APEC Ministerial Meeting, Beijing - press conference

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning everybody. This is my second day here at the APEC Meeting in Beijing. It was a very productive day yesterday during the plenary sessions and I had a number of bilateral meetings yesterday. This morning we began with an informal breakfast of just Foreign Ministers, and this was an opportunity to discuss some issues beyond the more formal APEC agenda. We discussed security issues including terrorism, the situation in Iraq and Syria. We spoke about Ebola and a number of other security issues.

I've just concluded a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and we discussed a range of issues, including our commitment to support the Iraqi Government to fight ISIL. We talked about our commitment to assist with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and our work together in APEC , the East ASIA Summit and the G20 and we very much welcome that President Obama will be attending all three meetings.

I also had my first formal meeting with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Foreign Minister Marsudi, and we spoke about the ways we can enhance the already strong relationship between Indonesia and Australia and we have met on previous occasions, and we get along very well, and I'm looking forward to having the same kind of strong personal connection with Foreign Minister Marsudi as I did in the past with Foreign Minister Natalegawa.

After this press conference I will be returning to the APEC Plenary but I also have more bilateral meetings this afternoon, including with the Foreign Ministry of Japan, Fumio Kishida.

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Minister did the Indonesian Foreign Minister raise any issues or concerns relating to Australia's immigration policies?

JULIE BISHOP: No, we discussed the Bali Process more generally and committed to continuing to work closely and through the Bali Process - we are co-chairs of that. And we discussed the number of meetings and dialogues and connections that Australia and Indonesia have and that includes co-chairing the Bali Process. So we committed anew to ensure the Bali Process continues to work with countries of origin, transit countries and destination countries. It was a very positive discussion.

JOURNALIST: What if anything did she raise or say to you about Australia's policy specifically about turning boats back?

JULIE BISHOP: That did not come up. We spoke about the Bali Process. We noted that the people smuggling trade had been significantly dismantled, and that both Australia and Indonesia were beneficiaries of that outcome.

JOURNALIST: What did the Secretary of State tell you about the issue of 1500 military advisors to Iraq and Syria?

JULIE BISHOP: We talked generally about Australia's contribution and I explained the steps that I had to go through to ensure that we have the appropriate protections for our Special Forces when they are in Iraq, advising and assisting the training of Iraqi's Security Forces. We spoke more generally about what will be needed, the timeframe in order to combat ISIL. We talked about the work the Australian Special Forces will be doing. So we didn't go into specifics about what the US is doing. We are part of their planning and operations in order to support the Iraqi Security Forces, have the capacity and capability to take back territory and defeat ISIL, wherever and however it appears.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried though that this reflects the slippery slope in Iraq. That we've now seen another 1500 US troops having to go in there.

JULIE BISHOP: I don't think that anybody was under any illusion that this would be easy. ISIL is well funded, well resourced. Apparently 16000 fighters or more from 80 different countries have joined ISIL's forces in Syria and Iraq. So it will take time, it will take the effort of a number of countries, and in fact I have met with the Vice Foreign Minister from Singapore today and congratulated Singapore for providing some resources to help in the fight against ISIL. So countries across the globe see this as a threat to their own security, and are prepared to assist the Iraqi government to try and stamp out ISIL in that country.

JOURNALIST: Minister you say that you discussed with the Secretary of State the timeframe required to deal with ISIL. Broadly what conclusions did you and he come to on that issue?

JULIE BISHOP: We were talking about the steps that would be needed, to be undertaken over time to win back territory, to crush the leadership of ISIL and dismantle it and these are obviously operational matters, but there is a general timeframe that the United States and its partners in this effort are working towards.

JOURNALIST: Which is broadly until you can say mission complete?

JULIE BISHOP: When you are dealing with an ideology it is very hard to know what a completed mission would look like. We discussed this as well, that not only are we dealing with the physical situation, we are also dealing with a mindset, and the radicalisation of particularly young and vulnerable people from countries around the world is something that we all have to deal with. This was also a topic of discussion at the Foreign Minister's informal breakfast meeting this morning, working with, particularly Muslim communities. I noted the very positive contribution in condemning ISIL from former President Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Najib from Malaysia. When leaders of mostly Muslim countries condemn ISIL and join with the United States and others in seeking to find ways to dismantle, not only the ISIL force, but the ideology and present an alternative narrative, then that's a matter for all countries to be engaged in.

JOURNALIST: Did you raise China's contribution to combatting ISIS when you met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes we had a discussion about that and again, China will obviously speak for itself, but Foreign Minister Wang Yi explained that China is also worried about the number of foreign fighters who might be leaving China to fight in Syria and Iraq. We talked about how we can co-operate, share information and intelligence and work together to combat terrorism wherever we see it.

JOURNALIST: Should they do more? Should China do more militarily?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I believe that the United States has been pleased with the level of response that it has had from a number of countries and, as I said, Singapore for example has just announced that it will be providing support, New Zealand has now announced that it's providing support, so there are dozens and dozens of countries now providing support that is proportionate to their involvement, or the way they see the threat, and I believe that Australia has done precisely that. We have offered up support that is crucial but it is also proportionate.

JOURNALIST: Minister as of a couple of days ago Australian Special Forces still hadn't begun their work. Has that changed in the last couple of days and if it hasn't how frustrating is it that it seems to be a bureaucratic delay for the Australian Government?

JULIE BISHOP: We understand that this new Iraqi Government faces many challenges. I spent a little time in Baghdad and during that time I met with a number of the ministers and senior leadership in Iraq and they face an inordinate number of challenges. So we're working methodically with them to ensure that our Special Forces are given the appropriate protections. The agreement is in place, the administration may be slower than we'd like, but I'm certain that our people will be doing what they were sent there to do in very short order.

JOURNALIST: On another issue, the Kremlin has confirmed the Prime Minister will meet the Russian President in a couple of days here on the sidelines of APEC. What groundwork are you doing for that meeting, if you are doing any in the next couple of days? Will you see Sergei Lavrov here in advance of that meeting?

JULIE BISHOP: That's still to be agreed. I've seen the Vice Minister, Morgulov. He's been here for the last couple of days I believe, Foreign Minister Lavrov has just arrived. He's meeting with US Secretary Kerry at present. If there's an opportunity to speak with Sergei Lavrov I will. I know him, I've met him on a number of occasions so no doubt we'll have a discussion on the sidelines here.

JOURNALIST: How cordial would that meeting be if it did take place Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: With Sergei Lavro? Very cordial. I've seen him recently in Milan. I, you might recall, had a meeting with President Putin in Milan at the Asia European meeting and that was very cordial. I made my points. I raised issues that I believe needed to be raised with Russia; but I'm looking forward to the Prime Minster and President Putin having a meeting.

JOURNALIST: This meeting between the Prime Minster and President has been quite celebrated because of some of the language around it. Are you worried as our Foreign Affairs Minister that that might have done significant damage to our relationship with Russia, or if not how would you couch that relationship with Russia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well since the phrase 'shirt-front' was used I understand it's now entered the diplomatic lexicon of many countries! And I have met with President Putin since that time and we had a very cordial discussion about the issues of concern over the MH17 crash site, over the situation in Ukraine. I've had that discussion with President Putin and it was a perfectly cordial discussion. He was engaged, he listened, we talked for about half an hour, part of the conversation was in English and then the rest of it was through an interpreter, but it was a very engaged discussion.

JOURNALIST: Has there been any indication that he will move on allowing greater access to the MH17 crash site?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the Dutch and the OSCE representatives have been back on to the crash site since my conversation with President Putin. They have collected more remains, and as Prime Minster Rutte said in Australia just in the last few days, more remains have been located and so the process of identification continues and we are also concerned about the investigation into the cause of the crash and identifying those responsible. And that will include I understand taking the wreckage from the site to the Netherlands so there will still need to be access to that site. We are concerned that with winter approaching that the site be preserved to enable that to happen.

JOURNALIST: Did President Putin give you any indication he would be more open to that?

JULIE BISHOP: As I indicated at the time of my meeting with President Putin, I asked for Russia's assistance, indeed I urged Russia to provide assistance in influencing the separatists to enable safe access to the site and since that discussion some Dutch representatives and the OSCE have had access to the site so we will continue to urge that we have free unfettered access to the site.

JOURNALIST: So Minister is it your judgement that Russia has done pretty much what it reasonably can do in the circumstances or are you of the belief there is still a very large gap between what it can do and what it is doing?

JULIE BISHOP: We are concerned that this site is still not safe - from time to time representatives are able to get there but the environment is still not safe - so the ceasefire has not been adhered to and there have been occasions when we've wanted to go out, our Federal Police have wanted to go out onto the site, but it's been deemed too unsafe to do so. So of course there's more Russia could do to influence the separatists to cease the hostilities particularly around the crash site.

JOURNALIST: What plans does Australia have or how do you think Australia and China can cooperate together to strengthen the connectivity, like people-to-people communication?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes we are absolutely delighted that China has agreed to be part of Australia's New Colombo Plan in 2015. This is an initiative of the Abbott Government to send Australian undergraduates to study and live and work in countries in our region. We had a pilot program in 2014 that was very successful and in 2015 we want to roll it out across the region and 38 countries have agreed to be part of our New Colombo Plan and accept Australian students. China was one of the first countries to agree to be part of it. It will be a very popular destination for young Australians; and we're looking forward to hundreds of students in the next couple of years, indeed running to thousands of students from Australia, living, studying and working in China under the New Colombo Plan.

I think this will be a demonstration of the deep engagement Australia wishes to have with China - investing in our young people. And of course we have a significant number of Chinese students studying in Australia. So this two-way exchange amongst our young people I think is a perfect example of the kind of connectivity and people to people links that APEC speaks about.

JOURNALIST: Minister how important from Australia's perspective is a possible meeting in the next couple of days between the Chinese President and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe given the level of territorial tensions that have gone on between those two [inaudible]?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is very pleased that there is a meeting scheduled between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Abe. There have been a number of issues of concern between the two countries and I think this is an opportunity for those issues to be aired by the respective leaders and we look forward to a constructive outcome from that meeting.

JOURNALIST: What are the obstacles do you think in strengthening the connectivity?

JULIE BISHOP: Obstacles? There are many and I guess that's why APEC is such an important meeting. Labour mobility is an issue, some of the barriers to trade that we are seeking to break down, there are a number of areas where we would better facilitate business flows, in terms of visas and immigration requirements and I think APEC has shown the way in a number of areas. The APEC Business Card has enabled about 150,000 business people to travel around the APEC area more freely and we'd like to see that extend beyond just APEC.

Will Australia join the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank this year, or when will it be joining? And will Australia and China sign a Free Trade Agreement at APEC or later this year?

JULIE BISHOP: Just on the Free Trade Agreement, negotiations have been continuing for quite some time. You might be aware that the idea of our Free Trade Agreement was first mooted by the Howard Government in 2005 so there have been negotiations going for quite some time, admittedly not as intensely as they have been in the last 12 months. But the Abbott Government is determined to engage with China for a Free Trade Agreement. On the Chinese side there has been a great deal of goodwill and I understand that our negotiators are very pleased with the process. If the agreement can be concluded by the time of the G20 we would be delighted but we're not pursuing an agreement for the sake of an agreement, it has to be in our national interest and to the benefit of Australian businesses and exporters and the same with China. So we are delighted with the progress that's been made to date but until everything's agreed, nothing is agreed. So I can't give you a timetable on that.

Just on the Asian infrastructure bank – Australia has not signed up at this stage but we are continuing to discuss the structure of the bank, the governance arrangements and the shareholding of the bank so there are a number of issues that still need to be clarified from Australia's point of view. We do hope that China will be able to meet our concerns, meet our needs, and indeed that the bank will be a very inclusive bank with appropriate governance arrangements that will add to the infrastructure needs and requirements of this region.

JOURNALIST: Minister, how supportive will Australia be in this meeting of China's preference for an APEC-wide free trade zone as opposed to the other models? Are we supportive? And if we are not isn't that a little contradictory given our loud support of free trade in recent years?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I can put your mind at rest. We are indeed supportive of it and I've been working with China to assist in promoting the idea. Australia is an open, export-orientated market economy and we promote free trade, trade liberalisation, greater trade facilitation wherever we can. So we don't see it as mutually exclusive to other arrangements. We see TPP and RCEP as both part of this momentum towards an APEC dream of a free trade area for the Asia-Pacific. So we are promoting efforts to liberalise trade, to open up markets and provide more market access wherever we can and that includes through China's initiative.

JOURNALIST: Was the issue discussed with John Kerry at all?

JULIE BISHOP: We discussed the TPP - and we are keen to continue negotiating through the Trans Pacific Partnership but we're also keen to continue being part of the RCEP initiative which is being promoted by China and the idea of a free Asia-Pacific trade zone has been an ideal of APEC for decades.

JOURNALIST: And both might eventually come to fruition?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I hope all three – RCEP, TPP and that will culminate in a free trade zone, a free trade area for the Asia-Pacific and that is certainly something Australia supports.

JOURNALIST: Would you expect any breakthrough this session on TPP or on [inaudible]?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I know our negotiators are working very hard on all of them and they have been doing some amazing things in recent times. Australia is very pleased with the progress that we have made over the last 12 months in negotiating free trade agreements with Japan and with South Korea, indeed, my Japanese counterpart Foreign Minister Kishida told me yesterday that the last hurdles in relation the Japan-Australia Free Trade Agreement had gone through their Parliament this last week . So we're very pleased with the progress that our negotiators have made in a number of free trade agreements so I'm maintaining my optimism that there can be further progress in TPPs and other agreements that are under negotiation.

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