Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo At a Virtual Press Availability

August 6, 2022

MODERATOR:  I wish to welcome everyone, especially the DFA press corps and the traveling press of the United States, to the virtual joint press conference by Secretary for Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.  We’re also happy to have with us the Spokesperson of the U.S. State Department Ned Price.

This morning, we’ll first hear from Secretary Manalo and the highlights of today’s meeting.  Secretary Blinken will then deliver his remarks.  After our two secretaries have spoken, both I and Spokesperson Price will alternately facilitate the question-and-answer session.  As agreed and conveyed previously, two sets of questions from the DFA press corps and two sets of questions from the traveling press will be entertained.  Thank you for your cooperation.

Secretary Manalo, please.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MANALO:  Thank you.  The Honorable Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State of the United States of America; our friends from the media, both local and the U.S. traveling press corps – ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  It is with great pleasure that I address you today, although only on this virtual platform.

Secretary Blinken and I just held our first meeting since I assumed my post as secretary of foreign affairs.  This was also the Secretary’s first visit to the Philippines and the first of a U.S. Secretary of State since March 2019.  What stood out from our discussion was our resounding commitment to sustaining the positive momentum and trajectory of Philippine-U.S. relations.  Secretary Blinken and I talked extensively about the alliance between our two countries.  We also discussed the steps we can take to build on our two-way high-level engagements over the past year, including the 9th bilateral Strategic Dialogue last November where we adopted the Joint Vision for a 21st Century Philippine-United States Partnership.

We agreed to work together over the next couple of months in firming up opportunities for our presidents for a possible meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month, as well as a possible visit by President Marcos to Washington, D.C. – their schedules permitting – in response to an open invitation extended by President Biden.

In November, we look forward to hosting here in Manila the 10th bilateral Strategic Dialogue, where we hope to advance our discussions on the full range of political, security, and economic cooperation between our two countries.  We also agreed to reconvene the 2+2 Ministerial meeting in early 2023 to further cement the outcomes of these and earlier defense and strategic engagements and ensuring action plans and initiatives.

We looked at strengthening our cooperation to better address current and emerging security threats and cross-cutting challenges.  We welcome the U.S. Government’s assurances of their readiness to work closely with the new Philippine administration, recognizing the Philippines as a United States equal, sovereign partner in advancing our shared objective of promoting peace and prosperity in the region.

We acknowledge the significant challenges we face and the amount of work that still needs to be done in the post-pandemic recovery.  The Philippines is grateful for the substantial and critical support of the United States in our COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.  The over 33.6 million donated vaccine doses to date is the largest we have received from a single country partner, and these have saved millions of lives and supported our economy and health system.  We hope the United States will extend its support to also facilitate investments and capacity building for our local vaccine development, manufacturing, and distribution industry.

I echo the message of President Marcos on the imperative of attracting capital investments and infrastructure, as well as to mitigate the effects of the food security issues arising from climate change and the conflict in Ukraine.  We recognize the important role that the United States can play in ensuring that developing countries like ours can have access to key commodities, including fertilizers.  We agreed to continue our discussions to how we can cooperate on accessing fertilizers, lower prices for our farmers, as well as technology that will allow us to modernize and make agriculture in the Philippines more efficient, cost effective, and climate smart.

In line with a greater push towards economic cooperation between our two countries, we agreed to flesh out further opportunities for enhanced cooperation that would support efforts to promote resilient supply chains, health systems, and infrastructure, as well as opportunities to collaborate in marine resource management and clean energy, especially nuclear energy.  We will do so bilaterally and within the context of the United States-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, where the Philippines is a country partner.

Finally, we touched on the very foundation of our partnership, our common values and shared commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.  Recognizing that democracy, whether in the Philippines or the United States, will always be a work in progress, we agreed to maintain open lines of communication.  We’re discussing human rights issues.  To demonstrate our commitment to dialogue on this matter, I announced today the designation of DFA Undersecretary Theresa P. Lazaro as the Philippine representative to the (inaudible) group preparing for the 2nd U.S.-led Summit for Democracy to be hosted by President Biden in early 2023.

Our request made to our American partners is also to actively contribute to cultivating a constructive environment within the UN Human Rights Council.  Recognizing the importance of financial and technical assistance to support national institutions in the areas of human rights, I urge Secretary Blinken to support Philippine work in the UN joint programme in the Philippines.

I would like to take this opportunity finally to thank Secretary Blinken for this visit.  Indeed, from our meeting, it is clear the U.S. and the Philippines are allies, partners, and friends.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone, and Secretary Manalo – Ricky – thank you.  My thanks to you, to President Marcos, to the people of the Philippines for an incredibly warm welcome.  This is a somewhat unusual format for a press conference, but these are unusual times.  And I’m simply grateful that you’re feeling well, looking good, and that we’ve been able to meet and have a very good meeting virtually just a little while ago, and now to be able to address our colleagues from the media together as well.

I wanted to come to the Philippines at the start of the Marcos presidency because the Philippines is an irreplaceable friend, partner, and ally to the United States.  This is our oldest alliance in the Indo-Pacific region.

As you heard from the Secretary, we share interests, we share values, and we’re profoundly connected by ties of family and friendship that go back literally generations.  The United States seeks to work closely with President Marcos, Secretary Manalo, and all of their colleagues to carry forward our alliance – and make sure the proud history we share into a living history for the benefit of Filipinos and Americans alike.

Today’s itinerary reflects the scale and scope of our relationship, our partnership.

This afternoon, in a short while, I’ll have an opportunity to visit a COVID-19 vaccination clinic to say thank you to the public servants and civil society activists who are leading the fight against COVID here in the Philippines.  The United States has been proud to support their excellent work, including by donating more than 33 million doses of safe, effective vaccines with no political strings attached.

We’ll continue to work together to end the acute phase of this pandemic and strengthen our shared health security.

I’ll also visit a clean energy fair, where our countries will sign a new agreement laying the groundwork for one of the first offshore wind power projects in the Philippines.  This is the latest in a long line of clean energy collaborations between us, because clean energy is vital for economic growth, it’s vital for innovation, and of course, it’s vital for responding to the climate crisis.

Food security is another priority that joins our two countries.  At a time when food prices are rising and availability is scarcer in many parts of the world – in part because of the combination of climate change, the effects of COVID-19, and now the consequences of conflict: Russia’s aggression in Ukraine – we want to work more closely with the Philippines, both to alleviate any short-term food insecurity, but especially to help continue to build food production capacity here in the Philippines for the long term.

In my conversations today with President Marcos and Secretary Manalo, we spoke about deepening our economic relationship.  The United States remains a top three trading partner and investor in the Philippines.  American firms are among the largest employers, the biggest taxpayers, and highest value exporters here.

We want to expand those ties – through private sector investment, public-private partnerships, and by working together to address leading challenges of the 21st century economy, like shaping emerging technologies, strengthening our supply chains, accelerating the transition to a green economy.  These are all pillars of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which the Philippines joined this spring and which reflects our shared vision of a region that’s free, open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.

I was struck by something President Marcos said in our meeting today: this is not about getting back to where we were before COVID-19; it’s about moving forward and transitioning all of our economies to the needs, the demands, and the opportunities of the 21st century.

We also talked about strengthening democracy.  The United States is committed to working collaboratively with the Philippines to defend the rule of the law, protect human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression – and safeguard civil society.

These values are critical to our alliance.  They’re essential to building the future that the people of the Philippines want and deserve.

We talked as well about our security partnership, and I reiterated our ironclad commitment to the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty and reaffirmed that an armed attack on Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S mutual defense commitments under that treaty.

In addition to working with the Philippines to help secure its maritime domain, we also partner with Filipino fisherman and scientific researchers to preserve and protect the Philippines’ precious maritime resources, which are under threat from illegal fishing and environmental destruction by outside actors.

We always stand by our partners.  It’s important to underscore that because of what’s happening north of here in the Taiwan Strait.

Since the People’s Republic of China launched nearly a dozen ballistic missiles toward Taiwan two days ago, we’ve been hearing from allies and partners across the region who are deeply concerned about the destabilizing and dangerous actions.

Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is vital, not just for Taiwan but for the Philippines and many other countries.  What happens in the Taiwan Strait affects the entire region.  In many ways, it affects the entire world because the strait, like the South China Sea, is a critical waterway.  Almost half the global container fleet, nearly 90 percent of the world’s largest ships, pass through the Taiwan Strait this year.  Since their missile launches, Beijing has taken an irresponsible step of a different kind:  They’ve shut down eight different areas where our two countries have been able to work together.

Those include several military-to-military channels which are vital for avoiding miscommunication and avoiding crisis, but also cooperation on transnational crime and counternarcotics, which help keep people in the United States, China, and beyond safe.

They’ve also suspended all climate cooperation with the United States.  The world’s largest carbon emitter is now refusing to engage on combatting the climate crisis.  Suspending climate cooperation doesn’t punish the United States; it punishes the world, particularly the developing world.

We should not hold hostage cooperation on matters of global concern because of differences between our two countries.  Others are rightly expecting us to continue to work together on issues that matter to the lives and livelihoods of their people as well as our own.

The Philippines knows how alarming this is – as a nation of thousands of islands, they’re especially vulnerable to climate change.  China walking away from climate talks could have lasting consequences for the future of the region – the future of our planet.

Our allies and partners across the region have told us in no uncertain terms that they are looking for responsible leadership right now.  So let me be clear.  The United States doesn’t believe that it’s in the interest of Taiwan, the region, or own national security to escalate this situation.  I conveyed that directly to Wang Yi, the PRC’s foreign minister, at the East Asia Summit just yesterday.

We’ll keep our channels of communication with China open with the intent of avoiding escalation due to misunderstanding or miscommunication.

In the days to come, you will see the United States remaining steady.  We’ll stand with the Philippines, with all our allies and partners.  We’ll work through regional organizations like ASEAN to enable friends in the region to make their own decisions free from coercion.  And we’ll continue to support Taiwan and cross-strait peace and stability because we know that a free and open Indo-Pacific demands it.

Let me just conclude on a personal note to say it is great to be back in Manila and to say thank you, as well, to our embassy team, led by Ambassador MaryKay Carlson, who only just got here but has already hit the ground running, fully energized, engaged, and I can see that in the meetings that we’ve had today.  She and the team are doing outstanding work on behalf of our country.  I and we are very grateful to them.

So my thanks again, Ricky, to you, to the government, to the people of the Philippines, for the warm hospitality but, even more, for the ongoing partnership and friendship that joins us together.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Inaudible)  I’m going to read the first question that has actually been sent us.  This comes from Celerina Monte of NHK.  It’s addressed to Secretary Manalo.  Her questions reads:  “Will the Philippines and the U.S. undertake further defense and military cooperation under the Marcos administration?  Please specify.  A related question is:  Can we expect a regular joint patrol between the Philippines and the U.S in the West Philippines Sea?” Secretary Manalo.

FOREIGN MINISTER MANALO:  Thank you very much.  Regarding the first question – well, first of all, let me begin by saying that our defense and security engagements with the United States continue to be a pillar of our bilateral relationship, and our defense relations are really anchored on the Mutual Defense Treaty, succeeding agreements like the Mutual Logistic Support Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, as well as the other mechanisms which go along with these various agreements.

Now, one of these mechanisms is the conduct of joint activities between the Philippines and the United States security forces, including training, military exercise, as well as subject matter exchanges, technical assistance, as well as assistance aimed to facilitate interoperability, improvement of capabilities, as well as readiness to address security concerns, and consultations at different levels on mutual security concerns, to assess security threats,  planned activities as well as update procedures and policies are also part of this.  A transfer in the nation of defense material to the – by the United States to the Philippines, including corresponding training and maintenance services in support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program, is another element of this.

So the cooperation facilitated by all of these existing agreements also extends beyond the traditional security issues of defense and maritime security but now also include cooperation areas such as terrorism, cybersecurity, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, as well as pandemics.

On the second question regarding the defense and military cooperation, well, first – oh, excuse me – on the issue of joint patrols between the Philippines and the United States on the West Philippines Sea – well, first, let me say very succinctly that in our view, joint patrols between the Philippines and the United States can take place.  They are under the ambit of the MDT and also within the context of the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board.  So I think this is an issue which will be continued to be explored bilaterally.  And, as I mentioned, there are existing, multiple platforms for which the discussions of this nature could be held.

MODERATOR:  Our first question, we’ll go to Ryohei Takagi of Kyodo News.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you.  I have question for both of you.

Secretary Blinken, China has suspended regular communications channels with the United States military as well as climate talks in retaliation for Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week.  How can the United States keep open lines of communication with the PRC?

Yesterday, you mentioned you talked to Chinese foreign minister in Bali, and not to use – urged not to use the visit as a kind of pretext of escalation – for escalation.  But China did it.  Is there room for diplomacy to work?  Will you reach out again to Chinese foreign minister to reduce the tension of Taiwan Strait in the near future?

And then Foreign Minister Manalo, you have mentioned the potential President Marcos visit to  Washington.  Can you hear me okay?

FOREIGN MINISTER MANALO:  Yes.  Yes.

QUESTION:  Yes.  So when exactly will he go to Washington?  Next month?  And secondly, the President Marcos mentioned today he didn’t think Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan raised the intensity between the United States and the PRC.  So what do you think the root cause of the intensity in Taiwan is?  As ASEAN member, how can the Philippines contribute to reduce the tension?  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Ricky, I’m happy to start.  Thank you very much.  First, let me say that we and the world have an abiding interest in keeping lines of communication open.  Even before this unnecessary crisis, we placed an important emphasis on that.  As you may recall, I spent about five hours with – speaking with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Indonesia, in Bali, just a couple of weeks ago.  President Biden has spoken with President Xi, I think, five times over the last 18 or 19 months, including just a couple of weeks ago.  The National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Treasury, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs all have engaged their counterparts one way or another and done so repeatedly in past months.

I think maintaining dialogue is arguably even more important when we’re in a period of heightened tensions, as we are now because of China’s activities around Taiwan.  We seek to de‑escalate those tensions, and we think dialogue is a very important element of that.

And then I would simply say this:  What I’m hearing from countries around the region and countries around the world is that they expect us to maintain our channels of communication.  They respect – expect us to responsibly manage our differences.  That’s what the United States is determined to do.

Ricky, over to you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MANALO:  Right.  Thank you, Tony.  On the first question on the possible visit to the United States, yes, President Biden has already invited President Marcos to visit the United States.  The issue, of course, now is when that visit will actually take place, which will depend, of course, on the scheduling – on the schedules of both presidents.  And if we can come up with a mutual date, then obviously we’ll be able to push through with that visit.  So talks will be on trying to find what date might be suitable for both.

On the issue of the Taiwan, well, the Philippines and ASEAN have always been ready to see how we can help in any way to reduce the tensions.  May I just say at this important point, as mentioned by Tony, it’s – from a Philippine perspective – very important that the lines of communication be maintained between the parties concerned, especially as a way of trying to prevent matters from escalating and reducing tensions.  And the Philippines will always see how we can encourage to maintain such lines of communication.

MODERATOR:  Secretaries, the last (inaudible) from our side, it comes from Federico Segarra, EFE, Spanish press agency.  “The harassment from Chinese paramilitary vessels of Philippine fishermen has increased this year, according to diplomatic protests based by the Philippines.  Was this issue talked through?  And is there any political or military advice from the U.S. to avoid this continuous harassment?”

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Ricky, do you want to start?

FOREIGN SECRETARY MANALO:  Okay.  Thank you.  Well, I think the question here refers to the Chinese maritime militia vessels that appear to be private fishing vessels.  Well, we have protested their activities in various areas – in the one Julian Felipe Reef, the (inaudible), the Pag-asa Island – and they’ve all been subject to appropriate diplomatic action.  And one of our concerns is some of these vessels have been conducting illegal, unregulated fishing, and this is an area where the Philippines certainly has concerns, especially in protecting our legitimate sovereign rights and jurisdiction (inaudible) enforcement, particularly against IUUF.  And we have now issued various notes (inaudible) to this effect to China.

Now, this is an area at the same time where we can have ongoing discussions with the United States in the context of our bilateral relationship, and of course with regional partners.  But at the same time, we continue to hold bilateral negotiation or discussions even with China within the framework of our existing dialogue mechanisms so that we can come up with ways to cooperate in this area.  So I think it’s in that respect utilizing existing bilateral dialogue mechanisms, as well as regional, where we seek to further address this issue.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And I don’t have much to add because I agree with everything that the secretary said.  I would only put one point of emphasis on this problem of illegal fishing.  This is something we see here; we see it much more broadly in the South China Sea and beyond.  And it’s a direct threat to the livelihoods of thousands, tens of thousands, of people engaged in fishing to support themselves and their families.  It’s also a threat because it threatens fish stocks, it threatens the environment in the way it’s done, and what I’m hearing from countries across the region and beyond is this is an issue of particular concern and one that I expect we will all continue to bring focus to.

MR PRICE:  Dan Flatley of Bloomberg News.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I also have a question for you, Secretary Blinken, and for you, Mr. Secretary Manalo.

Secretary Blinken, you mentioned the ASEAN statement as making the case that the U.S. is not alone in condemning China’s actions.  But many in ASEAN were also clearly concerned that Pelosi’s visit provoked China into acting.  Now China’s actions are seen as at least understandable by some countries.  How do you respond to criticism that Pelosi’s visit did nothing to help the U.S. and Taiwan strategically?

And Secretary Manalo, if I may, last month President Marcos signaled a openness to the idea of doing some military cooperation or coordination with China.  Can you tell us a little bit about the status of those talks?  I believe they were in the context of trying to reduce tensions.  And what is the status of those talks, and how would that affect your relationship both with the U.S. and with China?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dan, thank you.  On the one hand, you have the peaceful visit of Speaker Pelosi and other members of Congress to Taiwan.  We’ve had, I think, something like a dozen congressional delegations of one kind or another in this calendar year alone, and there is a long, long history of members of Congress visiting Taiwan.  So you have that on the one hand.

On the other hand, you have – allegedly as a reaction to the visit – the use of the Chinese military; the launching of 11 ballistic missiles, including five that, according to Japan, landed in the sea very near Japan itself; you have military maneuvers, including maneuvers that threatened to impede passage of ships through the Taiwan Strait, something that is vital to global commerce.  So the total disproportion between a peaceful visit on the one hand and escalatory military maneuvers on the other I think is very clear, and very clear to countries throughout the region.  And certainly that’s what I’ve been hearing as I’ve been here for the last few days.

But I think what’s also important to note is that, as we’ve said to our counterparts in Beijing over the last weeks when the possibility of this visit was in the air, don’t use it as a pretext to do what you’ve just done because this is not something that’s happened overnight or in a vacuum.  What we’ve seen over the last few years is China engaging in increasingly destabilizing and potentially dangerous actions with regard to Taiwan, and this follows from that.  And that’s why we say that the change to the status quo that’s prevailed with regard to Taiwan for more than 40 years is coming from Beijing, not from the United States or anyone else.

That status quo is founded on something that was clearly understood for decades, and that is: the differences between Taiwan and the mainland need to be resolved peacefully.  And what we’ve seen China do over the last few years is move away from a peaceful resolution of differences to doing so coercively and, potentially, forcefully.  That’s what’s changed.  And I think countries throughout the region and around the world are very concerned about that development, and I think what we would hope Beijing would focus on is the fact that for 40 years plus, we’ve managed this problem, this challenge well.  We’ve done it in a way that’s avoided any conflict.  We’ve done it in a way that’s allowed Taiwan itself to flourish.  I think that’s the expectation that countries around the region and around the world have.  They certainly expect us, the United States and China, to manage our differences responsibly.  That’s what we’re determined to do.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MANALO:  Yes, thank you.  Well, in response to that question, what I can say is that in our discussions when Foreign Minister Wang Yi came here last month, we discussed essentially how to enhance our cooperation by reviving a number of our existing bilateral dialogue mechanisms, such as foreign ministry consultations, and also to consider reviving also or continuing our discussions on the bilateral consultation mechanism, where we discuss issues covering a wide range of areas on the South China Sea.

So I think these are the ones which we have – we discussed extensively and as – in addition, of course, to various areas of economic cooperation.  And those are the ones – those are the areas which we will be pursuing with China.

MODERATOR:  That concludes (inaudible) press conference between Secretary Manalo and Secretary Blinken.  Thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon.  To our visitors, safe travel.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you all very much.  Ricky, thank you.  Good to be with you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY MANALO:  Thank you, Tony.