ABC 7.30 Report, interview with Leigh Sales

  • Transcript, E&OE
29 August 2017

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is with me. Thanks for coming in.

JULIE BISHOP: Pleasure. Good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: Do Australian intelligence and defence officials war game the possibility of a North Korean missile hitting Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: We do assess the risk and we calculate that Australia is not a primary target and Defence does assess the risk of Australia being the target of one of Pyongyang's missiles as low. However, we are deeply concerned at this recent, very provocative act on the part of North Korea. So we are spending a lot of time talking with our friends and allies to determine the extent of the risk posed by North Korea.

JOURNALIST: Are sanctions really going to curb North Korea's increasingly belligerent behaviour?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe this time the sanctions will have a dramatic impact. In the past sanctions have been applied to individuals and entities associated with North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. This time it's been the toughest most comprehensive set of sanctions endorsed by all P5, permanent five, members of the UN Security Council which involves China, Russia and others. But also it's across sectors of the economy. So the first time we're seeing sanctions applied to significant sections of the North Korean economy, for example, all its exports of coal, its number one export have been banned. All its exports of iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore, seafood have been banned. That will have a dramatic impact. That's worth well over a billion dollars to North Korea. So we are banning work permits for North Korean labourers in other countries, and that's also a massive amount of revenue for the North Korean regime. So this time the sanctions have to be applied universally and across the North Korean economy.

JOURNALIST: The use of sanctions though as a deterrent assumes that you are dealing with a rational enemy. Is that something we can assume in this case?

JULIE BISHOP: We can't assume that Kim Jong Un is irrational. In fact, I believe he knows exactly what he's doing. We have seen this pattern of behaviour from North Korea before. That is provocative acts, threats, risky, dangerous behaviour, and then they get the world's attention and they're back at the negotiating table. This time of course, North Korea has acquired much greater capability in terms of its ballistic missile testing and nuclear weapons capability.

JOURNALIST: So what do you want then, if you think he's not irrational?

JULIE BISHOP: What we have to work out is the conditions under which negotiations can recommence. We've been down this path before. North Korea acts provocatively, gains the world's attention, particularly the United States, and they're back at the negotiating table. Each time they lift the ante, they use whatever leverage they have, that's what they're doing now. I believe this most recent test, we think it's an intermediate range ballistic missile test, not an intercontinental, but nevertheless it was a serious escalation of North Korea's behaviour, I believe this was again to draw attention to its plight and force the United States in to sitting down and negotiating with it. We don't know what they're looking for now but we can certainly guess that they want equivalence, they want to be treated as a serious nuclear power.

JOURNALIST: There's another issue of rationality here and that is that for there to be global peace and stability you need to rely on a wise and rational leader in the White House. Is that something that Australians can have faith in at the moment as this plays out?

JULIE BISHOP: The United States is committed to what's called "extended deterrence" for its allies and friends and partners in the region and that means that the United States can be relied upon to ensure that no hostile acts of aggression are perpetrated against its friends and allies and that includes Australia. I've been speaking recently with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in fact as recently as last Friday, and I'm reassured that the United States remains committed to global peace and security. In the case of North Korea the tensions on the Korean Peninsula are solely the responsibility of North Korea. This is a nation that is in breach of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. What it is doing is illegal and we must use whatever political, economic and sanctions pressure we can, and diplomatic pressure, to make it change its behaviour.

JOURNALIST: What would have happened if North Korea had fired its missile and had landed on mainland Japan?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, Japan clearly assessed the missile's trajectory and they appreciated that it was not going to land on Japanese territory, although they had enough time, the Japanese Government, to warn local municipalities of the threat just in case debris from the missile fell on Japanese territory. They clearly assessed its trajectory, appreciated it wasn't going to land on Japanese territory but about 1,000km east of Japan, so they didn't shoot it down. Clearly had they assessed it was going to land on Japanese territory, they would have taken action to defend themselves.

JOURNALIST: But then how would that escalate in that sort of a scenario?

JULIE BISHOP: Clearly they would have shot down the missile.

JOURNALIST: But after that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it's terrible to contemplate the consequences, and that's why we must use all leverage, the Security Council in particular, to pressure North Korea into changing its ways. I believe it can be deterred and that was certainly the view of Secretary of State Tillerson. Political and economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea and bring it back to the negotiating table and find out what outcomes it is looking for this time.

JOURNALIST: Is there any way that we can know whether or not North Korea has already sold a nuclear weapon to a terrorist group?

JULIE BISHOP: The surveillance over North Korea, the understanding of its capability, its actions, is somewhat opaque. Few countries have detailed insight into North Korea's thinking – we look to China and to Russia, they have economic and diplomatic relations with North Korea but I'm not suggesting they have a complete oversight as to what this regime's doing. It is destabilising not only for our region but it is a global security risk.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, it would be good if I never had to have you back again to talk about this but I'm sure that that will not be the case. Thank you for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

- Ends -

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