Background Briefing on Vice President Biden’s Meetings with Chinese LeadersBy USGOV
Thursday, August 18, 2011
St. Regis Hotel
5:03 P.M. (Local)
MS. DUDLEY: All right, thanks, everybody, for sticking around. I know we had a longer day than I expected. Just a little primer, this is going to be on background with senior administration officials. I’ll just go ahead and let everybody share a little — statement topper, and then we’ll open it up for questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thanks, a lot, Amy. All right, let me kick it off. Just a few thoughts up front and then turn it over to my colleagues. This trip is part of a very deliberate effort by President Obama from the start of the administration to deepen our engagement and our influence in Asia.
But, of course, given the intense interest I think many of you have in this first part of the trip here in China, we wanted to give you a little bit of the flavor of the first day, which is really the start of four days here, and especially the Vice President’s meeting with Vice President Xi, this morning.
I think if you looked at the schedule going forward, you’ll see that the Vice President and Vice President Xi will be spending many hours together in both formal and informal settings over the next few days. Beyond today’s working meetings, there’s a formal dinner, banquet tonight. There’s the business roundtable event with Chinese and American business leaders tomorrow. They’ll both travel to Chengdu in a couple of days to visit the earthquake zone, visit a school and have an informal dinner together. So they're spending a lot of time together, as I said both in formal and informal settings.
And this is really a unique opportunity to get to know and build a relationship with Vice President Xi, and to get a deeper understanding of his views and perspectives on the issues of concern to both of our countries.
As the Vice President noted today, we have regularized in a very significant way our engagement with China, starting, of course, with President Obama and his nine face-to-face meetings with President Hu Jintao; the many meetings we’ve had — the establishment of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue; but also personalized these relationships, as well, and that's important.
Let me just say about the first meeting today, which started with a relatively larger group and then narrowed down to a somewhat smaller one, that it was sweeping and comprehensive in terms of the number of issues that were discussed and also in terms of the quality of the discussion. There was, I think, an obvious comfort, an ease between the two Vice Presidents, and a real back-and-forth discussion. It wasn’t a scripted session at all.
Among other things, they discussed the nature of the relationship between the United States and China, our efforts to build trust based on a very frank and open dialogue, but also — and importantly — based on concrete cooperation and real results.
And they covered a very broad range of bilateral and international issues, and I’ll just mention a few of them before turning it over to my colleagues. They talked at some length about the efforts both of our countries are making to sustain growth and create jobs. In that context, the Vice President described our plan to deal with the deficit while investing in education and infrastructure and innovation. And he was very interested in hearing from Vice President Xi and our Chinese counterparts the efforts they're making to deal with the many challenges they face here with their economy and also their efforts to rebalance their economy.
They talked about energy and sustainable development. They talked about military-to-military ties, cooperation on Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the Korean peninsula, Iran, trade and intellectual property rights, the status of the Hu and Obama commitments that came out of their meeting, regional cooperation in the Asia Pacific, and the very significant upcoming meetings and summits that we have this year with the President, including the G20, APEC, the East Asian Summit.
As Vice President Xi noted, the talks this morning went into overtime, which was a reflection of their importance but also their interest. I think we went about 45 minutes over the scheduled time. And in conclusion let just say two things.
The Vice President emphasized our stake in China’s progress and success. As he put it — and I think you heard him say at the top of this last meeting, China can be a great engine for economic growth, and we want to see China prosper and its economy grow because that will help fuel our own growth.
And as the Vice President noted, as the two largest economies in the world, at a moment of global economic unease, our two countries hold the key not only to our own prosperity but to generating growth and jobs around the world.
I don't want to quote Vice President Xi directly, but I think it’s fair to say he expressed great confidence in the fundamentals of our economy, the U.S. economy and prospects for the future. And with that, let me turn it over to my colleagues to talk about some of the strategic issues that were discussed and then maybe more detail on the economic issues.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. It’s good, again, to with you all this afternoon. Let me just say a few things building on what my colleague has laid out. I thought it was important in each of the sessions that we’ve had so far, the Vice President sought to put this visit to China within the broader context of a larger, consequential American engagement in Asia, a determination that we were going to continue to play a dominant role in the Asia-Pacific region well into the 21st century.
He mentioned specifically his strong view that the United States would continue to play a role as, as he put it, a resident Pacific power.
Just let me characterize a little bit of how I saw the meetings in terms of how they took place. My colleagues and I spend a lot of times in these kinds of bilateral meetings, and I would say from at least my perspective, there were several dimensions of this that were unusual, perhaps even unique.
The most important thing was how informal and relaxed they were. Both leaders were confident, and they moved extraordinarily easily between different subjects, of the kind that normally in the foreign policy arena we don't talk as much about. So for instance, we had deep dialogue about domestic policy, about politics in both societies, and we talked about foreign policy, national security issues and the imperative of working together on economic policy, so in that respect, extraordinarily broad gauged and wide ranging. And it was, frankly, reminiscent of the kinds of talks that took place between American and Chinese leaders at the outset of engagement between our two countries; and, frankly, fascinating to observe as a bystander.
I think it would be fair to say that what was also striking is that through the dialogue, it was clear that on both sides there was I think it would be fair to say a broad recognition of our interdependence, and that we have a substantial connectivity between our two countries and societies, and that we face common challenges, and we have shared responsibilities, and that it will be necessary to seek combined efforts in order to tackle the situations that we are facing both now and in the future.
Although we’re at the very beginning of what will turn out to be I think many hours of discussion, there are already several issues that have been addressed in some detail, some of them sensitive issues. In the private meeting, I think the Vice President underscored quite clearly that it is in the U.S.’s interest and we believe it is also in China’s interest to see a deeper and broader security dialogue between the United States and China, not just between our two militaries, but a broader effort between our two national security establishments, and a recognition that this is important as U.S. and Chinese forces interact in proximity on a much more regular basis.
The Chinese side, Vice President Xi responded and welcomed both the dialogues that have taken place recently — the Strategy and Economic Dialogue that called for further and deeper discussions, including recent interactions on the Asia Pacific, but most particularly what we call the Strategy Security Dialogue, which for the first time addressed between our two sides issues of common concern associated with cybersecurity and maritime matters. And so Vice President Xi put his stamp on his desire to see these contacts continue.
The issue of the Taiwan Straits came up, and the Vice President reiterated the U.S. determination to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits. He said quite clearly that we welcomed the progress that has taken place in recent years between the two sides, and he expressed his hope that this important process would continue into the future.
In addition to the issues that my colleague discussed, we had an obviously broad discussion about North Korea and Iran. I think the U.S. laid down a clear marker that we want to increase our dialogue on Pakistan, and we believe that both the United States and China have some clear interests in understanding how to promote stability there.
I think it would be fair to say that Vice President in each of his meetings underscored what he thinks are the unique responsibilities of China and the United States, and suggested that the development of our relationship over the course of the next few decades will determine in substantial ways the course of progress in the 21st century.
I think I’ll stop there. They will have other questions to deal with.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Well, my colleagues gave a very comprehensive rundown. What I would add — and I would underscore — is there’s a lot more to come. This is the beginning of a multi-day set of engagements between the Vice President and China’s senior leadership, including China’s future leadership and the way he’s augmenting the work that my colleagues referred that has been underway since the beginning of the administration to really make connections, and make the connections produce tangible and valuable concrete results.
The Vice President said something in the meetings that really struck me, if I may invoke him, which was that: “Foreign policy is more than just conducting diplomacy; it’s establishing connections between leaders and governments based on mutual interest to get things done.”
It’s clear that both he and Vice President Xi undertook these meetings within that spirit. This was not a “Roman numeral I, Roman numeral II” kind of meeting. These are two leaders genuinely talking. I think if we did a word cloud we’d see a lot about common interests, about shared responsibilities, about cooperation, about healthy competition, about managing differences.
I think also in diplomacy “candid” is usually a euphemism for argument. This is one of the rare instances, perhaps, where candid really means they talked openly, directly, seriously and honestly. Their conversation was strategic. It was forward-looking, and I’d venture to say that even in day one they both came away having learned a lot by virtue of that candor.
The last thing I would just add is that the Vice President underscored the great faith that he and President Obama have in Ambassador Locke, and the significance of choosing somebody with such a broad and unique skill set to represent the United States and China.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, I’ll talk about some of the discussions today on economic issues. And as my colleague mentioned at the beginning, both sides agreed that given the recent volatility in global financial markets and questions about prospects for future global growth, that cooperation and actions by the U.S. and China — both jointly and in multinational fora such as the G20 — is critical for sustaining global confidence in the global recovery and for creating jobs.
Vice President Biden stressed his ultimate confidence in the fundamentals of the U.S. economy and our capacity to lead the global economy. I think both sides expressed confidence in the U.S. economy to adapt and rebound to changing economic circumstances. Given the Vice President’s leading role in the budget discussions, he discussed in-depth some of the dynamics that led to the recent important agreement to keep the U.S. budget on a sustainable path.
Vice President Xi and Chairman Wu stressed the importance that they place and the Chinese government places on moving forward on their five-year plan to change the structure of the Chinese economy, including increasing imports. And of course, this will help create jobs in the U.S.
And in both meetings, there was a good discussion of the economic and political challenges that China faces not only in moving from an economy led by exports and investment to an economy led by consumption, but also moving from an economy that adapts technology to an economic that's a real innovator of technology. All sides agreed that we each have an interest in the success of the other’s efforts to restructure their economies.
And to finish it, Vice President Biden noted how Chinese actions on things like addressing its undervalued exchange rate, addressing barriers to U.S. exports will help the U.S. maintain the open — open trade and investment policies that we want to pursue.
MS. DUDLEY: You want to — for some questions? We’ve got about 10 minutes I think because they all have to split.
Q On Taiwan, what did the Chinese have to say? Did they bring up arms sales, F-16s, that sort of thing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to characterize in great detail what China’s interlocutors said, but I will convey that they underscored that this was a deeply sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations, and that they asked for the United States to regard that seriously. And it was raised in a respectful tone. The Vice President responded as I’ve already indicated, and I think he clearly underscored that the United States intends to meet its commitments, and also an overarching intention — long established — to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Q In terms of getting to know more about Vice President Xi, because as you know, he’s widely expected to become the next top leader, you mentioned he’s honest, he’s candid — talking to Vice President Biden, now how much more have you actually learned about him as a person? Because as you know Chinese leaders, especially future leaders, tend to keep a lower profile until they can secure their position. So from the few kind of public outburst of emotions or passion that we’ve seen, he tends to be more hard line, not exactly pro West or pro U.S. Have you got any impression or read into him in terms of his outlook in terms of policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say a couple things, and then turn to my colleagues. First of all, this is just day one, and so we’re looking forward to spending time with the Vice President over the next several days in both formal and informal settings. And I think they’ll be an opportunity there to get an even greater sense of his views and perspectives. That's one.
Two, I found him to be extremely open and also very engaged in back-and-forth conversations. I said not at all scripted, but a very good listener and very open in his exchanges, and someone who you could really have a serious and interesting dialogue with. But as I said, this is day one, and there’s more to come.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, I agree generally with my colleague’s observations. I had a different take than what you described. What I was struck by in both the open meeting and in the private session is the premium he put on the importance of U.S.-China relations — restatement very strongly of the foundations of dialogue, economic engagement and cooperation. And I got the sense from him that for him maintaining U.S.-China relations on an even keel was an extraordinarily high priority.
And so if I had to say — and again, I agree with my colleague — it’s the first day, but I found his comments actually quite reassuring, and his very cool, very deliberate manner about the way he talked about U.S.-China relations and also deeply knowledgeable suggests to me that this is a basis that we can build on.
Q Can you all, or yourself, sir, go into a little bit more detail about the discussion about the debt situation? How much concern did the Chinese Vice President express about the deal and about the U.S.’s management of its fiscal problems? And can you expand a little bit more — I think it was you who mentioned that the Vice President noted the exchange rate. How much did they talk about the exchange rate? And what else was said?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think they were interested in hearing about the dynamics of the discussion, the political debate in the U.S., given the central role that the Vice President played. But as I said, there was nothing but confidence in the U.S.’s ability to adapt and recover from different economic circumstances.
And on the exchange rate, they talked about how it’s their priority to rebalance their economy, move from an economy that's dependent on exports to an economy that's more dependent on homegrown growth, particularly household consumption. And it was the Vice President who raised the exchange rate in the context of China doing things that will make it easier for us to maintain the policies that we want to maintain, both in trade, open investment policies.
Q China was fairly critical, though, of the debt situation and the deal. Did you not sense any of that criticism today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’ve read all the public statements by Chinese media, and I think — I can’t comment on what the Chinese media is going to say to the Chinese public, but we’ve had lots of discussions between officials. And again, there’s no expression of any concern.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it’s worth emphasizing two things. First of all, the Vice President expressed great confidence in the fundamentals of the American economy –
Q The Chinese Vice President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, our –
Q Our Vice President.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me start with — and I’ll come to the Chinese Vice President — our Vice President expressed great confidence in the fundamentals of the U.S. economy and our path forward. He noted that when you look at the big picture, as well as the specifics of the deal when you look at the big picture of a country that continues to have the greatest universities in the world, the greatest innovators, entrepreneurs, some of the most productive workers in the world, that there was a very, very strong base. And as my colleague said also looking at what we’ve accomplished in moving the budget to — on a sustainable path, he had great confidence. And I think it’s fair to say, again, without quoting him that Vice President Xi, in return, expressed great confidence in the fundamentals of the U.S. economy and also in our prospects going forward.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can I just add just to this question? Just to be blunter, I was struck again quite in contrast to some of this Chinese public commentary. Every single one of the leaders that we spoke with today — both privately and publicly — the Vice President’s interaction, were quite confident about the United States. In fact, the area in which there was substantial agreement almost in terms of precise language was a recognition that the United States is going to be a dominant power economically, politically, strategically in the Asia-Pacific region and globally well into the 21st century.
Q I’m wondering about — you mentioned trade barriers, what specific information did you learn? I mean did indigenous innovation come up and sort of leveling the playing field for U.S. businesses? What specifically was discussed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think both sides — notably Vice President Biden — talked about the important agreements that were achieved when President Hu came to the United States on a whole range of trade issues, and how it’s important that we continue to see progress in the months ahead.
Q Also the South Korean President is going to be in Mongolia the same time that Biden is. Any plans for the two to meet?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right now we’re in Mongolia unfortunately for a very — for a short period of time. We have a very good day there and an important and intense schedule, but I’m not sure, given our respective schedules, whether that's going to be possible. But as my colleagues can talk about, President Lee will be coming to the United States. And obviously, we have deep engagement with the South Koreans.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I just say — just on the — we obviously are engaged in very deep, active diplomacy between the United States and South Korea. President Lee will be coming to the United States –
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Maybe I could interrupt to put it this way: We’ve been in touch with the Koreans. The Vice President is going to Mongolia to meet with the Mongolian President and Prime Minister. President Lee is going to Mongolia for the same purpose. Through the miracle of scheduling, we’re going to be there at the same time. We’ve signaled to them that we would — that the Vice President would be delighted if it were possible to get together, and they have signaled that President Lee feels the same way. Whether the logistics will actually work is still an unanswered question.
Q You were talking about — you were saying that rebalancing the economies, as well as the exchange rate was mentioned in the context of policies that the U.S. wants to continue to maintain in trade and investment. Can you be more specific about that? What kinds of policies did Biden mention? Are we talking about sort of maintaining low tariffs or sort of non-protectionist policies? What’s the leverage that he put out there on these issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, well, I think first they talked a lot about how China rebalancing its economy, about what the U.S. is doing to put its fiscal policy on an unsustainable path, how all this is in our mutual interest.
And then later they talked about it’s been our long standing policy with open trade, open investment, we want Chinese companies to invest in the U.S. We want U.S. companies to be able to invest in the China, and to the extent that the Chinese can make tangible progress on priority areas of concern to the U.S. public. And he mentioned the exchange rate, and he mentioned the issues that President Hu and President Obama agreed on when President Hu came to the U.S., things like indigenous innovation, IPR protection from procurement. To the extent China can make progress on that, it will put us in the position to sustain the open trade and investment policies that benefit both the U.S. and China.
Q You said a couple of times Xi’s openness, and the confidence that he exuded. Can you do a little bit of comparison between — you had a lot of meetings, several meetings with Hu Jintao over the years, and when for that matter, how does he stack up in terms of his openness? Is there any comparison?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to do that in that way, but I will say this: He is — what was notable, he did not refer to notes. He had a very clear idea of what he wanted to convey, very strategic in his approach, quite confident in his interaction with his colleagues. For instance, after our session, he gathered with them, welcomed their input — I could see from the side; and if I could just say, very clearly relished the chance to sit down, frankly, with a global peer. They have kind of unique responsibilities and perspectives. This ability to transcend domestic politics, national security, economics is unique in both of our systems. And I think a lot of times the way I would describe some comparisons is that sometimes you have diplomatic engagements, and it’s clearly work. I will tell you at the end of our session today, which as my colleague said, ran almost an hour long, both were — usually you’re totally aware when you’ve run over. Both sides were surprised that he had thrown the schedule so badly off and promised that they’d find more time to talk about each of these issues and more over the course of the next couple of days. And you could tell that he was very excited to be traveling with the Vice President out of Beijing to show him something different.
The Vice President was referring to his earlier experiences. He was here right at the beginning of engagement, and he was really expressing wonderment at how much progress had taken place. And clearly there was pride in that on the Chinese side, not just with the Vice President. But I think that's the best way I can — so I saw no sense of tentativeness, very confident, very assured, but also clearly approaching the meeting with our Vice President with a desire to build a stronger personal bond, a key link in communication with the United States over the course of the next several months. I would say that's the best way I could describe it. Maybe my colleague might some –
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think you covered it very well.
Q Anything on South China Sea, if I may?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was not raised.
Q You mentioned cyber and maritime, was that discussed in any detail? Like how did he put his stamp on –
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I’m sorry — no, it was not discussed. I gave that as background. That was our first session that took place in Washington when we had the Strategy Security Dialogue. We have asked the Chinese side for a subsequent meeting, and we were very pleased — we’ve heard at the working level, the intention to do so. But what was important in this respect was Vice President Xi clearly articulated a desire on the part of the Chinese government to continue with this important process.
Q Thank you. Did any of you discuss the human rights issue today? Or have you a strategy to raise it with Vice President Xi in the coming days? Dujiangyan — where you’ll be visiting is the site of the release of a blogger who was detained just several months ago. And he was just released last week, and was there any pressure put by the U.S. government on the Chinese to consider some of these detentions that have gone on since the springtime?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Vice President did raise the question of human rights and our concerns. And he noted the concern that the American people have about these issues. From our own perspective and background, the way we look at these things, he tried to explain why Americans care deeply about these issues. And he also noted that in terms of building and sustaining the kind of relationship that both our countries want to have, and it’s clearly in our interests, it’s important to speak openly and clearly about these issues because the American people are very positively disposed toward the Chinese people in China, but these issues, they care about. And in order to sustain and build the relationship, these are issues that are important to discuss openly. And so there was a discussion.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add what struck me, the Vice President made the point very clearly that both in the American experience and in his own experience over almost four decades in public life, the conviction that respect for human rights and the ability of citizens to freely exercise their rights is a key component to a resilient, thriving and stable society; and that because the stability of China is in the interests of the region and the world, he –
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And the United States.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: — and the United States, he encouraged, as President Obama has and Vice President Biden has in the past encouraged China’s leadership to address these concerns.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’ll take one last question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say this, it was put in this broader context and a substantial discussion frankly.
Q I was wondering, there’s a lot of talk these days about the fragmentation of decision making in the Chinese leadership and the weight of different interest groups on decision making. I was wondering in your conversations today, do you get any sense of which interest groups have a lot of weight today on either domestic or foreign policy? Whether it’s factions of the military, SLEs or anything like that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think we can offer you anything detailed about this, at least from these meetings. I think the very clear determination of the Chinese front to present clear, united vision of how they want to proceed in terms of U.S.-China relations.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’d just add, this is day one, as my colleague said — day one of a multi-day, substantive engagement and consultation. That's very important in part because it is frankly unusual for senior leaders to be able to invest this deeply in issues at every level across a broad spectrum, so there will be a lot more to –
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And we’ll try to keep you appraised as we go through each one of these days.
Q Can I just ask, in terms of the tenor of today’s meetings, is that something you hope to see carry through tomorrow’s meeting with President Hu Jintao? Or is the focus on the substantive relationship with Vice President Xi at this point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I’d say we certainly hope and expect the tenor to continue, but I think it’s a reflection of the fact that the leadership in both countries feel so strongly about the importance of the relationship, the importance of cooperation, of achieving practical results and of having very open dialogue. And again, this builds on the very important work that President Obama has done from the outset of his administration, nine meetings with President Hu Jintao, many phone calls and this will lead into a very important schedule of meetings this fall that President Obama will lead. So our expectation is that this will continue.
But what’s unique about this trip and these few days is the opportunity to spend significant time with Vice President Xi, to get to know him better and to have a better understanding of where he’s coming from. And that's why these days are so important.
Thanks very much.
5:43 P.M. (Local)
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