United States | Interview With Buena Bernal of Channel News Asia

United States – QUESTION: The Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte has what it calls a constructive strategy in dealing with China – enhancing trade and economic ties while refusing to raise its victory before an international arbitral tribunal that favors its South China Sea claim. The Philippines is sending a ship to the Chinese Navy’s anniversary this April, and it’s also had a framework on a possible joint oil and gas exploration. Do you think this strategy is effective?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I had a great conversation with the Philippine president last night. It was a warm conversation where the relationship between America and the Philippines was roundly applauded by each of us as a deep, important, historic relationship.

When it comes to China we’re perfectly prepared to let China compete all across the world. But when they do so it needs to be done in a free, open, transparent way. This is part of the United States Indo-Pacific strategy. We’re a Pacific nation. We value these open trading lanes. We value the security of the Philippine people, and we have a mutual defense agreement that provides for that. America is committed to this. We continue to be committed to supporting the Philippine people in their own security so that they can grow their economy as well.

Every nation gets to make its own sovereign decisions about how to proceed with respect to China. Our task is to make sure that America is there competing and that when that competition takes place it happens in a way that is fair and open and transparent.

QUESTION: How do you respond to criticism that U.S. freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea is a security risk to the Philippines and to Southeast Asia by angering or provoking China?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I just see them as just the opposite of that. What they do is they provide assurances, certainly to the Philippines but other countries that border this important navigational waterway, to know that we’re going to make sure that those waterways are open and so that trade can continue. Each of our countries thrives when we exchange goods and resources and technology, and to do that China can’t claim all of the – all of the water. They can’t claim an ocean. That’s not the way international law works, and it is not good for the world. The United States is determined to ensure that these waterways remain open and our freedom of navigation exercises are an element of that.

QUESTION: The Philippines defense department wants a review of the Mutual Defense Treaty to either maintain, scrap, or strengthen it. What is the U.S. take on the review?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We look at every agreement constantly to make sure it makes sense in modern times. Some of these agreements take on age. It’s worth taking a look. But I am convinced that the agreement that we have is important and we ought to make sure that it’s right. But even a greater and more significant element of our relationship is the commitment that the two countries have – the understanding, the interrelationships, not only security but economic relationships between our two countries, all of the Filipino citizens that work and live and prosper inside of the United States. These are the things that will assure security for our two countries. And if there are those who think we ought to evaluate the mutual defense agreement, so be it.

QUESTION: The Philippines is currently in an all-out war with the Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao. How is the U.S. supporting Philippines in its counterterrorism operations?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ve done it in a number of ways. I had a previous role. I was the CIA director. I wanted to make sure that the Philippines had all the information they could possibly have so that they would understand the threat and we could do all that we could also to keep the threat from coming to this place. That’s an international effort, to counter radical Islamic extremism is an international task.

But then we’ve also provided resources, actual security resources to partner with the Philippines Government that has the primary responsibility for this, but to make sure that American technology and know-how and our commitment would help keep the Philippine people safe as well.

QUESTION: It’s actually Channel News Asia’s 20th anniversary this March.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Happy Anniversary.

QUESTION: Can you just perhaps to the camera send your congratulations to the – to Channel News Asia?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure. Channel News Asia, Happy 20th Anniversary. Here’s to another 20 wonderful years.

QUESTION: Perhaps as a last question, I know you’ve spoken about this in your press conference, but just to be clear, will the U.S. come to the Philippines’ defense if maritime confrontations over the South China Sea occur?

SECRETARY POMPEO: The South China Sea is certainly part of the threat prospects for this region. We have a defense agreement; it’s very clear about the obligations that each of our two countries have, and America is fully committed to those requirements and those obligations.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much. Thank you, ma’am.

SOURCE: news provided by STATE.GOV on March 1, 2019.