MODERATOR: Hey everybody. Again, in an effort to try to get as many people here and brief you on the things that are going on this week —
MODERATOR: — happy to bring in Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell for this briefing, which will be on the record, and we have about half an hour for this, okay. Sir, go ahead.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Well, good afternoon, everyone. As you know, Deputy Secretary Sullivan and his counterparts from Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany – five sponsors total – hosted a panel discussion earlier today on the margins of the UN General Assembly, the topic being the human rights crisis in Xinjiang. We heard from one survivor from the internment camp, and then two others whose families are – have been sort of cut off, disappeared, kind of telling their stories about the current situation there.
The speakers all showed great bravery and courage in sharing on deeply painful experiences and then subjecting themselves to the risk of other treatment for their own families still in Xinjiang, and some concern about potential repercussions here in the States.
According to U.S. estimates and those of independent organizations, China has detained more than 1 million individuals in internment camps since April 2017, individuals being detained arbitrarily for simple expressions of cultural and religious identity. For example, possessing books on Islam and Uighur culture, reciting the Koran at a funeral, or even wearing religious attire will get you to negative attention from the government, the PRC.
I can read you the rest of this, but I’ll leave it at that. I’m happy to discuss anything else from the afternoon. Just trying to be tight on time.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you, you mentioned briefly that they might face retribution here in the States.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: There was discussion on the record earlier, a roundtable event where —
QUESTION: Where? Outside?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: In that – over at the press center in the U.S. Embassy – where Nury Turkel noted that you get threatening emails and things through WeChat and other means. That seems consistent with other reporting.
QUESTION: That can be definitely tied to the government, or are these just kind of like trolls?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: He did not make that clear, but he was clearly threatened.
QUESTION: I’m curious if you were planning to do any sanctions, any – take any further steps. I understand that – that are looking to put together an alliance on this, but are there going to be more concrete actions anytime soon?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: The fact that this is coming to more public view this week, this is not the first time we’ve done this. Because you remember there was a letter that the U.S. coordinated between 22 other likeminded nations identifying broad concern for the stories coming out of Xinjiang. The Chinese responded with a letter of 37 signatories, one of which – Qatar backed out, unsigned theirs. A number of the people who signed that 37 – that Chinese letter actually attended today. There were more than 30 nations represented, to include the EU and the UN representatives were there.
And so we had the event yesterday the President hosted on religious freedom, and the Uighur question was a major part of that. Before that we had the religious freedom event at the State Department hosted by the Secretary, this topic was also a part. My point is that the volume is coming up at a pace that we hope the Beijing government recognizes not just U.S. but global concern about this situation.
So when you ask about action, there is action going on. This is the next step. The American theme for this UNGA, UNGA 74, was religious freedom as a primary theme. Remember the – if you heard the President’s presentation this morning, that was a major part.
QUESTION: Yes. At the Foreign Press Center event, you had said that the United States Government intends to raise the water temperature on Beijing, giving them an opportunity to react. I know that the State Department doesn’t like to preview sanctions, but what other actions can we foresee being taken, kind of going on the previous question?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Yeah. So my comment was basically that as you look backwards, you can note – you note that the water temperature has been rising to date. As you say, previewing these things isn’t typically smart, even for a guy like me fairly new to the job. And so this, I think, is a significant step in soliciting public and open support for the U.S. position. We had five – or four cosponsors, along with us, that’s five States – not just attending, but actually agreeing, all offering interventions during the event as to their also shared concern with what’s going on. We’ll see how that plays, see how Beijing reacts, and take it from there.
QUESTION: You mentio ned that religious freedom event yesterday. In the President’s speech at that event, he didn’t mention China or the Uighurs at all. Does his failure – or his not mentioning it undermine the pressure that you (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Clearly, I don’t speak for the President. I’ll note that the event has definitely addressed this issue – the Vice President, the Secretary, and others. So I don’t know what the coordination was beforehand. I would take it as it was presented, that this Uighur issue is just – it’s out there with all the rest of the issues (inaudible).
QUESTION: Given that there’s ongoing trade talks with China, would this issue ever be included in those discussions? Have they been raised within this context as kind of a repercussion economically on that front?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: The event this week – I just read – it was brought down. I know we’re doing trade talks next week, or we plan to, wait and see what the Chinese response is. I’d be hesitant to link things. This isn’t the only issue that we’re working with the Chinese on. There’s multiple, and so let’s just say they are all ongoing as far as – whether they’re all coordinated, it’s – I don’t care to speculate.
QUESTION: So you believe they can be negotiated separately for —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Absolutely.
MODERATOR: One question in the back, and then up to you.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Ryo Nakamura, working for Nikkei, the Japanese media. How much are you concerned about the Chinese high-tech companies such as Huawei or Hikvision (inaudible) Chinese Government to monitor people in Xinjiang? Are you considering concrete action to punish them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Well, I think you note that the U.S. has notified American companies of – be aware of what your products that you’re selling are being used for. Nobody wants to be complicit in something like this. During the event, the – one of the speakers noted the heavy surveillance activity there, and phone calls and other things. Financial transactions have been monitored. And it is a fairly intrusive sort of security posture. I mentioned at the previous event that having visited there – when I was based in Beijing at the embassy in 2012, it was already a fairly significant – I mean, no kidding, you didn’t have to look around very far to see the security presence, police state issues, and layers and layers of it. So I don’t think it’s gotten any better over time, and apparently it’s gotten worse.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: One of the suggestions made yesterday by one of the activists (inaudible) was working to get an accounting of who was actually detained, getting a list of names so people could understand what is happening to the families. Is that a realistic undertaking? Is that something that the international community (inaudible)?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: I mean, I think so. It was mentioned today by Nury as well. At the last event, Scott Busby from DRL was with me, and that would be definitely up his lane, and so I’m going to ask you to find DRL, either new DRL Assistant Secretary Bob Destro, who I confirmed with, who I’m so happy to see, of the three of us, now we are all on board, or to Scott as well. He’s here in town as well.
QUESTION: Can I ask one other question? There’s a video that’s been released within the last couple weeks showing Uighurs being transferred from one camp to another shackled, blindfolded. Do you know anything about the – whether or not that’s an authentic video?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: So the U.S. Government’s taken a look at that and done its best to authenticate it, and as far as – the U.S. Government believes the video is authentic, and they located it somewhere near the city of Kashgar, which was also mentioned by Mr. Turkel. This activity is happening in that area still. But – so let’s not talk about the validity of any particular evidence. It’s the summary of evidence, it’s the bulk of evidence that starts off with the Australian Broadcasting Company, Four Corners, BBC, lots of news articles to include from Arabic language outlets. And obviously, some Japanese and others – Economist – have all noted the same thing.
One of the points in the deputy secretary’s comments this morning was if there is nothing to see here – we saw the UN counterterrorism lead travel to Xinjiang, and came back saying there’s nothing wrong here. But later on, the UN acknowledged that was probably not the right format to – that’s not how you send in an investigative team to validate this. And so the deputy secretary also noted that and identified that it didn’t really help the situation by doing that, by agreeing to do that. So my point is if really there’s nothing to see here, then let people go in there to see it. It’s very difficult to get to Xinjiang, especially on an official delegation. If you open the doors and let people wander around and confirm your assertions that there’s nothing going on.
QUESTION: Edward Wong from the New York Times. I’ve got two questions. One, as I understand it, there’s been some discussion within agencies about putting companies like Hikvision on an entity list in order to prevent American companies from giving them products that would contribute to a surveillance state. I was wondering if you can give us any insight into those discussions and tell us how far along they are. And the second question is about labor, forced labor with Uighurs. My understanding is that Uighurs have been sent – maybe they’ve been released from these camps, but they’ve been sent to sort of factories or other places where they’re being – doing forced labor and the products are ending up in the U.S. or other countries. What do you plan to do about that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: So I’ll go to your second question first, and I’ll go back to my previous statement that it would be – it’s difficult to confirm these things because we can’t get in there to see them. So we have – as the deputy said, we have testimony, which is evidence, supporting it. But before certainly I sacrifice my credibility by repeating something that was said elsewhere, I’d kind of like to have a bit more evidence. However, the trend isn’t good. I can say that.
As far as (inaudible) entities, I would have to refer you to the appropriate agency on that. I’m working more on the general policy issues.
QUESTION: Commerce Department?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Nick Wadhams with Bloomberg. Just two quick ones. One, a point of clarification. The trade talks are next week or the week after?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Help me out. Next week, right? Two weeks?
QUESTION: Okay. And then the other is on Huawei. Have you been – what’s your response to European attitudes toward Huawei so far? They haven’t come along with the U.S. campaign to issue bans or rip up the Huawei network. Are you concerned that they’re not doing —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Am concerned, certainly, because the data that we need to keep secure travels on their lines, and it’s being handled by the equipment they choose. And so if we see that there is (inaudible) is porous or is intentionally being siphoned off like we saw with the OPM data – remember that (inaudible) breach? That affected me. Again, the trend isn’t good. We’ve seen this before.
We would hope that – the hard thing here is evidence, is providing hard evidence, because suddenly you have issues with identifying what you know and how you know it. So – but the government of the – the folks in Beijing have laws that say if you are a Chinese company, that any information you will – that you have is theirs to look at. And the president of Huawei, Mr. Ren, didn’t dispute that. He reaffirmed that. So again, there’s enough – preponderance of evidence there tells you that your data is probably not secure.
QUESTION: Can I ask two questions here? First, you mentioned Qatar rescinding its signatory on that letter. Was that after U.S. lobbying, and is this something that Secretary Pompeo brings up in bilateral meetings with other countries, not necessarily in the region?
And then secondly, if I can ask you about this, there are some reports in South Korea that U.S. working-level nuclear talks with North Korea would begin in two or three weeks, I think, if you have any comment, confirmation on that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: The second question I cannot – I don’t know, frankly.
On the first question, yeah, the U.S. is pretty vocal. I mean, we’ve coordinated – the very first thing was a letter of 22 like-mindeds that the U.S. sponsored. Then there was this follow-on letter of saying there’s nothing to see here, these aren’t the droids you’re after. And so yeah, of course, we were going to go and talk to those folks. The Philippines was one of those countries that signed the second letter, the Chinese letter.
And again, I don’t know what the Secretary did, but you can imagine that we would have questions for them as to what they based that signature on and where they – where their information is coming from that doesn’t agree with what – the facts that we have.
MODERATOR: Anything else? No? All right. Thanks for the questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: Congress treats me well. The press treats me well. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Actually, can I ask when —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: No, no, no. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What do you expect from the Wang Yi policy speech today that’s taking place at 7:00 p.m.? Do you have any idea of what he might say, whether he might rebut the President’s comments?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY STILWELL: I just don’t know. The response from MFA yesterday on the U.S. event yesterday, you saw from the Chinese press basically said: What about Guantanamo? Here’s Xinjiang and they’re trying to link that with Guantanamo. I mean, it doesn’t take a whole lot of – it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see the difference in scale, scope, and everything related to the two facilities, the two activities.
And so you’d probably see something similar, I would guess. I don’t know. They’re kind of running out of explanations, right, as this evidence continues to grow. The typical explanation has to do with countering extremism, and then terrorism. If you look at what’s going on in Hong Kong, they’ve also been using the word “terrorism” a lot with respect to people who are simply protesting the loss of the liberties that they used to have as they look at things like extradition laws and other things as the 50 years of autonomy is getting squashed quicker than 50 years. And so terrorism may come up. Again, that’s been a standard explanation for what’s going on in Xinjiang.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you.