Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo on the U.S. in Asia: Economic Engagement for Good

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good morning, everyone.  Peter, thank you for the kind introduction.  I also want to thank the Siam Society and your president for hosting me.  I know too we have many prominent businesspeople here in the room with us today.

I want to recognize Greg Bastion, the president of AmCham Thailand.  He’s a West Point grad, so that’s always good.

I especially want to thank the incoming Thai ambassador to the United States as well for joining us here today.  Thank you for being here, sir.

And there’s no bigger VIP than my wife, Susan, who’s sitting in the front row as well.  (Laughter.)  All right, I hit my mark on that one, it’s all good.  (Laughter.)

This is my first visit to Bangkok as the Secretary of State.  I’ve been here before.  I’ve been in the region many, many times.  It’s special to be here in this place at this time.  The United States has a long, cherished relationship, as the charge said, of 200 years.  And I know we will remain great and good friends for the next two centuries as well.

This place that we’re standing today has a motto.  Siam Society’s motto is, quote, “Knowledge gives rise to friendship.”  In that spirit, I’d like to share with you today my perspective on our economic engagement in the region.  I don’t know that any element of our relationship could be more important.  It is a history that has been forgotten at times, and worse, distorted by those who don’t have our mutual best interests at heart.

It’s a story of partnerships which were once unimaginable, but are now absolutely indispensible to all of us.

It’s the story of a country that really seeks win-win propositions.

It’s a story of American principles and Asian prosperity.

Let me tell you about the Anurak family from right here in Thailand.  Not so long ago, Mr. Anurak was a foreman at a construction company and his wife was a nurse.  A nice middle class life, yes.  But they wanted something more.  They wanted something more for their children, as all families do.  They started a small chicken farm.

In 2006, the American company Cargill, which was invested in Thailand beginning in 1968, discovered them.

They worked with the family to improve productivity, to improve efficiency, to help them with management techniques.

That partnership with America worked out pretty darn well.  Today, that one farm has become five, and they earn an average of $78,000 each and every month.

And when they’re ready to grow further, they know they have a solid partner in that great American business.

This astounding prosperity is a far cry from the devastation and uncertainty that engulfed Asia after World War II, which really wasn’t that long ago.

Back then, the Indo-Pacific was a place of prosperity – wasn’t a place of prosperity, not anything like what we know today.  For many decades, nations here struggled to find their path.

India won its independence from the British Empire, and then Pakistan and Bangladesh went their separate ways.  Singapore and Malaysia parted paths.  Taiwan and Mainland China diverged.  Communist ideology was on the march on the Korean Peninsula, and in Vietnam and in Indonesia as well.

But look how times have changed:

Seoul is home to world-class companies like Samsung and LG.

Singapore serves as the regional headquarters to Facebook, Microsoft, Pfizer, and a lot of lawyers.

Hanoi hums with motorbikes and cars zipping around.

Bangalore provides IT solutions to the entire world.

Taipei’s skyline – its skyline is dominated by Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings.

And even Beijing and Shanghai have become economic engines.

And of course, the right question for the future is to ask:  How did this all happen?

It wasn’t an economic miracle, and in fact, it wasn’t preordained.

This prosperity happened because of two very earthly factors: trade and freedom.

Now, I’m an Army guy, and I don’t like to give the Navy credit for much of anything, but the truth is – the truth is the key shipping lanes of the Indo-Pacific were and are today protected by American sailors.  And where colonial powers once demanded submission, America offered security.

Economically, it’s true.  It’s true that governments created some national championship companies, but that’s only part of the story.  State-led growth only gets you so far.

Because in the end, human flourishing only really blossoms when governments step back.  The Indo-Pacific region only really took off when nations adopted the formula that I talked about at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Amsterdam this past summer.  It’s really very simple: property rights, the rule of law, lower taxes, an overall lighter touch from government regulation.

That’s when the Asian tigers roared and cubs stood on their own.

That was as true in Mainland China as it was in Singapore, as it was in Taiwan, and now here in Thailand.

Homegrown giants like Samsung, Honda, Taiwan Semiconductor, Mahindra & Mahindra, and so many more emerged.

And the United States was there.  It was there with you all the way and it will be, helping you grow and forging ever-closer ties.  We built APEC, we built ASEAN, and the Lower Mekong Initiative, and we did so with you, alongside of you.

Importantly too, we invested in your human capital.  Our educational programs and universities have nurtured thousands of Asian leaders for decades, from local leaders to heads of state.

And some of our most important ambassadors – private businesses – grew alongside you to our mutual benefit.  I told you the story about Cargill.  Look at how Chevron has spurred prosperity here, or Texas Instruments in the Philippines.

Today, more than 4,200 American companies operate within ASEAN, employing, training, investing in millions of people all across the region.  U.S. companies have over a trillion dollars invested in the region.  There is no other country anywhere that even comes close.

They say, at least in America, that money doesn’t grow on trees.  Perhaps it does elsewhere.  But I will tell you this:  Money does take root in this region when governments work hard to set the conditions for it to do so.  And leaders from government and businesses will talk about how to grow prosperity further today in the meetings we’ll have and then at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum this November, held right here in Bangkok.

We should be proud of this.  This is a great story, and it’s one the Thai people have lived firsthand.

The poverty rate here has declined from 67 percent back in 1986 to 7.8 percent in 2017.  That’s remarkable.  Thailand now has the 20th largest economy in the world.  Think about that.

We want to see this kind of growth across all of Southeast Asia, for countries big and small.  And we know – we know because we’ve seen that regional prosperity goes hand-in-hand with innovation, with good governance, and with the rule of law.

And so the Trump administration is invested in the sovereignty, in the resilience, and prosperity of every Southeast Asian nation.  And not only that, not only that, we want to strengthen and expand our relationship here.

And don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.  Nearly two years ago, President Trump recommitted the United States to economic ties, and the formula for success has been borne out by history.  It’s the one that I just described.  We know in the end that liberty is the true source of rejuvenation.  We want a free and open Indo-Pacific that’s marked by the core tenants of the rule of law, of openness, of transparency, of good governance, of respect for sovereignty of each and every nation, true partnerships.

It’s why we supported the BUILD Act in our Congress, which has more than doubled America’s development finance capacity to $60 billion.

In the end, we believe in democracy, and we commend the – our Thai friends for returning to the democratic fold.

We also believe in human rights and freedom.  The current unrest in Hong Kong clearly shows that the will and the voice of the governed will always be heard.

And we want free and fair trade, not trade that undermines competition.

We want the trillions of dollars in uninvested private capital all around the world to be put to work in this region.  We’ve seen this.  Private investors have exponentially more money than any one government could ever bestow on any other country to build bridges, or ports, or electricity grids.

Our investments don’t serve a government, and our investments here don’t serve a political party, or frankly, a country’s imperial ambitions.

No, we are building roads to pave our national sovereignty.  We don’t fund bridges to close gaps of loyalty.

Our companies are incentivized to do high-quality work that benefits consumers and citizens.

Ask yourself this, ask yourself:  Who really puts the people’s interests first, a trading power that respects your sovereignty, or one that scoffs at it?

Ask yourself this:  Who really fosters innovation and reform, private sector companies, or state-owned enterprises?

Ask yourself this:  Who really encourages self-sufficiency and not dependence, investors who are working to meet your consumers’ needs, or those who entrap you in debt?

The United States today has the strongest economy in the world, and our consumers are driving demand for your products.  In contrast, China’s economy is entering a new normal – a new normal of ever-slower growth.

China’s problems are homegrown, but President Trump’s confrontation of China’s unfair trade practices has helped shine a light on them.  We’d like our trade matters resolved as quickly as possible.  All we want, all President Trump has ever asked for, is for China to compete on a level playing field with everyone, not just with the United States.  This will benefit not only us, but you, and the global trading system as well.

The time is right to do more together, using the model that has stood the test of time, using the formula that’s made America a force for good in this region – permanently.

One analysis of UN data estimates and predicts that for the first time since the 19th century, Asian economies in 2020 will be larger than the rest of the world combined.  Indeed, the Asian middle class has exploded.  Asia has truly come of age.  Now we must protect those gains.

Let’s keep trade free and fair.

Let’s insist on transparent, high-standard investment that creates local jobs.

Let’s stand up for the sovereign rights of nations and peoples.

As I close today, I’m looking forward to taking questions and talking about issues that are on your mind.  As I close, I can’t help but think of how fitting it is to put forth these ideas right here in Bangkok, Thailand.  Thailand is our oldest treaty partner in Asia.  You’ve proudly maintained your independence.

You’ve held to the path of sovereignty and national autonomy.

And America and Americans have proudly supported your rise for more than two centuries.

In 1835, a man named Dan Beach Bradley first came to the Kingdom of Siam as a missionary physician.

Dr. Bradley brought with him Western medical practices and served the royal court.  He gained the trust and friendship of the future king of Siam, after treating the prince’s serious illness.

He also brought the first Thai script printing press to Siam and founded the first newspaper, The Bangkok Recorder.

But most importantly, he brought knowledge that gave rise to friendship.

Dan’s legacy is bigger than that, because it didn’t stop there.

His daughter Sophia opened a small school in her home to offer equal educational opportunities to girls.  It grew, and to this day the Dara Academy is a well-respected private school right here in Thailand.

The anecdote points to this:  For centuries, America’s legacy has been of our partnership – and not just through our government.

America builds things for mutual good.

And we build them to last.

President Trump and our administration will continue that commitment.

God bless you, and I look forward to taking some questions.

Thank you all for being here with me this morning.  (Applause.)

MS AMIN:  Good morning, Secretary Pompeo.  Welcome back, your third trip to Asia.  That shows some commitment to the region after what’s been said.

You talked about building ties with Southeast Asia, with Asia, deepening ties and deepening trade.  And yet, this morning we woke up to President Trump intending to slap 10 percent tariffs on additional $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.  That doesn’t bode well for the world, not for Asia, not for Southeast Asia.

What happened during those talks?  Which people say something was achieved because there are plans for the talks in September.  How bad were they?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So there are talks that will begin in Washington in September.  But back to first principles.  For decades, China has taken advantage of trade, taking advantage of trade versus the United States of America, and taking advantage of trade versus countries in Asia and Southeast Asia, and it’s time for that to stop.  And President Trump has said we’re going to fix this, and to fix it requires determination, and that’s, I think, what you saw this morning.  The President is determined to achieve this outcome.

What we’re asking for is really easy.  Indeed, the Chinese had agreed to it at one point, and then walked away from the deal.

MS AMIN:  So what is it?  Is it Huawei at the crux of it?  Can there be a compromise?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No, no.  It’s not about – this is far bigger than that.  This is about the central premise of how trade will be conducted around the world.  Is it okay for a nation that was once developing to continue to take the advantages when they’re no longer in that status?  Is it okay for a nation to put on enormous tariffs when the other counter-party to the trading arrangement won’t do that?  Is it acceptable to put tariffs and barriers on American companies investing in China when the United States is wide open to those investments?

All we have asked for – it’s really simple.  It’s what you – it’s the golden rule.  It’s what you teach your kids, right?  Do unto others.  We want fairness, evenness, reciprocity.  These are core concepts.  They’re what I spoke about.  And when that happens, Asia will thrive, Southeast Asia will thrive, the United States global trading system will thrive.  But it cannot be the case that a nation uses protectionism to protect its own goods and uses predatory tactics to deny others’ economies the chances to grow.

MS AMIN:  At what cost?  We’re seeing PMIs around the world already easing.  We’re seeing countries around the world – well, revising downwards growth projection.  I mean yes, the U.S. is in a good position leading global growth, but with Trump, President Trump is saying that he will tax the hell out of China.  There are negative implications.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  There have been negative implications of decades of bad behavior on the part of China.

MS AMIN:  When you take a look at how the U.S. —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Negative implications for every business in this room, and we’ll fix it.

MS AMIN:  There’s greater scrutiny right now on Chinese companies, especially through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., of which you play a huge role.  When you take a look at the Bloomberg data, it suggests that there are about 173 Chinese companies worth about $750 billion actively listed in the U.S., 750 – just Chinese companies in the U.S.  Could you be sending a negative message to these companies who are interested in putting money in your country?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No.  We welcome capital that comes to America every day, all day.  What we want to make sure is the basis on which that capital flows into the United States.  We want to make sure that American capital that wants to come to this region, to China, can do so on a fair and even basis, and we want to make sure that capital doesn’t pose a national security threat to the United States of America.  Those are – that’s a low bar.  Those are simple standards.  They’re what every nation must do to protect its own sovereignty.

And so no, the message we’re sending them is, “Come.  Come to America.  Participate.  Do so with the rule of law.  Do so through transparency.  Don’t subsidize those countries.  Don’t create champions through – with political objectives.  Make them economic objectives.  And when you do, many Chinese companies will come to America, compete, and be very, very successful.  And we welcome that.

MS AMIN:  Some (inaudible), however, say that the crux of this U.S.-China trade tensions is actually a fundamental misunderstanding of how the U.S. views China, that China today is different from the China of 20 years ago, and that China today needs time to reform and reform in its own time.  Is there a misconception in those views?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, I’m not sure how to respond to – the other night – I had a chance to be with Dr. Kissinger the other day.  He came to the State Department to celebrate our 230th anniversary, and we were talking about this very issue, this idea that China would, if their economy opened up, that they would begin to compete in a fair, transparent way.  Well, that hasn’t happened, and so that’s what we’re driving for.  It’s really elemental.

MS AMIN:  In your conversations, if there is one thing China needs to do right now to avert further tariffs, what would that be?


MS AMIN:  If just one first step that needs to be taken.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Look, I’m not directly involved in the trade negotiations, but there was an agreement on the table that would have put us in a really, really good place.  So as a starting point, they could come back to at least where they were that day.

MS AMIN:  You touched on Hong Kong earlier, and you talked about how the government needs to listen.  There are murmurings out there suggesting that perhaps there is a congregation of troops just on the border waiting to make its way if things turn for the worse.  Can you envision that happening?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I think President Trump has been pretty clear.  We’ve asked China simply to do the right thing.  America has a long tradition of making sure that every citizen has the right to express their conscience, their views.   We hope that’s the case all around the world, and that is true in China as well.

And so I hope that the way things proceed in Hong Kong will proceed in a way that is not violent.  That’s not constructive for any of the parties in the region.  And we hope that everywhere citizens want to voice their views – whether those are in support of a particular government or in opposition to a particular government – they’ll be permitted to do so.

MS AMIN:  But President Trump also made it clear that it is a Chinese issue, it’s a Hong Kong issue.  Should the PLA make its way across the border into Hong Kong, into the streets of Hong Kong, would the U.S. exercise any military presence?  Would it exercise its own judgment to make its way and defend Hong Kong?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  One thing this administration has been really good about is not tipping our hand to what we will or won’t do, and I’m going to do that here this morning.

MS AMIN:  (Laughter.)  Okay, I’ll take that.  (Laughter.)

Now, let’s touch on North Korea.  It does seem like President Trump has given a lot of face and a lot of face time to North Korea.  There have been two summits.  He’s made his way to North Korea.  The first U.S. – sitting U.S. president to do that.  He’s also made suggestions about inviting Kim to D.C.  That seems like a lot to give for very little in return, because we’re back to square one with North Korea greeting your presence in Asia with a series of missile launches.  Your take on that?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, I think you fundamentally mischaracterized.  Having a meeting with Chairman Kim didn’t give him a darn thing.  It was an attempt that is ongoing to engage with them diplomatically to achieve an outcome that for decades has not been achieved.  Many paths have been tried, but they’ve all been unsuccessful.  And so I was the first – when I was the director of Central Intelligence, the first one to travel to meet with Chairman Kim to begin this opportunity.  We’re still engaged in it.  We hope that they will put their working group back together and meet with us before too long.

But remember, the UN Security Council still has the most stringent sanctions ever imposed on North Korea fully in place, and we are working with countries all across the world, many in this region are doing great work to enforce those, in an effort to make sure that we have the capacity to ultimately deliver what Chairman Kim committed to back in June in Singapore, June a year ago back in Singapore, which is to fully denuclearize his country in exchange for – President Trump describes – a brighter future for the North Korean people.

MS AMIN:  Those launches are against UN resolutions.  I mean, how patient can the U.S. be?  At what stage will you decide to tighten those sanctions and do something about it and send a message to North Korea that it is not acceptable?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So you should never doubt what we may be communicating to the North Koreans.  There are conversations going on, goodness, even as we speak.  But the diplomatic path is often fraught with bumps, tos and fros, forward and backward.  We are still fully committed to achieving the outcome that we have laid out – the fully verified denuclearization of North Korea – and to do so through the use of diplomacy.

MS AMIN:  How confident are you you will get there?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We keep working at it.

MS AMIN:  (Laughter.)  Is there a timeframe you’re looking at?  I mean, conversations can’t go on forever.  At what stage will you take action, a tougher stance on North Korea?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I think we’ve taken the toughest stance in all of recorded history.

MS AMIN:  Have you been —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So when you say a tougher stance, if you go look at the list of Security Council resolutions and you look not only at the resolutions themselves but the world’s effectiveness at enforcing them, I think it’s difficult to imagine that there would be a set of tougher sanctions put in place.

So to give the moment so that we can have this opportunity.  It’s the right thing for the world.  To continue this diplomatic effort is the right approach.  It’s the right approach today, and President Trump and I and our national security team will continue to evaluate that alongside of all of our partners in Japan and South Korea, the Chinese, the Russians.  All of those who have a vested interest in seeing North Korea denuclearized will continue to work on this problem set.

MS AMIN:  Are we looking at a third summit anytime soon?


MS AMIN:  (Laughter.)  Have you been disappointed that your North Korean counterpart didn’t make it here, missing out on the chance to negotiate?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I always look forward to a chance to talk with him.  I wish they’d have come here.  I think it would have given us an opportunity to have another set of conversations, and I hope it won’t be too long before I have a chance to do that.

MS AMIN:  But how do you expect to, I guess, get negotiations going when your own counterpart isn’t willing to make himself available to talk?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Lots of conversations taking place.

MS AMIN:  How concerned are you about how Kim Jong-un is carrying out his, I guess, missile program?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, so we’re always – we’re always concerned, right?  President Trump has made nuclear nonproliferation a centerpiece of the work that we do, whether that’s the work that we’re doing with Iran, the work that we’re doing in North Korea.  President Trump understands – we’re working to engage in a strategic security dialogue with the Russians.

All have a central theme, which is this risk from nuclear weapons and their proliferation is real and serious.  And so yes, I want very much these discussions to proceed with the North Koreans. We want to really get past the discussions and get to execution on the ground.  That’s our charge.  That’s the mission the President has laid out for me, and we’re working diligently to get there just as quickly as we can.

MS AMIN:  What role do you think China can play in this?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  A big role.  And they have.  I actually applaud the enforcement efforts that the Chinese have undertaken under the UN Security Council resolution.  They have truly been a bulwark.  They have been helpful.  I met with my counterpart foreign minister yesterday.  We talked about this again.  They reiterated their goal for there to be a diplomatic resolution to this as well and their continued commitment to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions.

MS AMIN:  Secretary Pompeo, I was told to wrap up, but just one final question.  Since you touched on Iran, I mean, the U.S. has been trying to put a lid on Iranian oil exports, yet there are concerns out there that perhaps your Asian allies are still importing Iranian oil.  What are your thoughts on that, and are you intending to take any action?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Simple math.  Before the sanctions regime was put in place, there were 2.7-ish million barrels of oil a day being shipped by Iran to all around the world.  The number for June and July, each of those two months, was less than a half a million barrels, could have been closer to zero than to half a million.  The sanctions have been very effective, and we will enforce them everywhere.  We’ll enforce them against any company, any country, that continues to violate those sanctions.  We’ve already imposed sanctions on one company inside of China.  We will continue to do that.  It is absolutely imperative that we deny the ayatollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran from having the wealth and resources to build a nuclear program that could threaten anyone in the world.

MS AMIN:  On that note, Secretary Pompeo, thank you so much for your time today.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you very much.

MS AMIN:  Thank you for your insights.


MS AMIN:  And ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us.  (Applause.)