Peter Stano, Moderator: Dear colleagues, thank you very much for coming. Let me welcome our main speakers today. The Deputy Secretary of State of the United States of America Wendy Sherman and Secretary General of the European External Action Service Stefano Sannino who held very intensive consultations in the framework of the EU-U.S. consultations about a number of issues.
They will be briefing you about the content of the consultations and then we will take a few questions. First, we will start with opening remarks and then we open the floor to your questions. We have to finish at 11:50, so we will try to keep the discipline and based on the time we will see how many questions we will take. We will take questions from the room and if possible, because we have some technical problems with the colleagues connected, then we will try also to take questions from the colleagues who are connected online.
So with this, Stefano, I turn the floor over to you.
Secretary General Sannino: Thank you very much, Peter, and I am happy that we are inaugurating this room with you, Wendy. I think it’s as it should be.
We often speak about the fact that the relationship between EU and U.S. is unique and I think that in a way, not only today but even through the work that we’ve done yesterday and today, we are showing in a very concrete and tangible way the fruit of this sentence.
It is unique not only for what we share, but I would say it is unique also for the way we share things together. I’m also very grateful to you personally, Wendy, for what you bring also personally to this.
This meeting was taking place in a moment which is very specific. Unfortunately, against a background of the events in Ukraine, following the aggression by Russia to this country. And it was, I think, a very important moment to bring together the two sides of the Atlantic in order to have a reflection on what this new situation has generated in the world in general and more specifically in key areas like the one of the Indo-Pacific and China.
This is the third round of the consultation that we have on the dialogue that we have on China. The second on the Indo-Pacific. All this to say that there is a lot of work that has already gone into this relationship, but there is also work in front of us. And I have to say that progressively we are bringing also substance into this work with the concrete activities that we are developing together.
I have to start certainly with the fact that we were sharing very much the sense that Russia has started an aggression towards an independent country, and I would say that this is even particularly worrying because Russia is one of the permanent members of the Security Council and as such it should act in a responsible way. That’s what one would expect from a permanent member of the Security Council, and it’s also what we hope that China will do, will continue to work in a responsible manner. Because it is evident that we need to be sure that, in this new rapprochement between Russia and China, this is not going against the decision that has been taken in terms of circumvention of sanctions or in terms of any other kind of support that could be given to Russia.
We also, when it comes to China, believe that it is extremely important that we continue to work in a way that is not creating imbalances in the Taiwan Strait and that peace and stability is maintained in the region.
Another important point that we have made and for us is essential is the work that we need to put together in the multilateral fora and the fact that China cannot use economic coercion against countries.
We have also noted the situation in Xinjiang and the issue of human rights, child labor rights. And we will continue to follow very closely all these elements.
On the Indo-Pacific, I would just like to mention that we have identified a number of areas where we can work together. Connectivity is certainly one of those. Our two strategies are very relevant. Our two strategies for the Indo-Pacific region have many common elements. Maritime security is another area of common interest where we want to work together, as well as disinformation and child labor.
I would like to end just by stressing that on the occasion of this visit we had also a first meeting of the EU-U.S. Dialogue on Security and Defense with the participation of the Department of State and the Department of Defense and the External Action Service, as well as the Commission and the European Defense Agency. This is the first of what I hope is a strong partnership also in the area of security and defense between the EU and the U.S.
And once again, Wendy, thank you very, very much for being with us, for being a driving force in this relationship and in bringing your experience, your wisdom and also your human touch in this common endeavor.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here.
I have to begin by thanking my dear friend. One of the joys of my job is to get to know External Action Service Secretary General Stefano Sannino who has become a dear friend and an extraordinary colleague.
We have just completed two and a half days of extremely productive meetings here in Brussels. Yesterday we held the third meeting of the Interagency U.S.-EU Dialogue on China, which Stefano and I inaugurated last May during my very first overseas trip as Deputy Secretary of State.
Earlier today we held the second U.S.-EU High Level Consultation on the Indo-Pacific. And on Wednesday we had a trilateral meeting with NATO Deputy Secretary General Geoană to discuss our continued coordination on Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine.
The European Union is, as Secretary Blinken has often said, “the United States’ partner of first resort.” It is frankly difficult to think of areas where we are not working closely together, consulting with each other and working to identify shared approaches. That’s the case on energy security; on the climate crisis and sustainable infrastructure; on trade, economic growth and technology; on shaping the rules of the road for the digital economy; and so much more.
And of course, we are working in lockstep to support Ukraine and its people and to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin and his enablers accountable for his premeditated, unprovoked, unjustified, and utterly horrifying war of choice against Ukraine.
Over the last six weeks the United States and our allies and partners, Europe chief among them, have worked in a coordinated fashion to impose unprecedented sanctions, export controls and other measures on Putin and his enablers. These measures are creating severe costs and consequences for the Kremlin. We have also surged lethal defensive aid and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
Just yesterday President Biden announced another drawdown of $800 million in additional military assistance to Ukraine, which brings total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to more than $4 billion since the beginning of the Biden-Harris administration.
He also announced another $500 million in direct economic assistance to the Ukrainian government and he announced additional steps to streamline the process for Ukrainians seeking humanitarian parole or visas to the United States.
We applaud the European Union and the nations of Europe for the actions they have taken to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine and to welcome the more than five million Ukrainians who have now been forced to flee their country.
Putin’s war against Ukraine is not only a threat to European security and stability, it is a threat to the entire world because when autocrats like Putin believe they can act with impunity to dictate another country’s political choices or to change the boundaries of another country by force, or to choose another country’s alliances for them, that makes all of us less secure.
So, even as we work to respond to Putin’s war against Ukraine, we are continuing our work together to uphold and strengthen the rules-based international order, the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
To that end we also discussed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over these last two and a half days. The PRC has benefited enormously from the rules-based international order over the last several decades, but now they are increasingly seeking to undermine that very system including by supporting the Kremlin as it wages its illegal war against Ukraine.
Less than three weeks before the war began, Putin and PRC President Xi Jinping declared in a joint statement that the PRC and Russia have a “no limits partnership” with “no forbidden areas” of cooperation.
Since then, the PRC has failed to condemn Russian war crimes and voted against the resolution to expel Russia from the Human Rights Council. They have repeatedly drawn false equivalencies between Russia’s war of aggression and Ukraine’s self-defensive actions. PRC state media has parroted the Kremlin’s lies and conspiracy theories, including absurd claims that Ukraine and NATO and the EU pose a security threat to Russia, spreading disinformation both within the PRC itself and in other countries around the world.
We also discussed our many shared concerns about the PRC’s actions, including its use of trade and economic practices that distort markets and harm workers and businesses; its violations of human rights in Xinjiang and elsewhere; and its attempts to use economic coercion to shape the political choices of Lithuania and other countries in Europe and around the world.
The United States sees significant alignment between our approach and the EU’s approach to the PRC, which is reflected in the very strong and substantive Joint Statement that we issued just a bit ago. None of us are looking to hold the PRC down or to prevent continued growth in the PRC, but it is essential that all countries compete according to the same rules of the road on a level playing field. That includes the PRC.
We went on today to continue our consultations on the Indo-Pacific and to look at the broader region and the areas that Stefano outlined of our common work together. We have made unbelievable progress in doing concrete, joint work with each other since the first consultation which just happened a short time ago.
So, I look forward to welcoming Stefano and his team back to Washington again later this year for the next round of these important conversations, and to all the ways we will continue to work together in the meantime.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We start with the first question, Agence Europe, Lea Marchal.
Agence Europe: Thank you very much. I have a question on the Indo-Pacific Dialogue.
Are there particular ideas that you discussed during your conversations to address countries outside China to make sure that you gather support in this region? You mentioned connectivity, you mentioned the maritime sector, but could you maybe develop a little bit on what concrete areas of cooperation could be? Thank you.
Secretary General Sannino: Thank you very much.
On connectivity, we have two strategies which are very similar because they are value-based in the sense that we want to have sustainable projects. We just don’t want to pour money into the region without knowing how this is going to be spent. We want to do it in close cooperation with the countries. But we do not want to just finance unsustainable projects — economically, socially, environmentally.
From that point of view, we have agreed to talk to each other and to make sure that what we do is aligned. We want to make sure that we can maximize the impact of our work in this area.
When it comes to disinformation, for example, we want to have a disinformation hub in the region. We want to try to support media literacy and make sure that there is an impact in the capability to counter the narratives that very often is coming in a distorted way from countries or institutions that are affecting or want to affect the development in the region.
So concrete areas of activity. Coordination, for example, on Myanmar where we have coordinated our position vis-à-vis the country. Trying to give a clear sense of our common work.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: The only thing I would add to all of those areas – we did have a discussion about many individual countries and our strategies in each one and where we could collaborate to make further progress. They range everywhere from India to the Philippines to the Pacific Islands to Vietnam.
We both believe in ASEAN’s centrality and discussed the important regional organizations and collaborating in common cause to help prosperity, sustainability, human rights and economic development, humanitarian efforts in a full range of countries.
There were very detailed discussions also, as was mentioned earlier, discussions about child labor, about maritime security, things that we might do together to ensure freedom of navigation and the passage of commerce in a way that ensures that business can get done, supply chains can be renewed, and all of our citizens can have a good and positive future.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We go to David [Herszenhorn, Politico].
Politico: Thanks very much. David Herszenhorn with Politico.
Madame Deputy Secretary, I wonder if you could talk about, we’ve seen the impunity with which Putin has been able to act is partly because Russia has a nuclear arsenal and the reluctance of the U.S. and its allies to intervene more directly because it’s a nuclear power.
What are the implications for say, Beijing, if it were to take military action against Taiwan? What are the messages both in the actions by Russia and in the response from the West? And for other countries in terms of deterrence and nonproliferation policies in terms of other aspiring nuclear powers.
And Mr. Secretary General, you mentioned the particular problem of Russia in the Security Council at the UN. Do you envision the EU becoming a more active advocate for Security Council reform? Maybe the French seat should be an EU seat? Is there a need for modernization on that front?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: He’s trying to cause trouble [laughter].
First of all, there’s a premise in your question that I don’t agree with. The United States and our allies and partners have not sent troops themselves into Ukraine not because of the nuclear arsenal but because, what we believe is most useful is for us to support Ukraine to defend itself, to provide them with the security assistance they need. And so far, the United States alone has provided $4 billion in security assistance. European Union countries have similarly done an extraordinary job. And countries all over the world have changed their rules, their laws to provide security assistance to Ukraine as well.
The President of the United States has said that if there is any attempt to take any NATO territory, our troops will be there as part of NATO in a nano-second.
Nonetheless, I quite agree with you about the seriousness of any country who might decide that there is such a thing as non-strategic tactical nuclear weapons. In my own view, any kind of nuclear weapon is inherently escalatory and therefore inherently strategic. And the President of the United States and Secretary Blinken have made it quite clear that if Vladimir Putin decides to use such a weapon, and we hope that he does not, that there will be severe consequences. And there is no doubt that it will change the world in significant ways should that happen.
I would also agree with you that nonproliferation policy is extremely critical today. That was in part what the strategic stability dialogue between the United States and Russia was all about, was to create stability. We had done it successfully with the New START Agreement and the renewal of New START. We were in the midst of very substantive conversations when Vladimir Putin decided that he thought Ukraine belonged to him and took this premeditated, unprovoked and unjust invasion of Ukraine.
I certainly hope that the PRC takes the right lessons out of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and that they understand that the United States, our allies and partners will not be divided by anyone. We will act in concert, we will act swiftly, we will act decidedly, and we will support countries’ sovereignty, territorial integrity and their right to choose their own alliances and their own political future.
Politico: The premise was based partly on the difference in response compared to say Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo. [Inaudible].
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Also at a different time in history.
Secretary General Sannino: There is a discussion which is going on, by the way, which is quite interesting in the UN about what to do when the Security Council is blocked and how to use more and more proactive the General Assembly from that perspective. We have seen that when the solutions on Ukraine were blocked in the Security Council, we have moved to the General Assembly with a political impact which has been I would say very, very relevant.
So the question now, speaking about the reform of the Security Council and Europeanizing the French seat, I think it is more how to ensure that the UN can continue to be effective in guaranteeing peace and security in the world. And that is a responsibility of the UN, it is the responsibility of the Security Council and its members, the responsibility of the Secretary General and of the General Assembly.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We try colleagues from Webex. Finbarr, we will try to open your microphone and you can ask your question. If we don’t succeed with the sound then I will read it out, but first you try.
I see your microphone is open, but it’s muted, so I will read it in my strange Slovak accent, your question.
This is a question for the Deputy Secretary of State: yesterday you said that U.S. leadership had relayed in detail to Beijing the consequences if China provides support to Russia. Are the EU and U.S. on the same page on what these consequences might be? Has this been agreed this week in your consultations? Are you ready to act in tandem as the U.S. and the European Union should China be found to circumvent sanctions or provide military or financial support to Russia?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: First of all, what I said yesterday was not that we have relayed in detail what we would do if the PRC provided material support to Russia. We told them in detail what our sanctions, export controls and designations were on Russia so they understood what we had done and how our sanctions, export controls and visa regimes work.
What they take from that, I hope, is an appreciation of the depth and breadth of the actions that we can take not only unilaterally but in concert with our allies and partners, in the first instance with Europe and with European Union, but more broadly all around the world. No one should forget that 141 countries voted to condemn Russia’s aggression at the UN. This is a worldwide condemnation of what has occurred.
Moderator: We take a last question, Eireni [Zarkadoula, ERT/ANA].
ERT: Eireni Zarkadoula with the Republic TV and Athens News Agency.
Are there any clear indications that China is willing to cooperate or to contribute to the efforts made by the United States and the European Union to stop the war in Ukraine and what President Biden has called a “genocide”? Or they keep helping in their own way Russia? Thank you.
Secretary General Sannino: Wendy was also already mentioning the joint statement of President Xi and President Putin and also the unconditional support that they are giving to each other. This is something that is extremely worrying and certainly something that, we believe, is not going, is not in line with what China has always claimed of being a responsible superpower, supporting stability in world. And, since it is evident that this is a war of aggression, it’s a contradiction from that. It’s there from many points of view.
For the time being, we have not seen specific elements that could give the sense that they are supporting, beyond words and beyond what they are doing in the UN, Russia. We will continue insisting as we have been doing during this summit between the EU and China, we continue insisting about the importance of not providing any possibility of circumventing sanctions and not providing any military support to Russia.
Certainly, we would like much more to have a clear statement by China that this war is a war of aggression and that there is a responsibility that President Putin is having in waging this war.
Moderator: Thank you very much, we have to finish. In the meantime, the joint press release is out on both the State Department website and the EEAS website. So, thank you very much for coming and have a nice weekend everyone.