On-The-Record Press Call To Discuss The First Lady's Trip To Japan and Cambodia
Via Conference Call
3:32 P.M. EDT
MS. GONZALEZ: Thank you, everyone, for joining this on-the-record conference call to discuss the First Lady’s upcoming trip to Japan and Cambodia. We are here today with Tina Tchen, the Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and Evan Medeiros, the Senior Director for Asian Affairs on the national security staff. I’m going to hand it over to them for some brief opening remarks, and then we’ll take some questions.
MS. TCHEN: Thanks, MC. And we’re delighted to be here to talk about the First Lady’s trip this week to Japan and Cambodia.
Two weeks ago, the President and the First Lady launched Let Girls Learn, which is a whole-of-government effort across the U.S. government to address the barriers that keep over 62 million girls around the world out of school, especially adolescent girls. As the President and the First Lady spoke about that day, we know that adolescent girls face particular challenges of culture and attitude, as well as access to completing their education to the detriment of themselves, their families, and ultimately, their countries.
Japan shares in that concern, and they’re going to be working with us to address these issues on areas including increasing their support as we are increasing our support for funding girls’ education efforts and efforts to address the barriers, and to work on community-based solutions. One part of this trip will be to highlight a piece of the Let Girls Learn initiative that the First Lady will champion, and that is to support community-level and community-led-based solutions to the barriers. Because, as the President and the First Lady know from their experience as community organizers, it’s at that community level where hearts and minds change, where attitudes can really change, and we can address the issue confronting girls who want an education and can’t get it.
So Mrs. Obama in her travels will go to Japan and Cambodia. She’ll be joined on this trip by the Peace Corps Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet. Our community-based solutions will be led through the efforts of Peace Corps volunteers around the globe who are already in communities doing this -- those Peace Corps volunteers will be trained -- and I’ll have more about that in a moment -- but they will received gender-based training together with local activists in order to have these community-based conversations. And then we will be supporting the solutions that communities come up with -- whether it’s school access, uniforms, water access -- to try to address these barriers.
Japan and Cambodia represent two key components of our approach to tackling this problem. Japan, as I mentioned, is a donor country that shares our concerns and can lead the way in promoting girls’ education in the region. And the First Lady will be highlighting the commitment that Japan has to this issue.
On the other hand, Cambodia is a developing country where the Peace Corps is already active on the ground and community-led solutions can really impact girls’ education. Cambodia will be one of the first 11 countries to be included in the Let Girls Learn Peace Corps program.
Let me talk a little bit more about Japan and turn it over to Evan, who can address Japan. And then the two of us will both talk about Cambodia.
I mean, Japan -- this will be the first time Mrs. Obama is visiting Japan. While in Tokyo, Mrs. Obama will meet with Mrs. Akie Abe, the spouse of the Prime Minister of Japan. She will also deliver remarks on the importance both countries place on international girls’ education, including, as I mentioned, plans to deepen our partnership on this issue, and including a collaboration between the Peace Corps and Japan’s version of the Peace Corps, their Overseas Cooperation Volunteers. Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Abe will also meet with Japanese university students and share stories from their own educational backgrounds. While in Tokyo, Mrs. Obama will also meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. She’ll also travel to Kyoto and visit a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine.
And let me turn the call over to Evan to speak a little bit more about the overall Asia focus of this trip, and Japan in particular.
MR. MEDEIROS: Thank you, Tina. And thank you, everybody, for joining us today. This is Evan Medeiros. I’m the Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.
As many of you know, the U.S. strategy of rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific is one of the President’s top foreign policy priorities. Since the earliest days of the administration in 2009, the United States has sought to expand its economic, political, diplomatic, and military involvement in the Asia-Pacific region because we believe that the Asia-Pacific is increasingly and inexplicably linked to America’s economic and security interests.
As part of the strategy, we have adopted numerous policies to expand the U.S. engagement with the region. At the same time, we have sought to partner with countries in the region to ensure that not only is the U.S. more present and active in the region, but we’re working with our key partners in the region to build a security environment, an economic environment, a political environment, and a diplomatic environment that serves American interests. In other words, it's not just about the U.S. doing more in Asia, it's about the U.S. working with our partners in Asia to do more in the region and globally.
There are few countries more important to the success of this strategy than Japan. The U.S.-Japan alliance is one of the centerpieces of our rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. As the third largest economy in the world and as a long-standing U.S. ally, Japan is at the heart of so many of our initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region.
The President visited Japan in April of last year, and during that time we outlined a series of initiatives in which we are going to be working together to advance U.S. and Japanese economic and security interests in the Asia-Pacific. One area in which we decided that we were going to expand our cooperation was in terms of international development assistance.
The U.S. and Japan are two of the most significant contributors to official development assistance throughout the world, so it's a natural area of cooperation between the United States and Japan. To draw on this strength of our two countries, we decided to choose Japan as one of our key partners in implementing the Let Girls Learn initiative. Girls’ education is an important addition to the already robust U.S.-Japan agenda and it speaks to the breadth and the depth of our relationship.
So when the First Lady is in Japan, she’s going to be announcing some robust new commitments that demonstrate our ability to partner with Japan in implementing the Let Girls Learn initiative. Thank you very much.
MS. TCHEN: Thanks, Evan. And then after Japan, the First Lady will travel to Cambodia. While in Cambodia, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bun Rany, the First Lady of Cambodia, will meet with high school students and hear directly about how they benefit from community-led programs like Room to Read and the Peace Corps. This really is an opportunity to just be on the ground, how community-based and community-led solutions are addressing the issues confronting girls seeking an education.
The First Lady will also deliver remarks to Peace Corp volunteers in Cambodia who are participating in the girls’ education training event that’s part of Let Girls Learn. This is a training representative of others that are happening around the world that will equip Peace Corp volunteers and their in-country community leaders. So it will be a training of both Peace Corp volunteers and community activists together. They’ll both learn about the necessary resources to break down the barriers to girls’ education in their communities.
The First Lady will also host a roundtable with Peace Corp volunteers. These will involve community leaders and also civil society members who are implementing projects to support girls’ education in Cambodia.
Finally, while in Siem Reap, the First Lady will also visit Angkor Wat, the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
MR. MEDEIROS: Thank you, Tina. As Tina mentioned, we wanted to include -- there was a theory behind the trip that we include one partner and donor country -- that’s Japan -- and one country in which we’re actively implementing Let Girls Learn. And so Cambodia is one of the 11 countries in which we are going to implement Let Girls Learn. So a donor country and a partner country in implementing it.
Mrs. Obama will be the first sitting First Lady to ever visit Cambodia. Both Hillary Clinton and Jackie Kennedy Onassis visited previously but not while they were the First Ladies. When the First Lady is visiting Cambodia for the Let Girls Learn initiative, it will further aim to reinforce the importance of Southeast Asia in the President’s broader Asia-Pacific rebalancing initiative. During the President two trips to Asia last year in April and November, Southeast Asia featured prominently, and the Frist Lady’s trip to Cambodia is meant to underscore the breadth of our interactions with Southeast Asia.
In particular, Cambodia has created the space needed for community-led programs, and so it's a natural country in which we want to work with to bring about progress under the Let Girls Learn initiative. And from our perspective, we believe that Cambodia and our partners on the ground will be able to use this initiative to continue shining a light on girls’ education.
MS. TCHEN: And finally, before we go to questions, the other part of Let Girls Learn is to also remind the young people here in the United States of the hunger that girls and boys around the world feel for education, and to draw inspiration from it, to also learn about the world and be engaged with the world. So a big part of Let Girls Learn, as with our other education initiative, Reach Higher, is to speak to a U.S. domestic audience. And so the First Lady is once again on this trip, as she has on previous trips, using social media and online tools to share her visit with young people across the country.
She’ll be doing video diaries. She’ll be doing a travel journal. She’ll have Q&A online and more. For example, we are partnering with PBS LearningMedia to engage with 1.6 million educators and users to inform students in the United States about the power and possibilities that an education bring to girls in the U.S. and globally. And during the trip, the First Lady will answer questions from classrooms around the country about Let Girls Learn. We can also encourage folks to ask the First Lady questions right now on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #LetGirlsLearnQA, altogether, and send those questions in.
Finally, Michelle Phan, a Youtube star that many of you may be familiar with, will be joining the trip in Tokyo and asking Mrs. Obama the questions that come through on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. So we hope you’ll follow the trip and encourage your readers to follow the trip. And you can get the latest on the trip throughout our journey this week at WhiteHouse.gov/LetGirlsLearn, and, again, using the hashtag #LetGirlsLearn.
MS. GONZALEZ: Great. Thank you very much, Tina and Evan. Any questions?
Q Hi, I appreciate you doing the call. I wanted to ask about the decision to send the First Lady to Cambodia. I recall two years or so ago when the President went, at the time, White House officials sort of stressed that he was only going because there was a summit there, the implication being that he wouldn’t go otherwise because of the country’s human rights record, so on and so forth. So I’m just wondering about the decision to send her there. I know Tina said there were 11 countries that are participating in the Peace Corps part of Let Girls Learn. Was there not another country that you all could send her to besides Cambodia?
MS. TCHEN: Well, I think to start with the education -- you point out, Darlene, Cambodia is one of the 11 countries where the Peace Corps is working. I think as Evan mentioned in his remarks, Cambodia actually has done a great deal of work in this space and created a space for community-based and led solutions and has been working with the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps has been on the ground doing a lot of this work, which is what the First Lady will be able to see firsthand.
So that’s the specific context for the trip, and Evan can address any broader issues.
MR. MEDEIROS: Sure. What I would add is that when the First Lady is in Cambodia, she is going to have ample opportunity to reinforce the progress that’s been made at the community level. She is going to have the opportunity to meet with civil society to reinforce our view of the importance of having an open and inclusive political system to allow civil society to have a role in good governance, and she is also going to be giving a speech in which she is going to be able to highlight basic values and principles that are important to the United States, in particular the importance of access to education for all -- for both men and women as well as the importance of having access -- equal access to economic opportunity.
So I think there’s ample opportunity for the First Lady when she visits Siem Reap to share American perspectives about education and good governance.
Q Hi, good afternoon. Thanks so much for doing this. I just have two questions. How many trips has the First Lady done like this, where she’s gone along without the President? And my next question is, will her daughters be traveling with her? I know last year when she went to China her daughters and her mother traveled as well. So if you can answer those, I’d appreciate it.
MS. TCHEN: Her daughters will not be traveling with her, nor will Mrs. Robinson. It will just be the First Lady. And you’re testing my memory here on the prior trips -- well, there was the China trip last year, as you noted. She did a solo trip to Africa the year before. She did another trip to Mexico and Haiti the year before that. And I think those are the prior official trips she’s taken on her own.
Q Hi, good afternoon. Thanks for the call. This is basically a logistics question. Do you know if there are any local pools that are being established on the ground for coverage of these events, or is every -- or are all these events just open coverage?
MS. GONZALEZ: So it’s a combination. We have some that are open press, and we also have pools on the ground. So I’m happy to follow up after the call with you.
Q Thank you very much.
Q Hi. For the Let Girls Learn initiative, is there going to be direct cooperation between JICA and the Peace Corps? Or is it more that each country is doing its own separate programming?
MS. TCHEN: So JICA and the Peace Corps have had a cooperative relationship -- they’ll be renewing a memorandum of understanding between Peace Corps and JICA to work broadly together, and including on girls’ education. I think that’s still -- on what specific areas and efforts that we’ll have that will take shape is still a work in progress between Peace Corps and JICA.
Q Thanks. Two questions; Evan, one for you. You mentioned one of the focuses is ODA and aid cooperation writ large. And we’ve been reading the last few days about what seems to be a confused message on the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, and since you’re going to be in Japan, they obviously have a major interest in that also. Is there any chance that you could give us a definitive Obama administration position on the AIIB? Are we discouraging people from joining until China can answer the questions, or are we not?
And for Ms. Tchen -- thanks very much -- when the First Lady is in Japan, she’ll be meeting with both the Prime Minister and others. Will she talk to the Prime Minister about how some of the historical issues -- especially issues affecting the women -- such as the comfort women and other issues that have become controversial throughout Asia, but particularly for Japan and Korea relations, and the great concern of the administration? Will she take this opportunity to express to the Prime Minister the administration’s views on how to talk about these things with the 70th anniversary?
So two questions. Thanks very much.
MS. TCHEN: I mean, I think I can answer this pretty simply. The focus of the trip is the Let Girls Learn initiative, so I expect that her conversations with the Prime Minister, which is a courtesy call with him, will be on that. I’d note that this trip comes in advance of the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States a month later. The First Lady is not going as an emissary on other issues beyond Let Girls Learn. And I will say, the subject of this call is specific to Let Girls Learn, as to your first question. So this isn’t the forum, nor do we have the right personnel on here to address the issues regarding the Infrastructure Bank.
Q Okay. Thanks.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for the call. I have actually a question for Evan and one question for Tina.
Evan, we know the First Lady’s visit to Japan is an important part of our preparation for Japan Prime Minister Abe’s later state visit to the U.S., and we believe Japan’s relation with its neighbor is important -- will be an important topic. And actually, China recently said if Japan can face history squarely, there will be opportunity for improvement of Japan and its neighbor’s relationship. And just today, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a similar comment. So will the First Lady or the President call for reconcile when they meet with their counterparts?
And also, the question to Tina is that -- the First Lady just revealed that recently, the First Family’s favorite meal is sushi, sashimi and tempura. So I believe she must be very excited about the coming trip. We know cuisine is an important part of diplomacy, so have you and Japan started to arrange that?
MS. TCHEN: Well, thank you. And I do think -- in the context I think there have been discussions about -- but some of the favorite meals among others, and, yes, sushi is one of them. But no, we have not yet worked on the details of the -- those are in the works for the menu for the state dinner, if that was the question. And the First Lady does enjoy, as I think you’ve seen on some of her other trips, partaking of the local cuisine, and she’s looking forward to doing that with respect to Japan as well.
MR. MEDEIROS: On the first part of your question, I would reiterate what Tina said, which is the focus of this trip is on our partnership with Japan on Let Girls Learn and international education. So that’s going to be -- so that’s what she will be talking about with her Japanese counterparts.
Q Thanks a lot for the call. Just two really quick ones. One, do you have any logistical information as far as when she departs, when she arrives, that kind of thing? And then as far as the deepening partnership and the collaboration between the Peace Corps and Japan’s side, do you have any other additional details? You don’t want to get ahead of her announcement, but anything else that you can give us as far as what that’s going to look like or what they might announce? Thanks.
MS. GONZALEZ: So on the arrivals and departures, we’re happy to follow up offline with that.
MS. TCHEN: And you’re absolutely right, we don’t want to get ahead of the news that will happen on Wednesday, so I don’t have more to give you on the Japan and Peace Corps work.
MS. GONZALEZ: Great. Thank you, everyone, for joining us.
3:53 P.M. EDT