Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah at a Joint Press Availability

HomeWorld News

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah at a Joint Press Availability

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

MODERATOR:  Announcing the arrival of His Excellency Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, minister of foreign affairs of Malaysia, and His Excellency Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States of America.

We will begin today’s joint press conference with a statement by His Excellency Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah followed by His Excellency Antony Blinken.

Excellencies.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Salam Sejahtera.  Good morning, everyone, His Excellency Mr. Antony John Blinken, Secretary of State of the U.S.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is really a pleasure to welcome my friend and colleague, U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken – welcome to Malaysia and to Kuala Lumpur – and all the members of the U.S. delegation here at Wisma Putra and to Putrajaya.  And I’ve been meeting Tony quite a few times online and on the phone, and we are indeed very happy that we are meeting face to face, or is it mask to mask?  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Mask to mask.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Before I proceed further, I wish to say how much we are deeply saddened to hear the news about the loss of lives, displacement of people, and destruction of homes caused by the recent tornadoes in Kentucky, Illinois, and a few other states in the U.S.  The government and my fellow Malaysians would like to extend our deepest sympathy to Your Excellency, the government, and the American people.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and all affected by the tragedy.

We have had a very candid and fruitful discussion this morning.  We discussed a wide range of bilateral, regional, and international issues of mutual interest.  Among them includes Malaysia-U.S. bilateral relations, regional security, the latest COVID-19 situation and possible cooperation between both countries in entering the endemic phase – bilateral, government-to-government, business-to-business, and also people-to-people relations.

The main highlights of our discussions were on the strengthening of our cooperation in trade and investment.  We talked a lot on digital economy, cyber security, defense, health, and people-to-people ties.  We are committed to working closer to strengthen and bring the Malaysia-U.S. comprehensive partnership to greater heights.  Secretary Blinken is also scheduled to call on (inaudible) Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Ismail later this afternoon.

During our discussion, we agreed that we should resume the dialogues between our senior officials to discuss various issues.  On digital economy, I reiterated to Secretary Blinken that the U.S. is an important ASEAN partner in advancing the region’s digital economy.  I also shared with him what the Malaysian Government is trying to do, in particular through MyDIGITAL, for connectivity and the 4IR plan of action for the overall digital economic growth.  We also welcome more U.S. investments and participation in the various digital connectivity projects, especially in the remote and rural areas of Malaysia.

On cyber security cooperation, we welcome the one-off USD five million financial commitment by the U.S. to help countries in the region to strengthen our cyber security capacities.  I also took the opportunity to request the U.S. support and assistance in the development of an information sharing and analysis center in Malaysia, similar to those already established in the U.S.  I also checked with Mr. Secretary on the cyber security framework among the ASEAN defense ministers.

Malaysia highly values the U.S. continued assistance in developing our defense, security, and maritime capacities.  We are grateful for the recent pledge by the U.S. to contribute a mobile intensive care unit worth USD 1.5 million to the Malaysian Armed Forces for emergency and disaster response.

We are also appreciative of the U.S. contribution of the ScanEagles drones for our Royal Malaysian Navy.  We appreciate the U.S. continued support in the development of our maritime enforcement capacity, and there may be a future cooperation in this regard.

On COVID-19, we are very thankful to the contribution by the U.S. and the U.S. leadership in ensuring equitable access of vaccines globally, and we thank the U.S. on this contribution of the one million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine that we received last July, and also the U.S. 800,000 worth of medical equipments – sorry, U.S. 2.85 million worth of medical equipments and supplies, and the U.S. 800,000 financial contribution to the Malaysian Red Crescent Society.

I also informed Secretary Blinken that in support of President Biden’s Global COVID-19 Summit initiative as well as our commitment to ensuring fair and equitable access to vaccines, Malaysia has recently contributed USD 100,000 to the COVAX facility.  This is in addition to the USD 28.82 million provided earlier.  We have also provided 559,200 doses of A-Zen vaccines to Bangladesh and about 283,000 doses to Lao PDR.

We also welcome and very appreciative of the strong people-to-people exchanges, including our – the YSEALI, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, which was started during the time of President Obama.  And many of us benefited from many of the U.S. International Visitors Programs.  I have also (inaudible) the idea that the U.S. may want to revisit and continue again with the Fulbright English teachers’ program to Malaysian schools.

On ASEAN and the U.S., I expressed Malaysia’s appreciation of the U.S. role and also their understanding and support of the concept of ASEAN centrality.  We discussed also on the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific in the context of the bigger picture of things in the region.  We shared many things similar on our position on Myanmar, in particular to fulfill the mandate outlined in the five-point consensus.  And we both are committed to addressing the issue of the returning to democracy and normalcy in Myanmar.

I also shared with Secretary Blinken our responsibility and contribution to the Rohingya refugees who are here in Malaysia, that we are facilitating the NGOs to organize classes.  There are 48 classes called the alternative learning centers where Malaysian NGOs run school programs for the Rohingya children, and I (inaudible) the idea that there can be probably some arrangement or cooperation between the U.S. and Malaysia in this regard.  We also appreciate the fact that the U.S. has been taking in a considerable number of the refugees in the last many years.

So we had a very interesting discussion, very fruitful, and I look forward to meeting my colleague and friend in other meetings too, perhaps without the masks on.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you so much, and my friend, the Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (inaudible), wonderful to be here in Malaysia.  As the foreign minister said, we’ve had the opportunity to work together virtually, but there is no substitute for actually at least (inaudible) without the masks too.  But to my friend and to the entire government and also to people here in Malaysia, thank you for the warm welcome that you’ve given to all of us.

I’m here in Kuala Lumpur midway through what is a three-country tour of Southeast Asia, yesterday in Indonesia and tomorrow in Bangkok in Thailand.  And the trip reflects how the United States values and depends upon our relationships with the countries of Southeast Asia.  The work that we’re doing together has direct effects on the lives of our people, especially now as we seek to work together to end COVID-19, to tackle the climate crisis, and so many other things that we’ve talked about in some detail today.

More broadly, across all of our foreign policy priorities, partnerships like the one that we have with Malaysia are critical.  Next year, our two countries will celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations, and in that time, our cooperation has grown, it’s deepened, and that’s the trajectory that we want to continue on.

As I had a chance to underscore yesterday in speaking in Jakarta, the United States is committed to working with Malaysia, with countries throughout Southeast Asia to advance our vision for a free, open, interconnected, prosperous, resilient, and secure Indo-Pacific.  We believe these attributes, when you think about them, each of these individual attributes are key to a region where the benefits of economic growth are widely shared, where crises are addressed effectively, where countries work together on the basis of mutual respect, where people have a hand in charting their own futures, and where we can preserve the rules-based order that countries like Malaysia and the United States have built and defended for years.

The United States continues to engage with our Malaysian partners to strengthen the rule of law, accountability, human rights.  This is something the minister and I discussed during our meeting as well as the importance of continuing to make progress on increasing transparency and rooting out corruption.

We also had a chance to discuss, as the minister said, the South China Sea, where we agree that all disputes be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, that all claims should be based in international law, and consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, all claimants should be able to develop natural resources in their exclusive economic zones free from any coercion.

The United States approach on the region shares the principles of the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific.  In other words, this is not simply an American vision, but one that people across the Indo-Pacific region hold, including the Malaysian people.  The United States will work closely with Malaysia, other partners, and allies and regional institutions like ASEAN to carry this vision forward.

One of the five founding members of ASEAN, it’s worth noting that Malaysia’s diplomacy helped create one of the most important and enduring community of nations in the world.  (Inaudible) talked today about our efforts to develop a comprehensive Indo-Pacific economic framework that includes trade and the digital economy, technology, resilient supply chains, decarbonization and clean energy, infrastructure investments, worker standards and other areas of shared interest.

We’re identifying more investment opportunities for American firms.  Just last week – just this week, I should say, we’ve seen U.S. companies announcing significant new investment deals in Malaysia.  And we’re working closely with Malaysia, the third largest economy in Southeast Asia and our second largest trading partner in the region, to strengthen the post-COVID economic recovery.  The United States is the second largest foreign investor here in Malaysia, especially in the electronics sector, where Malaysia has achieved impressive export growth even during COVID.  It plays a pivotal role supporting resilient global supply chains.  We’ll also seek to strengthen semiconductor supply chains together, including with the Malaysian and (inaudible) private sectors, the focus of the recent visit by our Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Later today, I’ll have a chance to meet with representatives from Malaysia’s energy sector to talk about a new program through which the United States will help raise private sector investment for Malaysia’s clean energy transition.  (Inaudible) the world’s third largest producer of solar energy cells, and as a country that signed the COP26 Global Methane Pledge and the deforestation pledge, Malaysia is showing real leadership on the climate crisis.  The United States is eager to support these efforts to help grow a clean energy economy here in Malaysia.

And on COVID-19, as the minister noted, we have donated one million vaccine doses to Malaysia, provided another $2 million in COVID-related assistance, which has gone toward testing supplies, PPEs, (inaudible) and masks, and to assist refugee communities that are particularly suffering from the economic downturn.  We had a lengthy discussion about not only what we need to do to overcome the current pandemic, but also what we need to do to build back better and have a stronger global health system so that we can better confront future pandemics.

Malaysia has shown commendable leadership on the COVID response.  More than 78 percent of the adult population is vaccinated – fully vaccinated.  And indeed, Malaysia has pledged to donate excess vaccines to nearby countries, including Laos and Bangladesh.

(Interruption.)

All right.  Let’s try this.  We, as I said, have seen commendable leadership from Malaysia when it comes to COVID, and indeed, as the minister noted —

(Interruption.)

In any event, together, we are working to try to bring this to a swifter end.

Finally, the people-to-people ties that the minister mentioned between Malaysia and the United States are a source of tremendous pride and strength for both of our countries.  So I was taught a Malay word recently, muhibbah, which I’m told translates roughly as people of multiple cultures coming together in a spirit of peace, tolerance, and understanding.  That’s a powerful national value (inaudible) Malaysia and is something that the United States understands as well.

We’re proud that thousands of Malaysians are alumni of the exchange programs, and indeed, my friend the foreign minister participated in one of our international visitor programs some time ago.  This is a source of tremendous connectivity between cultures, between countries, and one that we want to continue to deepen.

In fact, later today I’m going to spend some time with members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, YSEALI, that President Obama launched in 2013.  Since then, we’ve had 150,000 young people across Southeast Asia join the YSEALI network, and that includes 10,000 young people here in Malaysia.  Their energy, their creativity, their dedication to doing all they can to serve their communities, to serve their countries, to serve the world is deeply inspiring.  And I’m looking forward to hearing from them how the United States can continue to support their aspirations.

My friend, thank you again for a very already productive visit to Kuala Lumpur.  Look forward to continuing our work together and to taking any questions.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, (inaudible), and Mr. State Secretary.  As mentioned earlier, we will take a total of four questions from members of the media, two from the Malaysian media and two more questions from the U.S. media.

We’ll begin with the gentleman with the red tie.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Can’t hear you.

MODERATOR:  You can use the mike.  Here.

QUESTION:  A very good day for both excellencies.  This question I’m posing to both of you.  This is about how can U.S. and Malaysia work together in vaccine development and in pandemic management.  I think both countries have got strengths in these areas, so how we can just coordinate and work together?  That’s all (inaudible).  Thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Okay.  If I can go first.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Please.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  On vaccine development, I think we agreed that we have to be more prepared for the future.  We don’t know what is going to happen.  We learned from the pandemic and we have to be more prepared.  And one area of possible cooperation is in the research and development of new kinds of vaccines and also a possible cooperation between our companies and companies from the U.S. in producing vaccines.

And I have informed Mr. Secretary that in our context, then, Pharmaniaga, a GLC – a government-linked company – would be the focal point for business to business and scientific – of course, the scientific arrangement is the ministry of health, but for business to business would be Pharmaniaga.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And just to add on quickly to that, we really talked about two aspects of this.  One is what we can do together to overcome the current challenge of COVID-19, and then what we can also do together to build back better for next time, because unfortunately, there at some point will be a next time, and we have to take this moment to strengthen the global health security system so that next time, we’re better able to hopefully prevent, certainly detect, and as necessary deal with effectively a new pandemic.

So with regard to the current pandemic, COVID-19, already because of Malaysia’s remarkable leadership and success here at home in Malaysia, it has the capacity perhaps to distribute some excess vaccines that it has available, as well as to make its own contributions to COVAX.  Both are deeply appreciated and evidence of real leadership.

At the same time, we are – in the United States are working very hard on making good on our commitment to provide – again, through COVAX, so that these vaccines are equitably distributed – by – through next year, more than 1.2 billion vaccines around the world donated with no strings attached so that countries have access to them.

There are, as we both recognize, real discrepancies, gaps if you look at how different parts of the world are being vaccinated.  Africa, in particular, is well behind in vaccination through no fault of its own.  And so I think we have a common commitment to see what can be done to close that gap in terms of vaccinations.

Another point that we talked about for the current pandemic is the need not just to produce the vaccines but to make sure that shots get into arms, because what we see in many countries around the world are challenges with what we call the last mile or the last kilometer – the logistics, the distribution, literally getting the shots into arms.  And so we had a discussion about that and whether there’s more that we can do.

But to the minister’s point, and as we’re thinking about building back better, one way to do that is to make sure that there is vaccine production capacity in different countries, in different parts of the world, including, for example, here in Malaysia.  That, in the event of a future pandemic, will be a much more effective and efficient way to get vaccines quickly and equitably to people around the world.

In addition, we’ve been working to establish an international fund to make sure that the resources exist in real time for countries to take the necessary steps in the future to protect themselves.  One of the problems that we’ve seen with pandemics of one kind or another is that in crisis, the world gets mobilized, and then when the crisis is over, we become complacent.  And then if there’s another crisis, we have to start everything all over again.  So one of the reasons for having this international fund is to make sure that countries in the immediate — have the ability to draw on its resources to put in place the necessary protections, detection, et cetera for the next pandemic.  So we talked about that and the support that’s needed internationally.

As well, there are things that we need to do to strengthen the global health security architecture, the rules, to make sure that there’s greater transparency, greater information sharing, access to experts in real time in the event there’s a possible outbreak, a pandemic.  And the United States and Malaysia and other countries need to work together to do that.

So in all of these areas and more, it’s so important that we collaborate, but I think Malaysia has demonstrated by its own leadership here at home that it can be a strong voice for helping the world deal with this pandemic and hopefully preventing the next one.

MR PRICE:  (Inaudible) Jakes.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me?  Okay, this woman is going to make herself heard today.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  I am sorry.  I don’t think – I think there’s echoes of the sound.

QUESTION:  Is this better?  Great.  Salaam-Alaikum.

Mr. Minister, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has prohibited a number of exports from Malaysian companies to the United States over accusations of labor practices.  Did you discuss this today, and what was the response, if so?

I’m also curious of your expectation of the Biden administration’s soon-to-be-released framework for Indo-Pacific policy.  Is it satisfactory from what you’ve heard so far?  And what new assurances might it include over strengthening or protecting Malaysian rights in the South China Sea?

Secretary Blinken, good morning.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Morning.

QUESTION:  Russia is saying it is going to consult with the Chinese Government today over the military buildup on the Ukraine border.  Has the U.S. also discussed this with China?  And what is your understanding of whether Beijing supports Russia’s view?  How do you interpret Russia’s intent of involving the Chinese here?

And one more, if I may:  Is the U.S. still committed to fulfilling the agreement to sell F-35s and drones to the UAE?  What is the Biden administration asking of the Emiratis that has caused them to pull back?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Okay.  Thank you.  On the WRO, yes, we did discuss the matter.  I have shared with Secretary Blinken that the Malaysian Government has taken various steps to improve both our legislation and the administration of labor in particular.

For example, we have amended our labor law in particular to ensure that employers will take better care of their employees, for example, in their living conditions.  We realize, especially due to the pandemic and the checkings that we do during the pandemics that, yes, some employers did not in actual fact provide good accommodation for their – some of their employees.  We have amended the law, and I think the ministry of human resource is vigilantly making their rounds and making sure that people – I mean, the employers provide the kind of proper accommodation.

We have also introduced the e-wages online system where employees can – as and when they feel that they have been deprived of certain rights – that they can complain online to the ministry of human resource.  And there are also a couple of other initiatives that the government is undertaking.  We are committed to ensure that the employees are given what is due both in their salary, in their welfare, in their accommodation, and also that they have sufficient channel that they can freely use to complain.  And this is the e-wages that I was alluding to earlier.

On the President Biden’s outlook on the Indo-Pacific, we appreciate the fact that the U.S. recognized that we have the ASEAN outlook on Indo-Pacific.  We did discuss this – not very lengthy, but I think there is this understanding that there should be more exchanges between ASEAN and the U.S. in this regard.  It is important for both ASEAN and the U.S. because this, among others, covers not only our relations but also many of our cooperations, including in defense and trade, when it touches the region.  I’m referring here to Southeast Asia and South China Sea in particular.

So yeah, I think we need to discuss this further at many other platforms, be it at the U.S.-ASEAN – at the annual U.S.-ASEAN summit, but also in many of the other platforms that we sometime meet together and discuss these matters.  Yeah.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  And Lara, with regard to Russia and China, I can’t speak to whatever conversations they’re having.  If they choose to share the contents, I’m sure we’ll be interested in learning that.

I’m not aware that we’ve spoken directly to China about our concerns with regard to Russia’s actions toward Ukraine.  Certainly, our concerns are extremely well known.  The President’s spoken to them publicly repeatedly, as have I and as have others, and if there are opportunities to share that directly, I’m sure we’ll do so, but I’m not aware that we’ve done that.

With regard to the UAE and the F-35s and the drones, we remain prepared to move forward with both if that is what the Emiratis are interested in doing.  We’ve wanted to make sure, for example, that our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge is assured, so we wanted to make sure that we could do a full review of any technologies that are sold or transferred to other partners in the region, including the UAE.  But I think that we’re – we continue to be prepared to move forward if the UAE continues to want to pursue both of these systems.

MODERATOR:  Take the next question from Awani.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) and very good morning to Mr. Blinken and welcome to Malaysia.  I just wanted to ask a simple question:  If United States will be holding a special summit for ASEAN leaders maybe in next year, and if so, what is the objective and what will be discussed in that summit?  And will United States invite Myanmar on the summit?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  Yes, we very much look forward to having a special summit with ASEAN next year.  The – President Biden has already participated virtually with the other ASEAN leaders, very much looks forward to that.  And I think it’s a reflection of the fact that we see ASEAN is – as essential to the regional architecture of the Indo-Pacific, and we are ourselves committed to ASEAN’s centrality.

As I had a chance to talk about yesterday in Jakarta, we see our own future as a Pacific nation as inexorably tied to the Indo-Pacific, to the future of this region – a region where we have some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, a region that encompasses 50 percent or more of the world’s population, a region in which there are so many extraordinary young people who are innovating and creating every single day.  And ASEAN has carved out a central role in the region as a place where countries come together to make sure that the free and open Indo-Pacific that we all want can continue to advance and move forward.

And when we’re thinking about the free and open Indo-Pacific, we talk – we throw those words around, but they actually have real meaning, and ASEAN itself works to give them meaning.  For individuals, it’s an opportunity to live freely, to make their own choices in their lives, to have their voices heard.  For countries, it’s the opportunity to choose their own partners and to choose their own path.  And for the region as a whole, it’s moving forward in a spirit of mutual respect based on collaboration and cooperation, not on coercion.  And of course, in a part of the world that is so defined by its – by the seas, by the oceans, to make sure that they continue to be places where goods and people and even ideas can continue to flow freely.

So this is an opportunity for us, as we’re putting out our own strategy for the Indo-Pacific, to also closely compare notes with ASEAN.  As the minister said and as I noted, our own view is very coincident with the ASEAN outlook for the Indo-Pacific.  They align very, very closely.  We have a shared vision for, as I said, an open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure region.  And ASEAN is a fundamental institution for promoting that shared vision.

So the President looks very much forward to that.  I suspect that there will be a focus on a number of things that are of great importance to all of us, to include the recovery from COVID-19, to include dealing effectively with climate change, to include looking at how we can deepen investment, build green infrastructure, et cetera.  And yes, I imagine that Myanmar will be very much on the agenda.  What we’ve seen over the last year in Myanmar, the reversal of its democratic trajectory, the repression, the violence that’s ensued, the human suffering, as well as the very difficult humanitarian situation, I think are of deep concern to every member of ASEAN and to the United States.  ASEAN has developed a five-point consensus that needs to be implemented and followed by the regime in Myanmar.  And so this will also be an opportunity to take stock of where we are and to see how we can continue to work together to put Myanmar back on the democratic trajectory that it was on.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  ASEAN has been – U.S. has been an important ASEAN dialogue partner.  Whether you realize it or not, that the ASEAN-U.S. dialogue has been going on since 1977.  And next year, we should be celebrating the 45th anniversary of the U.S.-ASEAN dialogue.  And we are appreciative, we are – we appreciate President Biden’s invitation.  I’m sure ASEAN leaders would like to participate.  And this will definitely be discussed by the foreign ministers at our retreat in Cambodia on the 19th of January.

We – while we await more information as to the actual date and the contents of the summit.  But I think what Mr. Secretary has just said would probably be on the agenda – Myanmar, post-pandemic recovery, trade, and also a lot of people-to-people relations between ASEAN people and the U.S.  So yeah, I think – I’m very confident that ASEAN leaders would welcome the gesture and appreciate the recognition by President Biden on the importance of the ASEAN-U.S. dialogue.  So the summit is really something that is very, very timely organized.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  We’ll turn to Nike Ching for our final question.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary Blinken.  Follow-up on Myanmar or Burma:  It has been more than 10 months since the February military coup.  You have called Burma to restore a path to inclusive democracy.  But violence has not been reduced and there is still political impasse.

Mr. Secretary, should the United States revisit its policy toward Burmese military?  The current sanctions are viewed as too limited.  Why the U.S. Government has not sanctioned the state-run oil and gas company which finances the junta?  Will the U.S. recognize the scheduled government, the national unity government?  And finally, have you made a determination on whether or not the plight against Rohingya constitute a genocide?

And Mr. Foreign Minister, if I may, what specific steps do – what specific steps do the Myanmar’s junta need to take to resume its participation in future ASEAN summit?  And you have just mentioned there will be more cooperation between Malaysia and U.S. to relieve the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.  Would you like to elaborate?

Thank you very much, both gentlemen.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Look, you’re right that in 10 months since the military coup – and the crisis only continued to worsen.  Those are facts.  We have repeatedly condemned horrific and widespread violence perpetrated by the Burmese junta against the people of Burma.  We’ve not only spoken out but taken various actions, tried to exert pressure on the junta to change course.

We’ve worked in close coordination and collaboration with countries in the region, including the countries in ASEAN itself as an institution, with the objective of seeking the release of all those who are unjustly detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi, allowing unhindered humanitarian access because the humanitarian crisis has gotten worse, and of course, returning Burma to its democratic path.

But the fact is you’re right – the situation has not improved.  We had a lengthy discussion about this, and I think it’s going to be very important in the weeks and months ahead to look at what additional steps and measures we can take individually, collectively, to pressure the regime to put the country back on a democratic trajectory, to include the release of prisoners, the end of violence, access for humanitarian assistance and workers, et cetera.

ASEAN has a five-point consensus plan that the junta agreed to and signed on to.  That plan needs to be implemented.  So we’re looking to see whether the junta makes good on the commitments that it made as part of the five-point consensus.  This is something we discussed as well and I think will be a feature of ASEAN’s work going forward.

But the long and short of it is we have to look at what additional steps, measures could be taken to try to move things in a better direction, and that’s something that we’re looking at.  We continue also to look actively at determinations of what of the actions taken in Myanmar and the – and whether they constitute genocide, and that’s something we’re looking at very actively right now.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  I think the ASEAN foreign ministers retreat on 19 of January is going to be very important.  We should be looking at what are the real next steps.  For example, we should identify real milestone.  We have the five-point consensus but we do not identify exactly when certain things need to be achieved and how.  So outlining the actual steps and the actual milestones as to the dates and the outcomes would be, I believe, an important decision that we will try and arrive at during our meeting.

Secondly, I think ASEAN as a whole, we also have to do some kind of soul-searching as to how do we go about running our consensus.  Sometimes you may not be able to get everyone to agree on everything.  There are 10 member states.  For the last one year, there were no consensus on many things, including who to invite to this summit.  A decision was made then that we do not invite the leader of the military junta.

But we cannot go on like this.  We have to make sure that there are certain ways of doing things.  I understand that we celebrate the principles of non-interference, but if I can reiterate what I have said earlier, ASEAN should also look at the principle of non-indifference, because what happens in Myanmar is already getting out of Myanmar.  It has gone to Bangladesh, and Malaysia is now hosting close to 200,000 refugees from Rohingya.

So ASEAN have to find out in cases like this, perhaps, there are – there is Plan A and Plan B and Plan C, and not just to stick to one and that one is not working and you still stick to it.  So we have to do some soul-searching.

All right.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, (inaudible), Mr. Secretary.  That marks the end of today’s joint press conference.  We kindly request members of the media to remain seated to allow the departure of foreign minister and Mr. State Secretary.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Announcing the arrival of His Excellency Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, minister of foreign affairs of Malaysia, and His Excellency Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States of America.

We will begin today’s joint press conference with a statement by His Excellency Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah followed by His Excellency Antony Blinken.

Excellencies.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Salam Sejahtera.  Good morning, everyone, His Excellency Mr. Antony John Blinken, Secretary of State of the U.S.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is really a pleasure to welcome my friend and colleague, U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken – welcome to Malaysia and to Kuala Lumpur – and all the members of the U.S. delegation here at Wisma Putra and to Putrajaya.  And I’ve been meeting Tony quite a few times online and on the phone, and we are indeed very happy that we are meeting face to face, or is it mask to mask?  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Mask to mask.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Before I proceed further, I wish to say how much we are deeply saddened to hear the news about the loss of lives, displacement of people, and destruction of homes caused by the recent tornadoes in Kentucky, Illinois, and a few other states in the U.S.  The government and my fellow Malaysians would like to extend our deepest sympathy to Your Excellency, the government, and the American people.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and all affected by the tragedy.

We have had a very candid and fruitful discussion this morning.  We discussed a wide range of bilateral, regional, and international issues of mutual interest.  Among them includes Malaysia-U.S. bilateral relations, regional security, the latest COVID-19 situation and possible cooperation between both countries in entering the endemic phase – bilateral, government-to-government, business-to-business, and also people-to-people relations.

The main highlights of our discussions were on the strengthening of our cooperation in trade and investment.  We talked a lot on digital economy, cyber security, defense, health, and people-to-people ties.  We are committed to working closer to strengthen and bring the Malaysia-U.S. comprehensive partnership to greater heights.  Secretary Blinken is also scheduled to call on (inaudible) Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Ismail later this afternoon.

During our discussion, we agreed that we should resume the dialogues between our senior officials to discuss various issues.  On digital economy, I reiterated to Secretary Blinken that the U.S. is an important ASEAN partner in advancing the region’s digital economy.  I also shared with him what the Malaysian Government is trying to do, in particular through MyDIGITAL, for connectivity and the 4IR plan of action for the overall digital economic growth.  We also welcome more U.S. investments and participation in the various digital connectivity projects, especially in the remote and rural areas of Malaysia.

On cyber security cooperation, we welcome the one-off USD five million financial commitment by the U.S. to help countries in the region to strengthen our cyber security capacities.  I also took the opportunity to request the U.S. support and assistance in the development of an information sharing and analysis center in Malaysia, similar to those already established in the U.S.  I also checked with Mr. Secretary on the cyber security framework among the ASEAN defense ministers.

Malaysia highly values the U.S. continued assistance in developing our defense, security, and maritime capacities.  We are grateful for the recent pledge by the U.S. to contribute a mobile intensive care unit worth USD 1.5 million to the Malaysian Armed Forces for emergency and disaster response.

We are also appreciative of the U.S. contribution of the ScanEagles drones for our Royal Malaysian Navy.  We appreciate the U.S. continued support in the development of our maritime enforcement capacity, and there may be a future cooperation in this regard.

On COVID-19, we are very thankful to the contribution by the U.S. and the U.S. leadership in ensuring equitable access of vaccines globally, and we thank the U.S. on this contribution of the one million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine that we received last July, and also the U.S. 800,000 worth of medical equipments – sorry, U.S. 2.85 million worth of medical equipments and supplies, and the U.S. 800,000 financial contribution to the Malaysian Red Crescent Society.

I also informed Secretary Blinken that in support of President Biden’s Global COVID-19 Summit initiative as well as our commitment to ensuring fair and equitable access to vaccines, Malaysia has recently contributed USD 100,000 to the COVAX facility.  This is in addition to the USD 28.82 million provided earlier.  We have also provided 559,200 doses of A-Zen vaccines to Bangladesh and about 283,000 doses to Lao PDR.

We also welcome and very appreciative of the strong people-to-people exchanges, including our – the YSEALI, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, which was started during the time of President Obama.  And many of us benefited from many of the U.S. International Visitors Programs.  I have also (inaudible) the idea that the U.S. may want to revisit and continue again with the Fulbright English teachers’ program to Malaysian schools.

On ASEAN and the U.S., I expressed Malaysia’s appreciation of the U.S. role and also their understanding and support of the concept of ASEAN centrality.  We discussed also on the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific in the context of the bigger picture of things in the region.  We shared many things similar on our position on Myanmar, in particular to fulfill the mandate outlined in the five-point consensus.  And we both are committed to addressing the issue of the returning to democracy and normalcy in Myanmar.

I also shared with Secretary Blinken our responsibility and contribution to the Rohingya refugees who are here in Malaysia, that we are facilitating the NGOs to organize classes.  There are 48 classes called the alternative learning centers where Malaysian NGOs run school programs for the Rohingya children, and I (inaudible) the idea that there can be probably some arrangement or cooperation between the U.S. and Malaysia in this regard.  We also appreciate the fact that the U.S. has been taking in a considerable number of the refugees in the last many years.

So we had a very interesting discussion, very fruitful, and I look forward to meeting my colleague and friend in other meetings too, perhaps without the masks on.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you so much, and my friend, the Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (inaudible), wonderful to be here in Malaysia.  As the foreign minister said, we’ve had the opportunity to work together virtually, but there is no substitute for actually at least (inaudible) without the masks too.  But to my friend and to the entire government and also to people here in Malaysia, thank you for the warm welcome that you’ve given to all of us.

I’m here in Kuala Lumpur midway through what is a three-country tour of Southeast Asia, yesterday in Indonesia and tomorrow in Bangkok in Thailand.  And the trip reflects how the United States values and depends upon our relationships with the countries of Southeast Asia.  The work that we’re doing together has direct effects on the lives of our people, especially now as we seek to work together to end COVID-19, to tackle the climate crisis, and so many other things that we’ve talked about in some detail today.

More broadly, across all of our foreign policy priorities, partnerships like the one that we have with Malaysia are critical.  Next year, our two countries will celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations, and in that time, our cooperation has grown, it’s deepened, and that’s the trajectory that we want to continue on.

As I had a chance to underscore yesterday in speaking in Jakarta, the United States is committed to working with Malaysia, with countries throughout Southeast Asia to advance our vision for a free, open, interconnected, prosperous, resilient, and secure Indo-Pacific.  We believe these attributes, when you think about them, each of these individual attributes are key to a region where the benefits of economic growth are widely shared, where crises are addressed effectively, where countries work together on the basis of mutual respect, where people have a hand in charting their own futures, and where we can preserve the rules-based order that countries like Malaysia and the United States have built and defended for years.

The United States continues to engage with our Malaysian partners to strengthen the rule of law, accountability, human rights.  This is something the minister and I discussed during our meeting as well as the importance of continuing to make progress on increasing transparency and rooting out corruption.

We also had a chance to discuss, as the minister said, the South China Sea, where we agree that all disputes be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, that all claims should be based in international law, and consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, all claimants should be able to develop natural resources in their exclusive economic zones free from any coercion.

The United States approach on the region shares the principles of the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific.  In other words, this is not simply an American vision, but one that people across the Indo-Pacific region hold, including the Malaysian people.  The United States will work closely with Malaysia, other partners, and allies and regional institutions like ASEAN to carry this vision forward.

One of the five founding members of ASEAN, it’s worth noting that Malaysia’s diplomacy helped create one of the most important and enduring community of nations in the world.  (Inaudible) talked today about our efforts to develop a comprehensive Indo-Pacific economic framework that includes trade and the digital economy, technology, resilient supply chains, decarbonization and clean energy, infrastructure investments, worker standards and other areas of shared interest.

We’re identifying more investment opportunities for American firms.  Just last week – just this week, I should say, we’ve seen U.S. companies announcing significant new investment deals in Malaysia.  And we’re working closely with Malaysia, the third largest economy in Southeast Asia and our second largest trading partner in the region, to strengthen the post-COVID economic recovery.  The United States is the second largest foreign investor here in Malaysia, especially in the electronics sector, where Malaysia has achieved impressive export growth even during COVID.  It plays a pivotal role supporting resilient global supply chains.  We’ll also seek to strengthen semiconductor supply chains together, including with the Malaysian and (inaudible) private sectors, the focus of the recent visit by our Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Later today, I’ll have a chance to meet with representatives from Malaysia’s energy sector to talk about a new program through which the United States will help raise private sector investment for Malaysia’s clean energy transition.  (Inaudible) the world’s third largest producer of solar energy cells, and as a country that signed the COP26 Global Methane Pledge and the deforestation pledge, Malaysia is showing real leadership on the climate crisis.  The United States is eager to support these efforts to help grow a clean energy economy here in Malaysia.

And on COVID-19, as the minister noted, we have donated one million vaccine doses to Malaysia, provided another $2 million in COVID-related assistance, which has gone toward testing supplies, PPEs, (inaudible) and masks, and to assist refugee communities that are particularly suffering from the economic downturn.  We had a lengthy discussion about not only what we need to do to overcome the current pandemic, but also what we need to do to build back better and have a stronger global health system so that we can better confront future pandemics.

Malaysia has shown commendable leadership on the COVID response.  More than 78 percent of the adult population is vaccinated – fully vaccinated.  And indeed, Malaysia has pledged to donate excess vaccines to nearby countries, including Laos and Bangladesh.

(Interruption.)

All right.  Let’s try this.  We, as I said, have seen commendable leadership from Malaysia when it comes to COVID, and indeed, as the minister noted —

(Interruption.)

In any event, together, we are working to try to bring this to a swifter end.

Finally, the people-to-people ties that the minister mentioned between Malaysia and the United States are a source of tremendous pride and strength for both of our countries.  So I was taught a Malay word recently, muhibbah, which I’m told translates roughly as people of multiple cultures coming together in a spirit of peace, tolerance, and understanding.  That’s a powerful national value (inaudible) Malaysia and is something that the United States understands as well.

We’re proud that thousands of Malaysians are alumni of the exchange programs, and indeed, my friend the foreign minister participated in one of our international visitor programs some time ago.  This is a source of tremendous connectivity between cultures, between countries, and one that we want to continue to deepen.

In fact, later today I’m going to spend some time with members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, YSEALI, that President Obama launched in 2013.  Since then, we’ve had 150,000 young people across Southeast Asia join the YSEALI network, and that includes 10,000 young people here in Malaysia.  Their energy, their creativity, their dedication to doing all they can to serve their communities, to serve their countries, to serve the world is deeply inspiring.  And I’m looking forward to hearing from them how the United States can continue to support their aspirations.

My friend, thank you again for a very already productive visit to Kuala Lumpur.  Look forward to continuing our work together and to taking any questions.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, (inaudible), and Mr. State Secretary.  As mentioned earlier, we will take a total of four questions from members of the media, two from the Malaysian media and two more questions from the U.S. media.

We’ll begin with the gentleman with the red tie.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Can’t hear you.

MODERATOR:  You can use the mike.  Here.

QUESTION:  A very good day for both excellencies.  This question I’m posing to both of you.  This is about how can U.S. and Malaysia work together in vaccine development and in pandemic management.  I think both countries have got strengths in these areas, so how we can just coordinate and work together?  That’s all (inaudible).  Thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Okay.  If I can go first.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Please.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  On vaccine development, I think we agreed that we have to be more prepared for the future.  We don’t know what is going to happen.  We learned from the pandemic and we have to be more prepared.  And one area of possible cooperation is in the research and development of new kinds of vaccines and also a possible cooperation between our companies and companies from the U.S. in producing vaccines.

And I have informed Mr. Secretary that in our context, then, Pharmaniaga, a GLC – a government-linked company – would be the focal point for business to business and scientific – of course, the scientific arrangement is the ministry of health, but for business to business would be Pharmaniaga.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And just to add on quickly to that, we really talked about two aspects of this.  One is what we can do together to overcome the current challenge of COVID-19, and then what we can also do together to build back better for next time, because unfortunately, there at some point will be a next time, and we have to take this moment to strengthen the global health security system so that next time, we’re better able to hopefully prevent, certainly detect, and as necessary deal with effectively a new pandemic.

So with regard to the current pandemic, COVID-19, already because of Malaysia’s remarkable leadership and success here at home in Malaysia, it has the capacity perhaps to distribute some excess vaccines that it has available, as well as to make its own contributions to COVAX.  Both are deeply appreciated and evidence of real leadership.

At the same time, we are – in the United States are working very hard on making good on our commitment to provide – again, through COVAX, so that these vaccines are equitably distributed – by – through next year, more than 1.2 billion vaccines around the world donated with no strings attached so that countries have access to them.

There are, as we both recognize, real discrepancies, gaps if you look at how different parts of the world are being vaccinated.  Africa, in particular, is well behind in vaccination through no fault of its own.  And so I think we have a common commitment to see what can be done to close that gap in terms of vaccinations.

Another point that we talked about for the current pandemic is the need not just to produce the vaccines but to make sure that shots get into arms, because what we see in many countries around the world are challenges with what we call the last mile or the last kilometer – the logistics, the distribution, literally getting the shots into arms.  And so we had a discussion about that and whether there’s more that we can do.

But to the minister’s point, and as we’re thinking about building back better, one way to do that is to make sure that there is vaccine production capacity in different countries, in different parts of the world, including, for example, here in Malaysia.  That, in the event of a future pandemic, will be a much more effective and efficient way to get vaccines quickly and equitably to people around the world.

In addition, we’ve been working to establish an international fund to make sure that the resources exist in real time for countries to take the necessary steps in the future to protect themselves.  One of the problems that we’ve seen with pandemics of one kind or another is that in crisis, the world gets mobilized, and then when the crisis is over, we become complacent.  And then if there’s another crisis, we have to start everything all over again.  So one of the reasons for having this international fund is to make sure that countries in the immediate — have the ability to draw on its resources to put in place the necessary protections, detection, et cetera for the next pandemic.  So we talked about that and the support that’s needed internationally.

As well, there are things that we need to do to strengthen the global health security architecture, the rules, to make sure that there’s greater transparency, greater information sharing, access to experts in real time in the event there’s a possible outbreak, a pandemic.  And the United States and Malaysia and other countries need to work together to do that.

So in all of these areas and more, it’s so important that we collaborate, but I think Malaysia has demonstrated by its own leadership here at home that it can be a strong voice for helping the world deal with this pandemic and hopefully preventing the next one.

MR PRICE:  (Inaudible) Jakes.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me?  Okay, this woman is going to make herself heard today.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  I am sorry.  I don’t think – I think there’s echoes of the sound.

QUESTION:  Is this better?  Great.  Salaam-Alaikum.

Mr. Minister, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has prohibited a number of exports from Malaysian companies to the United States over accusations of labor practices.  Did you discuss this today, and what was the response, if so?

I’m also curious of your expectation of the Biden administration’s soon-to-be-released framework for Indo-Pacific policy.  Is it satisfactory from what you’ve heard so far?  And what new assurances might it include over strengthening or protecting Malaysian rights in the South China Sea?

Secretary Blinken, good morning.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Morning.

QUESTION:  Russia is saying it is going to consult with the Chinese Government today over the military buildup on the Ukraine border.  Has the U.S. also discussed this with China?  And what is your understanding of whether Beijing supports Russia’s view?  How do you interpret Russia’s intent of involving the Chinese here?

And one more, if I may:  Is the U.S. still committed to fulfilling the agreement to sell F-35s and drones to the UAE?  What is the Biden administration asking of the Emiratis that has caused them to pull back?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  Okay.  Thank you.  On the WRO, yes, we did discuss the matter.  I have shared with Secretary Blinken that the Malaysian Government has taken various steps to improve both our legislation and the administration of labor in particular.

For example, we have amended our labor law in particular to ensure that employers will take better care of their employees, for example, in their living conditions.  We realize, especially due to the pandemic and the checkings that we do during the pandemics that, yes, some employers did not in actual fact provide good accommodation for their – some of their employees.  We have amended the law, and I think the ministry of human resource is vigilantly making their rounds and making sure that people – I mean, the employers provide the kind of proper accommodation.

We have also introduced the e-wages online system where employees can – as and when they feel that they have been deprived of certain rights – that they can complain online to the ministry of human resource.  And there are also a couple of other initiatives that the government is undertaking.  We are committed to ensure that the employees are given what is due both in their salary, in their welfare, in their accommodation, and also that they have sufficient channel that they can freely use to complain.  And this is the e-wages that I was alluding to earlier.

On the President Biden’s outlook on the Indo-Pacific, we appreciate the fact that the U.S. recognized that we have the ASEAN outlook on Indo-Pacific.  We did discuss this – not very lengthy, but I think there is this understanding that there should be more exchanges between ASEAN and the U.S. in this regard.  It is important for both ASEAN and the U.S. because this, among others, covers not only our relations but also many of our cooperations, including in defense and trade, when it touches the region.  I’m referring here to Southeast Asia and South China Sea in particular.

So yeah, I think we need to discuss this further at many other platforms, be it at the U.S.-ASEAN – at the annual U.S.-ASEAN summit, but also in many of the other platforms that we sometime meet together and discuss these matters.  Yeah.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  And Lara, with regard to Russia and China, I can’t speak to whatever conversations they’re having.  If they choose to share the contents, I’m sure we’ll be interested in learning that.

I’m not aware that we’ve spoken directly to China about our concerns with regard to Russia’s actions toward Ukraine.  Certainly, our concerns are extremely well known.  The President’s spoken to them publicly repeatedly, as have I and as have others, and if there are opportunities to share that directly, I’m sure we’ll do so, but I’m not aware that we’ve done that.

With regard to the UAE and the F-35s and the drones, we remain prepared to move forward with both if that is what the Emiratis are interested in doing.  We’ve wanted to make sure, for example, that our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge is assured, so we wanted to make sure that we could do a full review of any technologies that are sold or transferred to other partners in the region, including the UAE.  But I think that we’re – we continue to be prepared to move forward if the UAE continues to want to pursue both of these systems.

MODERATOR:  Take the next question from Awani.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) and very good morning to Mr. Blinken and welcome to Malaysia.  I just wanted to ask a simple question:  If United States will be holding a special summit for ASEAN leaders maybe in next year, and if so, what is the objective and what will be discussed in that summit?  And will United States invite Myanmar on the summit?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  Yes, we very much look forward to having a special summit with ASEAN next year.  The – President Biden has already participated virtually with the other ASEAN leaders, very much looks forward to that.  And I think it’s a reflection of the fact that we see ASEAN is – as essential to the regional architecture of the Indo-Pacific, and we are ourselves committed to ASEAN’s centrality.

As I had a chance to talk about yesterday in Jakarta, we see our own future as a Pacific nation as inexorably tied to the Indo-Pacific, to the future of this region – a region where we have some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, a region that encompasses 50 percent or more of the world’s population, a region in which there are so many extraordinary young people who are innovating and creating every single day.  And ASEAN has carved out a central role in the region as a place where countries come together to make sure that the free and open Indo-Pacific that we all want can continue to advance and move forward.

And when we’re thinking about the free and open Indo-Pacific, we talk – we throw those words around, but they actually have real meaning, and ASEAN itself works to give them meaning.  For individuals, it’s an opportunity to live freely, to make their own choices in their lives, to have their voices heard.  For countries, it’s the opportunity to choose their own partners and to choose their own path.  And for the region as a whole, it’s moving forward in a spirit of mutual respect based on collaboration and cooperation, not on coercion.  And of course, in a part of the world that is so defined by its – by the seas, by the oceans, to make sure that they continue to be places where goods and people and even ideas can continue to flow freely.

So this is an opportunity for us, as we’re putting out our own strategy for the Indo-Pacific, to also closely compare notes with ASEAN.  As the minister said and as I noted, our own view is very coincident with the ASEAN outlook for the Indo-Pacific.  They align very, very closely.  We have a shared vision for, as I said, an open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure region.  And ASEAN is a fundamental institution for promoting that shared vision.

So the President looks very much forward to that.  I suspect that there will be a focus on a number of things that are of great importance to all of us, to include the recovery from COVID-19, to include dealing effectively with climate change, to include looking at how we can deepen investment, build green infrastructure, et cetera.  And yes, I imagine that Myanmar will be very much on the agenda.  What we’ve seen over the last year in Myanmar, the reversal of its democratic trajectory, the repression, the violence that’s ensued, the human suffering, as well as the very difficult humanitarian situation, I think are of deep concern to every member of ASEAN and to the United States.  ASEAN has developed a five-point consensus that needs to be implemented and followed by the regime in Myanmar.  And so this will also be an opportunity to take stock of where we are and to see how we can continue to work together to put Myanmar back on the democratic trajectory that it was on.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  ASEAN has been – U.S. has been an important ASEAN dialogue partner.  Whether you realize it or not, that the ASEAN-U.S. dialogue has been going on since 1977.  And next year, we should be celebrating the 45th anniversary of the U.S.-ASEAN dialogue.  And we are appreciative, we are – we appreciate President Biden’s invitation.  I’m sure ASEAN leaders would like to participate.  And this will definitely be discussed by the foreign ministers at our retreat in Cambodia on the 19th of January.

We – while we await more information as to the actual date and the contents of the summit.  But I think what Mr. Secretary has just said would probably be on the agenda – Myanmar, post-pandemic recovery, trade, and also a lot of people-to-people relations between ASEAN people and the U.S.  So yeah, I think – I’m very confident that ASEAN leaders would welcome the gesture and appreciate the recognition by President Biden on the importance of the ASEAN-U.S. dialogue.  So the summit is really something that is very, very timely organized.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  We’ll turn to Nike Ching for our final question.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary Blinken.  Follow-up on Myanmar or Burma:  It has been more than 10 months since the February military coup.  You have called Burma to restore a path to inclusive democracy.  But violence has not been reduced and there is still political impasse.

Mr. Secretary, should the United States revisit its policy toward Burmese military?  The current sanctions are viewed as too limited.  Why the U.S. Government has not sanctioned the state-run oil and gas company which finances the junta?  Will the U.S. recognize the scheduled government, the national unity government?  And finally, have you made a determination on whether or not the plight against Rohingya constitute a genocide?

And Mr. Foreign Minister, if I may, what specific steps do – what specific steps do the Myanmar’s junta need to take to resume its participation in future ASEAN summit?  And you have just mentioned there will be more cooperation between Malaysia and U.S. to relieve the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.  Would you like to elaborate?

Thank you very much, both gentlemen.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Look, you’re right that in 10 months since the military coup – and the crisis only continued to worsen.  Those are facts.  We have repeatedly condemned horrific and widespread violence perpetrated by the Burmese junta against the people of Burma.  We’ve not only spoken out but taken various actions, tried to exert pressure on the junta to change course.

We’ve worked in close coordination and collaboration with countries in the region, including the countries in ASEAN itself as an institution, with the objective of seeking the release of all those who are unjustly detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi, allowing unhindered humanitarian access because the humanitarian crisis has gotten worse, and of course, returning Burma to its democratic path.

But the fact is you’re right – the situation has not improved.  We had a lengthy discussion about this, and I think it’s going to be very important in the weeks and months ahead to look at what additional steps and measures we can take individually, collectively, to pressure the regime to put the country back on a democratic trajectory, to include the release of prisoners, the end of violence, access for humanitarian assistance and workers, et cetera.

ASEAN has a five-point consensus plan that the junta agreed to and signed on to.  That plan needs to be implemented.  So we’re looking to see whether the junta makes good on the commitments that it made as part of the five-point consensus.  This is something we discussed as well and I think will be a feature of ASEAN’s work going forward.

But the long and short of it is we have to look at what additional steps, measures could be taken to try to move things in a better direction, and that’s something that we’re looking at.  We continue also to look actively at determinations of what of the actions taken in Myanmar and the – and whether they constitute genocide, and that’s something we’re looking at very actively right now.

FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH:  I think the ASEAN foreign ministers retreat on 19 of January is going to be very important.  We should be looking at what are the real next steps.  For example, we should identify real milestone.  We have the five-point consensus but we do not identify exactly when certain things need to be achieved and how.  So outlining the actual steps and the actual milestones as to the dates and the outcomes would be, I believe, an important decision that we will try and arrive at during our meeting.

Secondly, I think ASEAN as a whole, we also have to do some kind of soul-searching as to how do we go about running our consensus.  Sometimes you may not be able to get everyone to agree on everything.  There are 10 member states.  For the last one year, there were no consensus on many things, including who to invite to this summit.  A decision was made then that we do not invite the leader of the military junta.

But we cannot go on like this.  We have to make sure that there are certain ways of doing things.  I understand that we celebrate the principles of non-interference, but if I can reiterate what I have said earlier, ASEAN should also look at the principle of non-indifference, because what happens in Myanmar is already getting out of Myanmar.  It has gone to Bangladesh, and Malaysia is now hosting close to 200,000 refugees from Rohingya.

So ASEAN have to find out in cases like this, perhaps, there are – there is Plan A and Plan B and Plan C, and not just to stick to one and that one is not working and you still stick to it.  So we have to do some soul-searching.

All right.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, (inaudible), Mr. Secretary.  That marks the end of today’s joint press conference.  We kindly request members of the media to remain seated to allow the departure of foreign minister and Mr. State Secretary.  Thank you.