SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening. It is a great pleasure to be back in Bangkok. I visited in August, and I know that Vice President Harris is very much looking forward to arriving and representing the United States in the coming days.
We have just logged a significant number of diplomatic miles on this trip. I arrived in Bangkok via Sharm El-Sheikh, Phnom Penh and Bali, where I joined President Biden for COP27, the US-ASEAN and East Asia summits, and of course the G20. In each of these meetings, including here in APEC, the United States leads with diplomacy to deliver on issues that shape the lives of the American people as well as people around the world.
At COP27, the President made clear that we will meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, while campaigning for more support to help vulnerable countries adapt to the catastrophic changes that communities are already experiencing from historic storms, droughts and heat waves – among other shocks – and to seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity to create well-paying jobs through the transition to renewable energy.
At the US-ASEAN and East Asia summits, we emphasized our commitment to a region that is free, open, prosperous and secure – where each country can choose its own path, free from coercion. Defending this and other international driving rules was at the heart of President Biden’s discussion with President Xi in Bali, where the leaders had a frank exchange about their respective priorities and intentions. President Biden made it clear that we will continue to compete vigorously with China. We are committed – as we do so – to working to prevent competition from turning into conflict – to manage our relationships responsibly.
Maintaining open lines of communication is essential to avoid conflict, as well as to cooperate on challenges such as the climate crisis and health security, which none of our countries – or anyone else for that matter – can solve effectively alone. The world expects that from us, and President Biden asked me to travel to China early next year to build on the productive discussion in Bali.
At the G20, we also brought together the world’s largest economies to tackle many of the challenges that have been exacerbated by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including the unprecedented global food crisis. Together, we sent a clear message to President Putin that he should extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was due to expire on Saturday. Russia, again, apparently heard and felt that the world would not accept Moscow’s refusal to extend the agreement.
We are deeply grateful for the successful diplomacy of UN Secretary-General Guterres and our Turkish allies, culminating in the announcement earlier today that the agreement would indeed go ahead. This is an important lifeline for the rest of the world, supplying more than 10 million tonnes of badly needed food – the overwhelming majority of which goes to developing countries.
While Russia appears to have heard the G20’s message on the grain deal, President Putin continues to ignore global calls for de-escalation, choosing instead to escalate, raining down scores of rockets on infrastructure across Ukraine that provides heat, water and electricity to millions. of civilians. What we see is a very telling split screen. As the world works to help the most vulnerable people, Russia is targeting them. While leaders around the world reaffirm their commitment to the UN Charter and international rules that benefit all our people, President Putin continues to try to tear down those same principles.
Having failed to seize Ukraine by force, President Putin seems to believe that plunging Ukrainians into darkness, cutting off their water, freezing them to death will break their will. For anyone who doubts the Ukrainians’ resolve, just look at the liberated people in Kherson – dancing in the streets, embracing Ukrainian soldiers, tearing down Russian propaganda posters after months of Russian oppression. Russia’s new strategy, like the old strategy, will fail. Ukrainian spirit is unbreakable; so is our commitment to support Ukraine.
In Bali, we also quickly brought together G7 and NATO leaders in a coordinated, unified response to the blast in eastern Poland. We have full confidence in Poland’s investigation. I spoke again today with Foreign Minister Kuleba, my Ukrainian counterpart. We will continue to be in very close contact with Ukraine and Poland, as well as our other allies and partners, as the Polish investigation progresses.
That said, regardless of the final conclusion, we already know the party ultimately responsible for this tragic event: Russia. Russia invaded its sovereign, independent neighbor. Rockets are raining down on the city, on the people, on the infrastructure. Ukraine – like any other nation – has the right to defend its people and defend its territory. We will continue to help them do just that.
People in every APEC economy are struggling with the global economic challenges that have been exacerbated by Russia’s war. Addressing these consequences together was a central focus of our meetings here in Bangkok. Thailand has shown exceptional leadership in steering APEC through a challenging time, but also in looking beyond the horizon of the current crises to systemic weaknesses that we must resolve together. The bio-circular-green economy model developed by Thailand has made environmental sustainability a core component of every discussion and everything we do in APEC, and that is exactly where it belongs.
The United States is committed to building on these and other areas of Thailand’s leadership as we assume the presidency of APEC next year. Our focus will be on creating a robust and sustainable future for all by building a region that is more connected, more innovative and more inclusive. My friend and colleague, US Trade Representative Tai, will share more details about our plans to advance these goals over the coming year.
As President Biden has said, this is a defining decade. What we do now will determine whether we are able to build a future that is indeed free, open, secure and prosperous, especially in this region, which more than any other will shape the path of the 21st century. That is what the world has seen from America over the past week, and that is the work we intend to continue through our leadership in APEC in the coming year.
With that, Katherine, let me leave it to you.
AMBASSADOR TAI: Can you all hear me?
SECRETARY BLINK: (Off-mike.) Yeah, I think it’s on.
AMBASSADOR TAI: OK. It is good to be here with you all in Bangkok. It has been great to see so many of my colleagues in person. I believe that there is a great energy when we meet face to face that really cannot be replaced and I look forward to having more productive discussions this week.
I would like to begin by congratulating Thailand on its leadership this year for taking our collective work forward and for its generous hospitality throughout our meetings. The United States has been a strong supporter of Thailand’s hosting year. We welcome Thailand’s increased focus on sustainability and inclusion, as well as supporting the WTO and promoting the implementation of MC12 outcomes.
These themes are more important than ever as we continue to face a world full of challenges and uncertainties – the economic fallout from COVID-19, Russia’s continued aggression in Ukraine, fragile supply chains, rising inequality and a worsening climate crisis, to name a few of the challenges . These are no small problems, and people’s confidence in the global economic system has been shaken. But as an incubator of ideas and a catalyst for cooperation, APEC is uniquely positioned to explore how we can build a more sustainable and resilient global economy. The Biden-Harris administration believes that trade can be a force for good to solve these problems, to create a race to the top that provides inclusive prosperity for all our citizens. The United States is fully committed to working with APEC economies to realize this vision and to strengthen our ties across this region.
And of the many things we have worked on, two areas stand out in trade. First, to protect the environment, and second, to address shared challenges such as supply chain disruptions and economic inequality. The right trade policy can help facilitate access to goods and services with lower emissions, promote investment in climate-friendly technologies and help stimulate environmental protection. And Thailand’s leadership in catalyzing APEC cooperation around the bio-circular-green economy model is a major contribution to making sustainability an even stronger core component of our time and focus of APEC in the area of trade.
In the pursuit of sustainable trade and understanding the true environmental and social costs of trade, we must also consider the people who work to make trade possible at every step of the supply chain, whether on farms or in factories. We have made good progress and we are excited to take up the mantle next year when the US hosts APEC. We will continue to build on the momentum from this year through existing work streams, but also develop new initiatives to prioritize resilience, sustainability, and yes, inclusion in our trade and investment efforts. We must continue to examine how trade policy can drive broad-based growth across the APEC region. This includes uplifting female entrepreneurs and workers, helping small businesses grow, and unlocking economic opportunity for underrepresented segments of our population.
During our hosting year, we look forward to working with other economies to build on these and other policies that support sustainable and inclusive trade. And I personally look forward to hosting the APEC Trade Ministers in Detroit, Michigan next May. Detroit embodies American innovation, ingenuity, and yes, even renewal. And I can’t wait to share the culture and history with our colleagues in this region.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we also have an important opportunity here to choose a path of inclusive, equitable growth, and to create a new tomorrow for our people and for our planet, to restore confidence in the global system by demonstrate that our work can build economies from the bottom up and the middle out. To seize this opportunity, we must continue to work together to build a more resilient economy that provides a prosperous future for all. I look forward to working with my colleagues to do just that. Thank you.
And now Tony and I are going to take some questions.
MR PRICE : We will now move to questions. We start with Will Mauldin of the Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ned. For Secretary Blinken, first of all, I guess we’ve seen a little bit of a disconnect between some of the things that the Biden administration and President Biden have said in relation to the missile that landed in Poland and what President Zelenskyy has focused on, with him calling it a Russian rocket. Later he had some other comments and said he wasn’t one hundred percent sure. So we are just wondering about communication and cooperation between the USA, Poland, other NATO countries and Ukraine. Is it still where it was? Is it where it should be? And then on President Zelenskyy, specifically, his credibility — is there any question about that in terms of the way this unfolded, this event, which scared a lot of people in the world.
And so for Ambassador Tai, I wanted to ask a little bit about — some of the goals that you have for the region, for sustainability in the Asia-Pacific, labor, the Indo-Pacific economic framework. What concrete evidence do you have that this is working, bringing the US closer to the region economically or business-wise? And we had a — we had a statement from President Xi saying today that any attempt to politicize and weaponize the economic and trade relations would be rejected by everybody. So wondering if it isn’t – conflicts with other goals in the region. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINK: Thanks, Will. Very sharp suit, by the way. Firstly, as I said a few moments ago, we have full confidence in the investigation that Poland is conducting. We commend them for doing it in a professional and very deliberate manner, and we do not want to get ahead of that work. We are still collecting the information. I think you heard us say that so far we haven’t seen anything that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this was probably the result of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that unfortunately landed in Poland. But we will continue to evaluate and share the new information.
We have been in regular contact with our Ukrainian partners throughout. I spoke with my colleague Foreign Minister Kuleba again today after speaking with him yesterday. We share the information we have. And again, the investigation is ongoing, so we have to follow this process through the conclusion. President Zelenskyy has been in contact with the Polish president himself to clarify the facts. The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said Ukraine is pursuing a comprehensive analysis of what happened.
So we also have among all of us – Ukraine, Poland, the US, our NATO allies, G7 partners – an obligation to follow the facts. But the most important thing of all is this: regardless of the exact details of this incident, Russia is responsible for what happened. What we see every single day now is Russia raining missiles down on Ukraine, trying to destroy its critical infrastructure, targeting Ukraine’s ability to keep the lights on, to keep the heat on, to let the country – simply to live , live and move on. And that is the reality. Ukraine has the right to defend itself, and we are committed to supporting Ukraine in all its efforts to defend itself.
AMBASSADOR TAI: Hi, Will. It’s good to see you. So with respect to the US program of economic engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, I’ll first just make a couple of comments about APEC. One is that it really is—I can’t stress this enough—how great it is to see you all in person here in Bangkok. And put that in the context of the fact that your jobs will actually give us a hard time, and I’m still glad to see you all here. It has been four years since APEC economies have been able to come together in person to do this, and I think that is an incredible achievement. And again, I would like to compliment the Thai government for a successful year where familiar challenges challenged us and also new challenges emerged. So it really is an incredible achievement.
So in terms of concrete evidence that financial engagement works, I think just look around us right now in terms of all the lights that are on, all the activity that’s going on here, and all the journey that has brought us together. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework you also mentioned—oh, before I go any further—and obviously we’re extremely excited to take the baton from our Thai partners and go into our APEC hosting year, where we’ll bring these economies, their stakeholders, and all of you back in the US within the next year.
On the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, 21st century framework for the 21st century challenges that we have described that come with 21st century opportunities, I want to call into all our consciousness the themes that Thais have put together for APEC 2022. And you will see those the words in the hallway outside. I think it’s open, connect, balance. I think it reflects the reality of a global economy where we feel imbalanced, we feel potentially disconnected, and we feel the need to maintain openness with each other.
So the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is America’s commitment, the economic program that we’re bringing. Lots of speed there. We hosted our first in-person ministerial meeting in Los Angeles in September. I think we have senior officials meetings in Australia in just two weeks – start rolling up your sleeves. And I think in terms of evidence that it works, I think it’s the momentum that carries us in and this unified vision around the need to reclaim and promote sustainability, resilience and inclusiveness to navigate through what we’re all facing right now.
MR PRICE: We’re turning to Francesca Regaldo from Nikkei Asia.
QUESTION: Good evening, Secretary, Ambassador. I wanted to ask – as you noted, it has been a difficult hosting year for Thailand, especially in terms of achieving consensus, given the extraordinary geopolitical circumstances. In its host year, how will the US manage to quell concerns that the group could splinter along geopolitical lines? And secondly, with the current political situation in the — political outcomes in the United States, does the administration have more room now to pursue a more tangible outcome of the IPEF negotiations?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m happy to begin. I think far from splitting along one line or another, I think we’re seeing increasing convergence among all the countries on the critical issues that actually matter in the lives of our citizens—all of our citizens. And the work that we’re doing together that will be manifested here—I don’t want to get ahead of it—but I think you’ll see coming out of Bangkok in the next 24 hours or so important steps forward that we to come together to meet these needs, to meet these concerns, to work effectively together to build a free, open and prosperous region. One area where you see it in particular is climate. But again, more to come.
And when it comes to our own elections, it’s not my job to do politics. All I can say is that I look forward to working with the new Congress when it meets next year. But I’m coming away from our time here in APEC, as well as the meetings we had with ASEAN, with the East Asia Summit, and of course the G20, where we’re seeing, case by case, as I said, an increasing convergence between the major countries in the world. That was reflected in the G20 statement that you saw a couple of days ago, and I think it will be reflected in the statement coming out of the APEC meetings here in Bangkok.
MR PRICE: We’re turning to Simon Lewis from Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you to the Secretary and Ambassador. Secretary Blinken, you mentioned the visit to China that you have agreed to make. I wonder if you can tell us what stage of – are the preparations out for that visit? When do you expect to be able to go? And when you go, what do you hope to achieve? Are there any specific areas in which you hope to cooperate more with China?
And second, today Myanmar’s military junta released hundreds of prisoners, including activists and some close advisers to Aung San Suu Kyi. Wondering if we could get your response on that and if you see that as potentially an opening, a sort of – a gesture from the junta. And if there’s something that — if the junta is kind of signaling that they’re ready to try to talk to the international community, even talk directly to the United States, is that something that you would be willing to do? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Simon, thank you very much. First, with respect to China, I think one of the important outcomes of the conversation that President Biden had with President Xi was a shared view that we need to keep open—and actually strengthen—lines of communication between our countries. It is necessary if we are to manage the relationship in a responsible way to manage the competition we have, so that it does not conflict, but also to try to find areas for cooperation, especially in matters that not only affect our own people, but has an impact on people around the world. Like I said, that’s what’s expected of us. And in fact, one of the things that I’ve heard from country after country here in Bangkok, as well as at the G20 after the meeting between the two presidents, was that they were very happy to see the leaders together, and again, they expect us to govern the relationship responsibly and hopefully not – also find ways to work together.
So the trip I’m going to take early in the year is to follow up on exactly that, on strengthening our lines of communication, following up on the discussion that the president – the presidents had across a whole range of issues, both bilateral issues between the US and China, regional issues that are of interest in countries throughout this area, and also global issues where again it’s important that we find ways to work together if we can – climate, global health, macroeconomics – because, again, it’s not only necessary to improve the lives of our own people, but the interests of people all over the world. So this just – this was just agreed a couple of days ago. We are working on the exact timing. We are working on the agenda in the coming weeks.
With regard to the release of prisoners today in Burma, let me first say how much we welcome the release of Kyaw Htay Oo who was imprisoned in Burma for more than 14 months, wrongfully detained. Our Ambassador Tom Vajda had an opportunity to see him when he left Burma en route to finally be reunited with his family. We appreciate the many allies and partners who pressured the Burmese regime to release him, including our friends here in Thailand. I really want to thank them for their efforts to get the prisoners released all the time, as you know, including wrongfully detained prisoners from the UK, from Australia and Japan. The safety and security of Americans abroad is my highest priority, and we will never stop working to secure the release of every American wrongfully detained.
Now, whether this signals something broader about the intentions of the regime, I can’t tell you. Too early to say. It is the one – I would say – bright spot in what is otherwise an incredibly dark time, where we see things going from bad to worse in Burma, including horrific violence being perpetrated against innocent Burmese. We have seen airstrikes on children’s schools, on gatherings of peaceful assemblies of people. We have seen summary executions. We see the ongoing imprisonment of many, many Burmese, including leaders of the democratic government who were deposed by the regime. And we have seen no evidence to date that the regime is interested in trying to find another way and move things forward, including the ASEAN Five Point Consensus which, at least to this date, the regime has ignored.
So at this point, while we’re happy to see the release of those wrongfully arrested, I can’t tell you that it suggests anything greater about whether or not there’s a real change of direction on the part of the regime. What we’re looking for is action in the days, weeks and months ahead. And that is how we will assess whether or not this represents any kind of change.
MR PRICE: We have time for one final question from TNN’s Varin Sachdev.
QUESTION: Welcome to Thailand. As both of you have mentioned that the APEC summit is being held under so many challenges and it is overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and tensions between the US and China, and President Jokowi also admitted himself that it was so difficult to negotiate and it is difficult for negotiations. So, having said that you are aiming for an agenda of sustainability and inclusion when you take on the baton from Thailand next year at the summit, how hopeful and how optimistic are you that you will be able to achieve this agenda, given the circumstances?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me just say very quickly — and turn it over to Ambassador Tai — our focus, our energy, our determination is to pursue an affirmative agenda for the American people as well as for people around the world, to meet the challenges that all of us face, as well as trying to make something out of the opportunities that are there and that are real for Americans and for people around the world. And so we know that we are facing enormous challenges at this moment, and we also know that we are not going to be able to effectively deal with them alone, any of us.
There is a greater premium on cooperation and coordination with other countries than there has ever been, and it puts a greater premium on gatherings, organizations, institutions such as APEC. It is more important than it has ever been, because whether it is about climate, whether it is about global health, whether it is about food insecurity, then we must be able to do this together – and whether it is to find the path to inclusive economic growth, to ensure that everyone comes and we create real opportunities going forward. Again, we have to do it in cooperation with others.
So we have a deep commitment to that, and that’s why, when I turn to Ambassador Tai, we really welcome the fact that we get to host APEC next year. It’s an opportunity for us to help promote the very good work that’s been done here and in Thailand, and again, to really keep the focus on this affirmative agenda. That’s what the world wants; that’s what the world needs.
AMBASSADOR TAI: What Tony said. I really agree with everything he said. And if I were to add just a little bit more of a trade and economic spin to it, it would basically be this, which is that I want to make it clear how bullish I am on 2023. We’re hosting APEC. We have gained momentum on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. We are reforming the WTO. None of this is easy, but in Tony’s opening remarks, he talked about how the president has identified that we are at a point in history where we have many challenges, yes, but this is an opportunity for us to put ourselves on the path to success. And that means sustainable economic growth that is inclusive and that we can build for resilience.
And I just want to emphasize here, which is that it is one thing to talk about sustainability, resilience and inclusion. The reason these are such powerful unifying themes for everyone in that APEC room is because we all feel the discomfort and anxiety of the global economy today. We need different results, and that means we also have to be innovative in how we engage each other in trade and finance and across the board. And again, APEC is uniquely positioned as a catalyst for cooperation, as a laboratory for ideas. And that’s part of the reason I’m so excited for a hosting year in 2023.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, everyone.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much.