DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon. I want to thank Vice Foreign Ministers Cho and Saiki for joining us here in Washington today. We just finished a very productive round of discussions building on conversations that I had during my visit to Seoul and Tokyo in February. We have a lot to look forward to over the balance of this year. In just a couple of weeks, we will welcome Prime Minister Abe to the United States, and we look forward to receiving President Park later this year.
Japan and the Republic of Korea are two of our closest allies and strongest trading partners. Japan is America’s fourth-largest export market; the Republic of Korea is our sixth. One of the most exciting aspects of our relationships with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and an area that we covered at some length today, is the increasingly global scope of our cooperation together. Today, we discussed a range of global issues, challenges, and opportunities that are shared by all three countries. We agreed on the importance of combating climate change and improving access to safe and secure energy supplies. We agreed on the need to invest in priorities like global health security, an area where the Republic of Korea and Japan have shown remarkable leadership. We agreed on the importance of maritime security. We discussed our strong support for Ukraine, its economy, as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we focused on challenges in the Middle East, including taking strong steps to counter the spread of violent extremism and the importance of concluding the agreement that addresses the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
We also, of course, share common purpose in addressing the region’s most acute threat: North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, its rejection of international obligations, its sudden and unwarranted provocations, and its disregard for abiding by international norms and obligations, including respecting the human rights of its own citizens. The United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan understand the need to cooperate on all of these issues because we agree on the fundamental principles that have enabled the success of our nations – principles like human rights, democracy, access to free and fair markets, and the paramount importance of rule of law. Bound by these common values, our alliances have provided the foundation for the region’s transformational growth and stability, and today it is the increasing strength of our regional cooperation that promises to usher in an even brighter future.
With that, let me welcome Vice Foreign Minister Saiki to make some remarks, and then Vice Foreign Minister Cho.
VICE FOREIGN MINISTER SAIKI: Thank you, Tony. First of all, I would like to thank Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken for taking initiative in hosting this three-way dialogue among us, two sets of allies and three close friends. I have had a pleasure of meeting with Tony and Vice Minister Cho Tae-yong individually on several occasions, but our meeting today is the first trilateral consultation at our level – unprecedented.
In this meeting today, we discussed, as Tony just described, the current situation in Northeast Asia, Asian region in a broader context, regional cooperation, global issues, including maritime security, climate change, energy security, Middle East situation, and so forth. United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea share strategic interests on many issues and challenges that we commonly face. We reconfirmed a continued strong commitment to peace and security and stability in the region. We are looking forward to our continued dialogue and cooperation in the days and months ahead.
Thank you, Tony.
VICE FOREIGN MINISTER CHO: Thank you, Tony. Well, the – through the ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral dialogue, we discussed in depth various issues of common interest, including the North Korean nuclear issue, the situation in the Asia Pacific region, and some global issues. In addition to the trilateral summit meetings and foreign ministers meetings that was previously held among the three countries, today’s meeting is actually the first significant opportunity for the vice foreign ministers of three countries to get together and talk about issues of mutual interest. And this year marks a 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II, and the 50th anniversary of normalization of relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan. As Korea prepares for President Park’s visit to the United States and Japan, he’s also getting ready for Prime Minister Abe’s visit. I believe the time is right for us to have the opportunity to discuss ways to strengthen our trilateral cooperation.
Let me briefly go over the results of our discussion today. Firstly, we have reaffirmed close coordination on the North Korean nuclear issue, which is our strategic priority, and agreed to reinforce cooperation with the other partners of the Six-Party Talks to further strengthen the five-party unity.
And secondly, we reaffirmed the importance of the trilateral cooperation for promoting peace and prosperity in the East Asia region and discussed ways to enhance cooperation. We agreed on the need to create an environment that will promote future-oriented cooperation by taking advantage of the upcoming series of summit diplomacy.
The Deputy Secretary Blinken and Vice Minister Saiki appreciated the ROK’s leading role it played in advancing ROK-China-Japan trilateral cooperation in the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative. I emphasized that Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative will supplement the U.S. rebalance to Asia Pacific policy, contribute to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, and improving Korea-Japan relations and have the effect to strengthen current regional cooperative mechanisms, such as East Asia Summit.
Thirdly, the three states recognized the need to face global challenges, including climate change, poverty, epidemics such as Ebola, and violent extremism. We agreed to expand the ROK-U.S. and U.S.-Japan bilateral cooperation on global issues and also to actively seek ways to enhance the trilateral cooperation. In this regard, we agreed to strengthen cooperation in the protection of overseas citizens and information exchange from Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries and agreed to seek ways to increase cooperation on a broader Middle East context by holding a trilateral – a working-level talks.
Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to express once again my sincere appreciation to Deputy Secretary Blinken, who initially proposed today’s gathering and worked hard to make it happen. Thank you, Tony.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
MR RATHKE: Thank you, gentlemen. I believe we have a microphone, which we will use for the questions. The first question today comes from Takashi Imai from Yomiuri Shimbun.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is Takashi Imai from the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japanese daily. My question is directed to all three of you, Deputy Secretary Blinken, Vice Minister Cho, Vice Minister Saiki. What kind of effects of the current tensions between Japan and South Korea had on the peace and stability in East Asia? And also how best should this issue be addressed by each country in order to improve the situation? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m happy to start, then turn it to my colleagues. I think today’s meeting and the work that we’ve done together is very powerful evidence of the fact that our three countries, as a collective – bilaterally between us, between the United States and Korea, between the United States and Japan, and between Japan and Korea – is based on the fact that we have an extraordinary array of shared interests, and that’s built on a foundation of shared values. And that was obvious to me in the conversations we had over many hours today, covering an extraordinary range of issues, as you heard from me and my colleagues.
So I have to say that from the perspective of the United States what we see is three countries working together on the most important issues of our time. And the stronger the relationship among us and the stronger the relations between us, the better off all three of us are. And I think I can safely say that that’s a perspective that both of my colleagues share. So I think the evidence of the strength of the relationships in all of their configurations was manifest today by the work that we did together and the work that we plan to do together over the coming months.
VICE FOREIGN MINISTER SAIKI: Yes. Thank you. I think Tony said it all, but we are here as two sets of allies and three close friends and we discussed extensively many challenges that we face commonly in the region and also elsewhere. Very, very productive discussion we were able to conduct among the three of us. And in the meantime, we had two bilaterals from my viewpoint, and he also had two bilaterals.
Despite some differences, of course, on some of the issues that lie between our ROK friend and Japan, we are talking to each other very seriously. If not here in Washington in full detail, but we are talking to each other all the time. And I think we’re making efforts mutually to include the relationship as close partners in the Northeast Asia. And with the United States, of course – the U.S. is our – the only ally – and we are working very closely with each other to come up with the new defense guideline of the cooperation that is being worked out between the two sides. Thank you.
VICE FOREIGN MINISTER CHO: I can echo many of the things Vice Foreign Minister Saiki and also Tony said about – in response to your question. And first of all, I want to point out that trilateral coordination, cooperation began with our policy coordination towards North Korea or vis-a-vis North Korea. That turned out to be very fruitful, and we are maintaining that tradition. And in today’s discussions, North Korea was featured very high in our agenda. I think we had very substantive discussions.
The second thing I’d like to share with you is that my government’s policy about Korea-Japan relations is that on the one hand we are maintaining a consistent, principled position and stance on the issues of history, and that will continue to be the case. On the other hand, we are promoting cooperation between Korea and Japan on issues, including North Korean issues and other issues where cooperation is necessary and where cooperation is beneficial to both governments, and we are going to continue these discussions.
The final point I’d like to share with you is that actually we found throughout today’s discussions that we have a lot to talk about with each other. We have a lot to cooperate with other, not only on North Korea issues but also on regional issues and also global issues. So I think we have a great need for the three countries to get together and talk about these range of issues.
MR RATHKE: Thank you. Our second question comes from Mikyung Kim from Seoul Shinmun.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Mikyung Kim with The Seoul Shinmun Daily, Korea. I’m very honored to ask a question of each of you. To Deputy Secretary Blinken, while Korea and Japan have historical and territorial conflicts more than ever before but the U.S. Government is – has emphasized the trilateral cooperation and bilateral reconciliation more than ever, does this situation mean that the U.S. is willing to mediate between Korea and Japan?
And to Vice Minister Saiki, considering this kind of serious conflict between Korea and Japan, can we expect anything positive and helpful to solve the problem from your prime minister, Shinzo Abe’s joint address to Congress this time?
And to Vice Minister Cho, last but not least, you have mentioned two-track approach with Japan, but can we have the real, I mean, productive cooperation for security and economy without Seoul being those historical and territorial problems? Thank you so much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: I want to first remark on the very artful way that one question became three. (Laughter.) It’s very well done.
What strikes me from the hours that we spent together today is that the interests that we share and the values that we share are both at the trilateral level amongst the three of us, but also at the bilateral level between each of us, including between Japan and Korea. And it is powerfully obvious that for whatever tensions exist in relations, what Japan and Korea have in common in terms of a shared perspective on the challenges and opportunities before both countries – that far, far outweighs any of the differences that may exist. And today’s conversation, today’s discussion made that very, very, very clear.
We are not mediating between Japan and the Republic of Korea. We are simply encouraging our closest friends to have the strongest possible relationship, because it matters to us. Our ability to tackle together the many challenges we talked about is enhanced when the relationship between us is as strong as possible. And I think I can say with humility that I believe it matters to the people of Japan and Korea. So again, I come back to the very basic and important proposition that when you look at everything we talked about today, when you looked at the work that our countries are doing together bilaterally, trilaterally, and all of the different configurations, there is a common agenda, a common approach, common interests, common values. That’s what unites us and that’s what will continue to unite us going forward.
VICE FOREIGN MINISTER SAIKI: Okay. Thank you for the good question. You asked me about the history issue between ROK and Japan. Japan is a responsible member of the international community. We squarely face the history, okay? And we know that our prime minister has publicly stated his view about the history. And I think it is also very important for Korea and Japan to focus on the last 50 years, a 50-year history between ROK and Japan which have been very positive. We have cooperated so much in various fields bilaterally and elsewhere. And I think this is another important aspect to history that we should look at. Both sides are responsible for making the relationship better, and Japan, on its part, will continue to make efforts to improve the relationship with the Korean friends. And I’m hoping that our Korean friends are also going to do the same thing with us.
The speech you mentioned that the prime minister will be addressing the joint session of the U.S. Congress, prime minister is still working on that. I haven’t seen the draft yet, so I cannot answer your question. (Laughter.)
VICE FOREIGN MINISTER CHO: Well, the – on questions of history, as I said, we have our own consistent and principled position, and in the bilateral settings between Korea and Japan today, I had a chance to share my government’s position with Japanese delegation. The – although we have differences, I don’t think that will be the end of the – our undertaking. In spite of the differences, we find ways to cooperate on issues and areas where cooperation is good and beneficial to Korea as well as for Japan.
And if I may, if the cooperation is beneficial to the peace and prosperity of the whole region and beyond, of course we’ll have to find a wisdom to promote cooperating between Korea and Japan. So the one difference – difference in one issue should not be the end of this undertaking. The diplomacy – diplomacy is about working – trying to find a way to work together while we have healthy differences on issues.
MR RATHKE: Our final question comes from Pam Dockins of VOA.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. You mentioned that you addressed regional concerns in your meeting today. One of the regional concerns has been China’s growing presence in the South China Seas, in particular, reports of its possible air strip in the Spratly Islands. Did you talk about this in your discussion today, and if so, will it lead to any new expression of concerns to China?
Then secondly, Deputy Secretary Blinken, if I could jump over to Yemen and ask you about this: There have been tense words between Iraq and Saudi Arabia over the past couple of days concerning the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Today the Iraqi prime minister seemed to soften his position on this issue. Are you satisfied with his response? And then secondly, do you believe that Iraq is supportive of the Saudi-led effort?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. I’m happy to start. Let me take the second question first with regard to Yemen. I think I’ll let the Iraqi prime minister’s remarks speak for themselves, and I certainly don’t want to qualify his views, but indeed you heard what he said today in further elaboration of the remarks that he made yesterday, and I thought what he said today was compelling – understanding the history of Iraq and indeed the present history of Iraq going through conflict and desiring that there be no conflicts anywhere else, if he could help it.
And indeed, what’s happening in Yemen is a reflection of two important developments. First, Yemen has tremendous challenges that it has been experiencing for many, many years. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that it was two countries, not one. And there are different cleavages and different fissures that create significant challenges. But what we’ve seen over the last two years is a remarkable process led by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to establish a political transition plan and then, emerging from that, a national dialogue that brought all Yemenis together to decide together the future of their country. And it was a challenging process, a difficult process. It didn’t always stick to its schedule, but it was moving the country forward. And unfortunately, that process was interrupted by the Houthis in alliance with the former president, Mr. Saleh, to take over the institutions of the country by force. And Saudi Arabia and other countries stood up against that proposition, that an armed group could take over the country by force and interrupt a transition process that was working to bring the country together. And we have been very supportive of that effort.
But the purpose of the effort that Saudi Arabia and other countries are undertaking with our support is to bring people back to the political process, to the dialogue table, to resume the implementation of the GCC initiative and the national dialogue outcomes. And so I think that’s very consistent with the desires, indeed, that you heard expressed by the Iraqi prime minister to go where we’re all trying to go, which is back to a political process, a process that unfortunately was interrupted by the actions of the Houthis and their supporters. So that’s what we’re trying to accomplish in Yemen.
With regard to the South China Sea and other maritime issues, yes, that was the subject of discussion. I think that all three of us – well, let me just speak for myself and the United States – we certainly have concern about some of the actions that China is taking in South China Seas, East China Seas, and those are concerns that we’ve expressed directly to our Chinese friends on many occasions. But I think these are concerns that are shared not just by the United States and, presumably, by my colleagues, but also by many countries in the region. And what we’ve said and what I think we all agree on is the need to pursue any claims that countries have with strict adherence and respect for the rule of law, for the norms and standards that have been established to work through these kinds of claims and not to take unilateral actions. And my hope is that increasingly that is what all claimants will do in the area. But certainly, this was a topic of conversation among us today.
VICE FOREIGN MINISTER SAIKI: Yes, China – yes, we discussed. We have consensus among us, three of us, that peaceful and harmonious rise of China – we all welcome this. At the same time, China, as a major power not only in this region but globally, has a responsibility to abide by law – abide by international law or abide by the regionally-agreed rules and framework. From that perspective, Chinese behavior – military behaviors – in the region recently in South China Sea – many countries in the region have deep concern about what they are doing. And I think China has a responsibility to address properly the concerns which are being shared by the members of the region – in this part of the world, in Asia and Tokyo. Thank you.
VICE FOREIGN MINISTER CHO: Well, the – I think all three countries agreed that China’s rise is an important phenomenon that’s happening in Northeast Asia and East Asia in general. And we all agree that the – all three countries, all of us, have the need to engage China in a dialogue so that we can find common ground with China.
And about South China Sea, my government’s position has been consistent and coherent: that is, we have to take advantage of the existing framework – that’s Declaration of Conduct between China and ASEAN countries. So we’ll have to take advantage of that framework so that we can preserve the freedom of navigation, we can preserve stability in that body of the water. And we also hope – Korea also hopes that the code of conduct that’s being discussed between China and ASEAN countries can be concluded as soon as possible. I hope that with that, the South China Sea can have a stable situation so that trading nations like Korea can enjoy this body of water for the purpose of trading, for the purpose of shipping goods back and forth.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much.
MR RATHKE: Thank you very much.