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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Background Press Briefing on Vice President Biden's Trip to China, Japan and the Republic of Korea

Via Teleconference

9:19 A.M. EST

MS. TROTTER:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for joining us this morning to learn more about the Vice President’s trip to China, Japan and South Korea next week.  Our speakers today, who you can quote as senior administration officials, will get us started with some information about the Vice President’s schedule and goals during his trip, and then we’ll take some of your questions.  And if we could limit it to one question per person and outlet, that would be great.

And with that, I will let our first speaker get started.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, everybody, for joining the call today.  I’ll spend a few minutes at the top giving a broad outline of the purpose behind the trip, and then the main elements at each of the three stops, and turn it over to one of my colleagues to provide some more context and color, and then we’d be happy to take your questions.

As most of you know, the Vice President will be traveling next week to Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, leaving on Sunday, December 1st, returning to the United States on Saturday, December 8th.  And above all, the trip will underscore the administration’s strong commitment to the rebalance, and to our enduring role as a Pacific power.  It is an opportunity to give lift to our treaty alliances and to advance our very important relationship with China.

As the Vice President has said before, we, right from the top of this administration, the President on down, we’re all in on the rebalance in all of its dimensions -- economic, strategic and values-based.  And this trip will cap a very active year of engagement by this administration in the Asia Pacific region.  Just in the last few months, you’ve seen Secretary Hagel visiting both Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia; Secretary Kerry, Secretary Pritzker, Secretary Moniz, Secretary Lew, Ambassador Froman, all making trips out to the region and engaging on a variety of issues across the spectrum of our engagement.  And of course, last week our National Security Advisor Susan Rice gave an important speech on the second-term agenda for Asia Pacific policy at Georgetown University.

So the list of engagement at the Cabinet level and higher goes on, but fundamentally the message is clear and simple:  The United States is a resident Pacific power, we’re here to stay, and we’re actively engaged on the full spectrum of issues in the region. 

Now, in addition to that broad message that the Vice President will carry with him to each of his stops, there’s obviously a range of urgent and immediate issues that will benefit from high-level attention on this trip.  And we’ll look forward to discussing some of those during the question and answer session -- our efforts to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, our efforts to bring about a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, our efforts to contribute to the lowering of tensions and the advance of diplomacy on the East China Sea and the South China Sea, our efforts to strengthen our economic relationship with China coming out of their third plenum, and to enhance implementation of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and of course important alliance issues in both Japan and Korea.

And it’s especially important, I think, at a time when there is the potential in the region for some miscalculation, some mistrust, that we continue to amplify our messages -- that we are and always will be there for our allies, and that there is a way for two major powers in the U.S. and China to build a different kind of relationship for the 21st century.  So this is an important moment in the Asia Pacific and an important moment in our relationships with all three of the countries the Vice President will be visiting. 

So just a couple of minutes on the specific elements of the agenda on each of the three stops.  In Japan, the Vice President will travel to Tokyo where he’ll meet and have a working dinner with Prime Minister Abe.  He’ll also meet with members of the Diet, including Deputy Prime Minister Aso.  And he’ll be joined by the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy for an event to highlight the role of women in the Japanese economy and the reform agenda on this set of issues being pursued by the Japanese government.  And in that regard, he will be touring a local technology company that’s owned and run by a woman entrepreneur, and he’ll host a roundtable discussion to explore the challenges faced by women as they enter and remain in the workplace.

He will then move on to Beijing, where he will have bilateral meetings with President Xi, Vice President Li and Premier Li to cover the broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues.  And here he will pick up where President Obama and President Xi left off after Sunnylands and the G20, with the kind of high-level, personal engagement between the top leaderships of our two countries that is an essential part of advancing the U.S.-China relationship in the 21st century.

In Seoul, the Vice President will meet with President Park and Prime Minister Jong.  He’ll deliver keynote remarks at Yonsei University on the U.S.-Korea relationship, which will -- it has its 60th anniversary of the alliance this year, as well as on the U.S. approach and policy towards the Asia Pacific at large.

The Vice President will also have the opportunity with -- to meet with both of our countries’ troops and to receive a briefing on security on the peninsula.  And he will also lay a wreath at a cemetery honoring those Americans who gave their lives six decades ago to help secure a free and democratic South Korea.

With that, let me turn it over to my colleague to add a little bit of texture, and then we’ll be happy to open it up to your questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great, thanks.  This is a long-planned trip by the Vice President.  And as my colleague just said, it’s part of a continuum of U.S. engagement in the Asia Pacific, and the capstone of which really has been an extraordinary year of high-level interaction in Washington as well as in the region with leaders from both North and Southeast Asia.

I think the fact that Vice President Biden has extraordinarily close and warm relations with the leaders of each of the three countries that he’s going to be visiting next week is quite an important factor in diplomacy and in the rebalance. 

Vice President Biden spent a considerable amount of time with Prime Minister Abe.  He had a very good meeting in Washington with President Park.  And I would say he knows President Xi as well or better than probably any American, and possibly virtually any leader.  So this matters.  And I think that what you will see is that this relationship enables him to conduct a high-level and a high-quality dialogue that’s particularly valuable today among these three countries.  I would say all four of us -- the U.S. and the Japanese, the Chinese and the South Koreans -- share quite a rich agenda across the spectrum of economic and security and global and regional issues, so it warrants this kind of high-level, close coordination.

And we all share an interest in addressing a lot of the regional and the global challenges that my colleague has mentioned, as well as addressing some issues and regional tensions that need to be talked through calmly and directly.  So I would look at this visit as an opportunity to consult, to discuss, to explain, to clarify, and to do so at a very senior level at a very important time.


Q    The Wall Street Journal.  Good morning, thanks so much.  Would it be accurate to say that Vice President Biden’s trip to China will have the goal of de-escalating the military confrontation there?  Any comments on that appreciated.

Also because I stepped away for a moment, if you could repeat the ground rules for how to attribute this and the name of the other speaker, that would be great.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I’ll turn it over to my colleague to answer the substantive question.  The ground rules are that this is a call on background, with attribution to senior administration officials.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Fine.  Well, I’m going to take a guess that what you mean by confrontation is the issue of the recent Chinese decision or announcement to create an air defense information zone in the East China Sea.  Because the fact of the matter is that in terms of U.S.-China military-to-military, our relations, we’ve had a number of very strong mil-mil programs throughout the year, high-level exchanges, quite a good dialogue.  And this military-to-military engagement is a very important part of our overall bilateral relationship and a place where we are seeking to maintain continuous and open dialogue.  This was very much the topic of discussion in previous visit by Vice President Biden.  And we’ve seen good progress since then.

On the issue of the air defense information zone, we have already gone on the record from the Pentagon and elsewhere what the basic U.S. policy is.  And I won’t rehash that.  But clearly the visit to China creates an opportunity for the Vice President to discuss directly with policymakers in Beijing this issue to convey our concerns directly and to seek clarity regarding the Chinese intentions in making this move at this time.

It also allows the Vice President I think to make the broader point that there is an emerging pattern of behavior by China that is unsettling to China’s own neighbors, and raising questions about how China operates in international space and how China deals with areas of disagreement with its neighbors.

But at the same time, to put it in perspective, the Vice President of the United States is not traveling to Beijing to deliver a demarché, let alone on a single issue.  He’s going to have a very high-level and a very wide-ranging dialogue with senior Chinese leadership that covers a wide range of shared interests, along with areas of concern, areas of cooperation, and areas of de-confliction.

Q    Reuters.  Thanks very much for holding the call and for taking my question. 

I wanted to continue to ask about how the Vice President will address the issue of the air defense identification zone that appears to be causing some tensions in the region.  My question is:  What is his role going to be with regard to that issue?  Will it be to mediate between China and Japan?  Or will it be to back up the Japanese who are a key U.S. ally? 

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We’re talking about international air space.  We’re not talking about overflights of sovereign territory, and so there is legitimate interest by the United States, as well as by the international community in as much as commercial airlines and civil aircraft and in some cases military aircraft routinely overfly the area that is bounded by the ADIZ that China has declared.

So in the first instance there is a need for China to clarify its intentions, to answer a number of questions that this move generates, both as a civil aviation matter, but also as a strategic matter.  I think that the U.S. commitment to the alliance with Japan and the alliance with the Republic of Korea -- both countries whose own existing air defense information zones, zones that have existed and functioned effectively for decades -- that our commitment to our allies is beyond question.  But I don't think that is the matter at hand.

Others, including Taiwan, have a similar problem with respect to an overlap in the ADIZ.  And, as I said, planes from countries throughout the world routinely overfly this.

In Japan and then in Korea, as I said, both of whom are directly affected by China's actions, and along with the U.S. and the international community, both of whom have a huge stake in freedom of overflight, in aviation safety, in lowering tensions, and in careful handling of these kinds of issues, the Vice President will have an opportunity to confer.  And I think that is an important part of his role.

In China, he will have an opportunity, as I said, to make clear to the Chinese leadership that we have concerns and that we have questions.  But I think that the underlying point here is that the strains caused by a series of actions by China in its relations with its Asian neighbors is not a good thing.  It's not a good thing for the United States, it's not a good thing for anyone.  And so I think that this visit allows the Vice President to discuss the issue of how China operates in international space, and how China deals with areas of disagreement with its neighbors. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And I would just underscore that the Vice President will make clear that the United States has a rock-solid commitment to our allies, and at the same time, the United States also believes that the lowering of tensions and the avoiding of escalation in this region, when you're talking about the second and third largest economies in the world, is profoundly and deeply in the American national interest.  And he'll be carrying those messages with him throughout his trip. 

Q    Hi, thanks very much.  The Guardian.  So do I understand correctly that the Vice President will not call for the rollback of China's ADIZ, simply the clarification of its purpose?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I'm not going to have the Vice President's meetings for him on the phone with you before he gets there.  And the statements already by Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel lay out our view. 

We have real concerns with this move by the Chinese because it raises serious questions about their intentions.  It causes friction and uncertainty.  It constitutes a unilateral change to the status quo in the region, a region that’s already fraught.  And it increases the risk of miscalculation and the risk of accidents.  But I will leave it to the diplomatic channels to discuss and consult with the Chinese on what remedial actions they can take.

Q    Hi.  The Wall Street Journal in Beijing.  Can we move to the economic issues?  Can you give us a sense of what the Vice President will be looking for out of China in terms of its economic reforms?  The Treasury Secretary was just there and got a briefing from Xi.  What’s next?  What are you looking for?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Part of what we're looking for is just a reaffirmation of the reform agenda.  Secretary Lew was there just as it was being released, as you know.  We believe that this is an important and an ambitious reform program, obviously the mentioning of the decisive role for the markets.  And the Vice President will take up with China how much we see it to be in China’s interest as well as in the interest of the United States and the global economy for China to have strong and balanced growth going forward.

And that, in turn, depends on them shifting successfully to a growth model that is based on domestic and consumer demand, in particular, going forward, which the reforms that they have committed to in the third plenum to allow a greater play of market forces and some deregulation of prices should certainly support.

Q    Thank you for taking questions.  Japanese NST TV (ph).  I have actually just a follow-up question about China setting up ADIZ and the relationship between China and Japan.  Is the Vice President going to ask Japan, China and South Korean leaders to set the dialogue to cool down the tension?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Encouraging dialogue among the countries in Northeast Asia to cool down tensions is both a matter of common sense and a matter of longstanding U.S. policy.  As my colleague said, among the four of us we have the three largest economies in the world, plus the Republic of Korea, which is large and growing larger.  We have a region that is central to the global economy, and we also have a region that can serve and should serve as a driver not only for global growth, but for solutions to global problems.

The partnerships are not merely a combination of bilateral relations; there is important trilateral cooperation.  At the trade level, for example, among Japan, Korea and China, there’s important trilateral security cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and the ROK. 

So the simple matter is that the region and the universal principles at stake are too important to allow tensions to escalate and to incur the risk of miscommunication.

So, yes, we do encourage and have encouraged, and it will be very much on the Vice President's mind, the need for good diplomatic and political dialogue to supplement the important economic relationships that exist among the major countries in Northeast Asia. 

Q    Hi, gentlemen.  Thanks for doing the call.  The New York Times.  I think I'm picking up on the previous question, but I wanted to sharpen it a little bit.  There's obviously been a good degree of personal animosity between Prime Minister Abe and President Park, and I wondered to what extent the Vice President hopes or believes it would be appropriate to try to mediate that dispute?  Or is he, as maybe you just suggested, going to keep it much more on a general level of lowering tensions as a good thing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, look, the relationship between Japan and Korea is a hugely important one.  It's got very, very deep roots.  And it's important not to overstate or to hype the areas of tension or friction that occasionally arise.  We take them seriously.  I think Japan and Korea take them seriously. 

But this is in the context of two liberal, free-market democracies, two influential regional and global actors with very close economic relations, very close political relations, people-to-people, cultural and other ties with each other. 

There has been historically an ebb and flow in the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo.  There are some strains now, there's no question about it, and the Vice President will certainly make clear the U.S. interests -- the strong U.S. interest in having these two close friends and two close allies of the United States find ways to manage and mitigate and ultimately to resolve the areas of difference between them. 

The Vice President understands quite well that there are a number of difficult legacy issues remaining from the previous century, and that they continue to color the relations between Japan and Korea.  And the Vice President is not one to be shy about making our views known.  We consistently encourage Japan to work with its neighbors to address issues and sensitivities left over from the 20th century, and we encourage Japan's neighbors -- including the Republic of Korea -- to reciprocate any positive moves. 

And our consistent view is that no party should take action that will trigger problems for the other, so the watchwords here are restraint and tolerance and sensitivity.   That's not mediating.  That's both common sense and representing the best interests of the United States. 

Q    If no one else is going to ask a second question, again with The Wall Street Journal.  I just wanted to ask about -- the trade relations with Japan seems to be a major part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership dialogue that needs to be hammered out as early as this year.  I was wondering if Vice President Biden was going to get specific on that, and the political issues about Japan opening up its car market and agricultural markets.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, as you know, Ambassador Froman, the Trade Representative, will be going to discuss all of the TPP negotiations with the partners in early December, following the Vice President's trip.  And, naturally, in talking about close economic relations in the region, the issue of trade will be important.  And this will be something that I'm sure will come up in the meetings with Japan and the Vice President, because it's extremely important both to Japan and to the TPP that Japan should follow through on the so-called “third arrow” of Abenomics and make structural reforms.  And that is also of course critical to the United States to move to get more access to Japan's markets.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And just to add briefly to that, the Vice President and Prime Minister Abe had a discussion about TPP and the role that it can play going forward in setting -- creating a new high-standard trade agreement for the region and for 40 percent of the world's economy when they met in Singapore.  And the Vice President looks forward to picking up on that conversation in this period where discussions about bringing TPP to a positive conclusion (inaudible).  So you can bet that it will be an important part of his agenda in Tokyo when he is there with the Prime Minister.

MS. TROTTER:  That's it for today.  Thanks, everyone, for joining us.  And stay tuned for more information about the Vice President's trip in the next few days.  Thanks.

9:48 A.M. EST