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International relations

Transcript: Biden's No. 2 diplomat on Olympics, North Korea, ASEAN

Wendy Sherman weighs in on wide range of subjects at Japan roundtable

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks in Tokyo on July 21.  (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy)

TOKYO -- Wendy Sherman, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, sat down with reporters from Nikkei Asia and other Japanese media outlets on Wednesday to discuss the region's most pressing security issues.

The wide-ranging discussion covered Taiwan, relations with China and North Korean denuclearization, among other topics. Sherman stressed that President Joe Biden's administration is willing to engage with both Beijing and Pyongyang, while it looks to shore up its Indo-Pacific alliances.

Here is a transcript of Sherman's remarks, edited and rearranged for clarity.

Opening remarks

I've been to Japan many times before. But this is my first trip since being sworn in as deputy secretary of state just three months ago. It is always such a pleasure to visit Japan, and I'm thankful for the warm welcome we received, especially as you prepare to open the Olympics. I note Japan won the first match, and the United States will soon have its first and I hope we win too.

I just concluded two busy days of productive meetings with the Japanese government, including Vice Foreign Minister [Takeo] Mori and Defense Minister [Nobuo] Kishi. We held the first trilateral vice foreign ministers meeting between the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea since President Biden took office. Indeed, the widest-ranging vice foreign ministerial since January 2017, when Secretary [Antony] Blinken was deputy secretary of state.

I also had the opportunity to meet with members of the Japanese public and hear their concerns directly. That included a sobering meeting with family members of Japanese citizens who have been abducted by the DPRK [or North Korea]. I also had a rich conversation with the co-founders of the academy for gender parity and several women who have run for office, and women who have also helped run for political office in Japan.

I want to reflect briefly on the purpose of my visit before I take questions.

The alliance between the United States and Japan has been the cornerstone of peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, and indeed around the world for more than six decades. We have of course a critically important security partnership. Japan is host to the largest cohort of U.S. service members outside the continent of the United States -- a force that stands 55,000 strong. The U.S.-Japan alliance protects not only the national security of our two countries, it promotes peace and stability in the entire Indo-Pacific region.

We have a proud and productive economic partnership. Our bilateral trade relationship between the United States and Japan is among the strongest in the world. The U.S. is the largest source of direct foreign investment in Japan, and Japan is the top investor in the United States.

We share enduring cultural ties as well. Thousands of people from both of our countries have participated in people to people exchanges over the decades.

The U.S.-Japan alliance remains crucial, as our two countries look to address the challenges of the 21st century together. Ending the COVID-19 pandemic and building our economies back better is our most urgent concern. The United States and Japan are cooperating both bilaterally and with our partners in Australia and India through the landmark Quad vaccine partnership to help the Indo-Pacific region recover from the pandemic.

We are also working closely together to combat the climate crisis. The United States welcomed Prime Minister [Yoshihide] Suga's recent announcement of an intense 2030 emissions reduction target, and of a 2050 net zero emissions goal. We look forward to continue to work together through the U.S.-Japan climate partnership, and the U.S.-Japan competitiveness and resilience partnership to install more clean energy and create more clean energy jobs in both of our countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of the climate crisis have uncovered severe shortcomings in our global supply chains, including for semiconductors, medical supplies, and other products that are critical to a productive 21st century economy. The United States looks to Japan as a key partner in our efforts to build more resilient supply chains. We are working on a bilateral basis to develop initiatives to improve our supply of semiconductors, advanced batteries, critical minerals, and materials and pharmaceuticals.

We share important regional and global security concerns. During my meetings, I reaffirmed the United States' absolute commitment to the defense of Japan. My Japanese counterparts and I discussed our commitment to maintain an inclusive, free, peaceful, stable and open Indo-Pacific region and our mutual opposition to activities that undermine, destabilize or threaten the rules-based international order. That includes maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and opposing any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea. We discussed the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and the need to oppose destabilizing and coercive behavior in the Indo-Pacific.

We discussed North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal, which pose a threat to international peace and stability. The United States and Japan remain committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and will continue to oppose the DPRK's human rights abuses, including by calling for immediate resolution of the abductions issue.

Before I conclude, I again want to wish the very best of luck to all of the athletes who will be competing in the Tokyo Olympics, and Paralympic Games over the next several weeks. No matter where you come from, I know every athlete has worked very hard, has been very dedicated, and is committed to sportsmanship to make each of our countries proud.

On North Korean engagement

We have let the DPRK know that we are open to engage with them, and to try to reach an agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. We know this may be a long process, but what we are ready to begin the dialogue and we are waiting for their response.

We are ready to engage ifthey are.

I hope that the DPRK agrees to this dialogue and to see how we might, in fact, start walking a very long road to get to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

It's not about being optimistic or pessimistic. It's about doing the work and seeing what can be achieved.

Kim Jong Un, like every other leader, is dealing with the pandemic, dealing with the economics of this current time, probably dealing with climate change as well. And I hope that in the midst of all of that, he is able to see that it would be worthwhile for him to in fact engage in that dialogue, but we will see.

On abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea

The meeting I had with the families of the abductees was very sobering, very painful. I am a mother and a grandmother. And I cannot imagine if my daughter or my spouse was taken from me and it was years before I knew what it happened. ... The pain is quite excruciating. ... And so I was honored to meet with families, difficult as it was, and I told them that back in the 90s, when I went to Pyongyang twice and met with North Koreans on several occasions, at every occasion I always raised the issue of the abductees and the pain the families were suffering through.

The United States stands with Japan, we're doing everything we possibly can to ensure that families can be reunited.

On Taiwan's security

First of all, we are continuing our One China policy that is based on the three joint communiques, the Taiwan relations act and the six assurances. That said, we have deepened our unofficial relationship with Taiwan -- both certainly a stronger economic relationship [as well as] a stronger political and security relationship with Taiwan.

We share concerns with Japan about increasing aggressive action and concern given other actions taking place such as in Hong Kong.

And so we are talking with Japan and other allies and partners about the best approach to ensure deterrence. I think everyone wants to ensure peace, security and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and so we will work together to try to do so.

On the 2022 Beijing Olympics and human rights concerns

I have not made any decisions regarding the Beijing Olympics. We are consulting with Japan and with other partners and allies on the best way to proceed. There is no question that we have enormous concerns, particularly in the arena of human rights regarding the PRC. We have taken recent action as you know around Xinjiang and the horrible atrocities that are falling on the Uyghurs. But we have taken actions, business advisory and sanctions in Xinjiang concerned about forced labor, in Hong Kong about really taking away people's rights and freedoms.

We have spoken to the PRC's actions to not allow Tibetans to practice their ethnic and cultural heritage. And we will continue to speak out about human rights, because it is a bedrock value for our democracy, including here in Japan. And so we will never hesitate to speak out about the things that we feel are wrong. Japan recently joined [in] speaking out about the cyberattacksthat have taken place.

We also look for areas where we can work with countries and that is true with the PRC as well -- certainly around global health, to solve this pandemic no matter the origins. We will have to all work together so that we are all safe. Climate is an area where we must all work together. Countering narcotics, arms control.

So, it is a multi-faceted relationship with the PRC, including where we will compete with them economically. And working together with Japan to make sure that there's a rules-based order, and a rule of law.

So no decisions about the Beijing Olympics, but lots of discussion to be had about the best way to proceed.

On plans to visit China, or a Joe Biden-Xi Jinping summit

We are always ready to engage the PRC or any country, if we know we're going to have substantive and constructive conversation. We only announce travel, including travel to Japan, once we know that we are going to have a schedule that will meet that ambition to have an engagement that is constructive and substantive. I have no announcement to make with you this evening. But we of course remain ready to engage with China, the PRC, under those circumstances.

We already engage with the PRC, and we will take on other engagements as it makes sense to do so [in a manner that] is constructive, and responsibly manage this complex relationship.

On relations with China and allies

The Biden administration has made it very clear, and as Secretary Blinken has said, we will compete with China in the economic sphere. We will cooperate with China, where is meritorious to do so and aligned with our values. And we will challenge China where we must, as I said in my opening comments in areas like their behavior in the South China Sea, and the East China Sea.

It's a multi-faceted relationship [with China]. I think it will stay a multi-faceted relationship for some time to come. But what is most important is the robust alliance and partnership the U.S. has with Japan. We have a completely transparent relationship with Japan. We consult with Japan on a constant and continuous basis. And that is not going to change, so there will not be any surprises, where U.S. policy is concerned.

In fact, as I think you all know regarding the DPRK, North Korea, we developed our DPRK policy review in constant communication with Japan, and with the Republic of Korea, to ensure that we all stand together in our approach to North Korea.

On the cost of hosting American troops in Japan

My position on this is, I'm sure that the United States and Japan will come to an equitable solution for host nation support. This is always a difficult discussion, because it is difficult, but I am sure given the strength of our alliance and our partnership that we will come to an equitable solution.

On supply chains and building back better from COVID-19

In terms of investment in resources, President Biden has made very clear, particularly after this pandemic, that we have to build back better -- that we not only have to have an economic recovery, but we have to do better than we have done before in terms of the social inequality in our country, in terms of the investments in the future. Not only in traditional infrastructure, but the infrastructure for tomorrow: technology, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and the resources that we need to get there, and the technology that we'll need to make it happen.

So it's human resources, technological resources. But underpinning all of that is working with our allies and partners, like Japan, to meet the challenge of the 21st century. We all learn during this pandemic that our supply chains were challenged, that we did not have some of the resources that we needed, whether those were ... pharmaceuticals, or PPE, or supplies of one sort or another or semiconductors.

We had to look at those supply chains, and either bring back the domestic capability or make sure that one of our allies and partners have the capability and that we have resilience when we faced another crisis.

So we are doing a lot of strong planning with our partners. Certainly you saw that in the G-7 statement [on the] Build Back Better World Partnership that Japan is part of -- to make sure that you've thought about the future and built the resources that you needed for the future. And Secretary Blinken is very, very much committed to making sure that we work together with our partners and allies to do just that.

On the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Myanmar

We had a good deal of discussion about this both in my bilateral and trilateral here in Japan. The United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea all believe in ASEAN centrality, and the importance of ASEAN as a regional organization.

ASEAN, in a very unusual circumstance, achieved consensus on a five-point plan. ... We support their efforts. But we understand that they are almost at the place of announcing their special envoy and perhaps an advisory team to be part of the effort.

We all are encouraging, once that envoy is announced, that they proceed to speak to all of the parties in Myanmar, including the [National League for Democracy] -- that we continue to press the junta to return to a road of democracy and to end the violence and imprisonment and unjust detention of people including an American Daniel Fenster, a journalist who has been unjustly detained by the junta.

This is a very disturbing and concerning situation. But we must all work together, and stand behind ASEAN in its efforts to move forward.

On the Tokyo Olympics

I can say that the first lady [Jill Biden] is very excited about coming to the Tokyo Olympics, and is very, very much looking forward to having the honor of attending the opening ceremony. ... I know that she will want to cheer on the American athletes, but also acknowledge all of the athletes, their sportsmanship, their hard work, and what they are doing to make this a successful Olympics under a difficult set of circumstances. So she's very excited.

I think it is very separate and apart from any future decisions we make about any other Olympics. But I know that she cannot wait to be here.

On a foreign policy for the middle class

We think it is very critical for the United States of America to have a foreign policy for the middle class. Too often, many of us forget too easily why we do what we do. I'm a public servant, because I want to make sure that the citizens of my country have peace, prosperity, security. I want my grandkids to grow up in a country, a planet that still exists, that climate change is not overtaking their ability to live.

We've all seen the heat waves that have come, floods in Europe, fires in parts of my country. These are all aspects of climate change. And so we work on these issues, just like we work on ensuring that there isn't a war, because we want our kids and our grandkids to be able to have a good job and type of future and be able to raise their families and have a good education.

We all want many of the same things. That's what the middle class aspires to, is to have a good solid decent life. And so the foreign policy and national security, those of us who do that, have to remind ourselves that that's what we're trying to accomplish. It's not an academic paper, and I was just an academic, I was in Harvard Kennedy School, so I believe in academics. But it's not just a theoretical thing. It's about helping people be able to live a peaceful life.

On democracy

We believe as democracies that in order to have a stable, prosperous and successful life, one should have freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, universal human rights, live in a rules-based international order, so everybody's playing by the same rules. So someone who lives in Japan has the same opportunities as someone living in the United States. A citizen in the PRC has the same opportunity as someone living in France. And someone living in Nigeria has the same opportunity as someone living in Chile.

When we have used those words autocracy and democracy, it is really a shorthand for what I just described in some detail that people are able to live in peace, security, stability, prosperity and freedom. And in many countries, including the PRC, those freedoms, that ability to chart your own course does not exist.

We are about to enter a technological age, we are already in it, where some of our technology expands people's opportunities, or can narrow people's opportunities. So, we all have to be very mindful, to make sure that we do not constrain people's ability to achieve the ambitions that Japan and the United States have for our citizens -- to have the ability to reach the middle class and the young.

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