• Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Minister, perhaps first if we could, what is your response to the news out of North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: The statements by North Korea must be followed by verifiable steps, that they are going to comply with the numerous UN Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. In the past, North Korea has made promises and then failed to honour them so we need to see verifiable steps that it will abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

JOURNALIST: Is it a significant step, Minister, or is it overshadowed by your scepticism?

JULIE BISHOP: It is certainly a step in the right direction but we have seen this in the past, where North Korea makes promises but then fails to honour them. Let's hope that they will take verifiable steps to prove that they are genuine in abandoning their illegal nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing.

JOURNALIST: Isn't it a bit too late given that it seems clear that they have a nuclear capability? Suggesting that they won't continue is a bit late?

JULIE BISHOP: This has always been our concern, thatthe previous international policy of strategic patience enabled North Korea in defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions, to continue building capability in its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. However, the prospect of talks between North Korea and the United States is one that we must pursue, and it is a sign that North Korea may well be genuine in looking to denuclearise in the longer term, but we must remember that we have seen this before. We need to see verifiable steps before we can be optimistic about the outcome.

JOURNALIST: As part of the broader strategic view in the Pacific and in the Indo-Pacific, obviously North Korea is important. To what extent has Australia's attendance at CHOGM and also the role of Britain, France and Germany in expanding their influence in Pacific?

JULIE BISHOP: We welcome this renewed interest in the Pacific by not only Great Britain but members of the European Union. They've always been present in the Pacific but at this CHOGM, at this Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, it was apparent that Great Britain intends to take a much more global role and focus again on the Pacific. The announcement that they were opening three new Posts in the Pacific is something we welcome, and I must say the leaders in the Pacific are also very pleased and welcome this outcome that the United Kingdom will be opening three Posts in the Pacific.

JOURNALIST: Minister I understand that yesterday you met with the Zimbabwean Leader can you tell us what Zimbabwe's status with the Commonwealth is now and given the developments there do you see them coming back as fully fledged members?

JULIE BISHOP: Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson took the initiative of inviting a number of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, I was included in the number and the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Moyo, and the purpose of the meeting was to hear from the Foreign Minister what Zimbabwe intended in terms of political reforms and social reforms, such as that it could be considered for readmission into the Commonwealth. You will recall that after the Presidential elections in 2002, the Commonwealth Observer Mission, of which I was a part, advised the Commonwealth that the election was not free and fair, that it was marred by a high level of political violence, and at that time Zimbabwe was suspended for 12 months from the commonwealth. At the end of that 12-month period, President Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. So now under the new President, there is renewed interest and there will be an election in Zimbabwe in July. They have invited the Commonwealth to send an observer team and I think then we'll be able to see whether Zimbabwe is ready to be readmitted to the Commonwealth. It was a very good first step.

JOURNALIST: Minister, apologies if this has been asked before but with North Korea, does this mean Kim has blinked in response to pressure from the West?

JULIE BISHOP: I was saying earlier that following its statements, North Korea will have to take verifiable steps to show that it is genuine in abandoning its illegal nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing programs. So while we can cautiously note the statement, we need to see verifiable steps because in the past North Korea has made promises and then failed to honour them.

JOURNALIST: Does it indicate that pressure from Donald Trump has played a part, has been effective or pressure from Australia as well has been effective?

JULIE BISHOP: It certainly shows that the international campaign of maximum diplomatic, political and economic pressure is working. We have seen instances in the past where North Korea has started to change its rhetoric and take steps in response to the maximum pressure campaign. Australia was part of that. We imposed economic sanctions and we worked with other countries to impose what we thought was maximum diplomatic, economic and political pressure.

JOURNALIST: Just going to another country, Russia and its role. Do you think the pressure from the international community will actually have to ramp up given its shown little regard for the pressure that's been imposed so far?

JULIE BISHOP: We are concerned by the pattern of behaviour that's been shown by Russia in recent times, particularly its role in supporting the Assad regime and blocking numerous Security Council resolutions that are designed to support an independent investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And when Russia shields the Assad regime from an investigation into the use of chemical weapons that is absolutely contrary to its role as a permanent member of the UNSC. Russia has a unique responsibility as a member of the UNSC to uphold international peace and security yet its actions do not support that.

JOURNALIST: Minister one other question if I might on the South China Sea, the Prime Minister declined to comment on details on an ABC report suggesting the Chinese military had exerted some pressure on our Chinese warships going through there. Now if you wish to comment on that great, assuming you don't, how are our relations with China at the moment, specifically over our use of the South China Sea?

JULIE BISHOP: We have had a long standing difference of opinion with China over the South China Sea, but our position has been consistent both publicly and privately and that is there are numerous claims to territory in the South China Sea. Those differences must be resolved peacefully and if necessary through the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea processes – negotiation, arbitration, conciliation. We do not support unilateral action that would raise tensions in the South China Sea. This is a position that we have consistently stated publicly and privately.

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