Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Telephonic Briefing Hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Regional Media Hub

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Bangkok, Thailand
August 11, 2021
  MODERATOR: I’d like to welcome all participants to today’s telephonic press briefing. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, who will discuss her travel to Japan and Thailand this week. We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from the Ambassador and then we will turn to your questions. We will do our best to get to as many as possible in the time that we have today, which is approximately 30 minutes.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield for her opening remarks. Please go ahead, ma’am.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Justin, and thank you all for joining me here today. I want to start with a few brief reflections on my vitally important trip to Japan and Thailand.

Over the past week, I worked on strengthening crucial alliances, deepening cooperation in the fight against COVID-19, and advancing opportunities for peace, security, and stability in support of an open and free Indo-Pacific.

Last weekend, I was honored to lead the United States Presidential Delegation to the ceremony – the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. I had the opportunity to cheer on Team USA, and to celebrate our athletes, who truly represent the best of America. And I have to tell you, I was so proud of their grit and determination and sportsmanship and their leadership – on and off the field.

And I was particularly delighted that the women of Team USA brought home nearly 60 percent of the medals for the United States. Their success is more than a point of pride for America. It showed the world how including and empowering women makes nations – makes our nation stronger and more competitive.

I was also inspired to meet virtually with members of the Refugee Olympic Team competing in its second Olympic Games. I’ve spent most of my career working on refugee and humanitarian issues, and I know the harrowing experiences these Olympians had to overcome to get to Tokyo.

One Afghan refugee Olympian told me about how competing in Judo helped her overcome that adversity. She told me that the first thing you learn in Judo is how to fall, and the next thing you learn is how to pick yourself back up.

I’m so proud of the refugee team and excited to watch them grow and continue to inspire millions of refugees around the world.

While in Japan, I was also honored to meet with the Japanese chief cabinet secretary and the Japanese state minister for foreign affairs. I had the opportunity to reaffirm our crucial alliance with Japan, and to thank and congratulate Japanese and Olympic officials for hosting a successful Olympic Games in the face of great adversity.

I also wished them continued success with the Paralympic games in the coming weeks. And yesterday, President Biden announced that Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will lead the delegation to that opening ceremony.

President Biden has made clear that we are putting our alliances at the center of our foreign policy. And so I also felt it was important to come here to Thailand, to reaffirm and strengthen the longstanding alliance between our nations, and to underscore our enduring commitment to Southeast Asia and the ASEAN centrality.

The U.S.-Thai alliance continues to create tremendous benefit for both of our nations and contribute to a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

Today, I had the opportunity to meet with the prime minister, following meetings yesterday with the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, and the national security council secretary-general. I believe we had productive conversations on a range of priority issues, including the strength of the alliance, public health, climate, human rights, and the humanitarian crisis sparked by the February coup in Myanmar.

In particular, I communicated America’s strong commitment to standing with the Thai people in the fight against COVID-19. In fact, yesterday morning, I visited a vaccine site in Bangkok where vulnerable people and frontline workers were receiving some of the 1.5 million Pfizer vaccines the United States provided to Thailand last week. We are stepping up that commitment with another 1 million vaccine doses, which will arrive soon.

I was proud to see our vaccines going into the arms of Thailand’s heroic doctors and nurses. And I was encouraged to know that this is happening all over the world as the United States delivers hundreds of millions of vaccines – provided with no strings attached – to save lives and stamp out this pandemic.

Yesterday, I was also – yesterday, I also announced $55 million in new U.S. assistance for humanitarian and pandemic response efforts in Thailand and Myanmar. The coup in Myanmar and the resulting humanitarian crisis has been compounded by COVID, and Thailand is on the front lines of the response to both challenges.

The funding I announced yesterday will support the pandemic response and alleviate the strain of Thailand’s – the strain on Thailand’s health systems. Specifically, the funding included $5 million in COVID-19 assistance for Thailand, as well as $50 million in humanitarian aid that will flow directly through international and nongovernmental organization partners.

This aid will provide life-saving food, water, shelter, health care, and hygiene services to vulnerable people from Myanmar, including refugees and internally displaced persons.

Today, I also had the opportunity to meet with international organizations, NGOs, and others working in Thailand and Myanmar to discuss the political and humanitarian challenges facing the people of Myanmar, including refugees. I wanted them to know that we stand with them. The resources we are providing will help these NGOs and international organizations respond to the COVID crisis and meet the needs of vulnerable people, particularly in the Thai-Myanmar border region.

Finally, let me say clearly that the United States remains deeply concerned about the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. In close coordination with our allies and partners, we will continue to press for a swift return to democracy and the release of all those arbitrarily detained, while remaining steadfast in our support for the people of Myanmar.

With that, I look forward to your questions. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for those remarks. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. Our first question comes to us from Melo Acuña with the Asia Pacific Daily in Manila. Please go ahead, Melo.

QUESTION: Good afternoon and greetings from Manila and, of course, greetings to Her Excellency Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Your Excellency, what do you think would the role be of ASEAN and the United States to bring order to Myanmar? And number two, how does the United States view the long-delayed code of conduct for the South China Sea? Thank you very much, Your Excellency.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the first part of your question. Can you repeat it?

QUESTION: Yes, Your Excellency. What would be the role of the ASEAN and the United States to bring order to Myanmar?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: So the United States has strongly welcomed the appointment of Brunei’s second minister for foreign affairs as ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar, and we call on the military to give the special envoy full access to all stakeholders when he visits Myanmar, as he has requested. We urge that ASEAN members act quickly to hold the military accountable to the Five-Point Consensus and to engage all parties, including pro-democracy leaders.

As part of our strong support for the people of Myanmar, the United States continues to engage with Myanmar’s full range of civil society, the pro-democracy groups that seek to restore democratic governance as well, and during recent conversations with U.S. officials, national unity government representatives outlined their efforts to promote a diverse and unified vision of federal democracy in Myanmar.

The U.S. will continue to support all those working peacefully to restore Myanmar to the path of democracy and urge the military to cease its violent actions and release all those who have been urgently detained.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Tan Hui Yee with the Straits Times. Please go ahead, Mr. Tan. AT&T, could you open the line for Mr. Tan Hui Yee?

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yes, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Good afternoon, Ambassador. Given the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in Myanmar, what are the chances of the United States and China collaborating to deliver humanitarian assistance to the country?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much for that question. As you know, I announced yesterday that the U.S. Government is providing $50 million in additional humanitarian aid to provide emergency food assistance, life-saving protection, shelter, essential health care, water, sanitation, and hygiene services to vulnerable people from Myanmar, including the more than 700,000 refugees and internally displaced people. These funds will flow directly through international nongovernmental organizations and our partners to meet the needs of vulnerable people, including those that are in the Thai-Myanmar border area.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Zheng Qingting with the 21st Century Business Herald. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. You mentioned that you joined the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, so I’m wondering whether you have seen the picture of Chinese and American Olympic gymnasts hugging each other, which quickly went viral online. If so, would you care to comment on that? Does the U.S. have any intention to ease tensions with China following Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman’s recent visit to China? And what’s the process of U.S./China for operations on climate change? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Wow, you gave me a lot there. So let me just start by saying again how honored I was to lead the presidential delegation to the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, and to say again how proud I was of the American team. And I did see the picture. I think it communicated the leadership and the sportsmanship that so many of these Olympians show on and off the field.

In terms of the Deputy Secretary’s recent visit to China, we’re ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so. And we still compete from a position, and we will always compete from a position of strength by building back better at home and working with our allies and our partners, particularly in the region, and renewing our role in international institutions like the United Nations.

And I think you may have heard Secretary Blinken say that the U.S. relationship with China will be collaborative where it can be, and competitive where it should, and be adversarial where it must be. We need to be able to have a relationship where we can discuss potential areas of competition like climate change and areas where we disagree.

And that is critical to reducing potentials for misunderstanding between our countries. Area – I’m sorry, I meant to say potential areas of cooperation like climate change, and to reduce potentials for misunderstanding between our countries, maintaining global peace and security, and making progress on important issues where the U.S. and China both have an interest.

As it relates to the climate change, the world cannot successfully address the climate challenges without significant additional action by China. The United States and China will continue to discuss, both on the road to COP26 and beyond, concrete action that we both need to take to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement. And this is not just important to the United States but is critical to every country in the world.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Motoko Rich with the New York Times. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, hello, Ambassador. Thank you so much for taking our questions. You mentioned coming to the closing ceremonies for the Tokyo Olympics and I wondered, looking forward to the Paralympics, if the Biden administration is discussing any responses or a possible boycott of the Olympics and if you’re concerned about, when you talk about leadership and sportsmanship on and off the field, whether U.S. athletes will be made complicit in supporting a country that has been condemned for committing genocide by the U.S. administration.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have not made any decisions yet on participation in the Olympics. We are consulting with our allies and friends on this issue, and we will hopefully come to a decision soon on that.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question was emailed to us from Moon Jaeyeon with Herald Business in South Korea. He had some questions about North Korea. His question is, “You have recently said that the U.S. is open for humanitarian aid for North Korea. Could you tell us what kind of specific aid the U.S. is considering to support through the United Nations? And then, it has also been said that the U.S. Government is supportive of minimizing the sanctions waiver process for the humanitarian aid. What would be the conditions to do so?”

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me just start by saying that we’re deeply concerned about the dire humanitarian situation in North Korea, particularly since the regime closed its borders. North Korea has implemented an extremely stringent COVID-19 response, including by closing its borders to international flights and shipments. These measures have significantly hindered the efforts of humanitarian organizations, the UN agencies, and other countries to deliver aid to those most in need after they received swift sanctions exemptions from the UN DPRK 1718 Committee.

With respect to sanctions, our sanctions programs are designed to constrain the ability of bad actors to take advantage of our financial system or threaten the United States, our allies, and partners, and civilians. And we know that the North Korean regime is responsible for exploiting its citizens and diverting resources from its own people to bolster its nuclear and ballistic weapons program.

But as a general matter, our sanctions programs do not, and let me be clear, they do not target humanitarian-related trade, assistance, or activity. Rather, we often, and in many circumstances proactively, exclude this type of activity from our sanctions program. We have expedited the approval of sanctions exemptions for humanitarian assistance, and we remain committed to doing so. And we’re open to considering additional ways to facilitate humanitarian assistance as quickly as possible.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from James Bays with Al Jazeera. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Very good morning. Very early morning from New York, Ambassador. I know you weren’t speaking in the Council meeting on Afghanistan and Ambassador DeLaurentis was because you had been traveling. But I think we’d like to get your comments on the fast-moving situation in Afghanistan. What do you make of the six asks that came from the SRSG Deborah Lyons? And what do you say to those, and I’m hearing this even from diplomats from your close allies, that Afghanistan is shaping up to be a major foreign policy failure by President Biden? That the hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces means you’ve lost all your leverage at the negotiating table with the Taliban, and it means that you’ve abandoned Afghan civilians, in particular, woman and children?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Hey, James, I’m going to be back in New York next week. I’ll follow up with you on that. That’s a pretty extensive question. So, I’ll get back to you.

MODERATOR: Okay, thanks for that. Our next question comes to us from Philip Heijmans with Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, and thank you very much. I wanted to ask, I’ve seen the U.S. State Department has released some data on a donation – vaccine donations in Southeast Asia, seven out of 10 countries here. Myanmar is not on that list. I wonder, putting aside the $50 million for a second, how can Myanmar – does the U.S. plan to donate vaccines to Myanmar, given the situation there? And is it able to raise a level of – what’s the policy for engagement with the junta at this time, given some groups seem to think that the only way for an effective response is to have some form of a relationship?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question. Look, in terms of providing assistance inside of Myanmar directly to the people, we are working with UN agencies and international NGOs. The $50 million that I’ve just announced will go through those international organizations to provide, as I noted, humanitarian assistance and life-saving protection and shelter to the vulnerable people from Myanmar, as well as refugees.

And these funds will be used to respond to the COVID crisis and meet the needs of people, including those at the Thai-Myanmar border. I just met, just before coming into this session, with international NGOs to discuss with them how we can work with them to facilitate providing assistance inside of Myanmar, and we will be following up on those discussions.

MODERATOR: Let’s see. Our next question, and I think this might be the only one we have time for, is Eunice Yoon with CNBC.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much, Ambassador. I was wondering if you have any statement on the verdict against Canada’s Michael Spavor, who just was sentenced to 11 years and also can be deported. And as a second part of that question, with the Deputy Secretary Sherman’s visit, the Chinese side had told the state press that the – that securing Huawei’s CFO’s release was one of China’s demands to the Americans. So, is there any update on the – that possibility?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Hi, the only thing I can say on that right now is that we think the verdict is outrageous and that he should be released. This is totally unacceptable.

MODERATOR: Okay. I believe that that was the last question that we have time for. I’d like to thank Ambassador Thomas–Greenfield for joining us and I like to see if she has any closing remarks for us.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Just to thank all of you for joining us and I look forward to continuing to engage with you in the future.

MODERATOR: Once again, I’d like to thank Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield for joining us and thank all of the reporters on the line for your participation and for your questions. This concludes today’s call. Thank you very much.