Press Availability at the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings

Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
August 4, 2018

SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. It’s been an honor to participate in my first ASEAN ministerial meetings here in Singapore. I want to first thank Foreign Minister Balakrishnan for hosting. We have reaffirmed our strong bilateral relationship, and it’s great to be back in Singapore again after having been here in June.

We remain grateful for Singapore’s support of President Trump’s successful summit back in June, and we appreciate Singapore’s dedicated efforts to promote a resilient and innovative ASEAN during this past year. I also appreciate the opportunity to have met with Prime Minister Lee to discuss the critically important and strategic U.S.-Singapore partnership.

And I’d like here, too, to pause just for a moment to offer my condolences on behalf of the United States to the people of Laos regarding the recent unfortunate tragedy and loss of life from the dam breach. We have disaster relief experts on the ground and are supporting Lao authorities and international humanitarian organizations with needed assistance. Our condolences also go to the victims of recent flooding and landslides in Myanmar and the earthquake in Indonesia.

Throughout my ASEAN-centered engagements these past days I’ve conveyed President Trump’s commitment to this vital part of the world that continues to grow in importance. Security has been a major focus of our conversations. As part of our commitment to advancing regional security in the Indo-Pacific, the United States is excited to announce nearly $300 million in new funding to reinforce security cooperation throughout the entire region. This new security assistance will advance our shared priorities, especially to strengthen maritime security, develop humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping capabilities, and enhance programs that counter transnational threats.

I’ve also emphasized the importance of maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim. It’s worth remembering this isn’t just an American security goal; it is clear our partners and allies within ASEAN know how important the denuclearization of North Korea is for their own security. I called on them to strictly enforce all sanctions, including the complete shutdown of illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum destined for North Korea.

We have seen reports that Russia is allowing for joint ventures with North Korean firms and granting new work permits to North Korean guest workers. If these reports prove accurate – and we have every reason to believe that they are – that would be in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2375.

I want to remind every nation that has supported these resolutions that this is a serious issue and something that we will discuss with Moscow. We expect the Russians and all countries to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions and enforce sanctions on North Korea. Any violation that detracts from the world’s goal of finally fully denuclearizing North Korea would be something that America would take very seriously.

In addition, while here at ASEAN I raised concerns about Chinese militarization of the South China Sea and the importance of maintaining a rules-based order in the region. And we discussed advancing cooperation on counterterrorism, including addressing the threat of foreign terrorist fighters returning to the region, and cyber security.

While reaffirming our support for Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition, we also addressed the important steps required to resolve the continuing humanitarian crisis in the Rakhine State.

Progress on these and other critical security issues is essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific. ASEAN will remain at the center of this effort. A free Indo-Pacific is one in which every citizen can exercise his or her fundamental rights without any constraint.

Regarding the issue of good governance, we regret the elections in Cambodia were neither free nor fair. The Cambodian people deserve better.

Economically, President Trump recognizes the long-term strategic importance of one of the world’s most competitive regions. The Indo-Pacific has been and will be a major engine of economic growth, and President Trump wants to make sure America and all countries can responsibly reap the benefits of all current and future opportunities. The United States is committed to doing just that according to our values, the rule of law, transparency, and good governance.

As I said earlier this week, the United States practices partnership economics; we seek partnership, not dominance. Earlier this week at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum hosted by the United States Chamber of Commerce, I outlined the Trump administration’s economic strategy for advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific, and I talked about why U.S. businesses’ engagement in the region is crucial to our mission of promoting peace, stability, and prosperity.

There is no better force for prosperity in the world than American businesses. When nations partner with American firms, they can have confidence they are working with the most scrupulous, well-run, and transparent companies in the world. As a down payment on a new era in American economic commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, I announced at the forum $113 million in new U.S. Government resources to support foundational areas of the future: the digital economy, energy, and infrastructure.

In addition, the Trump administration is working with Congress to encourage the passage of the BUILD Act. It recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now before the United States Senate. Under this bill, the government’s development finance capacity would more than double to $60 billion to support U.S. private investment in strategic opportunities abroad. These initiatives are strategic investments designed to spur our partners’ engagement with American companies, the greatest force for prosperity in the world.

As part of the $113 million I announced this week, 10 million in funding to support economic programming, much of which will fall under the U.S.-ASEAN Connect program. The United States will continue to work with our partners to foster regional security, fair and reciprocal economic partnerships, and good governance so that independent nations of the Indo-Pacific region can prosper side-by-side in freedom and peace.

Last year we celebrated 50 years of ASEAN’s success. This year we look forward to ASEAN’s continued centrality in the Indo-Pacific region as we celebrate a fruitful U.S.-ASEAN strategic partnership.

And with that, I’m happy to take a few questions.

MS NAUERT: Okay, we have time for three questions. The first one – and one question each, please – Tracy Wilkinson from the LA Times.



QUESTION: Thank you. Okay, so could you talk to us a little bit about how difficult it is or complicated it is to talk to China, to negotiate with China and ask them to help on North Korea, when you are engaged in such a brutal trade war with them?

And on North Korea you talked about – you called on them, so I’m thinking you actually met with the North Koreans here. Is that true? And you said earlier today that they – that Kim kind of controls the timeline of denuclearization, and so what do you want to see as the next major step there?

And finally, you’ve mentioned —

MS NAUERT: Tracy, one question.

SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s six by my count.

QUESTION: No, that was just two. (Laughter.) Okay.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So let me start with the first issue you raise, which is the U.S. relationship with China. President Trump desperately wants free, open, fair trade all across the world. All the work that we’re doing in the trade arena is designed exactly for that purpose. President Trump inherited an unfair trade regime where American workers and American companies were not treated reciprocally or fairly by the Chinese, and the efforts of the Trump administration are to right that, to correct that, to adjust that. And I talked with my Chinese counterpart about that yesterday. We also, of course, talked about the importance of enforcing the UN Security Council resolutions, and they made clear their continued commitment to do that.

Your second question was about North Korea and progress along the way. Chairman Kim made a commitment on June 12th in this very place. He said that he would denuclearize his country. We have been working since then to develop the process by which that will be achieved. We were heartened by the repatriation of the remains of 55 persons, a commitment that Chairman Kim has made. He made a commitment to begin the dismantlement of an engine test site. That work has begun.

The process of achieving denuclearization of North Korean – the North Korean peninsula is one that I think we have all known would take some time, but I must say from my meetings here the world is united in seeing this achieved. There has not been a single country that hasn’t thanked the United States for its efforts in moving the world towards the possibility of achieving this end-state goal. We’re determined to do it. Chairman Kim is committed to doing it. I am optimistic that we will get this done in the timeline and the world will celebrate what the UN Security Council has demanded.

QUESTION: Did you meet with the North Koreans here today?


QUESTION: Did you meet with the North Koreans here?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve not met with the North Koreans.


SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve not met with the North Koreans here.

MS NAUERT: Next. Next question, Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. On Turkey, do you anticipate now that Pastor Andrew Brunson still has not been released that the U.S. would consider imposing new sanctions on Turkey? And does the deterioration of ties with Turkey on this issue, but more broadly, threaten Turkey’s membership in the NATO alliance?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I had a constructive conversation with my counterpart yesterday. I made clear that it is well past time that Pastor Brunson be free and be permitted to return to the United States, and the others behind held by Turkey also similarly must be freed as well. I am hopeful that in the coming days we will see that occur, and I don’t want to predict in the future what we might or might do to further enhance the likelihood that that occur. We had a good conversation. I’m very hopeful that we will make progress along that in the days and weeks ahead.

And more broadly, there are lots of challenges with Turkey but places that, frankly, I’ve worked closely with my foreign minister – the work that – their foreign minister. We’ve – we developed a roadmap for how we would proceed in Manbij – a very contentious issue that existed for a long time. We’ve not only achieved agreement but made actual progress on the ground in implementing that agreement. We’re working diligently, and Turkey is a NATO partner with whom the United States has every intention of continuing to work cooperatively.

MS NAUERT: And our last question goes to Charissa Yong from the Straits Times. Hi, Charissa.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. My question is you said that ASEAN remains central to the free and open Indo-Pacific, but in practice what does that mean? Will ASEAN have a seat at the table for trade negotiations and all of that or free trade arrangement programs, or will it be more of a top-down approach?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am. Precisely how that will play out will be up to each of the ASEAN countries to see how they will choose to participate in that. As I said, this has been my first trip here to ASEAN and to a ministerial meeting, but it’s not the first time I’ve interacted with nearly each of the countries, my counterparts with whom I’ve had the chance to meet during this trip.

What I have found from this ASEAN gathering is a deep commitment to work along the United States – along with the United States on the things that are important to each of their countries, to ASEAN, and to the United States. I’ve talked about them here this morning: a free and open Indo-Pacific, a place where every country can have true opportunity to compete, to transit their goods, in a way that is not dominated, not threatened by any one member of ASEAN or any country in the region. That’s important, and it is among those security and economic objectives are very much at the center of what ASEAN has stood for now for over five decades, and I think this particular ministerial moved that forward significantly as well.

Thank you, all.

MS NAUERT: Thank you. Thank you, everybody.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, all. Have a great day.