Transcript

Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense for Europe and NATO; Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia; and China Discuss Disinformation During Press Briefing

April 9, 2020
Michael Ryan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy; Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia; Chad Sbragia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China

STAFF: All right. If we're ready, we'll go ahead and get started.

Can I just make one more public announcement? If you're on the phone, can you please mute your phones? That includes if you have headphones in because we can still hear you rustling around. And if you are asking a question, please don't do that on speaker because it creates feedback for the rest of the individuals on the line.

So I'm going to say good afternoon. Thanks again for -- for joining us for this -- virtually on the phone and in the briefing room. We have several Department experts with us today.

We have Michael Ryan who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy. We have Laura Cooper who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. And we have Chad Sbragia who's the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China.

Those individuals, Laura, can you hear us?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LAURA COOPER: Yes, I can hear.

STAFF: DASD Ryan and DASD Sbragia, you both there?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MICHAEL RYAN: DASD Ryan.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHAD SBRAGIA: Yeah, DASD Sbragia is here.

STAFF: We're all here. Great. So we're going to talk about our international response to COVID -- global COVID pandemic today, and we're going to address some disinformation and how we're moving forward together through that. So I'm going to open up the floor to our briefers for short opening remarks and we'll have time for Q&A following. Let's get started with DASD Ryan.

MR. RYAN: Thank you, Colonel, and thank you all for doing the call today. I think we would all agree that this is an unprecedented time, that such a crisis requires all of us together to combat the coronavirus. The Department of Defense has three priorities at present-- protecting our people, maintaining readiness, and supporting the U.S. whole of government effort.

Our National Defense Strategy recognizes the vital importance of our allies and partners in protecting our people. So while we focus on our current priorities, our commitment to supporting our allies has remained steadfast. Today I want to discuss such collective effort the role of NATO, the story of allies helping allies is a good one.

The Department is supporting efforts to combat COVID 19 within our means both at home and abroad. We're providing a range of support all across Europe, mostly through traditional humanitarian assistance efforts. To augment allies’ efforts, we also provide Army civil affairs experts in allied nations such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. We are increasing our cooperation with Italy, a NATO ally and host for decades, with nearly 35,000 U.S. military, civilians, and their dependents. DOD assistance to Italy benefits both Italians and America as both lived together in affected communities.

Our United States European Command provided humanitarian and non-critical medical supplies like hospital beds from DOD excess property stocks in Italy. U.S. Air Forces in Europe provided an En-Route Patient Staging System to the Italian Ministry of Defense.

Consistent with our responsibilities as a NATO ally, we're supporting NATO's COVID-19 efforts. At NATO, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center, the EADRCC, matches national requests with donor-nations, coordinates the delivery of assistance, removing that burden from the nation in crisis.

The NATO support procurement agency was very active acquiring supplies and the means to deliver them on behalf of NATO nations. The NATO supported strategic airlift consortium, an American initiative founded for such contingencies, is flying missions containing critical medical supplies on behalf of its members. Romania’s use of this this capability is a great example of its value.

NATO Civil Emergency Planning Committee, a longstanding body, is sharing NATO's expertise and resilience with the nations. Allies are also working together to ensure public access to transparent, timely and accurate information, which is critical to overcoming this pandemic and to combating disinformation.

Because we need a comprehensive approach, NATO is working closely with other international organizations like the European Union. All the while, NATO's ability to conduct operations and to provide deterrence and defense remains strong. While every allies' first duty is to their own people, our values-based transatlantic community is working together to confront this challenge as we have confronted every other challenge in the 70-year history of our alliance by allies helping allies. To carry this collective work forward, the Secretary will join his fellow Defense ministers virtually at NATO next week to further address these opportunities. Allies helping allies while remaining ready, resilient, and responsive.

Thank you for your time. I now pass the microphone to DASD Sbragia.

MR. SBRAGIA: Mike, thank you. Good afternoon. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to share our perspectives on the unified global response to COVID-19 and some of the challenges encountered.

As my portfolio focus of China -- focuses on China matters, I'm glad to partner with DASDs Ryan and Cooper and contribute to the Department's transparency and offer my perspective. Through my lens, it's important to note that a global health pandemic is an opportunity to set aside differences and identify constructive outlets for cooperation and we offer our sympathy for those who have been impacted by this outbreak in China and elsewhere.

The U.S. certainly welcomes China's call to combat the COVID-19 pandemic together and we welcomed high-quality Chinese aid to help alleviate the suffering felt around the world, to include in Europe. This certainly underscores the importance of clear communication and transparency and fighting common threat. This has long been a strength of the U.S. network of alliances and partnerships that remain the backbone of global security and prosperity.

Because China was the first to learn of this outbreak, we feel that the CPC's -- the Chinese Communist Party officials in Wuhan and Beijing had a special responsibility to inform the Chinese people and the world of the threat. We've certainly been disappointed at one point that the Communist Party's propaganda and disinformation campaign effort, at one point, tried to shift the responsibility of this pandemic to others, which was unfounded, futile, and really counterproductive.

We've -- we found that the commitment made by the People's Republic of China's Defense Ministry during -- during bilateral dialogues, including a call with Secretary Esper -- Esper sought to seek this as an area of cooperation in terms of battling the COVID-19 pandemic. And it's critically important that they've done so, and it was certainly welcomed and reciprocated by the Department here.

Our militaries must remain committed to seeking cooperation over confrontation during this pandemic so that the world can recover and prosper. We expect the PRC to share all the virus data and work through recognized incredible mechanisms for humanitarian and global health assistance, to sell or donate high-quality medical supplies without using that aid as a means of propaganda or political leverage, particularly on issues such as Huawei, 5G, the Belt and Road Initiative, or other investment priorities.

In this light, we welcomed the commitment by the China's -- by China's Ministry of Defense to maintain combating COVID-19 as an area of cooperation with the Defense Department rather than as a source of confrontation. There's an important sign here of cooperation. One is the agreement with China's military to implement lessons learned in the wake of the pandemic into future U.S.-China bilateral disaster management exchanges. And we will certainly look forward to exploring other opportunities and expect them to do so as well.

I'll hand it over to DASD Cooper.

MS. COOPER: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here. I hope everyone on this call is feeling well and that your families are healthy and safe. I spend a lot of my time these days (inaudible) on everyone's health and welfare in this time (inaudible).

But my -- my focus today is building on DASD Ryan’s comments and building on DASD Sbragia’s comments, you know, talking about how (inaudible) to be the increasing unity of effort in response to COVID. And we are seeing actually a terrific sharing of medical lessons learned across allies and partners.

But there’s one wrinkle in our efforts, one unnecessary challenge --

REPORTER: Yes, I don't mean to interrupt but we can’t hear you --

MS. COOPER: -- particularly before we open it up to questions --

REPORTER: I second that, I can't hear her.

MS. COOPER: -- about COVID-19. You know in my portfolio I focus primarily on Russia, so I tend to study the disinformation that is coming out of Russia, but just because I'm giving you mostly examples from Russia today, I don't want that to obscure the fact that disinformation on COVID is really coming in from all around the globe. So I want to identify some of the themes that we’re seeing around disinformation and then talk a little bit about how we can move forward.

So the first -- and I think the most pernicious disinformation that we have to contend with is the disinformation that is sowing global -- global mistrust and confusion. These are messages that are endangering global health because they're undermining the efforts of governments, of health agencies, and of organizations that are in charge of disseminating accurate information about the virus to public, so I pulled just a few examples:

As recently as late March, which is pretty recently if you think about it, we found in Sputnik and in RT, we found articles claiming that hand-washing was ineffective. You know, we've seen in mid-March reporting from -- there’s a website called Southfront -- which is actually a Russian-backed, English language, what they call alternative news source -- and in this news source there was reporting that there actually was no pandemic and that some deaths in Italy might in fact have been from the common flu.

In early January we saw reports on several different Russian news sites claiming that Russian doctors had already developed treatments for COVID-19. And we also saw claims that it was really just big Pharma in the United States that was spreading rumors about the virus in order to drum up business. So with the theme with all of these various messages, you can see how they could cause individual citizens to act in ways that contradicts good advice that that they are being given by public health officials. 

The second trend that I just want to point out in this disinformation that we've seen and this has already been touched on in DASD Sbragia's comments, this is how we’re seeing a variety of actors around the world who are using COVID-19 to target or blame Western allies or the United States in particular. And I really think -- think of it as a global disinformation ecosystem where a news item that generates in one part of the world then gets amplified and picked up elsewhere. We saw this with the claims in January that asserted that the U.S. was behind COVID-19 and that it was a weapon. And, you know, these claims certainly we saw them coming out of China, but we also saw them coming out of Russia and Iran. We really saw this confluence of disinformation targeting the United States are saying that we were purposely spreading COVID-19.

Before I get into kind of what we're doing about it and where we take this from here, I just want to mention in passing that, you know, we’ve beat this playbook before. This isn’t something that’s entirely new to us. To me, this recalls something that we learned from KGB defector’s archives, how the KGB intentionally spreads false narratives that the United States engineered and spread HIV/AIDS. Particularly, you know, in those days we actually overcame this disinformation and we fostered tremendous international cooperation to fight HIV/AIDS. We can overcome this disinformation that's out there today by working together. So that kind of gets me into the final point.

A few things that we're working on, one is just exposing the disinformation, and this is where the State Department has done a terrific job of, alerting foreign audiences for example, to Russia's COVID-19 disinformation campaign based on information that was provided through a fact checking center at Agence-France Presse. This was able to alert the public to multiple false narratives that were in circulation all around the world.

The second piece is that you know we’re calling on all countries -- Russia included -- to reign in malign actors that are spreading misleading disruptive information about the virus.

And then third I go back to the points that DASD Mike Ryan emphasized, we're focusing on actually working together to tackle the real challenge of COVID-19, and then we have to talk about what we're doing and amplify the progress that we're making together. We're not as used to necessarily talking about how we're supporting each other as allies but it’s important to get that message out.

And then the last piece kind of where, I think, actually journalists in the United States have been really helping us is providing accurate information. And the free and open media I think have been helpful at getting out you know the fact that this CDC website is the go-to resource. And just in closing, just for completeness, I want to just mention a few of the go-to resources that we’re encouraging people to go the, that the U.S. government is encouraging people to go to. There’s the coronavirus -- the government website, www.coronavirus.gov. The CDC website that I mentioned www.cdc.gov. There's also www.usa.gov/coronavirus. And then there's a homegrown site here in the Defense Department, we have defense.gov/coronavirus and a new one, defense.gov/explore/spotlight/coronavirus/rumor-control aimed at helping dispel these myths.

And I will hand it back to Carla with that. Thank you.

STAFF: Great. Thank you. I think we'll open it up to questions and let's start with Sylvie -- Sylvie with AFP.

Q: Yes, hello. Thank you. I have a question about Russia and China, I wanted to know what is your estimation of the impact of COVID-19 on the military in Russia and China.

MS. COOPER: So I'll give that a first crack at the Russia piece, to be honest I think that we're still -- we're still seeing coronavirus play out in Russia in general, and that includes certainly the military which is interconnected with its larger society. So I think right now it's too soon to tell what that impact will be.

Over to DASD Sbragia for the China piece.

MR. SBRAGIA: I've had a chance to talk to one of my counterparts in the Chinese Ministry of Defense. And we -- he recognized what our outside take is, which is the PLA was very early engaged in its domestic response to the COVID battle as part of Xi Jinping's overall people’s war approach to prevention and control, but they've also – been doing what most militaries do, which is remain out, securing and safeguarding the things they think are most important to their interest.

There's no doubt that it's had an impact on them like it has on almost everybody in terms of recruiting, retention, operational activity. The -- the Chinese military, like our military, is out and about, doing what it does on a daily bases and safeguarding our national interest. So I can't say that it has had a significant effect, but it's -- but we're -- I think we're all struggling with that, to include the operational activity that we have to do for domestic response.

STAFF: Did you have a follow-up, Sylvie?

Q: Yes, if it's possible. What -- what is -- did you notice some disinformation about the readiness of the U.S. military in the countries?

MS. COOPER: So I can -- I can just chime in. We -- we have seen a number of threads of disinformation that are propagating falsehoods about the readiness of -- of the U.S. military. I don't know if others want to chime in, if DASD Sbragia wants to chime in.

MR. SBRAGIA: Yeah, I haven't seen the Chinese say anything authoritatively and certainly not in any of our bilateral dialogues as would indicate that they thought that we weren’t ready. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They have taken note that we stand ready and forward in the operation as normal in a very stable way, but they have taken a very close note about what we're doing and what we continue to do in the front.

Q: Yes, it's Jennifer Griffin from Fox. DASD Cooper, have you seen any disinformation or targeting the African-American community, in particular, in the U.S. since that community is being hit very hard and there are a number of rumors that has -- has led to confusion in that community?

And, DASD Sbragia, have the Chinese backed down from their initial propaganda that the U.S. military had --that this was a bio weapon that caused COVID-19? Has there been any new propaganda or is that really -- have they changed their ways since that initial attempt at that rumor?

MS. COOPER: So I'll start with the question about targeting the African-American community, certainly historically we have seen this in the past. But I can't tell you that I can point to any specific information that I have that would identify that. Some of the messages that I talked about earlier that are giving bad information about how to deal with the virus, I think that those are message that is -- that are kind of spread widely. So I can't identify any one particular community.

Over to DASD Sbragia?

MR. SBRAGIA: Yeah, that's a good question. We noticed immediately as the Chinese made authoritative statements from its -- its -- its party’s mouthpiece, the People's Daily, and also from spokespersons from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We communicated what our expectations were and that they should retract that.

They have since backed away from that narrative and we have not seen that, particularly from the Ministry of National Defense, you know, we were very clear that this was unhelpful. This is moving the coronavirus issue out of an area of cooperation between the two militaries and into an area of confrontation.

Subsequent to that both from the secretary’s level down in terms of communicating to that to the Chinese, they -- they understood that that was unhelpful and I have not seen that in authoritative commentary or narratives from the Chinese since then. If you take note of what their most recent Ministry of Foreign Affairs statements reflect is that they don't have an official position on -- on the origins of that and leave that to the scientific community to determine over time.

STAFF: Kasim.

Q: Kasim Ileri, Andalou Agency. I have two questions actually. One, Turkey also provided some aid to some NATO allies, particularly Italian and Spain. Was this kind of coordinated through NATO and what else Turks are doing in order to help the fight against COVID in Europe?

MR. RYAN: Yes, thank you, I'll take that. Mike Ryan, here. You're correct, Turkey provided Italy and Spain with medical supplies, such as 450,000 masks, personal protection equipment, and disinfectants. And that was through the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center in response to the request that both of those allies put forward to NATO. So we really appreciate that.

I know the Italian and the Spaniards really appreciate that. As far as others that Turkey is providing, I have not personally heard of it, but it would not surprise me, as you know, Turkey is a very generous country, so I look forward to more of that.

Q: And for our own -- the posture in the continent as the -- the European continent is currently under the current health crisis, has there been any adjustments to the posture with respect to a possible threat from Russia or other adversaries to Europe?

MR. RYAN: Thank you for that. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe has been very positive in his public remarks that NATO remains postured in all directions for deterrence and defense, and the NATO forces remain vigilant, and we continue to look for any opportunity for any malign actor to try to take advantage of our preoccupation with COVID-19. And so I would just say that according to public statements of our senior leadership, we are prepared for whatever might happen. And beyond that, we don't comment on the operational details, so I can't give you any more than that.

STAFF: Thank you.

Q: Yes.

STAFF: Go back to the phone with Jeff Schogol.

Q: Thank you. I'm wondering does any disinformation from China or Russia put U.S. service members' lives at risk? If so, can you talk about it? Thank you.

MS. COOPER: I can't think of a specific (inaudible).

MR. SBRAGIA: This is DASD Sbragia. I -- I can't think of a specific example of any kind of authoritative statement out of the -- out of China that placed any U.S. service member in direct risk, although I will note that the -- some of the disinformation that has come out has been unhelpful really to what should be an operative effort in a global response. And any -- any of those delays or -- or disinformation activities just simply slow down the process of that should be going in the different direction.

Q: Thank you (inaudible)to ask the Deputy Secretary Chad Sbragia. There is -- there are many countries to cry foul about the Chinese coronavirus test kit and equipment. Are you trust them. And then are you interested in purchasing South Korean products? Thank you.

MR. SBRAGIA: Yeah, help me clarify -- that question was about the quality of Chinese medical supplies and equipment. Is that correct?

Q: Yes, test kits and equipment.

MR. SBRAGIA: Yeah, I think we're very attentive. There's certainly been a lot of media reporting about concerns about Chinese-sourced medical supplies. I don't have any details on that -- on substandard capacities or -- or equipment, but certainly recognize China's responsibility is to ensure high-quality supplies in a time of critical need.

I do note and I -- I think it's a positive sign that China's own Ministry of Public Security held a March 30 conference among China's national security organizations to crack down on the production and sale of counterfeit and inferior materials; which we view as a sign that China recognizes some kind of problem exists and that China must meet global standards. We support the same. They should be doing that.

Q: And South Korea, are you -- are you interested in purchasing South Korea goods and products? Because recently President Trump telephone conversation with the South Korean President Moon, he is interested in buying South Korean test kit.

MR. SBRAGIA: Yeah, I can't answer that specific detail myself, but I think that's a good question to take back and see if we can provide additional details on that.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: All right. Let's go back to the phones with Lara Seligman.

Q: Hello. Thanks for doing this. I have a couple questions. First of all, I'm wondering if you can talk about the situation in the Pacific right now, in particular that – the fact that we are down a carrier there and -- and whether you're wondering about whether if there is going to be any impact to that and if China’s going to be taking advantage in any way as they did -- as they did in Vietnam just recently. So what impact do you see there and what are you doing about that?

And then -- and on the disinformation piece, can you talk a little bit about efforts that DOD is -- or the government as a whole is taking to actively counter that propaganda campaign coming from both Russia and China?

MR. SBRAGIA: Sure. You know, we normally don't talk about operational readiness other than to say that we're ready. I'll just echo what Secretary Esper and other senior leaders have said here, which is that they're concentrating first and foremost on the health of the force, and then second on maintaining readiness and operational capacity. I don't have any indication that we have a concern there other than the fact that the entire globe is going through a significant challenge right now and that the United States will do what it does, which is particularly the Defense Department being ready and forward.

In terms of specific disinformation campaign, the one that I highlighted -- one that was most concerned was within the DOD lanes, which was the -- the false accusation that COVID-19 began with the U.S. Army service member bringing that to China somehow. That was just patently false and, frankly, unhelpful. It's those kind of activities that we see that are just not what the global environment community needs at this time.

Q: Sorry, my question was how are you actively countering that information?

MR. SBRAGIA: Sure. The first thing is to really concentrate, first and foremost, where the priority, which is just on what we're doing in terms of active and positive support and collaboration with our allies and partners globally. This is -- this is perhaps something that Mike Ryan can talk to in more detail because it -- it really isn't about getting bogged down and worrying about what kind of disinformation is coming out of China, but more about highlighting the strength and unity of the global system that we all benefit from.

MR. RYAN: Yeah, thank you, Chad. This is Mike Ryan.

MS. COOPER: So if I could simplify just on the piece about disinformation in general. What we’ve learned by dealing with disinformation on other topics is you can’t just treat it as a whack-a-mole game. You do have to expose some of the most egregious pieces of disinformation just as DASD Sbragia suggested ...

Q: I'm sorry to interrupt. I really can't hear you.

MS. COOPER: Oh, dear. Let's see here. Can you hear me now?

Reporter: Yeah, I think you can leave your mask off for the time being.

(Laughter.)

MS. COOPER: No mask on, but I'm not sure why it’s hard to hear today on this -- on this particular phone.

Q: That's better.

MS. COOPER: That's better? Okay. So you can't swing in a whack-a-mole and try to dispute every single piece of disinformation. Especially on COVID, there's so many. But you have to figure out, which are the most egregious to expose and then focus on public education and public awareness, and just transparency, in general, the fact that you have so many briefings that are happening just within DOD at the Pentagon right now that this constant transparency about just the DOD effort, not to mention whole-of-government effort -- effort. That's really the most important aspect of countering disinformation and when it comes to the public health perspective.

But over to DASD Ryan to talk about the cooperation piece of it.

MR. RYAN: Yes, thank you. Just to reiterate that point, NATO is taking a very proactive stance from its Public Diplomacy office to highlight the good work that is going on to help people and to try to mitigate the effects of this virus. The NATO foreign ministers, which met on the 2nd of April, taken taking up this issue of the Defense Ministers meeting next week virtually, again that NATO will take up this issue because it is important for the people to have the truth about what's going on and to really highlight positive activities of allies helping allies and the specifics of what is being done as opposed to trying to deal, as Laura said, in a whack-a-mole type of way with rumors and innuendoes and things coming out of unreliable sources.

And the -- the European media -- the U.S. media have been -- has been very helpful and very successful in running those false stories to ground and we greatly appreciate that.

STAFF: All right. We're going to take one more from the phone, Michael Peel from Financial Times.

Q: Oh, hi. It's -- I dropped out of the conversation for a while, I couldn't get back on, so forgive me if you've already covered this ground. But one thing on disinformation that I've been picking up on and many people have spoken about it, the amount of organic misinformation. I just remember that the public spreading things that are not true about the disease or the treatment of it and so forth. I wonder how much of a problem that was and really what tools you have to deal with it because it's a different piece from the traditional kind of weaponized political disinformation although, of course, those kind of actors can pick up on this organic misinformation, but it needs some different tactics, doesn't it? How do you do that?

MS. COOPER: Well, I'll take a crack at that response as well. I think that you're right, there's -- there's both, and with the COVID disinformation you really do see a wide range of actors in this space. Because I handle Russia, I focus in a lot on the disinformation that is coming out of Russia. And really I would say, you know, any -- any country takes the responsibility for disseminating truthful information when it comes to such a public health disaster. So we are concerned when governments are actually propagating false information and not actively presenting, you know, accurate and scientifically-based information to the public because it does pose that international public health risk.

But there's no denying that there's plenty of individual bloggers out there propagating false -- false insights about this -- this virus. And that's where I think the -- the approach really is to have consistent public transparency about medical information, about the government's response, and to be coordinating internationally on those issues. That's why I think it was heartening to see the G20 all agreed to work together, while it's heartening to see the E.U. doing a lot of work in this area and certainly NATO.

Over to others.

MR. SBRAGIA: You know, there's -- disinformation is a good caveat that you add to the question. Disinformation is -- comes in different forms and, as Laura mentioned, from a -- from -- globally. And in that light, there's authoritative commentary that is unhelpful and, frankly, wrong, but there's other kinds of actors and different kinds of approaches that are used. And you're just going to have to try to confront them as best as possible.

For all the authoritative stuff that has come out of China, the parts that we find that disagree with or -- or dissatisfied with, the single-most effective approach is to simply communicate that directly to the Chinese and express to them about how going in a different direction is always a better path for everybody. To the -- for the most part we've had some success with that, so we'll continue to try that approach.

Q: This is Jennifer Griffin from Fox News, just a clarification. Have you found any specific Russian bot farms associated with the COVID virus rumors? And did you ever link the rumor about federal martial law being imposed in the U.S. to Russia?

MS. COOPER: So on the first point I don't have any -- any specific information about -- about specific bot farms. But I have seen a thread that you could tie back to Russia that relates sort of domestic climate in the United States. And I -- I don't know that I've seen martial law specifically, but rather questions about criticizing the government response as sort of clamping down on freedoms, but I don't -- I don't know that that's specifically what you're driving at, over.

STAFF: One more. Nick Schffron from PBS NewsHour?

Q: Hey, there, thanks very much. If I could go back to -- to Laura's question a little bit and Chad ask you very specifically, has China tried to take advantage of COVID-19 militarily in -- in any way and -- and how have you seen that? And -- and number two, for those of us who also ask these questions to the State Department, you guys are suggesting a very different tone.  You're suggesting a willingness to cooperate and a desire to cooperate. That's not, I think, what we hear from senior State Department officials. So could you put a little meat on that bone and explicitly say why it's important to collaborate, especially with China right now, when there is so much competition? Thanks.

MR. SBRAGIA: Sure, that's a great question. It's -- you know, certainly we're in a period of strategic competition with China. It's been very important to us and we have interagency alignment on ensuring that -- that our strategic competition with China shouldn't be impacted by the -- the COVID-19 area or -- or period. This is a time of collaboration, and coordination, and cooperation.

And -– and in that light is, you know, we are very attentive to watching China, particularly its military activities, and have communicated with them on several instances, but it is where we have concern, most recently about – China’s Coast Guard vessel and the collision with a Vietnamese fishing vessel near the Paracel Islands. We're attentive to every single move that they make as I'm sure they are of ours.

It's important as that I think that we have a -- a consensus between the leaders of the -- of the two militaries is that we want to avoid COVID issues flowing into and being militarized, instead remaining as an area of cooperation. And I think that's the best path -- best paths for both countries, but certainly for the global community.

STAFF: Any closing thoughts?

Q: I'd like to ask a question if I could.

STAFF: I think we're out of time for questions. I -- I thought DASD Ryan had -- had one more thing he wanted to impart to us.

MR. RYAN: Carla -- thank you, Carla. The overall line, I think, as I sit in meetings six feet apart with DASD Sbragia and DASD Cooper -- and we have many meetings over video conference -- is the amount of global collaboration that is developing in response to the COVID-19. And it's between nations, but also with our multilateral organizations. We're a member of NATO, but we're also in very close relationship with the E.U. We work very closely across our government agencies and organs of the United Nations and others, and it really is a world coming together.

It's unfortunate that we've had to deal with these disinformation episodes. But taking the last question as a point, where there are areas to collaborate and to ensure that the Chinese and the Russians, for example, are producing high-quality equipment and delivering that to points of need without any political strings attached or economic strings attached is the type of behavior we'd like to see out of Russia and China and the type of behavior we all try to demonstrate in the world order, which is really at work on behalf of all of us with the situation.

Well, having said that, again I'd like to thank you for your time. I'd like to thank Colonel Gleason for setting this up. It's always very useful for us, and that's all I have. Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you all.

MS. COOPER: Thank you.