Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Transcript E&OE

23 July, 2009

Interview - Sky News

Subjects: Stern Hu, Asia Pacific community, Jakarta bombings.

NEWSREADER: Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is hoping to meet his Chinese counterpart later today on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Thailand.

He intends to raise the case of the Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, who's been detained in China without charge for the past two-and-a-half weeks.

Stephen Smith joins us now, live from Thailand. He's speaking to Sky News political editor David Speers.

REPORTER: Stephen Smith, thank you for joining us. Have you secured a meeting yet with your Chinese counterpart?

STEPHEN SMITH: I fully expect in the course of the day to speak to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang, not just about the Stern Hu matter, but also on some of the other important matters that we're dealing with here.

Yesterday we had our ASEAN consultations and the East Asia Summit. Today we have the ASEAN Regional Forum where we've got 27 countries - so we've got over 25 Foreign Ministers here. I expect in the course of the day to speak to Foreign Minister Yang and I'm very happy at the end of day to let people know what's occurred.

REPORTER: Well, we'll get to those ASEAN talks shortly, but it is now two-and-a-half weeks since Stern Hu was locked up, he still hasn't been charged. Is this indefinite detention acceptable in your view, and what will you be saying about it to Foreign Minister Yang?

STEPHEN SMITH: What I've said to his Vice-Minister, Vice Minister He last week when I was at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egypt, was that we need this matter to be dealt with expeditiously.

Under Chinese law, which is what we're dealing with and the circumstances that Stern Hu finds himself him in is that there's no precise or set timetable from detention to a charge, so my...

REPORTER: Is that good enough in your view?

STEPHEN SMITH: ...Well, it is what we're dealing with. I've often made the point in this case and in others, that when Australians go overseas and they get themselves into difficulty, they have to deal and we have to deal with the law and the practice of the country that we're in.

So under Chinese law, he's detained, there's no set timetable for the bringing of a charge. But I will continue to make the representation that I've been making. Not just the representation that I've made to Vice-Minister He, but representations our officials have been making as well: in Canberra, in Beijing and also in Shanghai. That this is a matter which it is in everyone's interest to deal with expeditiously.

REPORTER: In other words, he should be charged or released, that's what you'll be saying to the Foreign Minister?

STEPHEN SMITH: I'll be saying that this matter should be dealt with under Chinese law, but it needs to be dealt with expeditiously.

I've also made the point, and I'm very happy to make it again, this is a difficult and sensitive matter, it's a complex case. We have a much better idea now as to the circumstances relating to Mr Hu's detention, but it's not going to be solved by one phone call as some people have been asserting, or indeed, one meeting or one conversation between a couple of ministers.

As I've said, this may well go for some time and our officials will continue to be assiduous in the representations we make about Mr Hu and his situation.

REPORTER: You've said that the investigation from the information you've received, it's clear it now relates strictly to claims of bribery, corruption and illegal receipt of information in relation to the iron ore price negotiations.

China is treating this as a case of stealing state secrets. Do you think China should be treating this as a state matter, or a commercial matter?

STEPHEN SMITH: That's one of the points that I made right from day one: that under Chinese law they take a much broader view than, for example, a country like Australia would about what a state secret is. Which is why in the very early period when there was not as much information around as there is now, there were questions of stealing state secrets, people contemplating notions of national state security.

That's now very much finely honed down to the area that you've described, the iron ore negotiations, so we would regard those as commercial or economic matters. They regard it, under their law, as potentially state secrets.

It's difficult for a country like Australia or for other nations with different legal systems, or different approaches to national security or state secrets to perhaps contemplate that. But this again leads to the point and the fact that Mr Hu may well now end up before a Chinese criminal or judicial or legal process. And we have to deal with Chinese law, and Chinese law does take a much wider view of those matters than Australia, for example, would, or does.

REPORTER: And some lawyers are saying if he is found guilty of stealing state secrets he could face life in jail. Is that a possibility?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well he hasn't yet been charged, so I'm going to wait and take this on a step by step basis. He's in detention. We will continue to make representations at all levels that it should be dealt with expeditiously.

If and when he is charged we will then have a much clearer idea about the precise nature of the charge, obviously, but also what possible penalties that he may be up for. But I don't want us to get ahead of ourselves. There's no point contemplating the range of penalties when we currently don't have any charges that have been laid against him.

REPORTER: Now if I can turn, Foreign Minister, to the Jakarta bombings. DNA tests have revealed the bomber at the Marriott Hotel was only 16 or 17 years old. The fact that children appear to be recruited to carry out these attacks is certainly shocking.

We know a lot of resources are going into finding the bombmakers and the terrorist leaders, but what about this recruitment issue? Is enough being done in Indonesia to look at what's being taught particularly in some of these Islamic schools?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two points. Firstly, I've seen a lot of speculation over the recent period and I've persistently and consistently said I'd much prefer to wait until we see the outcome of the final and complete investigation. And so there's been a lot of speculation. Some of it may be accurate, and some of it may be inaccurate. So it's always best in these matters to wait until the final determination and the exhaustive analysis of the Indonesian investigators.

Secondly, Indonesia has got a very good track record and we're very pleased with their efforts. On the one hand on bringing terrorists to justice, they've arrested over 200 terrorists over the recent period - the last half-dozen years or so - and brought more to justice than in any other country, so we're happy with that.

We're also very happy with the cooperation that we get with them at Australian Federal Police and other agency level.

They also are very heavily into counter-radicalisation, into interfaith dialogue and the like, and that's a very important part of what they're doing.

So we fully support their efforts on the counter-radicalisation front. We also fully support their efforts on interfaith dialogue and we make our own contribution to these matters, both regionally and also so far as interfaith dialogue and education is concerned in Indonesia, where we make a substantial contribution to the building of 2000 schools in Indonesia within the Indonesian mainstream education system.

REPORTER: Well, Jemaah Islamiyah's so-called spiritual leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir founded a boarding school in Indonesia which apparently teaches some of these radical views that he holds and he has refused to condemn the bombings on Friday and he has said that terrorism is justified in the war against infidels. Would you like to see more action taken against Abu Bakar Ba'asyir? Would you like to see his school shut down?

STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly let me make this point, I'm not proposing to respond in any way to any of his comments, because frankly I don't want to give them any dignity of a response. So I'm not going to dignify any of his remarks with a response.

We're very happy with the efforts that Indonesia is making across the board on this front. Of course, what occurs within the Indonesian education system, what occurs on Indonesian territory is a matter that goes to Indonesia's sovereignty as a nation state.

They're fully entitled to deal with education in the way in which they see fit, but across the board, whether it's their education system, whether it's counter-radicalisation, whether it's the efforts they make on interfaith dialogue, whether it's the counter-terrorism efforts they make through their police and intelligence and other operational agencies, we are very pleased with the work they do.

And for ourselves, we continue to regrettably make the point that there continues to be a risk of terrorism in Indonesia, in Jakarta and Bali. And we strongly condemn the events that have occurred and we continue to urge people to be vigilant about that.

But we're very pleased with the efforts the Indonesians are making across the board.

REPORTER: And Stephen Smith, a final issue, you're there in Thailand as mentioned attending the ASEAN and the East Asia Summit meetings of foreign ministers. You've been talking about spruiking Kevin Rudd's plan for an Asia Pacific Community. I'm wondering what sort of feedback you're getting and if you could explain what this Community could achieve at - that the East Asia Summit, that ASEAN and APEC can't achieve.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well if you look at the so-called regional architecture, the East Asia Summit, APEC for example, there's not one institution in the Asia Pacific where all of the key countries are in the room at the same time able to talk about both economic and investment and trade matters, but also talk about security matters.

For example, with APEC, India is not in APEC. In the East Asia Summit for example, the United States is not in the East Asia Summit. So our notion of an Asia Pacific Community is to get all the players in the same room at the same time being able to have both those conversations.

Now I was very pleased yesterday with the response we got. Our initiative, the Asia Pacific Community is a long-term initiative. What do we want to see that regional architecture like in 2020? And very many of the countries were pleased with the further information that we provided and made it clear that they were happy to have that conversation. I expect we will potentially see the so-called regional architecture evolve over time, just as ASEAN itself has evolved.

When ASEAN started in the '60s we had a half-a-dozen nation states and now today we see ASEAN: a grouping of 10 countries, but with the East Asia Summit, 16 and the ASEAN Regional Forum 26, 27. So that architecture has evolved. But certainly ASEAN will continue to play a central role in that. But as political economic and strategic influence moves to the Asia Pacific, we've got to make sure that the institutions that we have reflect that growth and that importance and that's the idea of the Asia Pacific Community.

REPORTER: Okay, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith from Thailand, thanks for joining us.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.

[End]

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