Australia and Korea – A Partnership for the Future
7 May 2008, Korea Press Foundation, Seoul
Thank you for that introduction and thank you Chairman Park of the Korea Press Foundation, for hosting this event and extending me the honour of speaking today at the National Press Club.
It is my great pleasure to be in the Republic of Korea. This is my first visit to Seoul and I thank you for your warm welcome.
This afternoon I will visit the National Cemetery to honour the men and women who made great sacrifices building this country and defending its freedom.
A generation ago this country lay in ruins. All you need to do is drive through Seoul to see it now. It is a great city and a great nation. Your success is a testament to the spirit, resilience and courage of the Korean people.
17,000 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen fought in defence of South Korea during the Korean War and 346 died here. 281 Australians lie at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan. A further 44 missing Australians are commemorated on the memorial there.
Like so many Australian families, my own family has a personal connection to the Korean War. One of my uncles served here from September 1952 until September 1953, two months after the signing of the armistice.
Visiting the De-Militarised Zone this morning and later this afternoon visiting the National Cemetery, reinforces how our two countries are linked through history, reinforces how much we have both sacrificed for democracy and the right to live in freedom.
It is a source for pride that we have stood together for so long, including through some difficult times.
But as important as our historical ties are, we are even more closely linked today through the confluence in the way we see each other, the world and our aspirations for the future of our region.
It’s these shared aspirations I want to focus on today.
Close Friends and Regional Partners
Australia and the Republic of Korea are firm friends and close regional partners.
The first contact between our countries came in the 1880s, when Australian missionaries landed at Busan. Between 1950 and 1953, our soldiers were side-by-side during three years of bitter fighting. In 1961 we established full diplomatic ties and, since then, we have created an economic and strategic partnership built on strong shared values and interests.
Korea is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner and our third largest export market for merchandise goods. Korea is the third largest source of overseas students for Australia. In 2006-07 total trade in goods and services amounted to A$21 billion.
My home state - Western Australia - is the source of the iron ore that makes its way from Australia to Korea. Iron ore exports totalled just under A$2 billion in 2007. This comprises 60 per cent of Korea’s iron ore imports.
It is not widely known that Australia’s number one export to Korea is, in fact, crude oil – just over A$2.4 billion worth in 2007.
Coal exports totalled A$1.6 billion and comprise more than a third of Korea’s coal imports.
Western Australia is also a source of LNG. Despite Australia being a secure, reliable and cost-competitive supplier, Australia’s LNG exports to Korea in 2007 comprised only about 1 per cent of Korea’s LNG imports. This is an area where Australia is hoping to expand further, given Korea’s pressing demand for LNG and the Korean Government’s focus on energy security.
The trade relationship between our two nations is complemented by strong people-to-people links.One good sign of this is that Korea is now Australia’s number one source of working holiday-makers. Some 115,000 people of Korean descent live in Australia and a growing number of Australians are living in or visiting Korea.
We also have very active and cooperative bilateral business councils. The Australia-Korea Foundation is helping to build people-to-people ties, and in February the Foundation launched a new book to commemorate the contribution Koreans have made to Australia, through recording the lives of the early immigrants.
In short, it is a very good relationship. We are two countries confident in one another’s firm friendship.
The relationship today is such that the main challenge we face is in my view complacency, a tendency to take each other for granted and not push the relationship to deeper and better levels. When I look at our relationship, I see great untapped potential.
Our region faces challenges from which none of us are immune. Australia and Korea can and should contribute to the solutions. There’s much we can do to add depth to our relationship and this is why I’m here to meet President Lee, Foreign Minister Yu and their ministerial colleagues. Australia wants to and can do more with our relationship with Korea.
Similarities in our Approach to the World
Australia and Korea have a lot in common. We’re both democracies and market economies. We are committed to the security and stability of our region, and to the international order that is the basis for our peace and security.
President Lee’s inauguration address in February underlined how these commonalities extend to our approach to foreign policy. The President’s address noted the deep trust that exists between Korea and the United States and how Korea would work to strengthen this key alliance.
Australia too sees its strategic alliance with the United States as indispensable. It’s one of the three key pillars of our foreign policy. Australia values the role the US plays in regional stability. Like Korea, Australia sees the role played by the United States in the region as fundamental.
Through its alliances with the Republic of Korea, Japan and Australia, the role of the US in maintaining stability in our region has allowed the countries of the region to focus on economic development. Countries have been able to focus on competing for market share rather than competing for local or regional strategic superiority. Consequently, the Asia-Pacific region has led the world in economic development over the past three decades.
Closer engagement with the US will continue to give Australia and Korea the tools to meet the security challenges of the future.
As well, Korea and Australia are working with the United States and other allies in Afghanistan to prevent that country again becoming a safe-haven for terrorists, who pose a threat that extends far beyond the borders of any single country.
The second strand of our foreign policy, and another principle we have in common, is support for the United Nations and our commitment to do more to strengthen multilateral institutions generally. President Lee’s February address noted that Korea would more actively participate in United Nations peace-keeping operations and increase the level of its official development assistance.
Australia is a strong supporter of the United Nations. We are a founding member and we have contributed to more than 50 peace-keeping operations. Like Korea, we have taken a decision to seek election to a non-permanent Security Council seat for the 2013-14 term.
Australia has not been on the Security Council since 1986. This has been too long an absence and, as a committed United Nations member state, Australia is ready to make a contribution to this all-important body. We believe that Australia can play an important role in addressing the security challenges that come before the Council in a cooperative and consultative way.
Australia is committed to reinvigorating its relationship with the United Nations and, more broadly, engaging with member states on issues such as United Nations reform and developing common approaches to global challenges such as climate change and food security, which no state can resolve on its own.
Australia has also pledged to increase our official development assistance budget to a level of 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015. We believe it’s appropriate for prosperous countries to do more to help others in need and that’s also reflected by my announcement this morning to contribute A$3 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to Burma following the cyclone there.
Australia has had a strong working relationship with Korea in the UN. We strongly supported the appointment of Ban Ki-moon as UN Secretary-General. Australia supports the leadership that he is demonstrating. We look forward to further strengthening our cooperation at the United Nations.
The third pillar of our respective foreign policies is our shared focus on engagement in Asia and the Pacific.
President Lee’s inaugural address spoke of Korea placing priority on its Asia policy – particularly seeking peace and mutual prosperity with close neighbours, including Japan and China, and promoting exchange and cooperation. We welcome the steps taken to improve Korea’s relations with Japan, including the President’s successful visit to Japan.
Australia has important interests in the stability, openness and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific. Australia – like Korea – is a participant on a range of regional forums such as APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.
It was here in Seoul, nearly 20 years ago, in January 1989 that former Australian Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced the idea of APEC. Since then APEC has emerged as the key regional institution in which Australia and Korea have pursued our shared interests.
We welcome Korea’s engagement in the Pacific - through its role as a dialogue partner of the Pacific Islands Forum - and we look forward to working more closely together with Korea on Pacific issues.
In Asia, Australia shares Korea’s vital strategic interest in a peaceful resolution to tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The nuclear weapons of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea pose a significant threat to regional stability. Both our countries are committed to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. President Lee’s firm position on the DPRK – making economic assistance conditional on progress towards denuclearisation and an improvement in the DPRK’s human rights record, while keeping humanitarian aid unconditional, aligns closely with Australia’s policy approach.
Australia has suspended development assistance until the DPRK makes substantial progress towards denuclearisation and is meeting its commitments made in the communique of 13 February 2007. However, we continue to provide humanitarian aid on an unconditional basis, via the United Nations and other agencies. Since 1995 we’ve provided over $A66 million – including two million dollars in February this year.
Australia strongly supports the work of the Six Party Talks in tackling the security challenges posed by the DPRK. Given our vital interest in the security of the Asia-Pacific region, Australia looks forward to playing a greater role in wider regional security, particularly in any regional peace and security mechanism that may emerge from the Six Party Talks.
It’s not only security issues in which we have a shared interest. We are both beneficiaries of the rules-based multilateral trading system. It has delivered tremendous economic gains for both our nations, and it has made an important contribution to global poverty reduction.
Australia is working hard to promote a successful outcome to the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round of trade negotiations this year. Australia is pushing for improved market access across agriculture, industrial products and services.
The current economic climate underlies the urgency of reform: with the combined impact of instability on financial markets coupled with very high world food prices. Trade reform tends to advance in uncertain economic times – perhaps the imperative for reform is more obvious at those times. A conclusion to Doha will give a much needed confidence boost to the global economy – at a time of some uncertainty on global financial markets.
Of course, as well as doing more together in the region and making the most of our shared foreign policy approaches, we also want to do more bilaterally.
On the economic front, completing a Free Trade Agreement with Korea is among Australia’s highest priorities. Last month, the report of the joint non-government study into the feasibility of a Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the Republic of Korea was released. The report found a Free Trade Agreement could boost Korea’s GDP by up to US$29 billion – in the period 2007-2020, and Australia’s by US$22 billion over a comparable period. The report clearly showed that we could enhance our bilateral trade and investment relationship through an agreement that comprehensively liberalises bilateral goods and services. Such a high-quality agreement would build on our already strong trading relationship. It’s just one example of how we could add value to our partnership.
As I indicated, there are many aspects of our relationship - beyond trade and economics - that would benefit from closer cooperation between our two countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, Korea and Australia share not only fundamental interests but we have come, over time, to share values and common aspirations for the future.
Specifically, we share three important foreign policy priorities:
- a strong commitment to our respective alliances with the United States
- a recognition of the importance of the United Nations and the multilateral system, and
- a focus on further engagement in and enhancing stability of the Asian region.
These shared interests and aspirations provide the platform for us to do more together, particularly on the important issues of security and development. And they will help us do more to persuade other countries of the value of a strong multilateral trading system.
I look forward to discussing these and other issues with President Lee and Foreign Minister Yu, and their colleagues later today and tomorrow.
I am confident that our meetings will set the stage for Australia and the Republic of Korea under two new governments to re-energise our relationship and to find new ways of working together on issues so important to both our nations.