Doorstop interview - Parliament House, Canberra

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government welcomes and strongly supports the unanimous decision of the UN Security Council yesterday to impose another set of tough and comprehensive sanctions on sectors of the North Korean economy. This is part of our collective strategy to impose maximum diplomatic, political and economic pressure on North Korea to ensure that it changes its calculation of risk, that it is deterred from carrying out any further ballistic missile and nuclear tests, and that it is compelled to return to the negotiating table.

Next week I will be in New York for the UN General Assembly Annual Leaders' Week where I will be holding discussions with counterpart ministers and leaders on how we can continue to ensure that the international community fully implements these additional sanctions on North Korea and ensures that North Korea is not able to evade the impact of these sanctions. It is overwhelmingly in Australia's interests to ensure that there is a peaceful resolution to the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, particularly given that three out of four of our major trading partners are in North Asia.

JOURNALIST: Minister, North Korean representatives have been quoted saying they reject the new sanctions and they are ready to use a form of "ultimate means". How concerning is that language?

JULIE BISHOP: North Korea is in violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. Its ballistic missile tests, its nuclear weapons program are illegal and in direct violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. The UN Security Council is united in condemning North Korea's actions and imposing sanctions, so the current tensions are being caused by North Korea's belligerent and threatening and provocative behaviour. We support the collective strategy of imposing maximum political, diplomatic, economic pressure on North Korea to make it change its behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Beyond sanctions, beyond economic measures, what are some of the diplomatic measures that Australia is pursuing to resolve the tensions?

JULIE BISHOP: As I just indicated, I will be attending the UN General Assembly Leaders' Week in New York next week, and I will be undertaking discussions with relevant counterpart foreign ministers and leaders on how best we can continue to impose maximum pressure on North Korea. This is a provocative, threatening regime that is carrying out numerous illegal acts, and those members of the Security Council who have economic relations with North Korea have the capacity to exert influence and leverage over North Korea to uphold the authority of the UN Security Council.

JOURNALIST: Is there frustration there amongst world leaders given that, you know, Pyongyang seems to be thumbing its nose at these sanctions?

JULIE BISHOP: We've been down this path before. This is what the North Korean regime does. It ups the ante, it increases its leverage so that it is in a better position to bargain with, ultimately, the United States. The important issue here is that the UN Security Council is unanimous – none of the Permanent Five exercised a veto. We now have the toughest, most comprehensive set of sanctions against North Korea ever and the additional bans on the importation of natural gas, on the export of textiles, reducing the oil available to North Korea, the complete ban on joint ventures with North Korean individuals and entities, expanding the powers to interdict ships carrying cargo to and from North Korea will all have an impact, as well as the prohibition on North Korean workers being able to work overseas and send remittances back to the regime that is being channelled into their illegal weapons programs.

JOURNALIST: We have heard North Korea's response to the latest round of sanctions, is there a risk that imposing more sanctions just makes the regime more desperate, potentially escalating the hostilities there?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, the alternative would be allow a rogue regime to continue down an illegal path that is in direct defiance of the UN Security Council. That is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to have an illegal nuclearised North Korean regime. So the weapons in our arsenal include diplomatic, political and economic pressure. We have seen this work in the past where North Korea ultimately comes to the negotiating table when the economic and political pressure and the condemnation of the international community is universal.

JOURNALIST: The Chinese state media is warning we might fall into an endless loop of tougher sanctions against North Korea which then produce, you know, more testing and more concerning sort of behaviour from North Korea. Is there a concern that China won't follow through on the sanctions that have been promised at the UN Security Council?

JULIE BISHOP: China has been a party to the UN Security Council resolutions of 5 August, which imposed the toughest and most comprehensive set of sanctions. China was party to that resolution and also to the one yesterday, and so China says it will fully implement the sanctions that it has signed on to and we fully expect it to do so. This is an issue for every nation around the world, maximum pressure must be brought to bear on North Korea so that it changes the calculation of its risk in relation to its behaviour.

JOURNALIST: If the situation escalates despite sanctions, what military options should Australia consider? What happens then?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is not considering options beyond diplomatic and economic pressure and political pressure that must be brought to bear on North Korea. We have got a long way to go in terms of economic sanctions. So far we have seen unanimity among the UN Security Council members, it was an overwhelming vote of 15-0 of the UN Security Council. All Permanent Five who have the right of veto are supporting tougher, more comprehensive sanctions on North Korea to make it change its behaviour, to compel it back to the negotiating table.

JOURNALIST: Was it disappointing from an Australian perspective, that the tougher sanctions sought by the US initially did not succeed at the UN level?

JULIE BISHOP: We are pleased that the sanctions that have been agreed have been imposed. While the United States made an ambit claim, if you like, there was certainly room for negotiation. The main difference was in relation to the embargo on oil. There is a view that if you completely prohibited the import of oil, then the entire economy would collapse and there would be humanitarian consequences on an enormous scale, but this ratcheting up of the economic pressure on North Korea is something that we welcome.

JOURNALIST: Do you share that view, Minister, and if the US and China actually got together and figured out a way for a so-called "soft landing" for the regime, is that not a decent pathway forward?

JULIE BISHOP: I have no doubt that the United States and China are discussing all options, not only through the forum of the UN Security Council, but bilaterally I have no doubt that China and the United States are looking at all options. When I am in New York next week for the UN General Assembly Leaders' Week meeting I will be pursuing some of those options with my counterpart ministers.

JOURNALIST: So in summary, your view on China's position at the moment, are you satisfied with their action to date? Are you unsatisfied? Is there room for improvement?

JULIE BISHOP: China has demonstrated its willingness to support the toughest and most comprehensive set of sanctions on North Korea to date. There has been some negotiation on how far they would go but it certainly leaves the door open for there to be further sanctions. China has said that it will fully implement all sanctions to which it has agreed and I take them at their word. China and Russia, in fact all members of the Permanent Five of the Security Council have a unique responsibility to uphold the authority of the UN Security Council, and that is a message that I have been sending to China, Russia and other members of the P5 for some time, that they have a responsibility to ensure that the authority of the UN Security Council is respected and upheld. North Korea is in direct violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. Its 6th illegal nuclear test was the most powerful and it is in direct defiance of the UN Security Council. So, the Permanent Five have a unique responsibility to ensure that North Korea respects and abides by UN Security Council resolutions.

JOURNALIST: And yet, Australia, Japan, United States, other countries are having to take out autonomous or secondary sanctions to make sure that that actually happens. Doesn't that show that China on its own isn't willing to enforce the sanctions?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a global problem, this is for the entire international community, and Australia calls on the international community to respect and uphold and fully implement the sanctions and to consider autonomous sanctions. Now in Australia's case, we have imposed autonomous sanctions on 37 individuals and 31 entities that we believe are associated with North Korea's illegal missile and nuclear programs. The sanctions being imposed by the UN Security Council at present are on sectors of the North Korean economy, banning the export of textiles, banning the importation of natural gas, banning the export of coal, iron ore, lead, seafood. This is on sectors of the economy. Up until 5 August, the sanctions on North Korea tended to be against individuals and entities. Now the UN Security Council sanctions are across important sectors of the North Korean economy. This is, I believe, a game changer.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just to Myanmar for a moment, is Australia investigating claims that the Myanmar military has been using landmines against civilians in that region, and does Australia have any role when it comes to training Myanmar's military?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia does not carry out any joint exercises with –

JOURNALIST: But any kind of training?

JULIE BISHOP: We don't carry out any joint exercises with Myanmar. There would be a level of engagement between the Australian Defence Force and Myanmar Defence Forces as it is part of ASEAN, we have a defence relationship with ASEAN countries and Myanmar is one of the 10 members of ASEAN. In relation to the reports on land mines, this would be a gross violation of international law if this is in fact occurring. I note that Myanmar is not a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty but nevertheless it would be a gross breach of international law. Australia is focusing our efforts on the humanitarian crisis, stopping the violence and supporting those most in need and that is what we are seeking to do through United Nations agencies. We have provided funding to the Red Cross in Myanmar and also to Bangladesh, where many of the refugees and those seeking humanitarian need are heading.

JOURNALIST: One of the main concerns is there no humanitarian program out of Bangladesh at the moment. Is there any role Australia can take when it comes into to taking some of the refugees who have been languishing there for up to seven years?

JULIE BISHOP: We are supporting Bangladesh through UN agencies including World Food and the International Organisation for Migration, we are providing funding. Since 2012, Australia has funded support to the tune of about $50 million, I made an announcement on the weekend for an additional $5 million for Myanmar Red Cross and for UN agencies in Bangladesh.

JOURNALIST: Just on Syria, Minister, there are reports as Raqqa is squeezed, there are as many as hundreds of ISIL fighters trying to get out through Turkey. Are you aware of Australians in that situation? Do you expect Australians to try and flee through Turkey?

JULIE BISHOP: We are aware of 100 or more Australian citizens who are either fighting with or supporting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and we are working with partners to ascertain their whereabouts and to track them. Should they survive – because a number of them have already been killed fighting for ISIS – should they survive and seek to return to Australia, we will be ensuring that we are tracking their whereabouts.

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