engagement with U.S. allies and partners — by the United States that is. The two sides discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and cross-Strait issues among other topics.
As with other conversations between President Biden and President Xi, he raised concerns about PRC — potential PRC military assistance to Russia. On cross-Strait issues, the National Security Advisor reiterated that the U.S. remains committed to our One China policy guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, Three Communiqués, and Six Assurances.
He indicated that the U.S. opposes unilateral changes to the status quo from either side, does not support Taiwan independence, and expects cross-Strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.
With that, I’ll go ahead and turn it back to [moderator]. I’m happy to answer a few questions.
MODERATOR: All right, we’ll go ahead and open it up to questions.
Q Hi. Thank you, guys, so much for doing this call, especially on your way back.
Three quick questions. Did Wang and National Security Advisor Sullivan agree to planning that would commence for Secretary of State’s rescheduled visit to Beijing? Are those planning efforts underway after this meeting?
On counternarcotics, did China express any interest in actually engaging with the U.S. on tackling that challenge?
And then, you mentioned Ukraine. Was there any indication in this meeting that China is going to move forth with that lethal support to Russia that the Biden administration has warned that they were considering? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. On the visit question, you know, we didn’t discuss dates. This meeting wasn’t about scheduling. We do anticipate there’ll be an engagement and visits in both directions over the coming months.
On counternarcotics, I’ll not go into specifics of diplomatic conversations, but I will say that, you know, we raised our concern about the lack of communication on this issue and pressed working, constructive engagement.
On Ukraine, again, as has been done multiple times, including in the conversations between President Biden and President Xi, we reiterated concern should there be any military assistance going to Russia.
I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks.
Q Hi there. Thanks very much. I know you won’t want to talk too specifically, but did you speak about crisis communications? And was there any progress made on the idea of having some kind of guaranteed crisis communications between the two governments at any level?
And then there’s a report today that the State Department declined to impose sanctions after the balloon incident, both export controls on Huawei, as well as human rights sanctions over Uyghurs.
Can you comment on that? And in general, even if you can’t comment on the specifics, are you trying to make any concessions in order to get these dialogues advancing? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. On the first one on crisis communications, you know, we’ve made no secret that we think maintaining channels of communication is particularly important in times of tension, that it’s important to manage competition.
I think both sides see that a channel between Director Wang and the National Security Advisor is one means of managing that competition.
I think I’ll also point to the PRC statement. I think you’ll see that it also recognized the need to stabilize and manage competition as well, which we certainly found noteworthy and a departure from what we had seen in previous statements.
On the sanctions question, I will refer you back to State for any internal conversations or back and forth they’ve had on packages in particular. But I will say, we don’t see dialogue as something that you get through concessions, right? This is important to manage competition. This is something that we see as critical to U.S. and PRC regardless of whether it’s times of high tension or not, right? That should be — diplomatic communication should be a regular occurrence. We’re not seeking to link that to anything else.
Q Hi. Thank you. Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Okay, great. Sorry about that. Yeah, a couple of questions. And apologies if you’ve actually mentioned this at the top. But was the issue of the spy balloon raised at all in the conversations? And then, did we also provide messaging on the kinds of actions that we’re trying to galvanize at the upcoming G7 in terms of countering Chinese economic coercion?
And is there any progress on the — on President Biden speaking to President Xi? He mentioned that there was prog- — progress last night. If you can give more details on that, that would be great. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear that first one. It broke up just a little bit. Can you repeat the first question? I got the second one on G7, and I think the third one was on Biden and Xi’s communication.
Q Correct. The first one was: Is the issue of the spy — did the issue of the spy balloon come up at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think both sides recognized that that unfortunate incident led to a bit of pause in engagement. We’re seeking (inaudible) beyond that and reestablishing just standard, normal channels of communications. But I’ll leave other conversations in the diplomatic space and not get into specifics.
On G7 (inaudible), you know, I’d refer you to the G7 Ministerial Statement. I know negotiations are ongoing right now on the leaders level. So I’ll — I’ll leave it in those channels, but I’m not tracking that closely.
On the Biden-Xi call, certainly President Biden has made clear a number of times that he stands ready and willing to be speak to President Xi. They didn’t get into specifics about any scheduling on that, but I think both sides recognize the importance of leader-level communication as a means of stabilizing the relationship and managing competition.
Q Hi, thanks for holding this call. I just wanted to, really quick, follow up on Blinken’s meeting. Did the Chinese side express, you know, any specific things they wanted to happen before that meeting or any topics or barriers that they wanted to overcome before that would be possible?
And just on the Biden and Xi call, do you have any guidance on whether that would be expected to take place before a high-level meeting or after a high-level meeting in Beijing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You broke up just a bit, but I think the first question was: Were there any specific things to overcome before the meeting? Is that right?
Q Yes, that’s right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. No, not at — not that I am aware of. Again, this is a channel that we’ve used on occasion. The last meeting was in June. I think both sides thought it would been useful to try to do another conversation at the National Security Advisor-Director level.
This is the first one, in fact, that the National Security Advisor has done with Director Wang since he took over the role. So I think useful from that perspective.
But again, no, nothing on specific things to overcome to have the meeting take place.
On the Biden-Xi call, which I think was your second question, I’ve got nothing for you on scheduling on that.
Q Hey there. Thank you. Did Jake bring up specific detainees by name, including Mark Swidan? I’m sorry if I’m mispronouncing his name. And secondly, was it difficult to set up this meeting? Relations have been so tense and there’s been an absence of communications. Was it — how was it in setting up this meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the detainee question, we raised, as we generally do, the specific date (inaudible) of concern.
I think, on setting up the meeting, you know, it’s an interesting question. Oftentimes, you find the (inaudible) easier to meet in a third country than in either of our two. And, you know, this came together fairly quickly, as I assume you can tell from the lack of information about it in the press or in the news.
But I wouldn’t say that it was particularly difficult to set up. I think both sides see the value in sort of this low-profile channel to handle some of the more complex issues in the bilateral relationship.
Q Yeah, hi. Good afternoon. Thanks. I just want to — first, two questions. First, I just want to revisit — I didn’t hear your answer — I’m not sure it came out — about the prisoners. There are three prisoners that CEPA has said are unjustly detained in China. Did the names of those prisoners — were they actually raised in the meeting? Mark Swidan, Kai Li, and David Lin.
Second question is: Counternarcotics was brought up. The Chinese have, for more than two years, have said it’s not their problem, that narcotics is an American problem, a social problem, political problem. Did they say that they’re actually — did they indicate they’re actually willing to change tact on that? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. On the counternarcotics side, you’re right, we often hear that it’s a demand side issue not a supply side. And that’s certainly something we push back on hard.
From our side, a solution has got to both involve the supply and the demand side. And I think we’ve seen other countries express concern about that as well recently. This is not just a U.S.-China bilateral issue; this is a global issue.
On the unjustly detained, we raised the specific prisoners as we do in all meetings.
Q Thank you. I was wondering if you could please give us any color about the meeting. Previous meetings obviously have had different tenors. Could you describe how long each day it lasted, how many hours? Any sort of color that you could describe about how the conversations went.
And then back to the Biden-Xi call: Is there anything that the Chinese expressed that needed to happen first before the two leaders could speak again?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, sure. On the sort of colors or dynamics in the meeting: This was over two days, partially just because of scheduling issues, to be honest, and both of us were coming from other countries. And so being able to meet somewhere, we did a bit on the day — the second half of the day, May 10th, and then first half of the day, May 11th. Overall, it was between about 8 to 10 hours. Of course, we managed to take a few breaks in between. So, trying to subtract those out, it’s around — over eight hours of meetings and engagements.
Certainly, you know, when you do consecutive interpretation, which is what we generally do in meetings, you just recognize that reduces it by half the time for actual conversation between the two. So, just to help explain why that long stretch of time.
I’d say the conversations were really candid, substantive, and constructive. Of the — any meetings, I’ve sat in, both in Washington and in Beijing and, of course, in third-country locations, I’d say this is one of the more candid and constructive discussions that I’ve been a part of. We have some tough issues on both sides. There is no doubt of that. And in many cases, we’re not going to change each other’s minds; that’s not what this is necessarily about.
But, you know, the hard work of diplomacy is trying to explain your position, what you’re doing, how you see the relationship, how you see the global stage, and I think both sides were able to do that.
And again, I think we see this — we want to maintain those channels — and we see this as the first of what I hope are additional conversations in the future on a more regular basis.
You asked another question. In my jetlagged state, I did not write it down. Was it about preconditions? I think it was, so I’m going to go with preconditions.
You know, on the U.S. side, again, we really — we’ve pushed back anytime there’s this idea of preconditions before there’s a diplomatic conversation. For us, part of managing competition responsibly, part of stabilizing relationships is having those conversations regardless of what’s going on, regardless of which actions are happening on either side. Right? This is not just about the U.S. taking action. This is also — when you talk about tension, it’s also about actions the Chinese side is taking as well.
Q Hi, how are you? Thanks for doing this. Just to follow up on the spy balloon. So if I could — if you could just reaffirm: So is it — is this incident over for the Biden administration? Do you consider — do you guys put this behind you all and you’re moving forward?
And also, did the Chinese raise or complain any of the current sanctions that are being implemented — any of the U.S. sanctions?
And just last, on Taiwan: Did Jake bring up or say that there would be any consequences in the event that China decides to invade Taiwan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. On the Taiwan question, you know, look, I think it’s — we really focused on the fact that both sides have manage this issue that’s over 40 years without conflict, and that’s our goal going forward. That means cross-strait differences have to be resolved by peaceful means. That means we don’t want to see a unilateral change in the status quo from either side — China or Taiwan.
And I think that’s really about, you know, the depth of the conversation is focused on how do we manage this productively, recognizing that we — you know, both sides have very different views of many Taiwan-related issues.
One the first one, I’m sorry, my comms aren’t great, you broke up just a little bit on that one.
Q On the spy balloon, does the Biden administration consider that incident, you know, behind them, you’re moving forward? Are there — you know, will there be any consequences? Or is that — like I said, are you guys over that (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On that, I think we made clear we’re — where we stand in terms of the breach of sovereignty there. I think we’ve been clear on that from the very get-go.
But again, trying to look forward from here on, we’ve made clear we don’t want to see this happen again, but how do we — how do we manage the other issues that are ongoing right now and manage the tension in the relationship that exists and try to find hopefully a few issues where there are some overlapping interests and we can potentially find a productive way to work together.
MODERATOR: Great. And that concludes our Q&A session here, so thank you all for taking the time to join the call and for bearing with us as we deal with that a little bit of audio trouble.
3:57 P.M. EDT