MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for being here today.
It's my pleasure to introduce Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III and Senior Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr., Officer in Charge, Republic of the Philippines Department of National Defense. In a moment they'll both deliver opening remarks and then we'll have time for a few questions. I'll moderate those questions and call on each journalist.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good afternoon everyone.
Senior Undersecretary Faustino, I'm delighted to host you here in Hawaii, and congratulations again on your role as the leader of the Philippine Department of National Defense. You've had an impressive career leading the Philippine Armed Forces and I'm very much looking forward to working with you in your new role.
This is a terrible time for so many people living in Florida and elsewhere in harm's way from Hurricane Ian, and that includes many members of our DOD community, including service members and their families whose lives have been terribly disrupted. The department is working closely to support FEMA, the National Guard and NORTHCOM to provide urgently needed support for the communities in the path of the destruction. I lived in Florida for many years myself and we stand together with everyone there.
Now, Senior Undersecretary Faustino, let me also convey my condolences on behalf of the Department of Defense for all of your fellow citizens who were also hit hard by the recent super typhoon that struck the Philippines. Now, the Philippines has long been an invaluable friend and ally to the United States. In fact, the Philippines is our oldest treaty ally in the Indo-Pacific region and the United States remains unwavering in our support for a strong and independent Philippines that can defend its sovereignty, ensure prosperity for its people and strengthen security in the region.
Our countries share a vision of an open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific, free from coercion or bullying. Now to ensure we're working together to build that vision, the Department of Defense conducts more than 300 bilateral engagements annually with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and that can mean large major training exercises such as "Balikatan" in April. Or it can mean ship visits or exchanges among our experts on key issues like cybersecurity. And this cooperation goes on everyday, and it supports our alliance and our obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty. Our U.S. and Philippines visiting forces agreement allows us to continue working closely together, and it lets us respond quickly to disasters and crisis.
So our commitment to this alliance is ironclad and it's rooted in more than just common interest. It's rooted in shared democratic values, as well as in profound bonds between our peoples. And this includes the strong friendships between our country's uniformed personnel and our veteran communities, and our proud diaspora communities immeasurably strengthen our two proud democracies and our partnership. So, during today's meeting, Senior Undersecretary Faustino and I discussed ways that we can deepen our already robust cooperation. We discussed several priority areas for the alliance including strengthening our Mutual Defense Treaty commitments and enhancing maritime cooperation in building on our Mutual Defense posture and improving interoperability and information sharing.
By deepening our cooperation and modernizing our alliance, we can help secure the Philippines future, tackle regional challenges and promote peace and security in the Indo-Pacific. And so I'm proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Philippines and to bring our countries even closer together and to defend our shared values, and to strengthen the rules based international order that makes the region safer and more prosperous.
So Undersecretary Faustino, thanks again for your leadership and partnership. And now I'll turn it over to you for your remarks.
SENIOR UNDERSECRETARY JOSE FAUSTINO JR.: Thank you Secretary Austin. Good afternoon to everyone.
The Philippines and the United States have a shared history spanning more than 70 years as friends, partners and allies. In those years, our cooperation in political, economic and social cultural relations has expanded and our ties, including that between our defense establishments, have continued to grow stronger. The Philippines defense and security engagement with the United States remains a key pillar of Philippines-U.S. bilateral relations and we appreciate the U.S. government's willingness to work with the Philippine government as an equal, sovereign partner.
Our two countries are working together to reach a common understanding of the importance of our defense alliance and what it means to recognize each other as equal partners in advancing our respective country's interests and promoting peace and prosperity in the region. This meeting comes at the culmination of the planning cycle of our bilateral defense activities for next year. The bilateral meeting we held this afternoon was a welcome opportunity to discuss the way ahead for the Philippines-U.S. alliance based on the current priorities of our respective administrations as discussed during the recent meeting between Philippine President Ferdinand Romuladez Marcos, Jr. and U.S. President Joseph R. Biden in New York.
Our meeting highlighted the importance of the bilateral defense relations between the Philippines and the U.S., and we were able to discuss forward looking, practical and valuable ways on how to empower our partnership through improving defense cooperation across various lines of efforts. As well as increasing interoperability and information sharing between our two armed forces with the end view of further enhancing the credibility of our alliance.
MODERATOR: Secretary Austin, Senior Undersecretary Faustino, thank you very much gentlemen. Our first question will go to Mosheh, NBC News.
Q: Thank you both for doing this.
Two questions for Secretary Austin. First, on the Nord Stream pipeline explosion, NATO called the incident sabotage overnight, what are your views on this? Are you concerned this is a sign that Russia is possibly pursuing more aggressive hybrid warfare against NATO? And is the U.S. discussing with NATO allies how to secure energy infrastructure given these explosions at the pipeline?
And then the second question. There's a report out saying that the Pentagon plans to set up a new command to arm Ukraine. Can you confirm this report that you’re reviewing plans to set up this new command? And finally is this an acknowledgement that the current phase of Russia's invasion is going to last a few years?
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, thanks, Mosheh.
That was about eight questions as I counted them, but to your first question, in terms of the attack or the damage to the pipeline, at this point I think there's a lot of speculation but quite frankly until complete investigation is done, no one will be able to really determine for certain what happened. I had the opportunity to speak with my counterpart in Denmark yesterday. We talked about what happened and he pointed out to me that it will be several days before he's able to get the right team in to look at the sites and really try to determine as best possible what happened. And so until that -- until we get further information or able to do further analysis, you know, we won't speculate on who may have been responsible. And certainly I offered to provide any assistance that the United States may provide.
And Mosheh, can you repeat your second question there again?
Q: I can, there was a report that came out saying that the Pentagon plans to set up a new command to arm Ukraine. We wondered if you could confirm that report or that you’re reviewing plans to set-up the new command and is this an acknowledgement that the current phase of Russian invasion is going to last for a long time?
SEC. AUSTIN: I would just simply point out, Mosheh, that as you've seen us do over time, we have continued to look for ways -- along with our international partners, to continue to provide additional security assistance to Ukraine. Whether that assistance is in the form of actual equipment or other logistical support or training, we continue to evaluate what will be needed and make provisions to -- to provide that security assistance. And so that will be ongoing.
And in terms of how long the conflict could last, don't want to speculate on that either, what I will tell you is that we will continue to support Ukraine as you've heard our President say, for as long as it takes. And I know just based upon what I see in the Ukraine defense contact groups that you know we host every month, we hosted one earlier this month and then we'll have another session in September -- in October. But what I see in those sessions is a commitment on the part of international partners to continue to provide support for as long as it takes.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Our next question will go to Sylvie, Agence France-Presse.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Faustino I have a question for you.
SEC. FAUSTINO: Yes.
Q: Given the Philippines are geographically close to Taiwan and that in your country is a treaty ally of the United States, would the Philippines be ready to (inaudible) the U.S. to defend Taiwan in case of the Chinese aggression? And I have a question for you sir. Nobody in the West is going to recognize the annexation of Ukrainian regions by Moscow, and the Ukrainians themselves have said they are going to keep fighting to reclaim them. So aren't you concerned that the West is cornering Putin into a nuclear option?
SEC. FAUSTINO: Thank you for that question.
On the tensions over the Taiwan Strait, I would like to emphasize the statement of our President. Under the principle guiding Philippine foreign policy is always peace. And the Philippines is concerned with the recent security developments in Taiwan. In the Taiwan Strait, particularly, which is just near our territory. And while the Philippines adheres to the One China Policy, we urge all concern parties to exercise restraint, and that diplomacy and dialogue must prevail. In view of the volatile situation in the cross straits, the Philippines immediate concern is the safety of course of our overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan, which at this point is numbering to around 130,000 to 150,000 overseas Filipino workers. And we continue to update and enhance our contingency plans. It is also imperative to regularly update and exercise the Philippines-U.S. -- the Mutual Defense Concept Plan, under the (inaudible) of the Mutual Defense Treaty, based on our dynamic security environment.
SEC. AUSTIN: Sylvie, in -- with respect to your question on whether or not we are cornering Putin into employing a nuclear option, I would just say that we and our allies, as I said earlier, Sylvie, we're committed to supporting -- help supporting Ukraine to -- in its efforts to defend its sovereign territory and we'll continue to do that. In terms of the options that Mr. Putin has, one significant option that he's always had, that is to end this conflict today. To withdraw from Ukraine and, you know, that option existed day one, it exists now and -- and so he will always have an option. And I would hope that he would exercise that option here in the near future and bring an end to the needless, you know, devastation that we've seen thus far.
MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. Next question will go to Ryo Nakamura, Nikkei.
Q: Thank you very much for taking my question.
To the Secretary first. The U.S. and the Philippines have worked together to maintain the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea for a long time, but China has also stepped up its military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait including near the Philippines. So do you think that the objective of U.S.- Philippines defense cooperation should include maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait? And secondly on North Korea. North Korea has launched ballistic missile three times this week. How much are you concerned that North Korea will also conduct nuclear tests soon? And this to the Senior Undersecretary, China has maintained effective control in the South China Sea. I'm wondering what are the next steps the U.S. and the Philippines will take to enhance maritime security in the South China Sea?
Thank you very much.
SEC. AUSTIN: Ryo, as you have rightly pointed out, we remain committed to maintaining an open and free Indo-Pacific region. We will -- want to maintain the ability to sail the seas and navigate the skies as we should be allowed to do, and we will continue to work towards that end. And in terms of the Taiwan Strait, you've heard us say a number of times, that we are -- we don't want to see any type of unilateral change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. And so -- but we are focused on making sure that we are working together to ensure that we maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.
On the issue of North Korea, we remain focused on making sure that, you know, we do everything we can to continue to strengthen our alliance with the ROK. We remain committed to the protection and the defense of the ROK and we'll continue to work with our -- allies there and also with other allies in the region like the Japanese. So that will remain our focus going forward.
SEC. FAUSTINO: Yes, thank you.
For our next steps for -- next steps concerning the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, the Philippines underscores the importance of diplomacy and dialogue for the peaceful resolution of these issues in the South China Sea. This includes continuing -- continues engagement with China in both bilateral and multilateral platforms and multilateral dialogues, without prejudice to the Philippines position in the West Philippine Sea to facilitate mutual trust and understanding. Admittedly, the volatile situation in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea remains as the Philippines formost security concern and as it is right now, we continue to engage with like-minded countries and make sure that the rule of law and the rules based international order will prevail in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea.
MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. And our final question will go to Jim Garamone, DOD News.
Q: Thanks for doing this.
Mr. Secretary, I promise one question. In the past, you talked places not bases. Does that still hold? And for Minister, in light of all that China is doing, what's the one thing that the Philippines needs from the United States? What would do your country the most good?
SEC. AUSTIN: So Jim, today we had a robust dialogue on positioning the alliance to address the emerging challenges. You know, we fought together, we've trained together, and so we consider ourselves -- we're allies, but we consider ourselves to be more family than anything else and I'm proud to say that.
You've heard me say a couple of times that I cannot imagine a day when the United States and the Philippines aren't allies. It's who we are. Again, I consider us to be more family.
But today we agreed on a number of ways to continue to grow that cooperation, as you know, we've been able to move forward on the visiting forces agreement and we discussed EDCA, which is critical to our alliance cooperation and strengthening our combined capabilities. So to answer your question, places are really, really important, but, you know, it's about the engagement. It's about the opportunity to work together and that was really the focus of our discussion today.
SEC. FAUSTINO: Yes, thank you.
The Philippines Defense and Security Engagement with the U.S. remains the key pillar of the Philippine-U.S. bilateral relations. You know, we continue to stand by the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty and it has been the basis of the national defense policy of our country. And we look forward after this bilateral meeting that we had of a more robust cooperation, particularly in -- in issues pertaining external threats to our country. And, coming up with -- coming up with other avenues of cooperation where we could discuss matters, and we could discuss things with mutual interest to to the U.S. and the Philippines.
MODERATOR: Secretary Austin, Senior Undersecretary Faustino, thank you very much, gentlemen.
Ladies and gentlemen this is all the time we have available for today. Thank you very much for coming.
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks a lot, everybody.
SEC. FAUSTINO: Thank you.