Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Izumi Oguri of Nippon TV

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Tokyo, Japan

Chief of Mission Residence

QUESTION:  Okay.  Japan and the U.S. just have agreed to take a tougher stance on China’s aggression and threats, but economically Japan and China are enormously intertwined, and Japan has not been able to decouple from China.  Would the U.S. be satisfied with this situation?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think both the United State and Japan share a deep concern about what we’ve seen in recent years, which is China acting more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad, including particularly in the region, whether it’s with regard to the Senkaku Islands or Taiwan, the South China Sea.  And based on my conversations here in Tokyo, that’s clearly a real concern to both of us.  And it’s important that we work in solidarity to deal with some of the challenges posed by China, and I am confident we’ll do that.

QUESTION:  At some point, Japan may no longer be able to stand by the U.S. (inaudible) stance towards China.  To what extent could the U.S. allow Japan to take a different approach?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  This is not about standing against something or someone; it’s about standing up for the values and principles and interests that we share and making sure that when those values, when those interests are being challenged, we work together to defend them.  That’s what this is about.

The relationship with China is a very complex one:  It has adversarial aspects; it has competitive aspects; it has cooperative aspects.  But the common denominator in dealing with each of those is to make sure we’re approaching China from a position of strength, and that strength starts with our alliance, with our solidarity, because it’s really a unique asset that we have and China doesn’t – the alliance, the cooperation among likeminded countries.  And when we’re working together, when we’re acting together, when we’re making clear our concerns together, that carries a much heavier weight than any one of our countries acting alone.  And that’s the spirit with which we’re going to go forward.

QUESTION:  As for the alliance, you stated that real partnership means carrying burdens together.  What exactly are the burdens you are referring to?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’ve had an extraordinary alliance and partnership for decades that really is a cornerstone of peace and stability for both of our countries, for the region, and indeed in many ways for the world.  But that requires investments.  It requires investments in our defense, in our security.

The United States over the years has made very significant investments in our collective self-defense and in our security.  We’ve benefited tremendously from the incredibly generosity of Japan as a host nation to our forces.  And of course, I’m very pleased that we were able to extend the existing agreement for a year to give us some time to work through what I hope and expect will be a multi-year agreement on so-called host nation support.

But I think we both know that when it comes to the defense of our people, our values, and our interests, there is a burden that comes with that, and that is the investment we have to make in resources, including human resources, to stand up for our interests and our values.  And we’re both, I think, determined to make those investments.

QUESTION:  How do you expect Japan to fulfill its role?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think that’s happening virtually every day.  The cooperation, the coordination, the work we’re doing together in so many different areas – not just security – is remarkable.  And the relationship that’s evolved over many decades, when you look at the way it’s evolved, we started out being focused on bilateral issues between us, and then increasingly we started to work together on regional issues, and now the United States and Japan are truly partners when it comes to global issues.  Whether it’s the work we’re doing together to combat COVID-19 and put in place a better global health security system, whether it’s dealing with climate change, whether it’s dealing with the proliferation of weapons, the United States and Japan are global actors, and we’re joined together in that.  And that’s a great source of strength for both of us.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And as you know well, the Japan-South Korea relationships are at the worst state.  So when we come to a point where we cannot solve the issue by ourselves, would the U.S. play a mediating role between two countries?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’ve long urged our close friends in Japan and South Korea to work through difficult issues of history with a goal of reconciliation and understanding, and I hope that that continues.

I can tell you that from the United States perspective and President Biden’s perspective, we’re deeply invested in re-engaging with and reinvigorating our alliances, and that includes not only our relationship to our allies but the relationship of our allies to one another.  That’s an important part of this alliance system.

I’ve seen with – from firsthand experience.  When I was last in government, I spent a lot of time working on trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea, and we made extraordinary progress working together on dozens and dozens of different issues, which just brought home to me that our three countries have so much in common when it comes to basic values we share and the basic interests we share.

And so I think it’s ultimately profoundly in the interests of both Japan and South Korea that on the many issues that we have ahead of us that they work closely together even as they work through any remaining issues of history.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And as you said before, we are still facing the threat of COVID-19, and the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July.  So what conditions would be needed to be met in order to stage the Tokyo Olympics as scheduled?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we really defer to the Government of Japan, and we’ll support whatever decisions it makes.  In terms of how the United States would participate, that’s really a question for our own Olympic Committee as well, of course, for the International Olympic Committee.

QUESTION:  If the Games are held as planned, will the U.S. send a delegation as usual?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, again, I’d really refer you to the American – the U.S. Olympic Committee.  These are decisions that it will make.  But as I’ve said to my colleagues in Japan, we’ll certainly support the decisions that it makes about the Olympics.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And is there any possibility the U.S. will boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’ve heard the many concerns around the world about the prospect of those Olympics given the actions that China has taken both at home in terms of its abuse of human rights when it comes to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, other minorities, or, of course, what’s happening in Hong Kong, the increasing tensions as a result of its actions on – with regard to Taiwan.  And we’ve heard a lot of those concerns, and we will continue to talk to other countries around the world to hear what they’re thinking, and at the appropriate time we’ll decide what to do.  But for now, we’re just listening to the concerns we’ve heard expressed from many countries around the world.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And yesterday you said you received moving and powerful letters from family of the Japanese abductees by the North Koreans.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  And when you have a chance to talk with your North Korean counterpart, would you bring up the abduction issue as one of the main topics?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.  It was a very powerful, very moving letter.  We’re in full solidarity with the families and with the Japanese people on the question of abductees.  And I can tell you that whatever happens going forward with North Korea, we will keep that near and dear to our hearts as well.

QUESTION:  And the Japanese Government is seeking a comprehensive solution to the abductions, nuclear weapons, and missile issues.  So does the U.S. support this position?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We are in lockstep when it comes to the importance of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula; when it comes to dealing with, as well, North Korea’s missile programs, which are increasingly threatening to both of us; and when it comes to human rights and including the abductees.  So I think we’re in very close synchronization and coordination.

We’re in the midst of a policy review on North Korean right now, but a big feature of that review is making sure that we have the insights and input from our closest partners, including Japan and South Korea, because their interests, their concerns are directly at stake.  And so I think we’ll continue to work through that review and in the weeks ahead complete it, and look forward to working in very close coordination with Japan and with South Korea going forward in dealing with North Korea.

QUESTION:  Okay.  We are almost out of time.  We have to end there.  So thank you very much indeed to – for being with us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you so much.  Very good to be with you.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    GAO found that the completeness and accuracy of Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System (T-MSIS) data have improved. Over the past decade, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been implementing T-MSIS, which is the agency's initiative to improve state-reported data available for overseeing Medicaid. CMS's assessment of two key T-MSIS data sources reflect these improvements. I. Priority items. Priority items are areas of data CMS identified as critical for program oversight, such as beneficiary eligibility and managed care. CMS's assessment of states' data submissions for the first 12 priority items identified significant improvement in meeting CMS data standards over a 22-month period. CMS's assessments of additional priority items similarly indicate improved completeness and accuracy. Improvements in the Number of States Meeting CMS Standards for Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System Priority Items One through 12 Number of priority items that met standards Number of states as of October 2018 Number of states as of August 2020 10 or more 6 41 7 to 9 26 10 6 or less 18 0 Source: GAO analysis of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) priority item data. │ GAO-21-196 Note: CMS assessed data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. CMS excluded Wisconsin from its October 2018 assessment, because the state had not submitted sufficient data. II. Analytic files. Analytic files are publicly available, research-ready T-MSIS data. GAO's review of CMS's assessments found that all states submitted some data for 67 of the 69        topics relevant to their Medicaid programs. This is an improvement from what GAO found in 2017, when none of the six states reviewed submitted all T-MSIS data applicable to their programs. GAO also found that states' data for 52 of the 69 topics were acceptable—meaning that CMS determined most states' data did not have significant problems that would affect their usability. While CMS's assessments of priority item and analytic file data indicate improvement in the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data, GAO also found that these assessments highlight areas where data do not meet the agency's standards. For example, 30 states did not submit acceptable data for inpatient managed care encounters. Accurate encounter data are critical to ensuring that Medicaid managed care beneficiaries obtain covered services and that payments to managed care organizations are appropriate. GAO has made at least 13 recommendations related to improving T-MSIS data and expediting their use for program oversight. CMS has addressed five of these recommendations, and has not fully addressed eight—including recommendations to improve data for overseeing payments to providers and managed care organizations. Implementing these recommendations would help CMS strengthen program oversight through improved T-MSIS data. Since adding Medicaid to its High Risk List in 2003, GAO has identified multiple limitations in program data affecting CMS's ability to ensure beneficiaries' access to care and proper payments to health care providers. CMS intends T-MSIS be a national repository of data to manage and oversee Medicaid, which served approximately 77 million individuals at an estimated cost of $673 billion in fiscal year 2020. Prior GAO work found issues with the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data and recommended that CMS expedite efforts to improve T-MSIS data and to use them for program oversight. CMS has taken steps to improve T-MSIS data and has made some T-MSIS data publicly available. Yet, questions remain about the usability of T-MSIS data for program oversight. Under the Comptroller General's authority, GAO initiated this review to examine what is known about the completeness and accuracy of T-MSIS data. GAO reviewed CMS's assessments of two T-MSIS data sources: (1) states' submissions of T-MSIS priority items; and (2) the 2016 T-MSIS analytic files, which was the most recent analytic file data available when GAO began this work. GAO also reviewed CMS documents, prior GAO reports, and reports published by others examining T-MSIS data. GAO interviewed officials from CMS and seven states selected based on variation in their progress submitting complete and accurate priority item data, among other factors. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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  • Defense Transportation: DOD Can Better Leverage Existing Contested Mobility Studies and Improve Training
    In U.S GAO News
    From 2016 through 2019, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted or sponsored at least 11 classified or sensitive studies on contested mobility— the ability of the U.S. military to transport equipment and personnel in a contested operational environment. The studies resulted in more than 50 recommendations, and DOD officials stated they believed that some of the recommendations had been implemented. However, officials did not know the exact disposition of the recommendations, as they are not actively tracking implementation activities. Further, no single DOD oversight entity evaluated the studies' recommendations and tracked implementation across the department. As a result, DOD may be missing an opportunity to leverage existing knowledge on mobility in contested environments across organizations, and strengthen its mobility efforts for major conflicts as envisioned in the National Defense Strategy. DOD has updated aspects of wargame exercises and mobility training to prepare for a contested environment, but has not updated training for the surge sealift fleet—ships owned by DOD and the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) and crewed by contracted mariners. These crews are primarily trained and qualified to operate the ship, but receive limited contested mobility training. While DOD has updated air mobility training and other aspects of mobility training, sealift crew training requirements have not been updated by DOD and MARAD to reflect contested environment concerns because DOD has not conducted an evaluation of such training. Since sealift is the means by which the majority of military equipment would be transported during a major conflict, it is important that crews be trained appropriately for contested mobility to help ensure that ships safely reach their destinations and complete their missions. C-17 Performing Defense Maneuvers DOD has begun to mitigate contested environment challenges through improved technology and related initiatives. The Navy is acquiring improved technologies to deploy on surge sealift ships and replacement ships. The Air Force is equipping current mobility aircraft (see photo above) with additional defensive technologies and planning for the development of future replacement aircraft. According to U.S. Transportation Command, the command is revising its contracts with commercial partners to address cyber threats, and funding research and development projects that address contested mobility concerns. Many of these efforts are nascent and will take years to be put in place. China and Russia are strengthening their militaries to neutralize U.S. strengths, including mobility—the ability of U.S. military airlift and air refueling aircraft and sealift ships to rapidly move equipment and personnel from the United States to locations abroad to support DOD missions. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's ability to operate in a contested mobility environment. This report assesses the extent to which DOD has studied contested mobility and tracked the implementation of study recommendations, assesses the extent to which DOD has revised its training to incorporate contested mobility challenges, and describes the technologies that DOD uses to mitigate contested mobility challenges. GAO identified contested mobility studies conducted or sponsored by DOD; evaluated DOD's processes for monitoring implementation of study recommendations; analyzed training and exercise documents from DOD combatant commands, the Air Force, and the Navy; and reviewed DOD plans for technological improvements to its mobility forces. GAO recommends that DOD designate an oversight entity to track the implementation of study recommendations, and that DOD and MARAD evaluate and update sealift training. DOD and the Department of Transportation concurred or partially concurred with each recommendation. GAO believes each recommendation should be fully implemented, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Cary Russell at (202) 512-5431 or RussellC@gao.gov.
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  • K-12 Education: School Districts Need Better Information to Help Improve Access for People with Disabilities
    In U.S GAO News
    Two-thirds of U.S. public school districts have schools with physical barriers that may limit access for people with disabilities, according to GAO's survey of district officials. Barriers, such as a lack of accessible door hardware and steep ramps, can make it challenging for students, teachers, and others with disabilities to use public school facilities (see fig.). In 55 schools across six states, the most common areas with barriers GAO observed were restrooms, interior doorways, and classrooms. GAO also observed barriers related to safety and security. For example, for security, some schools had installed double-door vestibules with limited maneuvering space that could trap people who use wheelchairs. Examples of Doorway and Auditorium Barriers GAO Observed in Schools Note: Barriers presented in this figure potentially limit physical access for people with disabilities, but taken alone, would not necessarily establish whether a legal violation has occurred. An estimated 70 percent of districts had large-scale renovations, small-scale upgrades, or accessibility evaluations planned in the next 3 calendar years, but frequently cited funding constraints as a challenge to these efforts. Districts also identified the need to prioritize projects that keep buildings operational, such as roofing and heating projects. In addition, GAO's survey, observations during site visits, and interviews with national disability groups revealed a tension between making safety and security upgrades and improving physical accessibility. The Department of Justice (Justice) has not provided technical assistance on physical accessibility in schools, and GAO's surveys indicate such help is needed. Justice has authority to provide information on interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), including for public schools, and it has provided technical assistance regarding other public facilities, such as stadiums. In addition, Justice, along with the Department of Education (Education) and other federal agencies, recently launched a new website on school safety, but it does not include specific information on how to improve accessibility of public school facilities or provide information on ADA requirements in the context of school safety upgrades. Without such information, federal agencies may miss opportunities to help ensure that people with disabilities have safe and secure access to public school facilities. National reports have raised concerns about the physical accessibility of public school facilities for people with disabilities. These facilities serve important roles as schools, voting locations, and emergency shelters, among other things. GAO was asked to examine the physical accessibility of public school facilities. This report examines the extent to which (1) school districts have school facilities with physical barriers that may limit access for people with disabilities, (2) districts plan to improve the accessibility of school facilities and the challenges they face, and (3) Justice and Education assist districts and states in improving school facilities' physical accessibility. GAO conducted a nationally representative survey of school districts; surveyed states and the District of Columbia; examined 55 schools across six states, selected for variation in size and other characteristics; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance; and interviewed federal, state, and school district officials, and national disability groups. GAO recommends that Justice work with Education to (1) provide information specific to accessibility of public school facilities and (2) provide information on federal accessibility requirements in the context of public school safety and security. Justice neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Reaches Landmark Agreement with Massachusetts Department of Children and Family to Address Discrimination Against Parents with Disabilities
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  • Electricity Grid Resilience: Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take Actions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. This testimony summarizes GAO's report on grid resilience to climate change. Specifically, the testimony discusses (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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    The United States has filed a complaint seeking to bar Louisiana tax return preparers from owning or operating a tax return preparation business and preparing tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today. The civil complaint against Leroi Gorman Jackson and Mario Alexander, both individually and doing business as The Taxman Financial Services LLC, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
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  • VA Health Care: Better Data Needed to Assess the Health Outcomes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Veterans
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) analyzes national-level data by birth sex to assess health outcomes for women veterans. For example, it analyzes frequency data to identify their most common health conditions. However, VHA is limited in its assessment of health outcomes for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) veteran population because it does not consistently collect sexual orientation or self-identified gender identity (SIGI) data. VHA officials stated that providers may record veterans' sexual orientation—which can be used to identify lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans—in non-standardized clinical notes in electronic health records. However, without a standardized field, providers may not be consistently collecting these data, and VHA does not know the total number of these veterans in its system. VHA officials recognize the importance of consistently collecting these data, but have yet to develop and implement a field for doing so. VHA collects SIGI data—which can be used in part to identify transgender veterans—in enrollment, administrative, and electronic health record systems. Although VHA has worked to improve the collection of these data, GAO found inconsistencies in how VHA records SIGI and, according to VA, 89 percent of veterans' records lack SIGI information. VHA added a field to collect this information in the administrative system; however, these data are not linked to electronic health records. As such, VHA providers cannot see the data during clinical visits when determining the appropriate services for transgender veterans, such as screening certain transgender men for breast and cervical cancers, as required by VHA policy. VHA's plan to link SIGI data across both systems has been postponed several times, and the data remain unlinked. VHA Sexual Orientation and Self-Identified Gender Identity (SIGI) Data Collection Limitations, Fiscal Year 2020 Until VHA can more consistently collect and analyze sexual orientation and SIGI data for the veteran population served, it will have a limited understanding of the health care needs of LGBT veterans, including any disparities they may face. VHA provides care to a diverse population of veterans, including women and LGBT veterans. These veterans may experience differences in health outcomes that are closely linked with social or economic disadvantage, and VA considers it important to analyze the services they receive as well as their health outcomes to improve health equity. House Report 115-188 included a provision for GAO to review VA's data collection and reporting procedures for information on veterans' gender and sexual orientation. This report describes how VHA assesses health outcomes for women veterans and examines the extent to which VHA assesses health outcomes for LGBT veterans. GAO reviewed VHA directives and VHA's Health Equity Action Plan. GAO interviewed officials from VHA's Women's Health Services and LGBT Health Program, VHA researchers who focus on women and LGBT veterans, and representatives from other health care systems with experience collecting gender and sexual orientation information. GAO is making four recommendations to VA to consistently collect sexual orientation and SIGI data, and analyze these data to assess health outcomes for LGBT veterans. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations and identified actions it is taking to address them. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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