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Biden: U.S. Military Will Defend Taiwan If China Invades; S. Korean President: China "Overly Sensitive" About U.S. Relationship; Pfizer: Three Dose COVID Vaccine Protects Kids Under 5. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2022 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: China moves in, a statement that caught some of Biden's own aides off guard.

And one step closer, Pfizer releases new data about their COVID vaccine trials and kids under the age of five. So how much longer will parents need to wait?

And concerns over another disease, the WHO confirms nearly 100 cases of monkeypox, the CDC is now considering offering a vaccine for some higher risk people.

Thank you so much for joining us everybody. It was a bold statement from the President and it was almost immediately walked back by the White House while he continues his trip in Asia, the President saying that he would use the U.S. military to defend Taiwan if China were to invade. But that's not the stated and long standing U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity necessarily. CNN has learned that President Biden's comments caught some of his top aides off guard. This is drawing a sharp response already from China. We're going to have much more on that in just a moment.

But we're also keeping an eye on the Pentagon where in just minutes, top leaders will be holding a press conference, this question of military intervention in Taiwan, it's very likely to be raised. We're going to bring that to you when it begins.

President Biden is also formally announcing today, a new Indo-Pacific trade pact to counter China's influence in the region. A lot to get to this hour, let's get started, CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live in Tokyo. So Jeremy, what are you hearing from the administration from the White House now about the President's comments on Taiwan?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, White House official almost immediately after the President made those comments at a news conference, saying that, quote, as the President said, our policy has not changed. And yet, if you listen to the President's words directly, he very much does seem to be tossing away the U.S.'s decades long foreign policy of strategic ambiguity as it relates to Taiwan. And this question of whether or not the U.S. would intervene militarily. But listen to the President's own words.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You didn't want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?



BIDEN: That's the commitment we made. Look, here's the situation. We agree with the One China Policy, we signed on to it and all the attendant agreements made from there. But the idea that it can be taken by force, is just not -- it's just not appropriate.


DIAMOND: And you see there that while the President does reiterate the United States, One China Policy as it relates to diplomatic recognition or not of Taiwan, he does suggest very clearly, unambiguously, and without any caveat that the U.S. would intervene militarily, should China move to invade Taiwan. And he also puts it in contrast, based on the question there to what the U.S. has done with Ukraine, which is, indeed, to provide weapons.

Now, as you mentioned, Kate, several administration officials were apparently caught off guard by the President's comments. And it's also important to note though, this is not the first time twice before President Biden has suggested that the U.S. would intervene militarily. And again, we've gotten those same statements from those instances as well, where administration officials trying to insist that the U.S.'s policy hasn't changed. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you so much for that. Really appreciate it.

Joining me now for more on this and the trip so far is CNN senior international correspondent Will Ripley, he's live in Tokyo and CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. Well, let me start with you because China is responding to the President's statement, what are you hearing from them?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing the same thing that we always hear from China, whenever they feel that the United States and Taiwan are getting too close. They point to their One China principle that they claim Taiwan as their own territory, they have for more than 70 years, they call that the bedrock of peace and stability between the United States and China.

And they say that any crossing of that red line would be disastrous for the United States, even pointing out that China's 1.4 billion people will not stand for the disrespect that would come if the United States were to somehow support the concept of Taiwan as an independent country, even though Taiwan has its own government and its own military, and almost 24 million of its own people who have been choosing their own leaders and say they want that to continue.

So obviously, Taiwan continues to be the hot button issue. And President Biden by making this pretty explosive statement certainly, that was later dialed back by the White House trying to make sure that it doesn't escalate already heightened tensions here in this region. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. John, what are you hearing about this statement? I mean, Jeremy laid out kind of the walk back but a mistake, a good cop, bad cop routine. What?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know if it was a good cop, bad cop routine, that would be strategic ambiguity about strategic ambiguity. But I got to say, if you hear a commander-in- chief say something three times that seemed to be at odds with what his staff is saying, I'm inclined to believe the commander-in-chief that in fact this policy is changing and the staff is cautious about it.


Our colleague Nancy Cordes framed that question very clearly. He was looking right at her. It's not a question of him not hearing the question. And he was unambiguous, as Jeremy said in his answer. So I suspect that this was the President, as he is in Asia on a trip designed to show the United States not neglecting its responsibility to stand up to China, both economically as well as diplomatically and militarily.

I'm inclined to think that this was the president sending a signal at a time of heightened tension at a time where there's concern that the Ukraine experience might have emboldened China to say we may have a sterner response than you have expected so far.

BOLDUAN: So Will follow that, if this is the indication of, and John, you're right, you say something three times, you suggest the same three times, it is what it is. If it is the policy shifting, no matter what staffers are saying, follow that line. What does this do? What does that change? What will we hear from the region?

RIPLEY: Well, look, the United States has -- is very well aware that it needs to get Asian major economies, major militaries in line with the United States principles and the principles of democracy and defending democracy against an increasingly powerful, both economically and militarily authoritarian China.

And so you have the President here, laying out this new economic framework, which is to get, you know, help countries that have been clamoring for an opportunity to partner more economically with the United States. And of course, economic power also equates with diplomatic and with military power. And the United States has long been concerned that China has been using its economic, you know, its deep pockets to essentially kind of coerce other countries into falling in line with their view.

This is the United States now offering an alternative route for Asian countries that want to align ideologically with the U.S., but also are still reliant very heavily economically on China. BOLDUAN: John, what about this -- what do you what do you hear about this plan? What do you think about this from -- the way Biden put it was this framework should drive a race to the top, the details are not worked out. What is it?

HARWOOD: No. And it looks to be a pretty weak document at this point. Look, there was an ambitious agreement that was negotiated among a number of Asian countries by President Barack Obama, the Trans Pacific Partnership. Donald Trump pulled out of it. The -- there's strong Republican resistance, there's democratic resistance as well. You simply can't get a tariff reducing trade agreement through the Congress right now.

So I think this is an attempt at a substitute for that. There will be some economic elements to it, but it does not appear that it would change very much. We'll get some more details later. But it appears to be a fairly weak document.

BOLDUAN: But before I let you go, John, I want to ask you also, the President was asked about the concerns over the U.S. facing recession. Let me play that for you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In your view, is a recession in the United States inevitable?

BIDEN: No, our GDP is going to grow faster than China's for the first time in 40 years. Now does that mean we don't have problems? We do. We have problems with the rest of the world has, but less consequential than the rest of the world has been because of our internal growth and strength.


BOLDUAN: John, do you think that is the message now that it's bad, but we're not getting hurt as bad as other places in the world?

HARWOOD: Well, certainly we have problems. U.S. economy is not bad right now. It's growing, unemployment is low, but the risk of recession is elevated. And as the Federal Reserve moves more aggressively to try to ring inflation out of the economy, the risk is that they're not skillful enough, and it knocks the U.S. economy into recession. It's not likely to happen this year. It's possible to happen in 2023. And certainly a lot of business executives and some economists are expecting it.

It is a fraught situation because you've gotten the positive benefits you want in terms of growth and unemployment. But inflation is unacceptable, be high. And the Fed has decided that it's going to do something about it. It's dangerous.

BOLDUAN: John Harwood and Will Ripley, it's great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

So in an exclusive interview with CNN, South Korea's new president is emphasizing that his country's close security alliance with the United States, he's emphasizing that and that it will continue. But he also insists that China should not be overly sensitive about it. Let's get over to CNN's Paula Hancocks. She's live in Seoul with more on her interview. Paula, what else did South Korea's new president say?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it was interesting that we spoke to him on the same day that President Biden announced those 13 nations joining the Indo-Pacific economic framework. South Korea is one of those nations. And he is very positive about this economic framework that President Biden has put forward. We've certainly seen him supporting many of the economic decisions and investments into the United States.


Now, I did ask him about this. And he said that the reason he needed to be part of this and his country needed to be part of it, is because it was in their national interest. They had to be in it from the very beginning. But of course, the question is, this is seen as an economic counter to China. And China is South Korea's biggest trading partners. So I did ask him, does he think there will be an economic backlash from Beijing?


PRES. YOON SEOK-YOUL, SOUTH KOREA (through translator): Even if we strengthen our alliances with the United States and security and technology, it does not mean that we think our economic cooperation with China is unimportant. So I do not believe it is reasonable for China to be overly sensitive about this matter.


HANCOCKS: President Yoon Youl saying he believed that China should adhere to the rules based international order. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Paula, thank you so much for bringing us that exclusive interview, perfect timing.

Let's turn now to the nationwide baby formula shortage because the U.S. military transported a shipment of 35 tons of baby formula from Germany to Indianapolis. You're seeing some video from that just yesterday. But it will do very little to alleviate the crisis that are affecting that's affecting so many families all across the country, because none of this formula is going to end up on store shelves, though it is still very much needed.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live in Indianapolis with more on this. So Paula, it was great, it was a great sight to see that formula landing and touching down. But where is this formula going to end up?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, yesterday, I had an opportunity to speak to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was actually on the tarmac, representing the Biden administration, hoping to send a signal to desperate parents across the country that help is slowly trickling in at least in the form of 35 tons of baby formula for now. But what you mentioned is key, this is a special formula that is designed to meet the nutritional needs of children with special dietary needs, perhaps those who have allergies to the protein found in cow's milk.

The Secretary estimated that this particular shipment has the potential to benefit up to 17,000 children, according to what he's been told. But it will not help the millions of parents out there that rely on the general use formula, the kind of stuff that you'll find at your local grocery store where the shelves have been largely empty when it comes to formula. So what we're hearing from the Biden administration right now is that they are continuing to work with that on several fronts.

They're maintaining those conversations right now with other European manufacturers of these products, hoping to import that after USA approval into United States. And then a lot of attention right now is on that Michigan Abbott Laboratories plant that has been shuttered since February amid that recall and growing health care concerns or growing manufacturing concerns.

Over the weekend, we heard from Thomas Ford, the CEO of Abbott Labs, basically issuing an apology to parents across the country, and in making clear what their role has been in this formula shortage that has been felt now by many parents for weeks, perhaps even months, and promising some serious investments in that to try to get that back up. But finally, Kate, one more thing that I heard from the agricultural secretary yesterday here is that he believes that that plant will be back up and running back to full production in the coming weeks.

But it may be up to 30 days, according to the secretary before we finally get to see some abatement in this crisis. And that's for parents that have already been struggling for weeks, perhaps even months. So that's still 30 more days of waiting.

BOLDUAN: Yes, sure is. It's good to see you Polo. Thanks for being there.


Coming up for us, a big announcement coming from Pfizer on COVID vaccines for children under the age of five, so how soon could you get your youngest vaccinated, the details on that next.


BOLDUAN: Now to another step forward in the fight against the pandemic. Pfizer announcing that three small doses of its COVID vaccine produced a strong immune response in children younger than five, this preliminary data showing the three dose series is 80 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID. The drug maker is seeking authorization now from the FDA. This would be huge and would be the final group to finally get a vaccine if this happens.

Joining me now for more on this is Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and also the author of preventing the next pandemic. It's good to see you Dr. Hotez. So this has been a long and frustrating weight for families with kids under five years old. How big of a step forward is this announcement and this data coming from Pfizer today?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: So it's still preliminary, but it looks very promising and has to do with the fact that Pfizer, both Pfizer and Moderna had been looking at two dose data. And at least for the Pfizer vaccine, it's pretty clear that you need that third dose to give you that big bump in virus neutralizing antibodies. It shouldn't be too surprising. That was true, also of adults in the 12 to 17 year olds. And now it's also true of the under fives.

But it's good news because it's at a lower dose, a three microgram dose that's probably going to be safer than a higher dose for a little kids. And the fact that it's producing strong and robust immunity after three doses is all a very positive sign. There's still additional data coming in. The FDA will bring in their advisory committee, the VRBPAC Committee sometime in June. And I have now at least I have some optimism that this really is going to move forward and this will move the needle.

BOLDUAN: I did want to ask you about the dosage because the CEO of Pfizer tweeted this morning about the dosage of this shot saying that the new results, the way he put it is, show a dose that is only 10 percent of the adult dose provides tolerability similar to the placebo and strong protection against Omicron. Each dose is only 10 percent of what we got as adults. Does that track with most vaccines?


HOTEZ: It varies. You know, there's not that clear cut dose response curve with vaccines, like you see with small molecule drugs. So, sometimes even a smaller dose of the vaccine will give you actually a more robust immune response. And so the only way to know is to know and actually do the clinical trials. So you can make some best guesses and approximations, but you don't really know until you to do those clinical trials.

So I think it is good that this is giving you a robust immune response, at a much lower dose. It may reduce the likelihood of myocarditis, although we don't even know that for sure. But it's all pointing in the right direction, welcomed news that and I'm pretty optimistic that we'll move forward with three doses and a positive recommendation from the committee and then the CDC and then the CIP Committee as we head into June. So we could start vaccinating your kids at that point.

BOLDUAN: Into June. So mark your calendars once again. Can I also ask you about monkeypox because it's -- I have to say it's kind of hard to get a read how people should be thinking about this at this point, how concerned they should be because it seems experts and government officials are trying to strike a balance of concern and calm at the very same time. Let me play for you, the former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, because what he's saying about it today, he's saying it's not going to be a raging epidemic in his view, but he also says this.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: It doesn't spread through airborne transmission. But it seems to be spreading pretty widely right now in Europe. And it's confounding a lot of the experts and surprising a lot of people who've looked at this for a very long time who I've talked to over the weekend who are surprised how many cases are emerging.


BOLDUAN: What do you think?

HOTEZ: Well, I think we have to keep this in perspective, it is still a relatively small number of cases, both suspected and confirmed. You're talking about 200 cases globally, at least half of them in Portugal and Spain and the U.K. and then more than a dozen cases in Canada and three cases in the United States.

So when you're an early stage of an outbreak or an epidemic, you like to be cautious and not be overly pessimistic or overly optimistic. This is another -- this virus also has a much longer incubation period, meaning there's a lag between the time you're infected and by the time you start being -- you actually show signs and symptoms, often so roughly two weeks. So we'll have to see if the number of cases starts increasing significantly.

But I think what this should be remembered by relatively good news. One, it's not as easy to transmit, nearly as much as something like COVID-19 even compared to the original lineage of COVID-19. It's probably less transmissible. Second, remember, we have already in hand an armamentarium of antiviral drugs and vaccines for monkeypox. It wasn't set up that way. It was set up for -- in the case of a smallpox bioterrorist attack, but the U.S. and other countries stockpiled smallpox vaccines and there's three of them, two antiviral drugs.

So if this does get wider and start spreading, we have the ability to vaccinate locally populations to contain it. So and that's why I feel much more optimistic about monkeypox than anything close to resembling COVID-19.

BOLDUAN: I'll take that any day right now. It's good to see you Dr. Hotez. Thank you very much. I'd take that optimism for sure.


Coming up, top military leaders, there such a brief reporters at the Pentagon on the latest efforts to support and arm Ukraine. But they're also likely, of course, to face questions about the news that President Biden is making while overseas, that's coming up.


BOLDUAN: Very soon, top military leaders will be holding a press conference at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley, they're going to be briefing reporters on the war in Ukraine. They may also of course face some questions about President Biden's new statement that he would use military -- U.S. military -- the U.S. military to defend Taiwan if China invades. Let's get over to the Pentagon. CNN's Barbara Starr is standing by. Barbara, what do you hear in there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, good morning. Look, Austin and Milley rarely come out to talk to the news media. So it's a big deal that they will have a press conference today on camera just about one hour from now.


Why are they doing it today? Well, they have had a three -- they've just finished a three hour virtual meeting with military and defense representatives from 44 countries to talk about the situation in Ukraine. You'll remember just about a month ago they met in person in Ramstein to talk about aid to Ukraine, military weapons to Ukraine, what the alliances and partners could do to support Ukraine's war defense against Russian aggression.