Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Briefing With Journalists from East Asian and Pacific Media Outlets

MARCH 30, 2020

MS WALSH:  So our first question will to go Straits Times, Nirmal Ghosh.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good morning.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, I can hear you just fine, sir.

QUESTION:  Right.  Nirmal Ghosh, Straits Times.  Thank you very much.  How do you see U.S.-China relations post-pandemic, or at least post-crisis phase in this pandemic?  Better or worse?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, just as we went into this moment of crisis, we will continue to find every opportunity to work alongside China.  We have important economic relationships.  We, shortly before this, completed the first part of a trade deal.  The second part of that we hope will follow not too far behind that.  But there are also immense challenges with China, places where the President has identified where reciprocity doesn’t exist.  We’ve seen that in trade.  We’ve seen that with respect to how journalists are treated, freedom of information, how it flows across borders and across the region.

So it will continue to be, just as we identified early on in the administration, a true strategic competitor for the United States.  I don’t expect that that will change, but we have learned some things.  We have learned some things about America’s need to ensure that we have the right resources that we can maintain for moments just like this one as well.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS WALSH:  Thank you, sir.  Our next question will go to the Bangkok Post, Kornchanok.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)  As the spread of COVID is quite high in the U.S., however, what’s your plan to collaborate with Thailand and ASEAN in fighting the virus?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I appreciate the question.  So we’ve done a lot of that work.  My deputy is on phone calls every week with countries throughout the Indo-Pacific region, not just in Southeast Asia and Asia but throughout South Central Asia as well, Central Asia too.  We’re very concerned about what’s taking place there and the risks of the virus in the Central Asian countries.  We’ve worked closely alongside them as well.

We announced last week a very significant piece of assistance, some $274 million that will go across 64 priority countries.  Much of that will head to the Indo-Pacific region, whether that is to — helping the countries push back technically, to maintain the ability to track the disease, all of the things that we have now all learned collectively about how to push back.  Those resources are going to go from Bangladesh to Burma to Cambodia and India, Kazakhstan, just about every place in the region, where the United States will be there, I am confident, as the largest partner in helping those countries push their way through what will be challenging times that remain in front of them.

So we talk to them every day.  I talked to my Singaporean counterpart across the weekend.  It might have been Friday.  We continue to work alongside them to both learn from the things that Singapore did, did successfully, as well as to make sure that we’re providing the assistance through State Department efforts and efforts all across the United States Government to support these countries in what will be challenging times for many of them who don’t have health care infrastructures that are likely to be able to, without significant support, match the challenge ahead.  We’re prepared to do everything that we can to provide support to those countries.

And then you asked about China, too.  We were the first country or one of the very first countries to offer support and assistance to China as well.  We flew in assistance into Wuhan within days of the outbreak there.  We offered technical, health care, and professional assistance not only to them but through multilateral organizations as well, through the WHO, through all of the good offices of the various multilateral organizations that are working in China and throughout the region as well.

MS WALSH:  Thank you, sir.  Our next question will go to Nike Ching with Voice of America.


QUESTION:  Hello.  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Thank you very much for the telephonic roundtable.  How much is the U.S. tracking China pushing its narrative in the World Health Organization?

And separately, if I may, a few days ago, President Trump signed into law S. 1678, which is the so-called TAIPEI Act, in which it requires the State Department to take certain steps, including to advocate Taiwan to be granted observer status in appropriate international organizations.

My questions for you, Mr. Secretary:  Do you support Taiwan’s observer status in the World Health Assembly?  How does the State Department prepare to comply with the U.S. law?  Thank you.  Thank you so much.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you, and thank you for both questions.  Let me take the second question first.

So the President signed that law.  He did so quite happily.  He was pleased with the contents of it.  The responsibility now falls to the United States Government to comply with each and every component of that, and that includes working to make sure that in every organization – you identified the WHO in particular – that in every organization that has a – has content that is related to what’s taking place inside of Taiwan that we do our best to assist them in having their appropriate role there.  We’ll do that.  We’ll fully comply with that.  We think it’s important, and we were pleased that that piece of legislation made it out of the Congress and onto the President’s desk at the end of last week.

Your first question was about the disinformation campaigns that are underway across the world in light of the COVID-19.  We have certainly seen them.  We have seen it not only from Iran and Russia but from China and others as well trying to tell a narrative.  And the narratives are different, but each of them has the same component, which is to avoid responsibility and try and place confusion in the world, confusion about where the virus began but also confusion about how countries are responding to it and which countries are actually providing assistance throughout the world.  And we think it’s important that those narratives are corrected.  President Trump has clearly corrected the record with respect to some of this disinformation, and we’re trying to do that as well.  It’s important.

This free information flow is so important.  It’s important even today to make sure that as we think about how to continue to combat this – we’re in the middle of this crisis.  I hear people talk about disinformation and they’re focused solely on what happened at the beginning.  But the need for transparency, the need for clear data sets, the need to make sure that as cases are identified they are accurately reported, and as people are sending goods around the world that the goods are of high quality and they are functional, and that we’re accurately tracking those systems around the world as well, it is absolutely important that we get this good transparency.

It’s why we issued a statement when China made the decision to force Western press out of China.  We thought that was a bad thing not only because we believe deeply here in the United States in freedom of information but because it will reduce the capacity for all of us to understand what’s happening not only in China but these reporters reporting throughout the region to make sure that we understand what’s happening throughout the region.

To have good data sets – we talk about this all the time, whether it’s about testing or confirmed cases or mortality rates or potential therapeutics, all of those things – we have to make sure that the information is passed accurately, timely, and in a way that is easily comprehensible and traceable so that we can validate this information.  This is a global pandemic.  The solution to this will depend on people working together all across the world, and so efforts by governments to create either disinformation or misinformation about what’s really taking place harm the capacity for the world to save lives.

MS WALSH: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.


MS WALSH:  Our next question will go to Martin with Malaysiakini.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Hi, Secretary of State.  (Inaudible.)


QUESTION:  Hi.  Okay, you mentioned proof – disinformation, particular in Iran, Russia, and China’s disinformation.  Do we have any proof on things like body count?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’m sorry, you mean mortality in those three countries?

QUESTION:  Yes.  Have those countries been guilty of that kind of misinformation, and does the U.S. have proof of it?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t have anything to say about that.  We see the open press reporting with respect to that.  We see what those governments are reporting.  And what we have said consistently is it’s very important when you think about the United States and our ability to track what’s happening here in states and counties.  We report accurately.  We share that information broadly and publicly so every nation in the world can see it.  We do our best to, even in the middle of the crisis, to identify the things we’re doing that are slowing the spread of the disease as well as those things that are keeping people alive.  It’s important that every country share that information.  As the data set grows larger, technicians, medical providers, scientists, health care researchers across the world will come together and provide the solution that will ultimately be the key factor that decides how big a crisis this will ultimately become.

And so whether it’s in Iran or in North Korea or anyplace else in the world, we hope that these countries will choose to be transparent with respect not only to the number of cases and their mortality rate, but the things that they’ve done to try and reduce that so that we can begin to develop effective countermeasures to this crisis on a global basis.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.

MS WALSH:  Thank you, sir.  Our next question will go to Haye-ah Lee from Yonhap.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Thanks for doing this.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Hello.  Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION:  North Korea issued a statement a few hours ago that said that on the one hand President Trump sent a letter offering assistance with COVID-19, but on the other hand you made reckless remarks about the G7 having to continue to apply pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program.  It said that your remarks have caused it to drop interest in dialogue with further conviction.  So what is your response?  Do you have any specific plans to provide COVID-19 assistance to North Korea?  And do you think the South Korean Government has responded appropriately to the pandemic?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Did you say the South Korean Government, has the South Korean Government responded appropriately?

QUESTION:  The last part was, yes, the South Korean —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, yeah, the last part, yeah.  Look, the President’s position on North Korea and mine have been in lockstep since the very first day I became Secretary of State.  We’ve done our level best to engage them since the President – since I made my first visit there as Secretary of State to engage them, to conduct dialogue and negotiations to provide the resolution.  When the two leaders met for the first time in Singapore, they both committed to a series of things.  There were four major commitments made, including the denuclearization of North Korea, a broader future for the North Korean people, all of the things that we all remember so well.  We have been trying very diligently from the American side since that very day to move forward on those negotiations.  We hope that we will get an opportunity to do that.

President Trump has also been clear:  Until we get to that point, until we get to the point where we have made sufficient progress along that way, the sanctions – not American sanctions, but UN Security Council resolutions – will continue to be enforced and in place.  And we hope that we will get this opportunity to sit down with the North Korean leadership again and begin to chart a path forward to a brighter future for the North Korean people.  It’s been President Trump’s position since we began our efforts.

And with respect to South Korea and our efforts with respect to the COVID-19, from early on, when it became apparent that the North Koreans were likely to have a challenge, we have offered assistance.  We’ve done that through the World Food Bank, we’ve done it directly, and we have assisted other countries and made clear that we would do all that we could to make sure that their humanitarian assistance could get into that country as well.

And the answer about how South Koreans have responded to the COVID virus I’ll leave to others, other than to say that they have had a pretty effective effort.  And it appears from all the data that we can see that the South Koreans have managed to come across the peak inside of South Korea, and for that they should be applauded.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS WALSH:  Thank you, sir.  Our next question will go to ABS-CBN, Christian Esguerra.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Thank you very much for this opportunity.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, of course.  How are you?

QUESTION:  Okay, I’m good.  My question is:  How important is it for the United States to show its global leadership at this time in helping countries and showing the way on how to deal with the coronavirus?  And how much of this is affected by the way the United States is also struggling to contain the virus back home?  And of course, you mentioned this assistance that will be extended into Pacific region, and would you know what particular details would be extended to the Philippines in terms of assistance?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  You bet.  If I may, on your third question, I’ll make sure that Morgan and her team get you the details on how we’re going to assist the Philippines.  I know that we’ve already done a great deal of work there, but as for the exact dollar figure, I don’t have it in front of me.  I’ll make sure that you get it, and I’ll also make sure that we describe to you the nature of what that assistance will look like.

To your first question, the United States has been and will always continue to be the world’s largest humanitarian assistance provider.  I mean, this is something that’s in our tradition.  It’s – you can look at the math.  It is unambiguous.  Whether that is direct bilateral assistance to countries or whether that is our role in the United Nations or the World Health Organization or any of the other multilateral organizations, it is, in fact, the United States that leads the way.  I am very confident that that will also be the truth with respect to COVID-19.

We care about these peoples; we want to support them.  We want to reduce the risk to their people and to their countries.  And then the United States, too, we’ll do what we always do best, is when you – when you think about how we are all collectively going to respond to this, one of the most important things we will do is we will deliver good economic outcomes to economies that have been impacted adversely by this virus.

And if you just go back through history, whether that’s in the 1960s or the Pacific Tigers in the 19 – Asian Tigers in the 1990s, the United States in the Pacific has always brought our best through our private sector, investing for – with foreign direct investment and technology that we have moved into this region that has lifted out – lifted out of poverty tens of millions of people in Asia.

And I am confident in the aftermath of this not only will the United States be there with humanitarian assistance, but it will be American ingenuity, American entrepreneurship, and American private sector that will show up in these countries and assist these people in getting their businesses back online, their employment back up to appropriate levels, and help them get their economies back on track.  We’re committed to that both at the government, and I know the American private sector will step up as well.

MS WALSH:  Thank you, sir.  Our next question will go to Takashi Watanabe from Asashi Shimbun.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  Excuse me.  So reportedly, foreign ministers of G7 haven’t been able to issue a joint statement because the U.S. insisted on calling the coronavirus the Wuhan virus, and some countries concerned about that.  Could you explain about that, and what did you discuss at the time?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, unfortunately that was some pretty bad reporting.  The truth of the matter is we had an enormously successful G7 gathering where there was a collective belief that we had a responsibility as the G7 to respond to this COVID-19 outbreak, that we needed to do so in a way that represented the best of the West in terms of our technology, our resources, our markets, the things that we bring to bear in the world to help deliver solutions that are on a global scale.

We also talked a great deal about the disinformation campaigns, but I think it was the first question or second question I got here this morning.  We talked a great deal about it, that the Europeans made clear they’re experiencing it very much as well.  I had one of the ministers talk to me about the fact that Europeans were being harassed in Africa because of a disinformation campaign where another country had made a claim that this virus was generated, created, from some place in Europe.  So they, too, are keenly aware of the importance of transparency, good information, and timely data sets so that the world understands what has really taken place so that they can build out to make sure (a) that this does not happen again, and (b) we can make quick determinations about how to best get this crisis resolved.

There was complete unanimity on this issue, and these – this story that ran in Der Spiegel, I’m not sure precisely where they got it.  If you go look at the statements that were made in the aftermath by each of the G7 countries, they were unanimous in our efforts to resolve this crisis and build our countries and the world back together.

MS WALSH:  Thank you, sir.  Our next question will go to Cameron Stewart with The Australian.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I’m asking this question in the context of Australia’s close intelligence relationship with the U.S. as part of the Five Eyes alliance.  Has the Five Eyes arrangement been utilized or in any way useful in helping map, predict, or otherwise respond to the pandemic?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  It’s a great question, and as the former CIA director, I’m not going to answer a single thing about intelligence.  But let me say this:  I know that relationship well.  I know the importance of the Five Eyes relationship.

And I – without sharing any particular data set about what’s been going on, I am very confident that that Five Eyes relationship has been incredibly helpful in helping all of us understand collectively those five countries, and then the nations that we, in turn, will share that information with together has been incredibly helpful in understanding this outbreak, seeing this outbreak in a way that is important and transparent, and then helping each of our Five Eyes partners deliver good outcomes against that.  I watched the Five Eyes mechanism work to powerful effect for my year and a half as CIA director, and I am confident that it did so and is continuing to do so during this challenging time.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS WALSH:  Thank you, sir.  Our next question will go to Audrey Young with the New Zealand Herald.

QUESTION:  Good morning.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Hello, good morning.

QUESTION:  Hi.  After the COVID crisis is over, whenever that may be, do you think that countries affected by it might be more inwardly focused and perhaps more resistant to an open global trade and international engagement?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I think everyone – every nation will take a look at what their country did and how they were prepared for it, whether they got it right, whether they had the structure right, whether they had the resources right, whether they had thought about the risk of this type of thing right.  I think each country has an obligation to its citizens to conduct that kind of an evaluation.

But it’s still an enormous world where trade will, I think, prove to be incredibly important.  But I think every nation will have to look at the resources they expended, as President Trump has talked about with trade, and I think many nations will now see that President Trump has this right, that reciprocity in trade, that fairness in trade, that all of the elements that President Trump has identified about the risks of an imbalanced trade situation – I think every country will see that there was some real impact that resulted from those imbalances and will try to get it right.

MS WALSH:  And sir, I know your time is limited, so we’ll do one last question, this one from Mikio Sugeno with Nikkei.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good morning.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I have a question.  President Trump said yesterday that he would see June 1st as a possible timing to reopen domestic economic activity.  And how long – meaning how many weeks or months – will the U.S. have to close the borders, to ban international travel?  For example, is U.S. thinking about reopening in June or later?  And what are conditions which should be fulfilled for the U.S. to decide to reopen?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  It’s a great question.  Look, I don’t want to speculate on timing on any of those issues.  The President and the coronavirus task force team are working every day to evaluate all the elements of the American response, and then our role in that is to make sure we’re doing right by the rest of the world as well, making sure we have the – a global understanding of what the response can be and ought to be.

And with respect to the travel restrictions that are put in place, we evaluate those on a recurring basis.  We will consistently look at them and make the right choice; that is, the choice that will protect the American people and the choice that will help the global economy and the American economy get back on its feet as quickly as possible.  As for the timing, it is far too early to be able to speculate about when that might occur.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS WALSH:  Thank you so much, sir.  We’ve gotten one question from all of our participants, so Secretary Pompeo, I would just turn it back over to you if you have any closing remarks to leave our journalist colleagues with.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Great.  Thank you, all.  No, I don’t have anything other than to say thank you very much for joining me.  I hope you found this as valuable as I did, and I hope you all have a wonderful either day or evening.  Thank you all very much for joining me today.  So long.