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AT&T Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Indo-Pacific Strategy Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later we will conduct a question-and-answer session. Instructions will be given at that time. If you should require assistance during the call please press star then zero. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to your host Mary Beth Polley. Please go ahead.

Mary Beth Polley: Hi, good evening. I am excited to introduce Alex Wong, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional and Security Policy in the East Asia Pacific Bureau at the Department of State. He joined or I should say, re-joined the State Department in December 2017 taking on this role — previously he had worked at State designing and managing the department’s efforts to bolster Iraq’s judicial branch and anti-corruption agencies, from 2007 to 2009.

Prior to his appointment back to the State Department, Alex was the Foreign Policy Adviser and General Counsel to Senator Tom Cotton. He was the Senator’s chief adviser on all issues related to national security, international relations and law enforcement. He also previously served as the Foreign and Legal Policy Director for the Romney-Ryan 2012 presidential campaign. And with that, and because I know all the reporters on this call need to go to bed, I will just shortly turn it over to Alex Wong after reminding everyone that this call is on the record. Thanks so much, DAS Wong.

Alex Wong: Great, thanks Marybeth. And I appreciate everyone getting on the call. I know it is probably after dinner time there and you are probably rushing back from the restaurant, to the hotel room. It is actually 7 AM here in D.C. so if you hear any kind of babbling or crying in the background that is just my one-year-old kid trying to finish breakfast or start breakfast. I only ask that everything that I say be on the record and if you hear any crying or screaming in the background that is off the record from him, but he is very cute kid. Anyway, again I appreciate everyone getting on. I understand that at 4 AM you are all getting aboard the USS Carl Vinson, and I am actually very heartened to hear that because I think getting aboard one of our ships – and particularly the Carl Vinson is a very tangible demonstration of U.S. commitment to the region.

Our military presence in the region and the routine operations that we perform maintain open sea lanes and uphold international law, and I think that is particularly important in the Indo-Pacific – 60% of maritime trade passes through Asia with a third of global maritime trade moving through the South China Sea in particular. So, the stability bolstered by the United States Navy in the South China Sea is therefore very key not just to our U.S. economy but to the global economy as a whole.

I want to note that kind of stepping back a little bit, because our navy has prosecuted this particular stability mission so effectively over a period of decades, the stability that the U.S. fosters is something that is very easy to take for granted in the region. Stability on the high seas is kind of like air. It is not constantly remarked upon or felt but when it is gone you realize how important it actually is. So, again tomorrow when you get aboard that ship you are going to see firsthand how our navy maintains the free and open order in the Indo-Pacific, and that is what I want to expand upon today in this call. I want to elaborate on what we mean when we use the term Free and Open Indo- Pacific Strategy.

As many of you know Secretary Tillerson in his speech in November at the CSIS think-tank here in D.C. and President Trump during his historic trip to the regionn at the end of last year described a Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, and to understand what that strategy means it’s important to concentrate on the modifiers we are using, the modifiers “free” and the modifier “open.” So, what do we mean by free? At the international level we are supporting a regional system where sovereign nations are free from spheres of influence or coercion, whether that is economic coercion or military coercion, where disputes are settled peacefully. At the national level by free we mean freer people, who enjoy responsive government, the rule of law and the protection of rights.

The term open – when we use the term open we mean, first of all, more open sea lanes and airways which you are going to see on your trip tomorrow, and that is to guarantee commerce and transit throughout the region. It also mean more open logistics, more open cyberspace, more open telecommunications, the type of connectivity that truly knits the region together and spurs prosperity. We also mean more open investment environments throughout the region to encourage growth through market economics, and we also mean more open trading arrangements based on fair and reciprocal terms again to encourage growth through market economics and market terms.

Something I want to note and I think it is very important to note is that these principles underlying the strategy are not new in themselves. The United States has been pursuing these principles in the region for over 70 years and we have done that to the great benefit to the United States as well as the benefit of other nations in the Indo-Pacific. But in this current time the pursuit of these principles and the pursuit of this strategy is more urgent than ever, and that requires greater emphasis on the part of the United States and greater effort on our part and that is for a number of reasons.

First, the Indo-Pacific region is growing in population and economic weight and so U.S. interests are becoming ever more tied to the Indo-Pacific. Second, we are facing a number of challenges. We, meaning the region, is collectively facing a number of challenges to the free and open system. You look from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program to a rising terrorism threat in the region to the ever present threat of massive natural disasters, there are a number of threats to the system that we need to defend against and ensure that – defending against to ensure the success of the system. Again, what we are looking to do is to galvanize and advance a model in the region that has been supported by the United States for over 70 years, and that model provides for the dignity of all people, it provides for market economics, and it provides for the sovereignty of nations. This is a system that we want to support that has benefited and will continue to benefit the entire Indo-Pacific region with no nation excluded. Those are my opening remarks. I am happy to delve a bit deeper with folks if they have any particular questions, Mary Beth.

Mary Beth Polley: Great, so with that we will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Please press star one on your phone to ask a question. Please press star one. Not seeing any questions. AT&T, do you see any questions?

Moderator: You have a couple of questions now.

Mary Beth Polley: Okay, great. We will start with Anthony Kuhn from NPR.

Anthony Kuhn: Hi, Alex. Thanks very much for taking – for speaking to us and taking our questions. I am wondering if you could speak specifically about the significance of the Third Fleet with the Seventh Fleet traditionally deployed in Japan. Why is it necessary to have a second fleet forward deployed? What do you see is the significance of this move?

Alex Wong: Thanks for your question. On the particular positioning of fleets and those decisions I think I will differ with the Defense Department on that, but what I will say is that U.S. Naval presence around the world whether in the Indo-Pacific or in other bodies of water is really key again to maintaining stability and upholding international law, and upholding the freedom of navigation, and again that freedom of navigation benefits not just the United States from a commercial perspective but all partners who participate in free trade and the movement of goods around the world.

So, to the extent that there have been particular movements I defer to the Defense Department on the reasoning for that, but if you see U.S. ships moving, conducting presence operations, conducting freedom of navigation operations, this is a mission that we have been prosecuting for decades and in particular the FONOPs mission that is a project that for 40 years now we have been prosecuting worldwide. It is not limited just to South China Sea or not limited to Asia. It goes worldwide, and there are number of reasons that.

Number one: the United States and the United States Navy is really the only military capable of conducting these types of worldwide operations. You won’t see a similar type of mission in purpose and scope anywhere else from any other country in the world. Number two, of all the nations in the world, the United States is the one that upholds and respects international law the most. We put immense resources again into upholding the principles of international law and in particular maritime law which is among the oldest of international laws. And number two, we place restrictions on our own activities and our own military to ensure that we don’t even come up to the line of violating international law, and these are the types of norms that we are trying to encourage, because we know that overall a world, a region that respects a rules-based order, that respects international law is one that benefits us and benefits our partners and allies.

Mary Beth Polley: Thank you so much. The next question goes to Adam Harvey with ABC. Adam? Adam, unfortunately we cannot hear you.

Adam Harvey: Sorry, I was on mute. I had muted my phone. Alex, I was wondering how successful the U.S. policies has been over the last couple of years. I mean China hasn’t stopped expanding in the South China Sea, if anything U.S. relations with a key partner in the Philippines has got worse over the last couple of years and is it all doom and gloom; do you think, this is just going to keep getting worse.

Alex Wong: Well, I think we should step back and look at overall U.S. engagement and strategy in the region over a period of decades. The United States has been chief driver of free trade, direct investment connectivity, economic assistance in the region for decades. And we have been encouraging regional integration, market economics through a consistent effort that spans administrations. We’ve sponsored countless economic assistance programs, capacity building programs; we have facilitated hundreds and hundreds of connectivity projects throughout the region, and that is just our economic engagement. In the region we have more diplomatic facilities than any other nation. We have a military alliance system forward basing that is unique in the world and in fact unique in history. We have countless citizens living in the region as well as countless members of Asian diasporas, of which I am one, living within our borders. So, the key point I guess I am making is that we have long been advancing a free and open Pacific border in the region, driving regional development and economically and politically, and this has been a consistent strategy by the United States over a period of decades. And that has resulted in an extremely deep and enduring partnerships. I mean, you mention the Philippines. We have a long-standing alliance with the Philippines, and strong relations between our governments and our militaries. Thailand is our oldest ally in the region. We have a deep and enduring alliance relationship with Japan, and so what I am saying is because of our support, our partnerships with allies in the region, because of our support for regional institutions like APEC and ASEAN, the U.S. position and our strategy in the region is quite strong.

Mary Beth Polley: Thank you so much. I would now go to Feliz Solomon. Again if you would like to ask a question, it is star one.

Feliz Solomon: Hi, Feliz Solomon from Time Magazine. Thank you [inaudible]. Hi, could you hear me?

Mary Beth Polley: Yes.

Feliz Solomon: Hello.

Mary Beth Polley: We can hear you.

Feliz Solomon: So, I understand that the U.S. is trying to set a good example on the South China Sea, but are there any actual enforcement mechanisms…the PCA ruling on South China Sea?

Alex Wong: Well, I think in the South China Sea what the U.S. supports is that – you have a situation first of all because there are overlapping claims with a number of states, but what the United States supports is that these claims be settled first of all peacefully, and secondly in accordance with international law, and a part of enforcing an international, legal structure in the region and really around the world is, first of all, diplomatically encouraging abidance with international law. But number two, backing it up with the type of military demonstration whether it is freedom of navigation operations or presence operations that you are going to see tomorrow when you board the USS Carl Vinson. It is that U.S. presence, that U.S. deterrent effect that ensures that countries that do have excessive claims or are inclined not to abide by international law are not able to impose their will by force or by changing facts on the ground, and not doing it through peaceful dispute resolution mechanisms.

Feliz Solomon: Thank you so much.

Mary Beth Polley: We have time for one or two last questions if anyone willing to ask a follow-up, otherwise we can wrap things up shortly and you guys can get to bed to get to the embassy on time. Anthony Kuhn, go ahead please.

Anthony Kuhn: Hi, if I may follow-up just about sort of the coordination between priorities in the region, are you concerned that putting an emphasis on the South China Sea at this moment could damage U.S. cooperation with China on the North Korea issue?

Alex Wong: Well, United States has a number of interests and issues in the region that we are concentrating on. And with China we always seek areas for cooperation, and there is no question though that China needs to do more on the North Korean issue. On the North Korean issue we are pursuing a maximum pressure campaign on North Korea to enhance economic pressure, enhance diplomatic pressure in order to incentivize and push North Korea toward credible negotiations for peaceful denuclearization in the peninsula, and we are looking for opportunities to work with China on that. They can do more, and we are also looking to work with our other allies partners not just in the region but throughout the world.

Mary Beth Polley: Thanks so much. I will leave it for any one last question from anyone, otherwise we will wrap it up because we do have a really early day tomorrow, and I know Alex you probably want to say goodbye to your one-year-old and head out to work. Anything else or any final closing remarks from you DAS Wong?

Alex Wong: I think I am fine to let this lie, but I am happy to take any other question if there are others.

Mary Beth Polley: Well, I know that as you were mentioning before about kind of where things are looking ahead to the future and moving forward on the Indo-Pacific strategy, so hopefully we will get to you onboard again to talk further especially once these folks have gotten on and off safely the Carl Vinson.

Alex Wong: Great.

Mary Beth Polley: Thank you so much, and thanks everybody for joining, and please be at the embassy by 4:45 AM. And with that I will say good night to those in Manila, and thank you again.

Alex Wong: Alright have fun guys, bye.

Mary Beth Polley: Bye.

AT&T Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference for today. Thank you for your participation and for using AT&T executive teleconference. You may now disconnect.

U.S. Department of State

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