Background Press Call By a Senior Administration Official On the Vice President's Engagements in Thailand

Published: Fri Nov 18 2022

Via Teleconference

9:17 P.M. ICT

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Hello, everyone. Thanks for your patience tonight. We're ready to get started. Just as a reminder, today's call will be on background, attributed to a "senior administration official."

We are going to do this call in two parts. The first part will be immediately reportable; there's no embargo on that. And we'll review the Vice President's engagements here today in Thailand, and we'll take a few questions on that front if there are.

We will then transition to preview tomorrow's events and that will be embargoed until 6:00 a.m. local time in Bangkok, 6:00 p.m. in Washington.

So, again, not for your reporting, but for your awareness, our speaker today is [senior administration official], hereinafter referred to as a "senior administration official." [Senior administration official] will give some brief remarks recapping today, and then we can open up for questions.

Again, this first portion is immediately reportable, no embargo.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. And good evening to everybody. Sorry to keep you waiting. I will be brief about today, but look forward to your questions.

As you all saw, I think after the DPRK launched a long-range missile this morning, the Vice President convened a group of Indo-Pacific leaders who were present here in Bangkok, at APEC. And she convened them to consult on next steps on this issue and to jointly condemn the DPRK's provocative act.

This was a meeting that came together quickly, but the Vice President wanted to do it for the reasons I said. And the meeting was actually very productive and free flowing. It was a chance for these leaders, who are all deeply concerned about North Korean actions, to consult and to come together and jointly condemn these destabilizing activities, which, as they pointed out, are in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. They come as part of a pattern of increased North Korean missile tests.

Some of you will recall that - North Korea's undertaking missile tests at the time of the Vice President's trip to the Republic of Korea a couple of months ago, and that pattern continued today with the ICBM test. And the Vice President wanted to consult with our close allies and partners on this, and that's what she did in that meeting.

She also, during her remarks at the APEC Leaders' Retreat, condemned the DPRK's missile launch in front of other world leaders present there.

At the APEC meeting itself, as we have discussed previously, she used her engagement in the Leaders' Retreat to lay out the United States' vision for economic rules and norms to underscore our commitment - our economic commitment to the Indo-Pacific that goes along with our strategic and security commitment. And she laid out our economic agenda, what we've done and what we intend to do, including in our host year of APEC next year. And she gave quite a comprehensive assessment of U.S. economic approach in the region in her remarks to the APEC CEO forum.

So, that's essentially what we wanted to convey about today's events, and happy to take whatever questions you might have before we give you a preview of tomorrow.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Okay, great. Thanks. If anyone has any questions about today, please use the "raise hand" function at the bottom of your screen. And we'll just give folks a moment to lodge those questions, and we'll go from there.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Our first question will go to Jasmine Wright. Jasmine, your line should be unmuted now.

Q Hi all. Thanks for doing this call. I have two questions for you. First is: Has the Vice President spoken to President Biden yet about the missile launch? If so, did she call him? Did he call her? And can you give some details on how that conversation went?

And my second question is: Could you describe what the Vice President's level of concern was while being briefed but also while in the meetings? As you said, this definitely is like an increased cadence of actions from North Korea, so - and - so I'm just wondering if you can describe her level of concern.

Also, after the meeting, the Japanese foreign minister said that the missile had the capability to U- - reach U.S. mainland. I'm wondering if this is something that the Japanese Prime Minister shared with the Vice President while in the emergency meeting.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Jasmine. The Vice President hasn't had the chance to speak with the President today, but her national security team has been in close touch with counterparts in Washington and around the world, keeping her briefed and coordinating U.S. policy.

On her level of concern, I think I characterized her deep concern with this provocative action. I think the words you used just a minute ago were "increased cadence," which I referred to as well. The DPRK has been not just testing missiles but doing so with increasing frequency.

And then, of course, today's action was further escalation because of the range of the missile. Most of the recent tests, as you know, have been medium-range missiles. This was a longer-range missile, which does, as the Japanese foreign minister noted, have the capability of reaching the United States and many other countries around the world.

And indeed, I would underscore that - about the meeting that was held today - I think there's growing global concern about North Korean tests, precisely because it is developing missiles with ranges that can hit many, many countries around the world, including the United States.

So, yes, the Vice President was deeply concerned, and that was one of the reasons she wanted to call this group together and join together in condemning this action.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Great, thanks so much. Our next question will go to Shaun Tandon. Shaun, your line should be unmuted.

Q Hey, [senior administration official]. Thanks for doing this. Could I ask you about engagements, if any, with the Chinese? Obviously, President Biden met a few days ago with Xi Jinping, so maybe - I'm sure you're not expecting a formal bilat here, but was there any exchanges, informally or otherwise, with the Chinese president or other members of the Chinese leadership?

And if I could just expand a little bit on North Korea. The Australian Prime Minister Albanese was afterwards saying that one of the - that one of the things that was discussed was the idea of having an emergency Security Council meeting about North Korea. Is that something that the United States favors? Were there any other - were there any other goals that were set out from this from this meeting today about where to go forward on North Korea? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, on the latter, first: Yes, the United States does believe that the Security Council should meet and discuss this issue. And it was indeed one of the things that the Vice President brought up with - with counterparts around the table today.

On engagement with China, again, I don't have any meetings to announce. I would note, as you did, that the President just met at great length with President Xi. President Xi was also in the Leaders' Retreat this morning with the Vice President, participating in that APEC discussion. But there hasn't been a direct meeting.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Thank you. Next, we'll go to Poppy McPherson. Poppy, your line is unmuted.

Q Hi, thanks. Just following up on that, did you - did you or allies intend to engage China or encourage them to pressure North Korea on the missile launch? And has any approach been made?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are in regular contact with China on this issue. It's something President Biden brought up. We do think that Beijing has a role to play. That is, indeed, one of the reasons for taking this to the U.N. Security Council. And it will definitely be part of our diplomacy to try to get China to join the countries that went on record today in condemning this, and using its influence to persuade the DPRK not to go in this provocative direction, which only destabilizes the region and the world.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: And our next question will go to Patsy Widakuswara. Patsy, your line should be unmuted.

Q Hi, can you hear me?

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Yes, we can.

Q Thanks. Thanks for taking my question. So I was wondering if you can flesh out a little bit more of the details, the schedule of the Vice President's visit to Palawan. And, you know, obviously we know it's very close point to the Spratly Island. Is there any kind of particular message you're sending to the region? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, we'll be sharing more details about the schedule as it emerges in the next couple of days. But I think we've said already that there are a number of reasons to go to Palawan. And the Vice President often likes to get out of capital city, and she'll have a chance to engage with locals there, including locals in the fishing community.

She'll have a chance to underscore - and I think this is the issue you're alluding to - the U.S. commitment to freedom of navigation, which is obviously an important issue in and around Palawan. And she'll have a chance to talk about environmental issues and the impact of climate change and the consequences of illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing.

So all of those factors are at play there. And so that's why she's going. And it will really be an important opportunity for her to underscore our concern about that entire set of issues.

As for the precise details of what she'll do that day, we'll be announcing that soon.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: All right. Thank you.

I think we will now transition to the second half of our call. So, the for- - so the new ground rules for this, again, will be embargoed until 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 19th, in Bangkok, and 6:00 p.m. on Friday, November 18th, in Washington.

And the purpose of this portion of the call is to preview the Vice President's day on Saturday in Bangkok. As most of you who - should have received an embargoed factsheet announcing a series of deliverables, so encourage you to report on that. Embargoed until 6:00 a.m.

And to speak a little bit more about that, I will turn it back over to our speaker.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. So, yeah, tomorrow we'll begin with another APEC session, another Leaders' Retreat at which, by the way, the Vice President will also take the baton, so to speak, from Thailand, who is the 2022 host, for the U.S. 2023 host year.

After that meeting, she will have a meeting with Prime Minister Prayut of Thailand. And she'll have an opportunity in that meeting to commend Thailand on its successful host year and thank Thailand for the strong foundation it created going into our host year.

She'll welcome the Bio-Circular-Green Economy model that has been a feature of Thailand's approach, which we support, and they'll discuss other efforts to accelerate action on the climate crisis.

To that end - and I think you've all seen the embargoed factsheet, which has a series of climate and clean energy deliverables - climate and clean energy is a real focus, both for the Vice President and the Prime Minister, and she wanted to use her visit here as a way to move forward on several initiatives, which is what we're doing.

I want to call your attention in particular to one item on the factsheet, which is that the Vice President will launch a FIRST Program Partnership - F-I-R-S-T - which is the U.S. Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology Program. And we really look forward to working with Thailand to take advantage of the benefits of small modular reactors and reliable clean energy sources.

The Vice President will also raise economic issues, including supply chain resilience and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF.

On security, Thailand is, of course, our only defense treaty ally in mainland Southeast Asia, one of two treaty allies in Southeast Asia. And the Vice President will be going to the other, the Philippines, the next day.

But Thailand is, therefore, an essential partner in advancing peace and security in the Indo-Pacific. And you can expect the Vice President and Prime Minister Prayut to discuss the strong nature of our security cooperation, including the Cobra Gold exercise, which is the largest and longest-running multilateral exercise in Southeast Asia.

We anticipate they will have a discussion on regional and global issues as well. And you can expect that she'll raise the importance of standing up for international rules and norms, which I know you've seen has been a theme that she has stressed throughout the world and including in the Indo-Pacific. And she'll do that also including in the context of Russia's brutal and unjustified war in Ukraine.

With that, I will stop and, again, look forward to your questions.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Okay, again, if you have questions about the Vice President's program in Thailand on Saturday and any deliverables or substance of that, please use the "raise hand" function at the bottom of your screen.

Actually, we have a few more comments from our speaker before we turn it over to calls. Give us one more moment.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just to add to the regional agenda and make sure I was being comprehensive about that, those discussions we can expect will also include Burma, where the Vice President and the prime minister, I think, will discuss our shared concerns over the political and humanitarian crisis. She'll acknowledge Thailand's long tradition of humanitarian generosity and discuss how we can best support the people of Burma as they seek to restore their country's democratic transition.

And the regional discussion will also include the Mekong region. There are a number of initiatives on women entrepreneurs in health and environmental conservation that the Vice President will be launching.

We recognize Thailand's leadership in the region, and we welcome the close cooperation on regional development. And we'll have more to say about the Mekong region on Sunday when the Vice President meets with activists from northern Thailand, but I just wanted to make sure to stress that Burma and the Mekong will also be included in the regional discussion with the prime minister.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Great. Okay, now we'll take questions about this program in Thailand. If you have any questions, please use the "raise hand" function at the bottom of your screen. We'll give folks a moment to weigh in.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Okay, our first question would go to Yiamyut Sutthichaya. Your "hand" should be unmuted.

Q Thanks for letting me ask. Is there any chance for the Vice President to address - speak to Prayut regarding the human rights situation in relation to the recent protests crackdown today in Bangkok? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for raising that. And I think you know everywhere the Vice President goes - and, in fact, all U.S. leaders - we stress the importance of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. And I think you can expect the Vice President will raise that in meetings here tomorrow as well.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Next, we will go to Christopher Woody. Your line should be unmuted.

We're having trouble hearing you if you're speaking.

While we're waiting for audio from Christopher, we can go to Kemi Osukoya. Kemi, your line should be unmuted.

Q Hi, good morning. Can you hear me?


Q Okay. Good morning. Thank you for taking my question. I was wondering if you could talk more about the global health aspects. It said that there will be $600,000 that will be donated for the Oncology Center, if you can talk about that, and also talk about the woman initiative program that will be funded.

Hello? Hello?


Q Oh, okay. Yeah, I can hear you.


Yeah, I mean, I don't - you have the embargoed factsheet, and I don't really have much to add beyond the details that is in there about the Oncology Center. Our Trade and Development Agency is leading that project. And, as you noted, it's going to be $600,000 for the Oncology Center.

And, you know, we've got some information on the factsheet about it, but I think if you want more detail than that, I would be happy to refer you to USTDA who can walk you through the details.

You see other global health initiatives in the factsheet as well. And as you know, it is a real priority for the Vice President around the world and in this region as well, as is the other issue you mentioned, which is women's issues. And she has really made it a priority to engage with women around the world and underscore the point that she frequently makes that when you lift up women, and especially young women, and involve them in the economy, you're not only helping them but you're helping the entire society and their families, and with productivity and prosperity.

And so that is why she will be engaging with women on this trip. And it's why some of the deliverables that, including what you referenced in the factsheet, are specifically designed to provide opportunities and lift up women.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Great. Okay. We'll try to unmute and have Christopher Woody give it another go. Chris?

Q Hi. Thanks. Can you hear me?


Q Hi, thank you for your time, and sorry for the audio issue. I wanted to ask about follow-up on the defense ties reference. Thailand also has a relationship with China, including military exercises. And there's a report this week they're going to discuss Chinese engines for submarines Thailand is building. So, does the Vice President have any plans to raise Thailand's relationship with China during her meeting and address any concerns about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think our focus is going to be on the positive agenda that we are pursuing. Thailand is a sovereign country and has ties with other countries, including China. We've made no secret about the reality that the United States competes with China. But we also recognize and respect the sovereignty of our partners and allies around the world.

I think the Vice President will make a positive case about - not just about the value of U.S. security cooperation and defense ties, but also, importantly, the importance of international rules and norms, which I've said she stresses around the world and has done so particularly in Southeast Asia where they can often be challenged by illegal and unreported fishing, by certain environmental practices, and also by security forces when they don't respect sovereignty and territorial integrity and freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.

So, I think by standing up for those norms, the Vice President will also be standing up for Thailand, which I think the Thais appreciate and value in the United States as a security partner.

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: All right. Well, thank you very much. That will do it for tonight's briefing.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out.

And for those who did not receive the embargoed factsheet, we can share it with all participants.

Again, this portion of the briefing is embargoed until 6:00 a.m. on Saturday in Bangkok and 6:00 p.m. on Friday evening in Washington. Thank you all very much. Have a good morning and evening. Thanks.

END 9:40 P.M. ICT

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