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Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mnuchin, and Secretary Ross, Briefing on President Trump's Meetings with President Xi of China, April 7, 2017
U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross delivered a briefing following President Trump's first meeting with President Xi of China.
April 7, 2017
Tideline Resort and Spa
Palm Beach, Florida
3:58 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: Hi, guys. So this is being streamed back to both the Tideline, as well as the White House.
Obviously, today the President was very pleased with the outcomes of today’s meeting. I wanted to give you guys a quick readout, so today I’ve brought three of the top participants in this: Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and Secretary Commerce Wilbur Ross.
They’ll go in that order, and then we’ll take a few questions.
With that, Secretary of State Tillerson.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, thank you, Sean.
I would open by saying the President was very happy to host President Xi at Mar-a-Lago these last two days. As those of you that have been here know, it was obviously a perfect weather day today, and it was a great opportunity for both the Presidents and their wives to really get to know one another and enjoy, share meals together, and work on important issues.
Each side did bring along senior delegations of officials -- so, of course, we're represented here -- who also were able to build important relationships for a lot of work that's still ahead of us.
I think what I would really want you to get a grasp of is that both the atmosphere, the chemistry between the two leaders was positive. The posture between the two really set the tone for our subsequent meetings between our high-level delegations. And I would tell you the exchanges were very frank. They were candid, they were open, and they were very positive. So I think all of us are feeling very good about the results of this summit in terms of what it did for setting a very constructive tone going forward.
The two leaders had positive, productive meetings. President Trump and President Xi agreed to work in concert to expand areas of cooperation while managing differences based on mutual respect.
The two Presidents reviewed the current state of the bilateral relationship and noted the importance of working together to generate positive outcomes that would benefit the citizens of both of our countries. President Trump noted the challenges caused by Chinese government intervention in its economy and raised serious concerns about the impact of China’s industrial, agricultural, technology, and cyber policies on U.S. jobs and exports. The President underscored the need for China to take concrete steps to level the playing field for American workers, stressing repeatedly the need for reciprocal market access.
The two sides noted the urgency of the threat of North Korea’s weapons program, reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and committed to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions. They agreed to increase cooperation and work with the international community to convince the DPRK to peacefully resolve the issue and abandon its illicit weapons programs.
The two sides had candid discussions on regional and maritime security. President Trump noted the importance of adherence to international norms in the East and South China Seas and to previous statements on non-militarization. He also noted the importance of protecting human rights and other values deeply held by Americans.
The two Presidents agreed to elevate existing bilateral talks to reflect the importance of making progress on issues. They established a new high-level framework for negotiations. The U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue will be overseen by the two Presidents, and it will have four pillars: the diplomatic and security dialogue; the comprehensive economic dialogue; the law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue; and the social and cultures issues dialogue.
The two sides agreed to undertake an ambitious agenda and schedule to show progress and achieve meaningful results. President Trump welcomed President Xi’s invitation to visit China for a state visit at a future date. They agreed to work together in the interim to ensure successful and results-focused visits.
With that, I’d like to turn it to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Thank you. I would just like to reiterate that we had a very productive two days with our counterparts. And specifically we had a meeting this morning that was a breakout of the first comprehensive economic dialogue. We had very direct and frank conversations about how we would work together. Secretary Ross and I will be leading that jointly, and we will be focused on trade, investment, and other economic opportunities between both companies -- countries.
We focused specifically on a more balanced economic relationship, specifically on trade. And we focused on the desire to have very specific action items both in the short term for the next time we get together, as well as what the goals are over the year. So I think we think the restructuring of the dialogue and having specifically a breakout that will address comprehensive economic opportunities across our different agencies both here and within China I think we felt was very productive, very good start in how we're going to structure it, and again, very specific things that we talked about to look forward on making progress in the short term on.
SECRETARY ROSS: Thank you, Steven. I think in many ways, the most significant thing was a 100-day plan. Normally, trade discussions, especially between China and ourselves, are denominated in multiple years. This was denominated in the first instance in 100 days with hopefully way stations of accomplishment along the way. Given the range of issues and the magnitude, that may be ambitious, but it's a very big sea change in the pace of discussions. And I think that's a very very important symbolization of the growing rapport between the two countries.
MR. SPICER: We'll take a few questions. Steve.
Q Secretary of State Tillerson, can I ask you about North Korea? Did the President say that he might use trade against China if they do not rein in North Korea? And did you get any specific commitments from China to do something about the North Korea problem?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: The Presidents’ discussions -- President Trump and President Xi -- on North Korea were very wide-ranging, very comprehensive, and more focused entirely on both countries’ previous commitments to denuclearize the peninsula. There was no kind of a package arrangement discussed to resolve this.
I think President Xi, from their part, shared the view that this has reached a very serious stage in terms of the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. They discussed the challenges that introduces for both countries, but there’s a real commitment that we work together to see if this cannot be resolved in a peaceful way. But in order for that to happen, North Korea’s posture has to change before there’s any basis for dialogue or discussions.
President Trump indicated to President Xi that he welcomed any ideas that President Xi and China might have as to other actions we could take and that we would be happy to work with them, but we understand it creates unique problems for them and challenges and that we would, and are, prepared to chart our own course if this is something China is just unable to coordinate with us.
Q Two quick questions for Secretary Tillerson, and one for Secretary Ross. Previous administrations have been very tough on North Korea -- sorry -- tough on China in terms of human rights violations. And I was wondering if that came up and if this administration plans to pressure the Chinese on human rights violations. And the second question, if I may have the opportunity to ask since you're here on Syria -- a lot of the American people are concerned that yesterday’s actions mean we're going to war. And I was hoping if you could just clarify -- is this just a one-fit situation, or is this going to be part of a -- campaign to try to the Assad government?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: As to the discussions around human rights in China, I think America’s values are quite clear and they really occupied a core of all of our discussions. I don't think you have to have a separate conversation, somehow separate our core values around human rights from our economic discussions, our military-to-military discussions, or our foreign policy discussions. They’re really embedded in every discussion, that that is really what guides much of our view around how we're going to work together.
As to Syria, I think as was indicated in our statements last night, this particular strike that was carried out on the airbase from which the chemical weapons attack was launched was very deliberately considered by the President. It is a response that we believe is both proportional and appropriate. And as we said last night, we will monitor Syria’s response to that strike in terms of whether they attack our own forces or coalition forces, or whether we detect that they are considering mobilizing to take additional chemical weapons attacks. And I'd say at this point the future will be guided by how we see their reaction.
Q Thank you. And for you, Secretary Roth, I was wondering if talked to the Chinese about cracking down on any banks or companies that may be working with North Korea.
SECRETARY ROSS: As you know, Commerce fined ZTE, the second largest telecom company for making equipment in China, $1.170 billion recently. So they recognize that that shows our clear determination to crack down on that sort of activity.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: And I would just also emphasize Treasury obviously manages multiple sanctions programs, some specifically towards North Korea, and we have had direct conversations with our counterparts in China about working with us on those.
Q Did the Chinese agree to do anything that will make it easier for American companies to export to China?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I think there was definitely an acknowledgement by them on the trade issue that we do need to get to a more balanced trade environment. We did begin those discussions today, but I would just emphasize there was a lot going on in two days. And although we had some specific conversations, as Secretary Ross, mentioned, the plan is for us to develop a 100-day plan, and we would expect to see some very specific items on that.
Q Will you move forward with a plan to label China a currency manipulator?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I would just comment on, I think as you know, the currency report is going to come out in the near future, and we will address that when it comes out.
SECRETARY ROSS: As other trade issues, you would not have expected us to reach agreement in a few hours of meetings. The issues are far more complex and far more deep rooted. But 100-days is a very, very short time for trade.
Q Did you discuss the environment and environmental commitments? And what was your response if China asked for more commitments from the United States on that issue?
SECRETARY ROSS: That was not a major part of the discussion, nor do I recall the Chinese specifically raising it.
Q There was anticipation that President Xi would come with some sort of gift for President Trump -- infrastructure investment, something that would demonstrate a Chinese commitment to having more jobs in the U.S. Was there anything like that?
SECRETARY ROSS: The best gift was his presence and the relationship what was built up between our President and President Xi.
Q Secretary Tillerson, Chinese media is reporting that President Trump was invited to visit China in 2017. Can you clarify just if that was the year that you’ve agreed to do this?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: The President did accept the invitation of President Xi to visit China. Now, the invitation was for a 2107 visit. The President said that he would look at the dates, and we would work with them to see when that visit might occur.
Q Secretary Ross, could you give a couple of examples of the kind of way stations that people might see in the 100-day time?
SECRETARY ROSS: The exact way stations are a matter of negotiation itself. But, directionally, the objective is to increase our exports to China and to reduce the trade deficit that we have with them.
Q When you say that there was a recognition by the Chinese and acknowledgement of the trade issue that it needs to be a more balanced environment, what did they say exactly? That seems like that's sort of off message for them.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I don't think it was off message at all. Again, I think they look at -- we have very similar economic interests, and I think there are areas that they clearly want to work with us. And as Secretary Ross said the objective is for us to increase our exports to them. It’s a very big market, and there will be more opportunities for both exports as well as investments.
Q We were told -- sorry, did you want to say something, Secretary Ross?
SECRETARY ROSS: What I was going to say was simply that it was a very wide range of products that we discussed, not a particularly limited one. And the most interesting thing to me was they expressed an interest in reducing their net trade balance because of the impact it’s having on money supply and inflation. That's the first time I’ve heard them say that in a bilateral context.
Q We were informed that President Xi was informed of the Syria strikes during dinner yesterday, and so I was wondering if you could maybe explain what the reaction was from the Chinese as to this. They've usually been very opposed -- in the U.N. at least -- on acts against Syria.
And so since the three of you are here, we saw that all three of you were in the photo in the Situation Room, as this was playing out. So I’d be very interested to hear -- especially it’s not common to see maybe the Treasury Secretary or the Commerce Secretary in those situations. So if you can say what role you were playing and maybe what your thoughts were while this was unfolding.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: The President did directly inform President Xi near the end of the dinner yesterday evening as the missiles that are launched were impacting, which was about 8:40 p.m. last night. The President told President Xi that we had launched a strike against Syria as a result of Assad’s violation -- multiple violations of the use of chemical weapons against his own citizens, including the killing of women, children, and babies. The President provided President Xi the number of missiles that were launched and explained the rationale behind it.
President Xi I think expressed an appreciation for the President letting him know and providing the rationale and said, as it was told to me, indicated that he understood that such a response is necessary when people are killing children.
Now, China has issued its own statements. I’m sure those are available to you. I have read them on them on the wire service, as well.
As to the Situation Room, before I turn it to the two Secretaries to give you kind of their color on what was going on, I think it is important for everyone to recognize a couple of things on the Syrian attack. First, it was an overwhelming success. I think the performance our military and the expertise and the power of what the U.S. military is able to execute on a fairly short planning window was extraordinary. And I think all Americans, and, indeed, I think all our allies in the free world should take great comfort in what occurred with that strike last night. And Americans should be very proud of their men and women in uniform.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I would just not only echo what Secretary Tillerson said, but I think, as you know, the Treasury Department has very important functions in terms of sanctions and other intelligence -- financial intelligence functions that I have been participating in. So on the National Security Council, the Treasury Department does participate in that.
We will be announcing additional sanctions on Syria as part of our ongoing effort to stop this type of activity and emphasize how significant we view this. And we expect that those will continue to have an important effect on preventing people from doing business with them.
Q Can you elaborate on the sanctions a little bit?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, they will be coming out in the near future. But I would just say we view sanctions as being a very important tool, whether it’s North Korea or whether it’s Syria. These sanctions are very important and we will use them to the maximum effect.
SECRETARY ROSS: To me, the most dramatic thing about being in the Situation Room as he was making the decision was the thoroughness of the support and information that went into it, the consultation he did with a wide range of military and diplomatic and economic advisors, and the utter seriousness and thoughtfulness with which he made this very grave decision.
In terms of the strikes themselves, it’s my understanding that they took out something like 20 percent of the entire Syrian air force. So it was huge not just in terms of number of planes but relative to the scale of their air force.
Q Secretary Tillerson, you talked about the great success. The AFP is reporting that the runway is still operational and is actually being used. Is that accurate? And can you comment on whether that was your intent, and if that puts a damper on the success of the operation?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: The runways were not the target due to the nature of the construction of those runways. Our military estimate was that we could not do serious damage to the runways. They are very thick and they’re constructed in a way that the ordnance that were used, while would have damaged them -- the damage would have been easily repaired in a matter of hours.
So the targeting was selected very deliberately to render the airbase essentially inoperable as an operating base, and that means taking out all the infrastructure, the fueling capability, all the support infrastructure, hangars. And, indeed, there were a number of Syrian aircraft that were destroyed on the ground. Those were the targets that were selected for that very specific reason.
So the fact that planes may be landing in and out of there, they’re not refueling and they’re not able to certainly initiate any activity from that airfield today.
Q Can I also ask you a follow-up on reports that the United States is investigating Russia’s role in the gas attacks themselves? How far are you in this investigation, and what’s your confidence level and the direction on that, please?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: I don’t have any particular information I think that it would be appropriate to share with you at this point. Obviously we continue to gather the information that we can through our intelligence sources, as well as shared sources from other countries as well. And so I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that at this time.
Q Russia has come out very strongly against the attack, calling it an “act of aggression.” Do you have a message for the Russians or a response to that?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: I’m disappointed in that response from the Russians because it indicates their continued support for the Assad regime and, in particular, their continued support for a regime that carries out these type of horrendous attacks on their own people. So I find it very disappointing, but, sadly, I have to tell you, not all that surprising.
Q There were reports prior to today that President Trump was planning to sign an executive order that would target countries that dump steel into the United States. Was that correct, and is he still planning to do so, if so?
SECRETARY ROSS: The practice is to announce executive orders and executive memoranda when they’re issued, not in response to rumors.
Q Can you just if Westinghouse was talked about at all, and the scale of the bankruptcy of Westinghouse -- was that even a topic?
SECRETARY ROSS: That was not a topic in today’s session, but we have been looking very carefully at that and the alternatives, both from an economic, from an energy generation and from a national security point of view.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: And I would just comment that it -- obviously, any such transaction that involved foreign investment would go through the normal CFIUS process.
MR. SPICER: Thank you guys very much. Have a great weekend.
4:22 P.M. EDT