East Asia and the Pacific: Remarks at Mansfield Foundation Event

As Prepared for Delivery
Over the past 70 years, we have witnessed amazing developments in the Asia-Pacific region. With hundreds of millions of citizens lifted out of poverty, the region is home to some of the fastest growing economies on the planet, home to more than one-third of the world’s population, and of course many dictatorships have been replaced by vibrant democracies in this dynamic region.
Nowhere are economic and strategic opportunities clearer or more compelling than in the Asia-Pacific. This is why the President made the strategic decision to rebalance America’s engagement and resources toward the region. Just think about the number of Presidential trips to the Asia-Pacific. The President has made seven visits to the region, including three separate visits to Japan and four visits to Seoul. Secretary Kerry has traveled to the region nine times in just two years.
So given this strategic and economic context, and the incredible potential for continued gains, it’s natural that President Obama decided that we need to double-down on our engagement with the region. As you know, there are several important aspects to this strategy.
The first pillar of the rebalance is of course our commitment to the region’s security, so we’re enhancing and modernizing our alliances, especially with Japan. Our two nations are revising our bilateral Defense Guidelines for the first time in nearly two decades. This review will help the Alliance evolve to reflect both the shifting security environment and the growing capabilities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. We’re conducting this review with maximum transparency: the United States and Japan are explaining our plans both domestically and internationally. This includes publishing an interim report on the new guidelines for public review. Meanwhile, we welcome Japan’s national discussion on collective self-defense.
We’ve also strengthened our security alliances with the Republic of Korea and other partners in the region. With the ROK, we have a new framework for the transfer of operational control of military forces during wartime that fully takes into account the critical defense capabilities needed, and the evolving security situation in the region. And our new Special Measures Agreement, or SMA, with South Korea ensures the continued resources our troops need to do their job.
So I think we are doing quite well on strengthening our alliances with both Japan and Korea. An equally exciting trend in our relations with our two close friends is that our partnerships with them are becoming increasingly global.
Think about what Japan has done recently. Japan has played a vital role in the global coalition against ISIL, and provided very generous humanitarian assistance across the affected area — and has felt firsthand the barbarity of ISIL’s brutal tactics. We too were deeply saddened by the tragic murders of Mr. Yukawa and Mr. Goto. At the same time, we were impressed by the Japanese government’s brave demonstration of resolve and solidarity against terrorism.
Japan has issued sanctions against Russia in response to its aggression in Ukraine, while offering $300 million in budgetary support to Ukraine’s Government. Japan remains united with us and the other G-7 nations in making clear to Russia the costs of its actions. The United States and Japan are two of the biggest contributors to the UN Green Climate Fund – which the ROK will host – to help developing countries counter climate change. I think this is a great example of the three countries’ cooperation on an important global initiative. On Ebola, Japan has donated about $150 million in the last year, and worked to alleviate health challenges and poverty across Africa and the world for many years before that. We applaud and welcome Japan’s commitment to peace and development in a region far from its shores.
The security provided by America’s alliance partnerships in the region have enabled an amazing economic miracle to take place, while U.S. businesses, workers, farmers, and consumers have been a dependable foundation for growth in the Asia-Pacific for decades.
We remain the single largest source of foreign direct investment in the region – U.S. investment stock in the Asia-Pacific reached $622 billion a couple of years ago in 2012. We are also the most important market for Asian goods, exchanging well over $1 trillion dollars in trade with the region each year.
But we’re not the only driver of growth in the Asia. Japan is fueling billions of dollars in trade with countries in the region. Overall, trade among APEC nations reached $1.4 trillion this year and is outpacing global trade growth by a 40 percent margin.
As we look forward, the single most important step we can take together for our economic relationships is completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is essential to President Obama’s top priority of creating good jobs in America. No doubt TPP will create jobs here but it’s really much more than that. We are working together to create a rules-based regional trade architecture built on transparency and competition. TPP will lower tariffs and bring high standards to an area covering a third of global trade and 40 percent of its GDP. It will change how we trade for decades to come.
This agreement is about more than the economic opportunities it unleashes, because the fact is, TPP is not just a technical trade agreement, it’s a strategic opportunity for the entire region. It will cement the strong alliance framework and partnerships that ensure the Asia-Pacific’s security and prosperity. We’ve long had a security presence in the region. The TPP will assure our allies and partners that our long-term commitment to the region reaches beyond security and into the economic realm.
TPP is also about protecting and promoting values – important values like fair labor standards, environmental protection, and laws updating intellectual property rights. Indeed, the standards enshrined within this agreement reflect our values and interests as nations committed to dynamic, just, and rules-based economic practices. Through TPP, our two countries are helping lead the region to higher standards for trade. But to achieve these ambitious goals, we need to resolve the remaining bilateral issues between us.
We believe the end of the negotiations is in sight. And we’re excited. Concluding and ratifying this agreement is the most important thing we can do this year to strengthen our relationships around the Pacific Rim for many, many years to come.
Japan and other allies such as the ROK are key partners in the regional institutions that help apply values of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law and make them real. Both countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ “ASEAN plus three” group, and in EAS, APEC and the G20. Meanwhile, as the two largest economies in Asia, stable and productive relations between China and Japan are essential to the peace and prosperity of the region and the world.
We welcome last November’s understanding between China and Japan to improve relations, in particular their stated intent to establish a crisis management mechanism to avoid accidents. We hope that mechanism comes to pass. Last July, Chinese President Xi became the first Chinese president to visit Seoul before visiting Pyongyang – or even meeting the North Korean leader. Before that visit, President Park had a good visit to China, her second overseas trip as President. Her first trip was of course to the US.
Now, I really don’t want to move away from these positive developments in the region but I know I have to talk to you about the gravest security threat we face in Asia: North Korea. Over the years, I have had opportunities to discuss this with many of you — Frank, Mark (CRS), Shigeo… I wish I had something encouraging to report but unfortunately I don’t…
The DPRK’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, its rejection of international obligations, its broken promises, its provocations, and its flagrant disregard for international norms — including respecting the human rights of its people — are a direct challenge to the stability and security of NE Asia. Together with the international community, we are making clear to the DPRK that abandoning this course and abiding by international laws and obligations is the only way to end its political and economic isolation.
The Executive Order signed by the President on January 2 is an important new tool, enhancing our ability to apply pressure on Pyongyang. It responds to the attack on Sony Pictures, but also provides a framework for addressing the full range of DPRK illicit behavior going forward.
Our alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea are at the core of our Six-Party diplomacy. Both allies remain fully committed to the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and an end to North Korea’s illicit behavior.
Meanwhile, in the year since the UN Commission of Inquiry documented North Korea’s dire human rights situation, we have worked closely with the international community to maintain focus on this issue. The UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly this past year adopted by overwhelming margins resolutions calling for accountability for North Korea’s human rights abuses. We have made clear that we will respond to the DPRK’s misbehavior. We have no illusions about the DPRK’s willingness to abandon its illicit weapons, provocations, and human rights abuses on its own. We will continue to apply pressure both multilaterally and unilaterally to increase the costs to the DPRK of its destructive policy choices.
At the same time, the United States has offered – and continues to offer – Pyongyang an improved bilateral relationship provided it works with us to fulfill its denuclearization commitments and address other important concerns. And we will continue to pursue credible and authentic negotiations to bring the DPRK into compliance with its denuclearization obligations.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and founding of the U.N, as well as the 50th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Korea and Japan. Perhaps the most delicate challenge we face together, in this year of remembrance, is addressing the sensitive legacy of the last century. We welcomed Prime Minister Abe’s New Year’s remarks, which started 2015 on a positive note. I believe firmly that all have an interest in working together – in handling commemorations this year in a way that truly promotes reconciliation.
The fact is that Americans should care deeply about Japan’s relationships with its neighbors. All of us have a huge stake in cooperation in Northeast Asia.
That’s why I’m glad that my Japanese and Korean colleagues work closely together, including on a trilateral basis with the United States on issues such as North Korea, even as they try to address difficult and painful issues from the past.
Let me conclude by talking briefly about something that is perhaps the most basic aspect of our relations with both Japan and Korea: people-to-people ties. One of the most important things I learned during my 26 years in diplomacy, especially as Ambassador to Seoul, is the value of people-to-people exchanges at all levels — professionals, high school students, college students, scientists, businesspeople, artists. These connections are what bring countries together. We’re pleased to work with the Japanese government in trying to expand such programs, especially study abroad programs. As you know, the number of Japanese students studying in the United States has dropped precipitously since the late 90s. We encourage and support the Japanese government’s efforts to double student exchanges with the rest of the world by 2020.
As Deputy Secretary Blinken noted during his visit to Tokyo last week, the No. 1 supporter and cheerleader for these programs is President Obama. He himself benefitted from exchange programs in his youth. He knows the power that they bring.
So let me thank again the S&R Foundation and the Mansfield Foundation for all your work to deepen ties between Americans and Japanese, and for allowing me to address this terrific audience. Thank you very much.