Remarks: Secretary of State John Kerry And Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

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Ben Franklin Room

Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I’m delighted to welcome Minister Wang Yi back to the State Department to the Ben Franklin Room and back to Washington.  And we had a – this is about the third time that we have now met in the last weeks, and we’ve had occasion to have a lot of conversations about all of the topics of interest between our countries.

As I have said many times, the United States and China share one of the most consequential relationships in the world.  In recent months and years, our nations have worked together to bring about important progress on a range of global issues, including a landmark agreement on climate change in Paris last year, which began with President Xi and – actually, it began before that with our conversations even a year earlier, but ultimately with President Xi and President Obama standing in Beijing and announcing jointly what our intended reductions would be, and that significantly impacted the decisions of other countries leading up to and into Paris.

We also worked very closely together on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program.  And China took a leading role with respect to the resolution of one of the very difficult issues, the Arak plutonium reactor, and we’re grateful for the cooperation and the partnership with China with respect to that particular solution to a complicated issue of nonproliferation.

And the reason that we’ve been able to cooperate in areas where our interests and our values are aligned, despite the fact that we have clear differences on some other issues, is that both the United States and China are deeply committed to an open and frank dialogue in which we both recognize our responsibilities to other countries all around the planet.  We are two powerful nations, the two largest economies today, and we have an ability, therefore, to be able to make good things happen when we decide to.  We’re aware of that, and that is the dialogue that we continued in our meeting here today.

First, we discussed North Korea’s increasingly provocative actions.  The nuclear test that the DPRK conducted last month and its subsequent ballistic missile launches are provocative; they are threatening; they are a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.  And China and the United States agree completely that this – these actions merit an appropriate response through the United Nations Security Council, which was promised if they violated a resolution, and it was promised in the last resolution.

There now have been several flagrant violations of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and those violations threaten not only the peninsula, but they also are a threat to international peace and security.  We, therefore, need to respond accordingly.  And we agreed today to continue our efforts to make certain that response is forthcoming rapidly.

Today, Foreign Minister Wang and I also discussed ways that we, along with our partners in the UN and the Six-Party Talks framework, can deepen our cooperation not only to respond to the actions that DPRK took but equally importantly because those reactions have a purpose and that purpose is to bring the DPRK back to the table for the purpose of the Six-Party Talks and particularly discussions about denuclearization.

We also talked today about the importance of reducing tensions and maintaining the space necessary for diplomatic solutions to the competing claims in the South China Sea.  As I said in our meeting, we believe that it is important for a diplomatic solution, for a solution to occur which follows the rule of law that brings the countries to the table for a negotiated resolution not for unilateral actions.  We want to halt the expansion and the militarization of occupied features.  We think everybody benefits by true demilitarization, non-militarization.  We also urge people to clarify the territorial and maritime claims in accordance with international law and to commit to peacefully resolve and manage disputes, including through the use of such international mechanisms as authentic bilateral or multilateral negotiations or arbitration.

I also reiterated the commitment of the United States of America to freedom of navigation and over-flight, something which China says it does not stand in the way of; it agrees that there should be peaceful freedom of navigation.  I stressed that any enforcement by any party of maritime claims by deploying their own aircraft over disputed areas are not compatible with the freedoms of navigation and of skies of access to flight operations.

We also discussed other issues, where our nations’ views differ as well, such as cyber security, human rights, the issues of nonproliferation, the importance of the nuclear summit that President Obama will host here in Washington at the end of March.  I raised our concerns about the challenges on issues such as human trafficking and human rights, and we agreed to continue our discussion with specificity with respect to those issues.

I also emphasized our hope that the United States and China will work diligently together to continue, as we have in the past months, to try to help bring an end to the war in Syria.  Less than two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Wang and I met in Munich for a meeting of the International Syria Support Group.  We were joined by more than a dozen of our counterparts from around the world.  But I must say, Foreign Minister Wang flew the farthest and longest in order to attend that meeting and made an important contribution to the success of our getting agreement, which has now led to Russia and the United States coming to agreement on a cessation of hostilities and a method for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

I’m pleased to say that because of the work we did – all of us together, not one nation or two nations but everybody, insisting on the full application of United Nations Security Resolution 2254 – because of that more than 114 trucks have now delivered humanitarian assistance, food and medicine, to people who literally in some cases have not had help in several years.  More than 80,000 people now have enough food and supplies for at least a month.  And if things work – if things work in the way that they have been set out, greater assistance can flow in the days, weeks, and hopefully even months ahead.

I was particularly pleased that we were able also to come to agreement with respect to the modalities for the implementation of this cessation of hostilities.  Now let me emphasize this is supposed to begin on Saturday, but as I said in Munich, these are words on pieces of paper.  They will only have meaning if they are implemented, and they will only be implemented if leaders in all of the different factions, entities, groups involved – whether it’s the Government of Syria or the opposition or other countries – they all have to make the right decisions in the next days.

But we need the parties to this conflict to commit to this cessation.  Why is it so important?  Because for four years every country has been saying the best way to resolve this crisis, to end the killing, to end the flow of refugees, to end this incredible division of the country and the region is to get to the table and negotiate a political transition according to the Geneva communiqué of 2012.   That can only happen at the negotiating table.  So it is vital for people to make that decision.

We understand Dr. Riyad Hijab and the High Negotiations Committee, the body formed to represent the Syrian opposition in the political process, are meeting now today and considering this proposed arrangement, and naturally, we hope to hear from the HNC that the maximum number of armed opposition factions will have come forth and expressed their readiness to participate in this cessation of hostilities.

We have an opportunity to halt the violence that the Syrian people have endured for far too long, including aerial bombardment by the regime and its backers.  A task force, created by the International Syria Support Group, is going to meet this week in order to help monitor the cessation and in order to help design the methodology by which we will continue to prosecute the war against Nusrah and Daesh.  We believe very deeply that it is time for all parties to facilitate the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, including ultimately the political transition that respects the rights and the needs and the wishes of the people of Syria.

Lastly, today Foreign Minister Wang and I discussed what has become a major point of cooperation between our two countries: climate change.  Because we are the world’s two largest economies, we’re also large emitters of greenhouse gas emissions.  And therefore the United States and China can do more to energize the global effort to combat climate change than perhaps any other two nations together.  There’s no question that the December agreement in Paris represented historic progress, but let me underscore right now: the United States is absolutely committed to joining the agreement in April.  We look forward to signing it, we look forward to implementing it, and we look forward to meeting the targets that we have set.

The hard work doesn’t end in Paris.  This is a generational challenge.  It is going to take some years for us to transition to the new energy of the future, and it’s going to take dedication and resilience in order to get this job done.  I know from our discussion today that the United States and China remain deeply committed to making that happen.  It’s an important partnership and we will continue to find ways to work together with that goal in mind.