ABC AM - interview with Sabra Lane

  • Transcript, E&OE
19 September 2017

JOURNALIST: Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, is in New York. She will deliver an address to the UN General Assembly later this week. There are two key issues for world leaders to deal with right now: North Korea and what the UN says is ethnic cleansing of mainly Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thank you for talking to AM.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure. Good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: The United States' representative to the UN says the United States has pretty much exhausted everything it can do at the United Nations regarding North Korea. How close is the United States to running out of patience?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe there is more that we can do in exerting political, diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea, and as the sanctions have only just been announced and agreed, I believe they need time to work. I am of the view that North Korea can be deterred from its current illegal behaviour in testing missiles and nuclear weapons but it will need further economic pressure in order to compel it back to the negotiating table.

JOURNALIST: If the world is to apply maximum pressure, why aren't the full range of sanctions in use now?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I believe that the sanctions that were imposed on 5 August and 11 September are the toughest and most comprehensive set of sanctions ever imposed on North Korea - but they do need time to work. For example, a complete ban against textiles or coal, lead, iron ore, seafood from North Korea will take some time to have the economic impact back in North Korea. And another sanction, relating to the prohibition against North Korean workers, will also take some time as current contracts will be allowed to be completed. So it is a long-term process, but I still believe that North Korea can be deterred from its current behaviour and compelled to come back to the negotiating table if sufficient economic pressure is applied universally.

JOURNALIST: North Korea has warned that UN sanctions are 'the most vicious, unethical and inhumane act of hostility' - that more sanctions and pressure will only accelerate its nuclear weapons program. How likely is it that that North Korea will willingly give up these capabilities?

JULIE BISHOP: Well we have to keep this in perspective. The illegal behaviour is in fact that of North Korea and the sanctions are only imposed because North Korea is in direct defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. We have been calling on the UN Security Council, particularly the permanent five members that includes the United States and China and Russia, to ensure that these sanctions are fully implemented and that the authority of the UN Security Council is upheld in the face of the defiance of North Korea.

JOURNALIST: How helpful is it to the world's efforts to contain Pyongyang when President Trump refers to Kim Jong-Un on social media as 'Rocket Man'?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, the focus has to be on North Korea's behaviour. North Korea's behaviour is illegal, in defiance of international law.

JOURNALIST: But does that help?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the issue is North Korea's behaviour. Clearly the United States will deal with it as they see fit. Australia's interest is ensuring that maximum economic pressure is brought to bear on North Korea and that's what we are focussing our energies on here at UNGA Leaders' Week - the UN General Assembly Leader's Week - where the issue of North Korea is, of course, dominating discussions.

JOURNALIST: Is the best hope for the world that the US and its allies are able to contain and deter Pyongyang, like the United States did with the USSR and China during the Cold War?

JULIE BISHOP: What we are looking to do is have a very broad, universal level of support for the sanctions because North Korea is not just a threat to the region, it is becoming a global threat. And to fire missiles over the territory of another nation is dangerous and risky and threatening and illegal in this instance, and so we are going to continue to work with other countries. But it has to be the whole international community applying diplomatic, political and economic pressure on North Korea to make it change its behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Turning to Myanmar: the UN says it's a textbook case of ethnic cleansing. What do you think is unfolding there?

JULIE BISHOP: I have just attended a meeting that was called by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with a number of nations, to discuss this very issue. The National Security Adviser of Myanmar was present and he heard the representations from all ministers present, including the one I made on behalf of Australia about ending the violence, allowing the Rohingyas to return to Rakhine State, allowing humanitarian access and support. The message is very clear: that the violence must stop. There must be a cease-fire. Humanitarian aid must be allowed into Myanmar and also to Bangladesh, where about 400,000 Rohingyas have sought sanctuary.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about the level of violence that's occurring, then?

JULIE BISHOP: We need to have verifiable and independent analysis of what's happening, because there are conflicting reports and the Myanmar Government is denying that certain matters are happening, whereas there are reports allegedly from on the ground as to what is happening. Without question, though, about 400,000 people have sought sanctuary in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh is carrying the burden of this flow of refugees. So clearly something is gravely wrong in Rakhine State, and that's why we all came together today to discuss ways to find a solution to this problem. There are so many lives at risk here that the international community must act. It's not just a regional issue: it's a matter for the international community. That's why I attended this meeting to hear from the representatives from the Myanmar Government.

JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed that Aung San Suu Kyi hasn't said more about what is unfolding in Rakhine State?

JULIE BISHOP: I raised that this afternoon and I understand that she is to make a national statement this evening, New York time: a State of the Union address. I am assured that she will address the issue in Rakhine State, so there is a considerable level of expectation as to what Aung San Suu Kyi will say.

JOURNALIST: Given 400,000 people have fled the country as a result, there is talk of it being a humanitarian crisis with that number of refugees. Would Australia consider possibly taking some of those as part of our humanitarian intake?

JULIE BISHOP: It is a humanitarian crisis when 400,000 people leave one territory and go into another, as has happened with Bangladesh. It clearly is a crisis and we want to see the UN in there. I understand Myanmar has agreed for the International Red Cross to start dispensing humanitarian aid. Australia has announced today a further $15 million in humanitarian support, particularly to Bangladesh because they are having to host this enormous number of fleeing Rohingyas. So we want to see a cease-fire, an end to the violence, and then for the Rohingyas to be able to return to Rakhine State, and that was the collective view around the table of ministers: that we want to see the Rohingyas return to their home. So I'm afraid there is going to be considerable discussion here about the best way to achieve that, but nevertheless, the international community appeared to be united in its concerns to ensure that Rakhine State is stabilised and we can bring peace and security to it.

JOURNALIST: What priority will you highlight when you address the assembly later this week?

JULIE BISHOP: I will be focussing on the international rules-based order, on our commitment to ensuring that nations abide by the international rules that have served us relatively well for the past 70 years. So I will be talking about Australia's commitment to upholding the rules-based order.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, thanks for talking to AM.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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