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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Preview of the Official Visit of Prime Minister Abe of Japan

Evan Medeiros, Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director for Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
April 27, 2015

1:00 P.M. EDT 



MR MEDEIROS:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s great to be here.  Thanks for inviting me.  It’s always a pleasure for me to talk to my friends in the foreign press, and especially the Asian press.

What I’d like to do today is talk a little bit about our Asia rebalancing policy, and specifically Prime Minister Abe’s visit.  As you know, the President and the entire Administration remain fully committed to the Asia rebalancing policy.  As the President has said many times, America is a Pacific power and we’re in Asia to stay.  Our Asia rebalancing policy begins at its foundation with a vision: We want to build a stable and diversified security order, we want to build an open and transparent economic order, and build a liberal political order.  We’ve been pursuing this vision step by step since 2009, and I think we’ve got a lot to show for it.

Now from this vision flow a series of strategies and policies, and that’s what we’ve been pursuing for the last several years.  And those strategies and those policies have been outlined in numerous speeches by the President, by the national security advisor, by Secretary Kerry, Secretary Carter, many members of the Administration.  And this vision is based on the fundamental belief that America’s economic and security interests are increasingly and inextricably linked to the Asia Pacific, which is why this Administration uniquely has been devoting so much time, energy, and resources to rebalancing U.S. foreign policy to the Asia Pacific.  And this is something we’re going to be deeply engaged in until the end of the Administration.

So to that end, 2014 – 2014 was a great year for our Asia policy with two notable trips by the President to the region, and I think we’ve got a lot to show for it.  We have a big climate deal with China and a whole variety of other economic and security arrangements that were highlighted during the President’s historic trip to Beijing in November of last year.  We signed new defense agreements with the Philippines and Australia, we signed a comprehensive partnership with Malaysia, and we made a lot of progress on TPP.

2015 is going to be an even better year for our Asia rebalancing policy.  As a demonstration of the President’s commitment to Asia for 2015, he’s going to be spending a lot of time with Asian leaders.  As you know, Prime Minister Abe is visiting, as is President Park of South Korea, President Xi of China, and President Widodo of Indonesia.  And two of those visits – Prime Minister Abe and President Xi – are at the level of official visit and state visit.  The President will also travel to Asia in the fall for APEC and the EAS. 

We’re kicking off 2015 with the official visit of Prime Minister Abe, the first for a Japanese leader since 2006, and this – we’re doing this to affirm the centrality of Japan to our Asia policy.  Prime Minister Abe has a vision for Japan, a vision of Japan that is more economically vibrant at home, active in Asia, and working with partners like the United States globally.  And it’s that vision and that cooperation and that partnership that we’re going to celebrate this week with this official visit.

What I’d like to do is run through the schedule of the visit, talk about a few themes, and then talk about some of the issues that Prime Minister Abe and President Obama will discuss.  In terms of the schedule, Prime Minister Abe has four stops – Boston, Washington, San Francisco, and LA.  The major bilateral portion of his visit will be in Washington, and that will be the activities tomorrow.  There is an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, there’s an Oval Office meeting, there’ll be a press conference.  The Vice President and Secretary Kerry will host a lunch at the State Department.  And then of course, there will be a state dinner at the White House with nearly 300 guests.

Also, as many of you know, today we had a very historic meeting in New York.  Secretary Kerry and Carter presided over a “2+2 meeting” with their Japanese counterparts in which they released very significant revisions to the U.S.-Japan bilateral defense guidelines.  And let me just add, related to the state dinner, something that was announced last week that’s nice and new is we’ve chosen the state dinner with Japan to release the Obama family’s – or the new White House china.  If you look on the website, there’s wonderful examples of what the new china looks like.  It’s Kailua blue.  And we’re going to try it out for the first time, and if you call me afterwards, I’ll tell you how it is.  (Laughter.)

In terms of the themes of the visit, there are a few themes that I think are worth highlighting.  2015 is an important year in the history of international relations in the Asia Pacific because it’s the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.  World War II was a very difficult period in the history of Asia, as we all know.  And the U.S.-Japan relationship has changed remarkably since then.  And the relationship today highlights the power and the possibility of reconciliation between former adversaries.  As the region thinks about how to deal with history questions this year, we believe that the remarkable example of reconciliation – going from staunch adversaries to close allies, allies that are partnering on both regional and global challenges – is an important symbol for the region, and it’s something that all of us can learn from.

A second major theme we’d like to highlight with Prime Minister Abe’s visit is the transformation of the U.S.-Japan relationship.  In other words, in both economic and security terms, we’re doing big, important things.  The new defense guidelines is the area where we’re making big progress in the defense relationship, and TPP and other areas represents the economic – the areas where we’re making progress on the economic side of the relationship.

But simply put, the breadth and the depth of the U.S.-Japan relationship is at an all-time high right now, which leads me to a third theme, which is the increasingly global scope and global nature of U.S.-Japan cooperation.  There’s almost no global challenge, or there’s no challenge facing the international community where the U.S. and Japan aren’t working closely, whether it’s climate change or health security, nuclear security, countering violent extremism, cyber security, space security, Iran, Russia.  This is a partnership that has gone global, at the same time that the overall Asia Pacific rebalancing strategy, as my colleague Danny Russel likes to say, has gone global.  And I think the – our partnership with Japan nicely captures the importance of the U.S. not only doing more in Asia, but our friends, allies, and partners in Asia doing more with the United States around the world.

These themes and these messages are going to be reflected in a variety of different documents that I recommend that you take a look at tomorrow.  There will be a joint vision statement, there will be a joint statement on nonproliferation, there will be a bilateral fact sheet, and then of course, at the press conference at the beginning, both the President and Prime Minister Abe will give a prepared statement as well.

In the Oval Office meeting, the two leaders will discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global issues.  On the bilateral front, they’ll talk about recent changes to our alliance and the importance of keeping progress on our force posture realignment issues related to Okinawa – keeping them on track and making sure that both sides continue to meet their existing commitments. 

I encourage you to think of it this way: You’ve got the guidelines decision on the one hand, progress on realignment on the other.  The two in combination, I think, speak to the new level of coordination on security issues between the U.S. and Japan.  Regionally, the two leaders will talk about North Korea, Southeast Asia, maritime security, regional economic affairs.  Of course, they’ll talk about our joint approach to North Korea, the importance of sustaining a unified approach aimed at denuclearizing the North Korean peninsula – the Korean peninsula and, of course, deterring future provocations.  They will talk about China and the importance of both sides having a constructive, productive relationship with China.

The President and the White House have been very public about supporting the recent improvement in Japan-China relations.  We appreciate the recent and value the recent meeting between Prime Minister Abe and President Xi that demonstrates leadership on the part of both Beijing and Tokyo.  We hope to see this continue.  But of course, both of us have differences with China, and we’ll talk about the most effective ways to continue managing those to ensure stability and prosperity in Asia in the future.

Globally, issues like Russia, Iran, climate change, global health security, nuclear security will all come up.  But in particular, let me highlight some of the cooperation we’ve had with Japan on climate change.  On climate change, Japan has been a longstanding, strong partner and there is broad agreement on both sides that Paris be successful.  In particular, we appreciate Japan’s contribution to the global – the Green Climate Fund, which was 1.5 billion, the second largest after the United States.  And it was the U.S.-Japan contribution – the two contributions together at the G20 last year that really galvanized what has become a very significant contribution, which I believe is now – overall, it’s at about $10 billion, which is significant.

So why don’t I stop there and open it up for your questions.


QUESTION:  Thank you, Evan, for doing this.  Since Japanese media has --

MODERATOR:  If you could say who you are.

QUESTION:  Oh, I’m Ching-Yi Chang with Shanghai Media Group.  Since Japanese media already reports that, I’d like to know whether President Obama and Prime Minister Abe will discuss the potential joint surveillance in the South China Sea, and will the U.S. support Japan’s further involvement in the South China Sea?  Thank you.

MR MEDEIROS:  Thanks, Ching-Yi.  That’s an important question.  Our position on the South China Sea has been very clear and very consistent.  We have fundamental national interests in the freedom of navigation, the protection of international law, unimpeded commerce, and peaceful resolution of disputes.  And in those areas, the U.S. and Japan are in lockstep, and we think it’s important that the parties to these maritime disputes pursue diplomatic solutions, they don’t use coercion, and they look for ways to resolve them through existing frameworks.  For example, in the South China Sea there’s a code of conduct that’s currently being negotiated between China and ASEAN countries.  We’d like to see that progress accelerated and concluded as soon as possible. 

But there are some real challenges in addressing issues like the South China Sea – in particular, China’s land reclamation and the construction on that reclaimed land.  In the last year, China has reclaimed more land than all the other claimants combined in over a decade.   The speed, the scale, and the scope of this is very problematic.  It’s raising anxiety in the region.  It is undermining the prospect for diplomacy.  We note that on – that earlier this month, the Chinese foreign ministry made a statement about land reclamation in which they even highlighted that China would use these reclaimed land and the construction on them for national defense purposes, which has raised all sorts of questions among Southeast Asian countries, in the United States, in Tokyo about what China’s long-term strategic intentions are.  So I think that there will be a broad discussion on these kinds of issues, but in the context of both sides wanting a constructive relationship with China and hoping that we can get clarity from China about what it intends to do on these maritime disputes.  Thank you.

Let’s take somebody – right there.  That’s right.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Jane from China Caixin News.  You mentioned about the – one of the big thing this time is the reconciliation between the former adversary.  So will America encourage your Japanese counterpart to attend the ceremony in China, and will American send the official or representative to China for the ceremony?  Thank you.

MR MEDEIROS:  Thanks, Jane.  That’s an important question.  As I said, 2015 is a very important year for Asia because we’re all thinking through how to address the long legacy of history from World War II.  And our position on the history issue has always been that countries should address it from the perspective of being constructive, being forthright, but also from the perspective of promoting healing, looking to the future, and finding a real and final resolution to these questions. 

So when it comes to the issue of – you raised the September ceremony by China – we’re looking at that question.  But the issue is will a large military parade – will that send a signal of reconciliation?  Will that promote healing?  Will that take a forward-oriented approach?  These are the kinds of questions we have when we look at that, because what we want is for history to be history.  We want for the region to get past it so the region can realize its full potential as a driver of global growth, for example.

So when we think about these history questions and when we think about this ceremony in China, these are the kinds of considerations that we’re looking at. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Evan.  John Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan.  Evan, you have been talking about the issue of China in the President’s meeting with Prime Minister Abe.  How big is the China issue in these talks and what kind of a message both the United States and Japan actually want to send to China?  Because the summit and the series of activities are being closely watched in Beijing.  Thank you.

MR MEDEIROS:  Thank you.  It’s a very good question.  First and foremost, this summit meeting is about the U.S.-Japan relationship.  It’s about the reconciliation.  It’s about our growing bilateral, regional, and global cooperation.  It’s about shared visions for regional security, regional prosperity and globally.  So first and foremost, it’s about the U.S. and Japan. 

It’s normal and natural in these discussions for big regional questions, like the rise of China, to come up.  There’s nothing about this summit meeting that is pointed, directed at China.  As I said, this meeting is fundamentally about the U.S.-Japan relationship, but China will come up because it’s a major player in East Asia.  I think that that’s normal and natural, and I think the fundamental message is is that the United States and Japan both want a productive and constructive relationship with China.  We’d like to work with China both in Asia and globally on both economic and security challenges.  We appreciate the contributions that China has made in the past year.  I mean, I’m sure that you watched very closely President Obama’s trip last year, which I think was one of the most productive ones.  Xi Jinping showed real leadership in working with us on commitments on climate change, on global health security.  We appreciate China’s close coordination with us on big challenges like North Korea’s nuclear program and Iran’s nuclear program.

So I think that the U.S. and Japan are in close alignment about the desire for China’s rise to be peaceful.  But where we have agreements, we will be very straightforward about them because the U.S. and Japan are two countries that have a very clear vision for security and prosperity in the region.  We believe a rules-based order is the best way to organize security and economic affairs.  We think that that provides ample room for China to play a constructive role, and so I think that those kinds of themes will be the nature and tenor of our conversation.

Let’s take one in the back.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Lu Zhenhua from 21st Century Business Herald.

MR MEDEIROS:  Can you speak up, please?

QUESTION:  Lu Zhenhua from 21st Century Business Herald, China.  As the trade promotion authority bill was stuck in the Congress, do you foresee a breakthrough of the TPP negotiations during this bilateral leaders state meeting?

MR MEDEIROS:  Thanks.  I appreciate your raising TPP.  It’s an important issue.  What I’d say on TPP is that substantial progress has been made in the last week in negotiations.  As some of you may know, Mike Froman was just out in Tokyo.  The major areas that the negotiations are focusing on right now is autos and agriculture.  There’s still some outstanding issues that are going to have to be worked on in order to get a good agreement.  So I don’t anticipate any formal announcement.  But the summit gives the two leaders an opportunity to review the progress, to chart a path ahead, and importantly, for both leaders to now begin talking about how they can work together in the TPP context, so with the other members of TPP to ensure that the negotiations reach a swift and a successful conclusion.  And I think that’s important to highlight, that now the two leaders are thinking about how they can cooperate to bring the overall negotiation to a swift and a successful conclusion.

Let’s see, right here.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Medeiros.  My name is Wada, I’m with Japan’s Mainichi newspaper.  My question is – well, I have many questions, but my question is --

MR MEDEIROS:  Let’s stick to one.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Yeah, I’ll try.

MR MEDEIROS:  No, and a one-part one question.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Okay, okay.  Let me ask you about Japan-U.S. alliance getting stronger and its implication for the other parts of the world.  You’re rebalancing to Asia Pacific, but at the same time a lot of things are going on in the Middle East and also Ukraine, Russia.  How is Obama Administration resourceful enough to really focus on Asia Pacific while so many things are going on in other parts of the world?  And in connection with Russia, Japan has a history with them over northern territories.  How are you going to maintain Japan-U.S. relationship while Japan has to take care of this special history on this?  Thank you.

MR MEDEIROS:  Thanks.  Thanks for the question.  We often get questions like this about the sustainability of the rebalance, and I’d like to answer it like this:  First and foremost, look at our track record.  We’re seven years into the Administration.  The rebalance started in 2009 and we have a long and impressive list of accomplishments, of things we’ve done with partners in the region.  The U.S.-Japan – the changes in the U.S.-Japan relationship – turning it into a global partnership; expanding the scope of the alliance; cooperating together on TPP; addressing global challenges – that’s just the latest example of what I believe is a long list of accomplishments. 

So in other words, America is a global power.  We can walk and chew gum at the same time.  Judge us by our track record.  And look at – simply look at the amount of time that the President and his Cabinet secretaries are devoting to the region.  This year alone, Ash Carter has gone to Asia once; it’s likely he’s going to go again.  As I mentioned at the beginning of the presentation, the President has invited at least four Asian leaders to the White House.  Both state dinners are given to Asian leaders.  The President’s going to be traveling back there this year.  So I think our track record speaks for itself.  We can walk and chew gum at the same time, and we’re doing it in Asia.


QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  I have a follow-up question on --

MR MEDEIROS:  Where are you from?

QUESTION:  Oh, sorry.  Wei Xuejiao from China Central Television.  I have a question, a follow-up on historical issues.  As we know, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is going to make a speech in Congress, and as you mentioned, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.  And in terms of historical issues, so are you expecting a kind of apology such as – on that podium, such as comfort women issue?  And also, did you give any suggestion on his speech?  I mean, especially on that podium.  Thank you.

MR MEDEIROS:  Right, thanks for the question.  As I mentioned in response to an earlier question, our – we talk about history issues with Japan, with the ROK, with China, with a lot of countries in Asia.  And when we talk about them, we’re very – we encourage our partners and allies and friends to address them in a very constructive, forthright way, to be honest, but also to promote healing and look to the future.  And that’s essentially our basic approach, and we think that the more that countries in the region can take that kind of constructive approach and let history be history, but be mindful of it, the better off the region will be in terms of its ability to cooperate.

On the question of Japan and the ROK, our alliance system is one of the most unique attributes of the U.S. position in the Asia Pacific.  And improving the relationship between Japan and the ROK and ensuring that they cooperate closely is a strategic imperative for the United States.  The President has talked about this with both President Park and Prime Minister Abe.  You may recall that in March of last year the President hosted a very unique trilateral summit on nuclear security issues, which was the first time that all three leaders got together and the first time that President Park and Prime Minister Abe as leaders were in the room together. 

So the United States has made very clear that we’re going to be active in ensuring that our closest allies in the region have a constructive relationship, and that includes addressing the history issues in a constructive way that focuses on the future and ensures that final resolution of these questions can be generated.

Let’s see.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  My name is Tong Kim with Korea Times.  When President Obama meets with Prime Minister Abe, would he offer a new kind of approach to North Korean nuclear issue?  Or they’re going to just confirm the need or so far the same approach, staying the course of doing nothing unless and until North Korea shows something different? 

Second part of my question is --

MR MEDEIROS:  Let’s just take the first part.


MR MEDEIROS:  On the first part on North Korea, our approach is not do nothing, and I’ve never liked the term strategic patience because it implies passivity.  We have a very active approach to North Korea.  First and foremost, it begins with the priority on denuclearization.  It begins with the premise of holding North Korea to account to its international obligations and its international commitments, especially numerous UN Security Council resolutions.  It begins with the premise of strong unity between the U.S., between the five parties of the Six-Party Talks, ensuring that North Korea keeps to its commitments and its obligations.  So it’s actually a very active approach.  Japan is a key part of that. 

And I think the degree of unity and solidarity that we’ve demonstrated on the North Korea question is a real strength and achievement of the Obama Administration approach.  We don’t believe in talks for the sake of talks.  We’re not going to just go back to talks because North Korea wants them.  Rather we need to see some sign that there is a seriousness of purpose and a willingness to commit to denuclearization and to take actions that reflect a real commitment to denuclearization.  And only under those circumstances are we interested in looking at a dialogue-based approach.  There is broad agreement between the U.S. and Japan that the current approach is the right one.  It’s a very active one based on the premises that I laid out.  And I expect the two leaders to confirm that tomorrow.

QUESTION:  Second part of my question --

MR MEDEIROS:  No.  Let’s go to another question, please.


QUESTION:  Thanks so much, Evan.  My name is Atsushi Okudera from Asahi Shimbun.  Let me ask about the reconciliation.  I think there is two parts of reconciliation.  One is within Japan and United States, and second one is Japan – no, no, Japan and Asian Pacific regions. 

Firstly, the – particularly in the Asian Pacific, as you know, Prime Minister Abe has already expressed the deep remorse on the last World War II, what the Japanese did.  And he set and he succeeded the last formal statement, like Kono Statement or Murayama Statement.  But actually, there is a significant gap between Japan and China or South Korea.  So as you mentioned last week, United States encourage kind of a constructive approach to these issues.  So do you think – what do you think about the significant gap?  And is it a constructive approach that Prime Minister Abe is doing?

And second one is U.S.-Japan.  I think it’s – Prime Minister Abe invited the prisoner of the World War II to the joint session of Congress.  I think this is also one of the reconciliation.  What do you think about this kind of attitude?  Thanks so much.

MR MEDEIROS:  Great.  Thanks for the question, another question about history issues. 

So on Prime Minister Abe’s statement, I think that – or statements – I think that he has made some important and constructive statements this year.  In early January, he made some very constructive statements where he talked about his approach and his thinking on World War II.  He talked about remorse, et cetera.  Those were very constructive.  I noted that when he saw President Xi Jinping last week, he reiterated the Murayama Statement and the Koizumi Statement.  In other contexts, he’s reiterated his administration’s commitment to the Kono Statement. 

I think these are all very important and constructive steps.  That’s what we’re talking about when we encourage our partners to take constructive and forward-leaning approaches to the history issues.  So we welcome them and we think that the more that history issues can be dealt with in this kind of forward – looking to – in a way that focuses on the future will be important, and again, something that we stress with Japan, but it’s something that we stress with China and the ROK as well.

MODERATOR:  We have time for one more question.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  My name is Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.  Another China question.  When you talk about the two leaders is going to talk about their differences on China, I assume AIIB and Diaoyu Island and Senkaku – or Senkaku will also be mentioned.  Could you please shed some lights on how the two leaders would address these two issues?  Thank you.

MR MEDEIROS:  Well, first, on the question of AIIB, I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding of the U.S. position.  The United States does not oppose the AIIB.  We agree with China that there is a need for greater infrastructure investment in Asia and globally, and we appreciate their initiative on this. 

The United States welcomes multilateral institutions like the AIIB provided that they share the international community’s commitment to high-quality standards for decision making, for lending requirements, for safeguards, et cetera.  And the United States is going to continue to engage with China in constructive conversations about how to ensure that the AIIB as an institution adopts and implements these high-quality international standards. 

We want this area of infrastructure investment and working through multilateral development banks to be an area of cooperation between the United States and China.  And that’s why we’re encouraging the AIIB to work with existing institutions like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank to jointly fund projects.  We think that that has a great opportunity to open a channel of interaction to ensure that high-quality standards and best practices are adopted, but also, importantly for the AIIB, to develop a track record of success in supporting the existing international institutions.

And your second question, remind me, on the Senkakus was?

QUESTION:  How will the President address this issue?

MR MEDEIROS:  Look, our position on the Senkakus has been very clear.  There’s been no change.  The President will encourage support for a diplomatic solution, but at the same time reaffirm our commitment to the application of Article 5 and oppose any unilateral actions by China to undermine Japan’s administration.  That’s been our policy, there’s been no change in that.

I’m happy to take one or two more questions.

MODERATOR:  Go right ahead.

QUESTION:  Back to Taiwan, please?

MR MEDEIROS:  Okay.  You.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Thank you, Evan.  John Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan again.


QUESTION:  Will Taiwan be mentioned at all in these talks, particularly when you discuss the defense guidelines?  Secondly, the KMT chair is going to Beijing to meet with Xi Jinping right after the President and the prime ministers meeting.


QUESTION:  What do you think of the event?  Thank you.

MR MEDEIROS:  It’s an interesting question, John.  I don’t anticipate Taiwan coming up.  It’s not something that would normally or naturally come up between the U.S. and Japan in this kind of meeting.  But what I would say is I think that there is a strong, abiding interest on the part of the United States in ensuring cross-strait stability and security.  We’re very firm in our commitments to these issues and these principles in our relationship with Taiwan. 

On the question that you raise about the KMT chairman’s visit to China, I mean, our approach has always been very consistent, which is we support any and all cross-strait interactions that are done at a pace and in a manner acceptable to both sides and in a way that ensures continued cross-strait stability.  In that context, I thought it was interesting that about a month ago, Zhang Zhijun had an editorial in – I believe it was People’s Daily in which he talked about being open to interactions and conversations with all aspects of Taiwan society.  We think that’s an important, constructive step as Taiwan enters into its election period. 

As you know, as a democracy, we’ll be in touch with all sides about their position and their approach.  I follow very closely what Dr. Tsai has to say about cross-strait issues.  I thought her recent comments were quite interesting and quite constructive, and we look forward to hearing more from her about what her approach is all about.

Thank you.  We’ll stop there. 

MODERATOR:  All right.  Thanks, everyone. 

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