National Security Council
10:31 A.M. EST
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. And thank you for joining us on a Saturday morning.
Quickly, to go over ground rules, this call will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call. It’s attributable to a senior administration official.
For awareness but not for reporting, joining us on today’s call is [senior administration official]. And with that, I will waste no time and I will hand it over to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. And, folks, thanks for giving up part of your Sunday mor- — or Saturday morning for this.
I wanted to give you a bit of a readout of the National Security Advisor’s meeting with Chinese Communist Party Politburo Member Director Wang Yi — and Foreign Minister — Wang Yi.
The two met over 12 hours over two days, here in Bangkok. The discussion built on the candid and constructive meetings we’ve had not only in this channel, but also between President Biden and President Xi Jinping in Woodside, California, in November 2023.
The last meeting between Mr. Sullivan and Director Wang took place October 2023 in Washington, D.C. And I think altogether now, this is the fourth meeting in this channel with Director Wang but the eighth meeting between directors and national security advisors. As folks will remember, the previous incumbent of the role was Yang Jiechi. And Jake Sullivan often met frequently with that individual too.
This quite low-profile channel between the National Security Advisor and Director Wang is an important way to manage competition and tensions responsibly. The two-day format of these meetings, which is what we’ve done in every case, allows us to dive deeply into substance and have a strategic, thoughtful conversation about the direction of the relationship and key issues both countries face.
The two sides are committed to continuing this strategic channel of communication and agree to pursue additional channels of communication not just at the cabinet level, visits in both directions, but also a telephone call between the two leaders at some point in the coming months.
We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, that U.S. diplomacy, these channels of communication, do not indicate a change in approach on the PRC. Mr. Sullivan underscored during the meeting that the United States and the PRC are in competition but that the United States does not seek conflict or confrontation, and there are areas of cooperation in the relationship.
During the meeting, Mr. Sullivan and Director Wang took stock of progress on key issues following the Woodside summit, including resuming military-to-military communication, advancing bilateral counternarcotics cooperation, and addressing AI safety and risks.
The United States and the PRC will launch a working group on counternarcotics, as agreed by the two leaders, on January 30th. I think we’ll have some more details and an announcement for you on that tomorrow.
On military-to-military channels, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Brown, held a virtual meeting with his counterpart on December 21. And the Defense Policy Coordination Talks, essentially a communication mechanism at DOD with their Ministry of Defense counterparts, took place in early January.
As next steps, we look forward to the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings sometime this spring, as well as communications between theater commanders and at the minister or secretary level in the coming months.
On AI, both sides reiterated their interest in discussing emerging challenges such as safety and risks posed by advanced forms of AI. We also discussed next steps towards the U.S.-China dialogue on this issue. We expect to hold it sometime in the spring; don’t have a date for you yet on that.
Mr. Sullivan underscored continued concern with the PRC’s unfair trade policies, non-market economic practices, and retaliatory actions against U.S. firms.
He reiterated President Biden’s commitments — or, rather, comments to President Xi that the U.S. will continue to take actions to prevent advanced U.S. technologies from being used to undermine our own national security but that we are focused on de-risking, not decoupling. And our approach remains a small yard, high fence — that is we’re focused on the narrow band of technologies that are the most advanced and present military challenges.
The two sides welcomed ongoing communication on this issue in economic channels, including between Secretary Yellen and Secretary Raimondo and their counterparts.
Mr. Sullivan raised other specific issues in the bilateral relationship where we have differences. None of these would surprise you; they’re issues we consistently raise in conversations with PRC counterparts.
The two sides also discussed important global and regional security issues, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Middle East including the Red Sea, DPRK, the South China Sea, and, of course, Burma.
They discussed cross-Strait issues. Mr. Sullivan reiterated that the United States remains committed to our One China policy guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, Three Communiqués, and Six Assurances. He indicated the U.S. opposes unilateral changes to the status quo from either side, that we do not support Taiwan independence, and that we expect cross-Strait differences to be resolved peacefully.
The two sides, as I mentioned before, discussed additional high-level diplomacy between the United States, and we’re committed to continuing consultation in key areas through the mechanisms that we’ve announced previously.
I’ll stop there, and happy to answer any questions you might have.
MODERATOR: With that, we’ll open it up to questions.
We’ll go to Trevor Hunnicutt with Reuters first.
Q Hey, thanks so much for doing the call. Two questions. Just curious if there was any specific date for the Biden-Xi call beyond the coming months.
And then also, I was wondering if you could give a little bit more detail around the conversation on Iran and its support for the Houthis, whether China had made any progress in terms of convincing Iran to change its support for the Houthis. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. On the phone call, I don’t have a date for you yet, but we’re expecting it to take place this spring, some point in the coming months. This leader-level channel is absolutely critical to maintaining direction in the relationship and following up on some of the issues from Woodside. So, I think important that both sides go ahead with this. And, of course, at Woodside the two leaders discussed maintaining communication through telephone calls.
On the Red Sea, we certainly underscored that Iran continues to take irresponsible actions that exacerbate regional tensions and instability, including by supporting the Houthis’ attacks against civilian ships in the Red Sea. Mr. Sullivan raised the importance of Beijing using its substantial leverage with Iran to call for an end and bring an end to these dangerous attacks.
You know, we certainly — this is not the first time we’ve called on China to play a constructive role. Beijing says they are raising this with the Iranians, and I think you’ve seen that reflected in some of the press reporting. But we’re certainly going to wait to see results before we comment further on how effective we think — or whether we think they’re actually raising it.
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to Michelle Jamrisko with Bloomberg.
Q Hi, yes, Michelle from Bloomberg. Thanks for doing this. I just wanted to ask on the fentanyl piece. In previous discussions and previous rounds of trying to negotiate around this with China, there wasn’t — seemed to be much change in what they were doing. I’m wondering what kinds of measures may have been discussed in terms of holding them to account for delivering on the sort of cooperation on counternarcotics.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Great question.
I think we briefed on some of this back — right after the Woodside summit, so I’m going to pull from some of those discussions.
So when we announced the restart of the counternarcotics working group last November, that was a company that (inaudible) by actions the Chinese side took, including releasing a notice to their precursor chemical — actually their entire chemical industry — about trafficking in precursor chemicals to the United States. It listed out potential criminal liability. Specific, I think it included DEA’s list of chemicals of concern, called for additional scrutiny on pill presses and equipment.
So that notice that was sent out to the chemical companies, we’ve already seen tangible impact on the ground. China has moved to shut down a number of companies and operations that were trafficking in the illicit chemicals and precursors.
We have also seen, we understand, reductions in precursor chemicals seized at some U.S. airports, originating from China. So we are already starting to see immediate impact.
However, this type of cooperation, because of the nature of the drug trade, really needs to be continuous and ongoing. It’s not just one snapshot in time. So our goal is to use this counternarcotics working group, which will include participation from a broad cross-section of agencies on our part, to really ensure that what we’re doing is iterative, that we’re continuing to share information on cases on particular points of origin of these precursor chemicals.
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to Nike Ching with Voice of America.
Q Good morning. Thank you so much for the call briefing. On South China Sea, how was this issue being discussed? And how worried is the United States that escalating tensions between the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines over South China Sea may trigger a conflict in the Indo-Pacific?
And separately, if I may, was there a discussion on a potential trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken this year to Beijing?
And finally, how was Burma discussed? How does the United States assess the Chinese influence over the junta to put an end to the conflict? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for those questions.
First, on South China Sea, Mr. Sullivan underscored the importance the United States places on the South China Sea, that we remain committed to promoting freedom of navigation and overflights, respect for international law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, in close coordination, of course, with our allies and partners, namely Philippines, in the case you’re mentioning.
I think diplomacy plays an important part of that peaceful resolution of disputes. We support ongoing diplomacy between the two parties there. And I’ll leave it at that for now.
You asked about Burma as well. Of course, while he was in Thailand, Mr. Sullivan also met the Thai prime minister and deputy prime minister and foreign minister. In those meetings, he discussed Burma, as well — the efforts to address the worsening crisis there; discussed the importance of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma; welcomed efforts to advance meaningful implementation of the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus.
In his follow-up, then, with Director Wang Yi the following day, you know, I think it’s fair to say that China certainly does have influence in that region. But Mr. Sullivan and Director Wang discussed the ongoing crisis, and we hope to have follow-up discussions at lower level in the coming weeks and months, given the need to really remain focused on promoting a return to the path of democratic transition in Burma.
You asked one more question, which somehow has — oh, Blinken’s travel. We didn’t discuss specific dates, and I would refer you to the Department of State for any conversations on that. But we do expect at some point that Secretary Blinken would make another trip this year. That channel is incredibly important. And, of course, Secretary Blinken was the first Cabinet official last year to travel to China, and his counterpart has since traveled to the United States on a reciprocal visit. So it would be up for him to return to Beijing at some point soon.
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to Sangho Song with Yonhap News.
Q Thank you for doing this. You briefly mentioned the two sides also discussed the DPRK, so can you elaborate on that? Was there any discussion, ongoing concerns about the (inaudible) rhetoric and weapons tests, and cooperation between Russia and North Korea and China’s role vis-à-vis North Korea (inaudible)? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for that question.
Yes, the two sides did discuss DPRK. I think we are deeply concerned — I know we are deeply concerned about the recent testing of weapons. We are deeply concerned about the growing relationship between Russia and the DPRK and what that might mean for Mr. Kim’s intentions. We raised those concerns directly with China, given their influence on Pyongyang.
And we hope these discussions will continue further between our two envoys. For example, I think the Chinese just sent their vice foreign minister to Pyongyang this week, if I’m not mistaken. So our next step would be a call between our envoy and the vice foreign minister upon his return.
MODERATOR: And our last question will go to Demetri with the FT.
Q Thanks. Good morning. So, two questions. Again, on North Korea, can you give us a sense of is China actually playing a constructive role? Because it seems to be they haven’t been doing very much recently. Is that changing?
And secondly, on Iran, can you just give us a sense of where you think China has leverage over Iran and where might they not have leverage? I mean, how much leverage do they have and why?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question, Demetri.
On DPRK, I’m not sure I would characterize anything recently as constructive. Russia certainly has a growing role there and growing influence. But certainly, Beijing certainly maintains influence as well. And I think our expectation would be that they have to use that to bring us back to the path of denuclearization.
On Iran, you know, China is one of, I think, Iran’s largest trading partners, obviously buys substantial quantities of Iranian oil. I think we would characterize both the economic and trade relationship as giving it leverage — as giving Beijing leverage over Iran to some extent. How they choose to use that, of course, is China’s choice. But Iran’s influence over the Houthis and the Houthis’ destabilization of global shipping raises serious concerns, not just for the U.S. and China but for global trade.
So, again, I think there should be a clear interest in China in terms of quiet some of those attacks. But whether it chooses to use that leverage in that way, I think that remains to be seen.
Q And you’ve been talking to Iran — to China about Iran for a couple of months. Have you seen any indications that they’re playing ball in a positive way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’ve seen in public press reporting, and it mirrors what the Chinese are telling us directly, that they are raising it with Iran. But, you know, I think we’re looking to actually facts on the ground, and those attacks seem to be continuing.
I’ll leave it there for now.
MODERATOR: That concludes our call. Thank you all for joining us. You can anticipate that a transcript of the call will be out later today. Thank you.
10:49 A.M. EST
Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2024/01/27/background-press-call-on-apnsa-jake-sullivans-meeting-with-foreign-minister-wang-yi-of-the-peoples-republic-of-china/