National Security Council

Via Teleconference

(April 10, 2024)

3:05 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And thank you all for joining today’s background call to preview the bilateral meeting of President Biden and President Marcos of the Philippines and the historic trilateral summit of the U.S., Japan, and the Philippines. 

As a reminder, today’s call is on background, attributed to senior administration officials.  The call is also held under embargo until 5:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. 

By participating in today’s call, you are also agreeing to these ground rules. 

On today’s call, we have [senior administration official].  And I will now turn the call over to [senior administration official] to kick us off.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you so much.  And thanks to all for joining us this afternoon.  I’m also pleased to be joined here in the room by several of my colleagues who’ve been formative to the preparations of both the bilateral meeting between the President and President Marcos and the first-ever trilateral U.S.-Philippines-Japan leaders’ summit that will take place tomorrow.  So you may also hear the voices of [senior administration officials] alongside me as we work through what we have to share with you today. 

As you all know, we just concluded the meetings portion of the official visit with state dinner, during which the President is hosting Prime Minister Kishida of Japan here at the White House for nearly their dozenth meeting in the last two and a half years since Prime Minister Kishida took office.  And at that visit, we announced a number of extremely consequential deliverables, ranging from the defense space to civil space to critical and emerging technologies, critical infrastructure, and people-to-people ties. 

But this is really just kicking off what we see as a tremendous week for us and for the President’s Indo-Pacific strategy here at the White House.  Because tomorrow we will also be welcoming President Marcos of the Philippines and holding, as I said, the first-ever trilateral leaders’ summit between the Philippines, the United States, and Japan. 

Since the start of this administration, President Biden has, of course, prioritized the reinvigoration of the United States’ greatest strength: our network of alliances and partnerships.  And in our view, there is nowhere that this strategy has yielded more success and bigger results than in the Indo-Pacific. 

Today, you saw our Japanese allies consistently standing up and stepping up alongside us to modernize the alliance in ways that would have seemed impossible just three years ago.  And tomorrow, you will see another longstanding ally in the Indo-Pacific stepping up in a big way, who is now more closely coordinated than ever with the United States, and that is President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

He’ll be here for the second visit to D.C. in just two years’ time.  And this is the seventh meeting with either President Biden or Vice President Harris, which is a sign of the very close relationship that we have built with President Marcos.

Our alliance with the Philippines is the oldest in the Indo-Pacific and has never been stronger, with deep people-to-people ties at its foundation.  And that, of course, includes the more than 4 million Filipino Americans who live in the United States and 400,000 Americans who live in or are visiting the Philippines at any given time. 

Under President Biden and President Marcos, we’ve modernized the alliance to meet emerging opportunities and challenges.  And our defense and security ties continue to serve as a cornerstone of that alliance.  And in particular, we’ve added four new sites under the Enhanced Cooperation Defense Agreement and provided an additional $100 million in foreign military financing for the Philippines. 

We’re also working together in a range of areas from economic growth to energy security to critical and emerging technologies to secure connectivity.  And you’ll see all of those areas on display tomorrow. 

But beyond the bilateral relationship, we are also excited to launch at the leader level, for the first time, a brand-new format, and that is the trilateral that includes our friends in Japan.  That trilateral met for the first time at the national security advisor level last year, and our leaders are now taking it to new heights.  And you’ll see there a huge amount of work on display that covers areas ranging from energy security to infrastructure to critical and emerging technologies to maritime security.  And we’re excited for all that we’ll be able to share in those spaces.

Amongst the priority of deliverables that we’ll be unveiling tomorrow — which, as Michael noted, are embargoed until 5:00 a.m. in the morning tomorrow — we’ll be announcing an important set of new infrastructure projects known as the PGI Luzon corridor, the first-ever PGI corridor in the Indo-Pacific, which will connect Subic Bay, Clark, Manila, and Batangas in the Philippines to accelerate coordinated investments in high-impact infrastructure projects, including ports, rail, clean energy, semiconductors, supply chains, and other forms of connectivity in the Philippines. 

We will be holding events and setting up a steering committee to accelerate the work on this Luzon corridor, and the Development Finance Corporation will open its first regional office in the Philippines as part of this announcement. 

Second, we’ll be making announcements in the space of Open Radio Access Network technology, where the U.S. and Japan, both governments and industry, will be providing millions of dollars in funding for O-RAN field trials and the support of an Asia O-RAN Academy in Manila to enable future commercial deployment.  And we’re working closely with the government of the Philippines to ensure that we can partner as a trilateral grouping to deploy secure, trusted ICT technology in the Philippines. 

Earlier this week, you saw an important step in a coordinated Australia-Japan-Philippines-U.S. maritime cooperative activity.  We held a joint sail in the South China Sea, of course in a moment where the Philippines is facing enormous pressure from the PRC in that part of the region. 

And you’ll see us making further announcements tomorrow with respect to our coast guard cooperation, our cooperation on the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief space, and in our military cooperation and capacity building.

All in all, particularly at this moment when, as I mentioned, President Marcos is coming under pressure from the PRC’s aggressive tactics in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, what you’ll see is a clear demonstration of support and resolve from both President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Marcos, ready to support and work with the Philippines at every turn.

I’ll hand to my colleague to say just a bit about what you can expect in the bilateral space from the President’s meeting with Marcos.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  I’m happy to add a bit on that. 

So, President Biden and President Marcos will meet tomorrow.  They’ll discuss initiatives to enhance economic and energy security, bolster maritime cooperation, invest in critical infrastructure, and deepen people-to-people ties. 

President Biden will also reinforce the ironclad U.S. alliance commitments to the Philippines.  And the two leaders will also discuss their shared commitment to democratic values, including respect for human rights and internationally recognized labor rights. 

Now, this is the second time that President Marcos has been to the White House in his many years.  And the two presidents will mark the unprecedented strength of the alliance between the United States and the Philippines, and underscore the historic achievements in bilateral relations since they last met at the White House in May 2023. 

In addition to some of the deliverables that [senior administration official] mentioned, I wanted just to add a few. You’ll see several U.S. companies announcing new investments in the Philippines tomorrow, including areas in undersea cables, logistics, clean energy, and also telecommunications. 

You’ll also see some new announcements related to humanitarian assistance and disaster response, specifically located around the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites that [senior administration official] mentioned.  Including over the next year, you’ll see USAID in partnership with DOD launching a new initiative to pre-position humanitarian relief commodities for Philippine civilian disaster response authorities at EDCA sites. 

In addition, you’ll see us working together to invest in people-to-people ties, and you’ll also see us do more on clean energy and critical infrastructure, especially the new initiative under the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment that [senior administration official] mentioned.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  With that, we look forward to taking your questions. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Moderator.  I think we’re ready to go into the Q&A portion.

OPERATOR:  Let’s go to our first caller.  Please go ahead.

MODERATOR:  Could you say the name of the person who’s going to ask the question?

OPERATOR:  Sure.  It’s Michelle Jamrisko from Bloomberg.

Q    Hi, everyone.  Thanks for doing this.  Just wanted to go off something Jake Sullivan said yesterday and we’ve heard from other U.S. officials as well, talking a lot about U.S. efforts to modernize the alliances and bringing in non-traditional allies.  So I’m wondering if you see the trilateral tomorrow as a sort of launching board for having other partners across Asia kind of join these sorts of formats.  And if so, who would be on that target list?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hey, Michelle.  I’m happy to take that one. 

You know, I think we see less that we are necessarily going to continue to expand ad infinitum any given trilat and more that each of these individual partnerships add some very special sauce to the broader mix of what National Security Advisor Sullivan has called an overlapping latticework of mutually reinforcing partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. 

So you might think about the fact that, of course, we have a number of strong bilateral alliances like the one you saw on display with Japan today.  We’ve got more innovative groupings, like the Quad, which the President and National Security Advisor Sullivan raised to the leader level early in this administration.  You’ve got AUKUS, which is a newer innovation also during this administration.  And now we’ve got a number of strong trilateral relationships, including the U.S.-ROK-Japan partnership, which the President took to new heights at Camp David, and now this trilat with the Philippines. 

So we don’t necessarily see that each one of these partnerships needs to expand further, but rather, each one needs to serve its purpose.  And part of what we’re excited about with tomorrow’s visit is that we do think there is a very clear purpose and a very clear agenda guiding this trilat.

OPERATOR:  Okay, moving on to Trevor Hunnicutt from Reuters.

Q    Hey.  Thanks so much for taking the question.  So will the President give a commitment to Marcos as far as the U.S. being involved in any defense that needs to happen around the Second Thomas Shoal?

And then, out of the outcomes of this meeting, should we expect trilateral joint military training, defense capacity building for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and anything on maritime domain awareness?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hey, Trevor.  I’ll kick off and pass to [senior administration official]. 

The President’s commitment to the Philippines and to President Marcos on South China Sea issues has been quite clear.  He has repeated many times that the U.S.-Philippines mutual defense treaty applies to the South China Sea, including Philippines’ vessels that may be underway there, including its coast guard vessels. 

So I think our declaratory policy, again, is crystal clear and has been consistent throughout this administration and, needless to say, has also held on a bipartisan basis.  And the Philippines is confident in that commitment.

When it comes to the maritime activities that you might see coming out of this, I’ll pass to [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  Just to add on top of the comments you already made: Over this past weekend, the United States, Japan, the Philippines, and Australia held a joint naval patrol in the Philippines’ EEZ.  I think as National Security Advisor Sullivan said yesterday, you can expect to see more of that in the months ahead. 

On top of that, we will be announcing tomorrow an upcoming coast guard joint patrol that will be taking place in the coming year in the Indo-Pacific.  That builds on the first trilateral U.S.-Japan-Philippines coast guard patrol that was held over the past year.  The U.S. Coast Guard will also welcome Philippine and Japan coast guard members onto a U.S. Coast Guard vessel during the patrol in the Indo-Pacific this year to further train and synchronize our work together. 

And I think you can expect to see further announcements tomorrow around trilateral maritime training activities, including around Japan, and a trilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercise to take place over the coming year as well.

OPERATOR:  Okay, moving on to Patsy Widakuswara.

Q    Thank you for taking my call.  Just to follow up on Trevor’s question: Do we have a clear guideline of which type of gray zone tactics are covered by the U.S.-Philippines mutual defense treaty?

And then, if I may just ask for some clarity on what the President said earlier, where Japan, the U.S., and Australia will create a network of air, missile, and defense system.  Do we have a timeline of that initiative?  Thanks. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m happy to take that one.  You know, the U.S.-Philippines mutual defense treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippines Armed Forces, public vessels, or aircraft.  And as I mentioned earlier, that includes its coast guard, and that includes anywhere in the South China Sea. 

So that’s the text of the treaty that governs our alliance.  It is quite similar to the text of other treaties that support U.S. alliances around the world. 

And obviously, we continue to coordinate very closely the question of China’s so-called gray zone tactics, its coercive tactics, and what the implications of those might be.

On the question of the air and missile defense integrated networks: As the President mentioned earlier, this is a deliverable out of the Japan state visit which also includes Australia.  What we announced today is really a vision for a coordinated network of radars and sensors that will better integrate our ballistic and air defense capabilities around the Indo-Pacific.  And it’s probably a few years off that will involve considerable work amongst our three countries.  But we don’t have a framework for how we will pursue it, as well as a strong mutual commitment amongst these countries if this is something we want to accomplish together.

OPERATOR:  Okay, moving on to Morgan Chalfant from Semafor.

Q    Thanks so much for doing this.  I just had two questions.  First, on the announcements of investments in the Philippines and undersea cables and telecom, can you say which companies are making those?  And then also, I was wondering if there’s a specific timeline for the PGII corridor you mentioned.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, on the secure connectivity piece, I think you mentioned a few different projects.  The first one you may have mentioned is a submarine cable project, which is an investment that was announced at the Japan state visit today.  That involves our Japanese friends plugging into an ongoing sub-cable project that is led by Google in the South Pacific.  The United States and Australia are already invested in that project, and we’re very gratified that the Japanese have decided to join us.

When it comes to PGI, you know, we do expect it will take some time for the full suite of investments that we’ve envisioned here to come to pass.  But as I mentioned, we’re standing up a steering committee of high-level U.S., Philippines, and Japanese government officials to ensure that we are steering private sector investment to exactly the types of projects that this corridor needs to improve, as well as bringing a full suite of U.S. government tools to bear. 

Again, as I mentioned earlier, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation will be standing up an office in the Philippines to help to steer this work.  And the U.S. Trade and Development Agency has announced a number of new activities in the Philippines that will help to support it as well. 

In addition to all of this, you may be tracking that Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo recently led a presidential trade and investment mission to the Philippines, which announced more than $1 billion in combined investments to promote the Philippines’ innovation economy, clean energy transition, and supply chain resilience. 

So, suffice it to say that we take very seriously all of the work that we’re doing in the Philippines.  There will also be a number of announcements tomorrow by way of private sector investment in the Philippines that we’ll be announcing anew, and those will come from Meta, UPS, GreenFire Energy, and Astranis telecommunications satellites.

OPERATOR:  Okay, moving on to Michael Shear, New York Times.

Q    Hi there.  Thanks, guys.  I appreciate it.  Just wanted to follow up on the so-called gray zone (inaudible) that China has been launching against the Philippine ships.  Will that subject — do you intend that subject to come up during the bilateral or trilateral talks tomorrow?  And is there anything the United States can do or is planning on suggesting or talking about in order to try to mitigate those attacks, since they appear to be, by default, just below the level of what would trigger the (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Michael, for your question.  So, we absolutely expect the South China Sea to come up in tomorrow’s trilateral meeting.  It is one of the reasons for the meeting, because we are very concerned about what we’ve been seeing. 

We consistently condemn the use of coercive and unlawful tactics in the South China Sea every time they occur.  We do so via public statement and diplomatically.  There’s a strong record of U.S. statements on this issue, particularly in the last several months since the Philippines has been under increasing pressure. 

You will also see in our trilateral joint statement some very strong language on our unity on the South China Sea.  And that language will make very clear that we have a combined position that supports the Philippines’ lawful operations and rights in the South China Sea and in particular in its own exclusive economic zone.  So we will be quite unified in that position. 

Additionally, you know, many of the deliverables that we started to preview for you here today — whether that’s the recent joint sail that we just conducted on a quadrilateral basis in the South China Sea, the coast guard cooperation we’ll be undertaking, or new military exercises that we may conduct together — these are all intended to boost our cooperative capacity and, in particular, to make sure that our friends in the Philippines have the capacity that they need to be able to uphold international law in the South China Sea. 

So this is a very common theme, if not a pillar, of tomorrow’s trilateral meeting.  And we’re really looking forward not only to making good progress as a trilat in private, but to announce publicly our next steps in support for the Philippines.

OPERATOR:  Our next caller, Phelim Kine, Politico.

Q    Good afternoon.  Yeah, just a quick follow-up on the Second Thomas Shoal issue, and that is that China is turning a deaf ear to all of the Biden administration’s protests about its behavior there.  What we’re seeing is we see the State Department issue kind of like a template press release, saying they should stop this; we have a mutual defense treaty.  And Beijing isn’t just responding; they’re actually amping up the pressure on the Philippines in terms of the intensity and the aggression of its response. 

So, I guess, two-part question.  What are you hearing from China, from Beijing, in terms of why they’re pushing this at the Second Thomas Shoal at a time of a wider, quote, unquote, “stabilization” of the bilateral relationship?

And number two, what exactly can the U.S. do with Japan or with others to kind of make China back down or turn away?  Thank you. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  I’m not going to interpret the Chinese government’s motivation for its use of coercive tactics at this time.  We’ll simply say that all of the international law in this space is very clear that the Philippines is lawfully operating in its own exclusive economic zone, and there’s really no question about that. 

To your question about, you know, what can we do beyond continuing to issue statements, I would note, first and foremost, that while, of course, it is very unfortunate that the PRC has continued to use coercive tactics, we do see that every time it does, an increasing number of supporters come out to stand behind international law in the Philippines.  I believe that the last time there was an interdiction of a Philippines routine resupply effort, as many as almost two dozen countries came out with both (inaudible) support. 

But of course, we raise this diplomatically in private, including at the highest level all the time, including the President raised this with Xi Jinping when they last spoke and not only reiterated our alliance commitments, which are crystal clear, but made clear his concern about PRC actions around Second Thomas Shoal.

But finally, the point that I’ll make — and you asked the question of what more can the U.S. do — the United States can invite President Marcos to the White House tomorrow for a bilateral meeting and a trilateral leaders’ summit for the first time ever.  This is very clearly a purposeful signal of support and resolve to Marcos.  There will be a lot of discussions, again, that take place on this in private.  But this is an invitation to the President — from the President to a close ally that is intended to signal very clearly that we support the Philippines at this difficult moment.

OPERATOR:  Our next caller, Ken Moriyasu, Nikkei Asia.

Q    Thank you very much.  On the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief hub, I believe there was a similar proposal in the factsheet of the U.S.-Japan (inaudible).  Are they similar things?

On the Philippines one, I think you said it will be placed on the EDCA sites.  Does that mean they’re going to be on all nine bases or just a few of them?  And does this also mean that, in the Japanese case, they will be based on U.S. bases in Japan as well?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure, thanks.  Happy to take that. 

I mean, our main point here is that these additional four EDCA sites that we and the Philippines agreed on when President Marcos was here last year really demonstrate the value of U.S. military and Philippine cooperation at these sites and elsewhere. 

And the main point of these EDCA sites is to do a few things.  One is to help the military modernization of the Philippines, is to increase coordination between our two militaries and increase interoperability, and then it’s also to help facilitate humanitarian assistance and disaster response. 

The Philippine government, of course, has done a lot in this area.  We’ve been working with them quite extensively over many years.  What I had mentioned before is that, over the next year, USAID will be launching a new initiative to pre-position humanitarian relief commodities.  I won’t get into which specific sites those will be located, but the intent of those commodities is to assist Philippine civilian disaster response efforts and to ensure that disaster response can get to Philippine citizens when it’s needed most.

OPERATOR:  Okay, let’s move on to Tetsuo Shintomi, Kyodo News.

Q    Hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  When the national security advisors of three countries had a meeting last year in Tokyo, they reiterated the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.  And they also discussed on East China Sea, on North Korea, according to the readout. 

So will the three leaders’ discussion go beyond South China Sea?  Will they also discuss on Taiwan Strait or even broader region, including East China Sea and DPRK?  Thank you very much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you very much.  We fully expect that the three leaders will cover the full gamut of Indo-Pacific security topics, including, of course, South China Sea, East China Sea, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and the threat posed by the DPRK’s illicit nuclear and missile program.  

And one of the things that I think binds this group of leaders together is they are very — have a common outlook as maritime democracies who see much of the challenges in the Indo-Pacific in the same ways. 

So one of the strong bonds between them is not only their assessment of the risks that are posed in all four of these situations, but their belief that common cooperation can help to inject stability in all of these areas.  So I know that President Biden is looking forward to those conversations.

OPERATOR:  All right, and that brings us to the end of our Q&A.  I’ll turn it back over to Michael Feldman.  Please go ahead.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you all for joining today.  I will just pass it to [senior administration official] for some closing remarks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks so much, Michael.  And thanks for a great set of questions. 

I’ll just reiterate that while, of course, you know, we are very proud of the work that we have done over the course of the last three years here at the White House and on the Indo-Pacific team, we really do think this week is a special one, in particular coming on the back of a successful U.S.-Japan state visit where we’ve unveiled a number of new alliance initiatives. 

The innovation of bringing this trilateral to the leader level for the first time is a significant one.  And while a number of your questions today have been related to the maritime space and rightful concerns about the South China Sea, which we deeply share, part of what we’ll also have on display tomorrow is a number of new initiatives related to economic security, demonstrating that, together, the United States, Japan, and the Philippines can deliver energy security, can deliver secure connectivity, can deliver high-quality, high-standard investments that are good for the people of the Indo-Pacific. 

So we’re really going to be showcasing a new form of cooperation at the highest levels, and we look forward to being able to share the details with you soon. 

Thanks for joining today. 

MODERATOR:  Great.  And thank you all for joining.  As a reminder, today’s call is on background, attributed to senior administration officials, and it is under embargo for 5:00 a.m.  Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. 

Feel free to reach out to the NSC press team if you have any questions.  Thank you and have a great day.

3:33 P.M. EDT

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