Remarks by the Vice President at the US-Japan-South Korea Trilateral Meeting
Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies
10:23 A.M. HST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. It is a terrible sacrifice to have to come to Hawaii. (Laughter.) It was very hard to do. I told the President he owes me for doing this.
No, it’s a delight to be here -- a delight to be here with friends. And let me say at the outset that I believe the Secretary is correct, from the very outset the President and I believed -- and I mean this sincerely -- from the moment we were elected -- not after we got sworn in -- we believe that the security and stability of East Asia and economic growth was absolutely, incredibly important to U.S. security, stability and economic growth; and that the key to continued stability was a tripartite alliance with Japan and South Korea that was rock solid; that was based upon our democratic values and mutual interests. Because they are mutual interests. And so we've worked very hard.
I had a fellow advise me as my national security adviser in those days who was really, really very bright. He’s sitting to my right. (Laughter.) Tony and I worked together for about 10 years, and he became the number two person at the State Department. And as Deputy Secretary of State, Tony, you've done an incredible job. And -- there’s a difference in my experience of doing things like this for 42 years, there’s a difference between a woman or a man who has great intellectual capacity and substantive knowledge about a relationship or relationships with other countries and one who has the substantive knowledge and passion, but also has a serious, serious interest in those countries. We've gotten both with Secretary Blinken. He not only intellectually understands the consequence and importance of this relationship, he feels it. He breathes it. He cares a great deal about it, as he tells me a lot of you do.
And by the way, it’s wonderful to be here with no Presidents as a Vice President. I like being with deputies. (Laughter.) I feel much better. I feel much more secure. I don't know what it is. No Prime Ministers, no Presidents. This is wonderful, Tony. Thanks for arranging this. (Laughter.)
Unfortunately, some of you already know me and the press doesn't, so I probably shouldn’t be so flippant. But I was saying to my two colleagues as we were having the photograph taken in the other room that we sent you -- Japan the best when we sent you Ambassador Kennedy. And she has been a friend for a long, long time. And if there’s anything I say or do that you don't like, it is all her fault. (Laughter.) For a simple reason. This is the God’s true story. It got down -- the President decided that he was going to either choose me or one other person to be Vice President. And he asked whether I would go for a final interview. And the final interview was with -- no, I’m serious -- was with the Ambassador. She wasn’t the ambassador then. And I’ll never forgive her for recommending me for the job. (Laughter.) I’m only joking. She’s a great, great friend. It’s great to see you, Caroline. You've done such a wonderful job for us.
The other aspect of working with our friends and our allies in other countries is when you work with someone that you know has the ear of the President or Prime Minister of your country. And I just want you to know -- and I mean this sincerely -- he doesn't need me to say this, but there is no one who has more of the President’s confidence than Secretary Blinken. I mean that sincerely. For the first four years, every single, solitary day, he sat with me in the Oval Office for at least 45 minutes to two hours with the President in a briefing every morning. The President relies on him, and so you can be assured whatever he says, he speaks for the President. And that cuts out a lot of uncertainty in the way in which we are able to move forward. So thank you, Tony.
Strengthening our mutual cooperation has been an essential part of the Obama-Biden foreign policy from the beginning. As I said, we've worked very hard -- as all of you have and all of your leadership has -- to achieve strengthening this tripartite relationship.
The United States, Japan, and South Korea have been allies for decades. But over the past few years, we've made an unprecedented degree of progress in my view in deepening and strengthening that relationship. It was there. It’s been there since the end of World War II. It’s been there, but it continues to grow stronger.
And we've collectively succeeded in breaking down obstacles that once barred the way to cooperation. We're making trilateral engagement between our countries a habit. And it matters.
In my view, good habits form good relationships. And it matters. The President always kids me because -- there was a very famous American politician, beloved named Speaker Tip O’Neill from Massachusetts. And he made famous an expression that all politicians in both parties often use. He said, all politics is local. And I’m now old enough and been there longer than he was to be able to try to improve on that. I think all politics is personal and all international relations are even more personal.
You have to get to the point where you get to know what the pulls and tugs on the other leaders are, what their motivations are, what their political limitations are, and what their political circumstance is. And I’ve had the great honor at the encouragement of our ambassador, Ambassador Kennedy, of getting to know on a personal basis and a regular basis Mr. Abe, who has been in a personal sense, very generous to me, as well.
When I lost my son, he was there. He was on the phone. I mean it was more than just a casual relationship that's been built. And as with President Park, I think we have become friends in the sense that we trust one another.
When you spend time with someone, it’s the only circumstance that you really get to know them. Otherwise, you have all these briefs we all get from our intelligence community and our foreign policy establishment and our political people. And they're very good. But it’s critically important to understand the other leader’s perspectives, their motivations, and quite frankly, their political limitations to build trust.
Tony used to joke in the very beginning when we worked together, I’d always say to my counterparts around the world, it’s not my role to tell you what’s in your interest, nor is it my role to tell you what’s in your country’s interest. All I can do is tell you what’s in my interest, my country’s interest, and see if it fits. If it fits, it’s good. If it doesn't, I understand. I really mean it. That's the basis upon which real relationships are built.
And I find this relationship that exists right now between President Obama, President Park, and Prime Minister Abe is one of solid, solid -- is built on a solid foundation -- not just the interests of our countries. But they're all in sync. And that's why the President and I have invested so much in this trilateral relationship, most recently in a meeting hosted in Washington back in March, but our cooperation doesn't stop at the top. At every level of our governments, we've gotten closer and closer. There’s been more direct interchange. I know how much Tony has put into building the relationships with his counterparts. And I want to thank every one of you for the commitment to keep moving these relationships forward.
Because in times of crunch, in times of doubt, and in times of crisis it matters. It matters that we know one another. It matters that we understand and can actually talk frankly to one another -- not just at the presidential level, but all up and down the people who are consequential in making decisions.
And we live in a very dynamic, changing and -- I won’t say dangerous, but a fluid world right now. If my Korean and Japanese friends will forgive me for quoting an Irish poet. I’m always kidded when my colleagues in the Senate, I’m always quoting Irish poets. And they think I do it because I’m Irish. That's not the reason. I do it because they're the best poets in the world. (Laughter.)
But all kidding aside, there’s a poem written by William Butler Yeats and it just celebrated the hundredth anniversary of that poem. It’s called Easter Sunday 1916. It’s about the First Rising against the British in Ireland as a precursor to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. And he used a line to describe the circumstance in Ireland in 1916 that I think better explains the world we three face today than it did his Ireland. He said, “All’s changed; changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born.” A terrible beauty has been born.
The implication being that all has changed, and it’s within our power if we're smart at this inflection point to actually bend history just a little bit, just to steer it in a direction of greater peace, stability, and prosperity. It takes a little bit of luck, but it takes an awful lot of hard work, particularly among allies in the most dynamic region in the world.
And you all know, we are -- the United States is a Pacific power. We make -- that's not meant to be an assertion. We are a Pacific power. Period. As you are.
And I’ve had long -- as Tony knows -- long and many private meetings over 20-25 hours according to the State Department -- with President Xi. When he asked why the interest in rebalancing, I’ve been very blunt. The United States is a Pacific power. And quite frankly, were we absent the last 40 years, I doubt whether or not the region would have grown; that China would have succeeded and move economically and politically. But you -- the regional powers -- in conjunction with us, we have the ability to sustain that stability for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years. But there will be a lot of bumps in the road along the way. But it really matters that we have the same strategic view and tactically are on the same page on the very important issues. Because it matters. It matters for us -- all three of our nations. But it also matters for the region.
Our presence in the region, our mutual cooperation I think is vital to sustaining growth, stability, and economic prosperity. And I think it’s essential that we, the United States, play that role because stability in the region is overwhelmingly in our self-interest. We're not doing anyone a favor. We are not trying to do anything other than maintain stability in a part of the world that in the 21st century is going to probably be the major element of rewriting -- writing the history of the 21st century.
And that was the animating principle behind our rebalancing. It is not to contain China. It is simply to be a moderating force -- along with all of the region, particularly the two of you -- to enhance the prospect of stability. The energy and dynamism of this region is undeniable. From India, to the western reaches of South America, there’s sparkling potential. It’s enormous. The potential is enormous.
And whether or not we reach that potential, whether or not we continue to prosper and live in peace, in my view, depends on our ability to maintain a free, fair, and international system that is -- a liberal international system on the seas and the skies and with free and open commerce. And we want the region to be a place where everyone plays by the same rules that we agree upon and that already have been agreed upon, but as we mature in these relationships.
We want nations to act as responsible stakeholders engaged in responsible competition. There will be competition. Competition among us. You don't buy enough American cars from my perspective. You know what I mean? (Laughter.) I’m joking. That's a joke, okay? But my father sold American cars his whole life, and I just think they're better cars. (Laughter.) But all kidding aside, there’s going to continue to be competition. That's good. That's healthy. That's not a bad thing. It generates dynamism in all our countries.
And the one thing we Americans like is we like completion, just like you all rise to competition.
Our trilateral relationship is much more, though, than the sum of the individual parts. The three of us add up to more than three nations in the region. By that I mean when the three of us stand united to uphold the liberal international order, or speak with one voice for universal human rights and basic dignity, or address threats together from climate change to the spread of infectious disease, we amplify our impact. There’s power in unity. It shows all the other nations in the region that they don't stand alone. It really matters. You all know it better than we do. It’s your neighborhood. It shows the rest of the region they do not stand alone.
Unfortunately, North Korea’s continued aggression serves as a timely reminder that our partnership is essential in developing and addressing the threat to nuclear proliferation in Northeast Asia. And there’s no question that our trilateral capacity to defend against threats from North Korea now is stronger than ever among the three of us. It’s vitally important.
That's been an objective of not only our administration, but every administration in the recent past.
Last month, we ran a successful trilateral missile warning exercise, which you're going to hear about more today. It’s on your agenda. Liking our defenses are vital in my view. And our capacity to provide an effective deterrent against North Korea will only grow stronger if we continue improving our ability to share information and to share it with one another -- all three of us.
Thanks to our effective trilateral cooperation, we also led -- and I mean, we, the three of us -- led the U.N. Security Council to adopt the toughest sanctions resolution in a generation, imposing further costs on North Korea for its violation of the Security Council resolution, and importantly, its human rights abuses, as well.
I was asked by a leader I’ll not mention why we seem so preoccupied -- and you, as well, but they were talking about us -- with human rights. And I said it’s real simple. We're a nation of immigrants. Everyone who came, came because they were being violated somewhere. No American President could stand as President were he not focused on human rights. Could not do it. It’s endemic in who we are. It doesn't mean we're perfect. We are far from perfect. But it matters when the three of us speak together and speak with one voice.
Now we need to make sure that we rigorously enforce the sanctions that the U.N. has imposed with your help to keep pressure for change, a goal that I know everyone in this room shares. But advancing international norms is about more than just deterring threats, as you all know. It’s about upholding a liberal order that is critical to the success of all our nations. And that's why it was critical that all three of our countries took a stand against Chinese expanse of air defense identification zones in the East China Sea in 2013.
As Secretary Blinken will remember, I was in a meeting right after that was declared with President Xi. And he said, what do you expect me to do? I said, I don't expect you to do much, but just so you know we're flying B-52s through it. We're coming. So just understand we do not recognize it. Period. Period. Period. We do not recognize it. And so it would be very wise if you do not seek to enforce it.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are certain international rules of the road that cannot be allowed to go by the wayside. In the wake of this week’s arbitral tribunal ruling in the South China Sea, it’s essential, in our view, that we continue to express our mutual support for the rule of law and for all parties to uphold their commitments under the ruling. We do not take sides of the ruling. It was an international tribunal. We agreed that the Law of the Seas, that this would be the vehicle for deciding. So you either are going to abide by international standards or not. Don't pretend. Don't pretend.
So, folks, look, the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United States, I need not tell you, we're trading nations. We are trading nations. We depend on the free flow of commerce and the freedom of navigation through the seas and the skies. These are principles that have been the core of Asia’s success for decades now. And with so much of the global economy centered in Asia, it is in all our vital interest -- the whole world’s -- to keep the region prospering and the engines of global commerce running smoothly.
And that cannot be sustained without honoring the existing international law relative to the seas and the skies. It’s imperative we abide by the same rules when it comes to trade and investment, in our view, so that our workers in all of our countries and our companies are competing on a level playing field.
And beyond enforcing existing rules and agreements, our three nations have been, can, and should continue to try to lead the way when it comes to creating new higher standard trade agreements for the 21st century. Agreements to protect the rights of workers and agreements that preserve the environment and uphold intellectual property.
I’ve spent a lot of time -- some of it for about 500,000 miles of it with Secretary Blinken going around the world on intellectual property issues, and I’m always asked by other countries why are you so concerned. I say there are new rules of international economic success, but they become like rules of physics or gravity. They're not imposed by any other nation. If one continues to steal intellectual property, you will never develop an indigenous intellectual gravamen where you are able to become initiators. It just won’t happen. It doesn't happen. It’s a little bit like if you don't abide by certain banking rules, it doesn't matter, you’ll never develop a middle class. We have -- we have -- but other nations have to understand it. We will enforce those -- all of us -- enforce those rights.
Those are essential to any agreement that we move forward on, and I think it’s going to help keep the global economy pumping.
I know you have a full agenda today, Mr. Secretary, everything from enhancing our cybersecurity, to civil space cooperation, to combating could, to advancing gender equality, which is something that is very important to us. There is a great old expression: Women hold up half the sky.
It’s another new law of physics, gentlemen, absent engagement of women in our society, you're wasting half the brain power, half the energy, half the initiative. I really mean it. And the rest of the world is beginning to understand what President Abe’s engagement of trying to get more women in the workforce and sustain the workforce. Even if it weren’t for what is common equity, it’s just stupid economics not to engage. (Laughter.) I really mean it. I’m being deadly earnest. I am not trying to make a social point here. It’s an economic point.
Let me give you one little example. In my own country, replacement workers for an aging generation, as we all have, are a big thing. We have a great advantage. We have a significant input of immigrants coming into the country. It’s an overwhelming advantage. It’s been the advantage we've had for the last 200 years. But if we just change our tax code -- and I’m sure similar things that you've been doing in Japan and Korea -- if we just provided more tax relief for the cost of childcare for women in the workforce, we would increase the workforce in America -- women participating -- by 500,000 to 750,000, increasing our GDP by .2 percent. That's just pure productivity, fellahs. That's not about equal rights. That's a simple proposition, at least in our country. And I know you're trying in your country.
And so all these things matter. And I know you're going to be talking about that a little bit later, and I apologize, Mr. Secretary, for talking about it now. I wasn’t supposed to get into that, but I feel strongly about it, and there’s no President here to stop me, so you know. (Laughter.)
So look, there’s one last point I’d like to make this morning, and it’s this. We can do all these things. We really can. This is within our power. This is within our capacity. As my friends in the Navy say, this is within our wheelhouse. We can do this. This is not rocket science. This is basic, basic, basic things that's within our capacity to do that can have a profound difference.
I honest to God believe our nations are positioned to lead the 21st century. We have the skills. We have the capacity to take on complex challenges that we face around the world, and we have a track record that we're willing to take on difficult challenges.
Our people are innovative -- not the only ones, but our people are innovative. They're energetic. And we're united in shared democratic values. And with notable exceptions on the margins, and all the studying I’ve done about each of your countries and the relationship with mine in the region, not only shared democratic values, but a shared vision for what the future should look like. I imagine if we all -- if this were some kind of game show, and we all were to retreat to a room and come back in half an hour, an hour. And we had to put together what we thought -- what we wanted Northeast Asia to look like and the Pacific Basin to look like 25 years from now, I’d be dumbfounded if we all didn't essentially -- we were not able to overlay each of our views on top of one another.
And we want our region, the Pacific, to be open and inclusive. We want everyone to be treated with respect and dignity they deserve. And we want everyone to have equal shots to succeed.
The last thing I’ll say is the President -- how many years ago, four years ago, asked me to oversee the Western Hemisphere. We have a wonderful Secretary of State. We have a great State Department. They're fully capable of doing it. But because of concentration on a lot of other things, he asked whether it would -- because I have an interest -- literally oversee Western Hemisphere relationships. And you know the interesting thing is, different -- an area I’ve worked in a long time, different than 15, 20, 30 years ago, they all want to be part of your future. Not a joke. Peru, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico -- they're Pacific. Canada. They all see what we see -- the enormous, enormous, enormous potential.
If the competition is fair and we play by rules that we help set -- a basic set of international constructs and rules, what a future. What a potential. What a capability.
So thank you all for allowing me to say a few words. But more importantly, thank you for your friendship. And thank you for sharing the President’s vision of continuing to deepen these relationships across the board. So, thank you, Tony, appreciate it. (Applause.)
10:53 A.M. HST