ABC AM, interview with Sabra Lane

  • Transcript, E&OE
13 October 2017

JOURNALIST: Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us now from Seoul. Minister, good morning and welcome.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Sabra, good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: You've just visited the Demilitarised Zone, have you got any new insights?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, we are here because of the insights we can gain from a country that is most vulnerable and exposed to North Korean belligerence and Seoul is just over 50km from the DMZ which we visited yesterday. We met with the Head of the UN Command, we also spoke with General Brooks who is the Head of US Forces in South Korea, and we gained a very clear perspective of the rising tensions, the concerns of the forces stationed there, but also the commitment that we must all have to reducing tensions by a collective strategy of maximising diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea. I've had some very good discussions and I intend that they continue today when we meet with the Foreign and Defence Ministers of South Korea.

JOURNALIST: Australia's Ambassador to Korea says the two nations will be hoping to take its defence relationship to the next level through these talks. What would that look like?

JULIE BISHOP: We are here for the 2+2 meeting and that will focus on our excellent economic, defence and security relationship. We would expect to increase our defence cooperation with South Korea commensurate with the deepening of our overall connection with South Korea. So we are already conducting joint exercises in the Indo-Pacific, we will have defence forces visit South Korea, we will probably increase the level of engagement – we are looking to negotiate a closer defence and security relationship with South Korea. It's clear that resolve in South Korea has hardened as a result of the actions of North Korea and they are looking to strengthen alliances and partnerships with likeminded countries around the world, but particularly in our region.

JOURNALIST: Yes, Australia's Ambassador says there's talk of a new mini-lateral grouping involving Korea and Australia, aimed at solving some of the intractable problems that the big multilateral organisations have failed to address. What's this idea?

JULIE BISHOP: In fact we are part of a broader coalition in any event with the United States, and that collective strategy is to ensure that all nations fully implement the UN Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea's illegal nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests, and we will continue to work with other countries. But we also believe that the United States, South Korea, Japan and others in the region have a particular interest in resolving this issue with North Korea peacefully, and Australia is offering to work with any grouping, including bilaterally with South Korea, more broadly including with the United States, to assist in seeking to resolve the tensions and prevent North Korea from continuing its illegal ballistic and nuclear missile tests and also to bring it back to the negotiating table. That is the aim, to compel North Korea to come back to the negotiating table.

JOURNALIST: Lowy's Euan Graham suggests a good way of engaging North Korea would be for a retired Australian Defence Chief to be part of a DFAT delegation to Pyongyang to maintain a back channel to convey messages. Is that a good way forward?

JULIE BISHOP: There are many countries that already have an embassy or a mission in Pyongyang, Australia hasn't had one since 1974 so we work with other countries who do have a presence in Pyongyang but I believe that they have limited success engaging with the regime. I believe that the United States is rather advanced in its back channelling with North Korea and we'll obviously work with countries who have suggestions on how we can lessen tensions. So there's a view that Australia can play a positive and productive role, of course we will do so.

JOURNALIST: Myanmar, turning to Myanmar in our region. Should Myanmar be referred to the International Criminal Court in light of the UN assessment recently that what's happening there is a textbook case of ethnic cleansing?

JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply, deeply concerned by what's happening in Myanmar. During the recent UN General Assembly Leaders Week I met with a number of Foreign Ministers and including with the Myanmar National Security Adviser and reiterated our concern that those responsible for the violence must be held to account, we condemned any abuses of human rights and Australia has played a very active role in co-sponsoring the decision at the Human Rights Council.

JOURNALIST: (Interrupts) Yes but the reports of mass violence are continuing, would we think about raising or taking up this case before the Court?

JULIE BISHOP: What our focus is at present is the humanitarian crisis. We are advocating for greater access into Rakhine State, humanitarian access, in fact our Ambassador was part of a group of diplomats who visited Rakhine State on 2 October to get a firsthand view of the humanitarian needs, we have been a party to statements issued by that diplomatic group condemning the attacks, calling for an end to violence, urging the UN Fact Finding Mission to be allowed into Myanmar and calling for greater humanitarian and media access. We are of course concerned with the heavy burden that Bangladesh is carrying in accepting an unprecedented number of Rohingya arrivals. So our focus is about the acute humanitarian needs in Bangladesh and we will continue to work with other countries in resolving this crisis.

JOURNALIST: Minister, thank you for talking to AM this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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