Interview with Sabra Lane - ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE

SABRA LANE: Australia's Foreign Minister JulieBishop is in Argentina for a meeting of G20 Ministers. She has had a meetingwith the Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the conference.Relations between the two nations have been a little bit strained lately andthe Minister joins us now from Buenos Aires. Good morning Julie Bishop.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning, goodto be with you.

SABRA LANE: You have met with your Chinesecounterpart Wang Yi. What did you discuss?

JULIE BISHOP: We spoke over thecourse of the G20 Meeting and then we had a formal bilateral meeting at the endof the G20 Meeting. It was very warm, and candid, and a constructivediscussion. It was quite lengthy - we chatted for well over an hour. Wediscussed a full range of issues and interests, both bilaterally and globally,on security, on trade, on economic issues, on specific matters like NorthKorea. So it was a very worthwhile discussion with Foreign Minister and nowSate Councillor Wang Yi. It is probably my twelfth formal meeting with him andwe talked about my next visit to China, and he said he was looking forward tohosting me for our annual meeting which this year will take place in Beijing. Wediscussed a whole range of matters of mutual interest and how to enhance ourComprehensive Strategic Partnership.

SABRA LANE: The relationship has been strained oflate. The Global Times recently described Australia's relations with China asamong the worst of all the western countries. Are relations normalised?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I wouldutterly reject that characterisation in any event, but we certainly had a verywarm and positive meeting, as I expected. I get along very well with ForeignMinister Wang Yi - we have known each other for a very long time. Australiawill continue to approach our bilateral relationship with goodwill, and realism,and pragmatism and open communication. Of course, Australia will always standup for our interests. We won't always see eye to eye on every policy with everycountry but it is how we manage the differences. While we stand up for ourvalues, and our interests, and our policies, we can disagree with friends fromtime to time. Most certainly, the relationship is strong and we discussed ways onhow we can cooperate further and even new areas of cooperation.

SABRA LANE: New areas? Did you convey any messageto the Chinese about the presence of a Chinese bomber on the disputed Paracels Islandson the weekend? That plane is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and it putsit in range of Northern Australia.

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I certainlyraised these issues with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as I have in the past.Australia's position has been very clear and consistent, and it is very wellknown to China. Our concern about militarisation of disputed features in theSouth China Sea has been the subject of a number of discussions and was againtoday.

SABRA LANE: Is it a provocative move given thatChina has previously promised that those islands would not be militarised?

JULIE BISHOP: We have raisedAustralia's concerns about militarisation in the South China Sea as part of ourenduring broad dialogue with China, and I don't believe China was surprised bymy raising it again today.

SABRA LANE: But it seems to be thumbing its nose atcountries like Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well China hasalso repeatedly made public commitments to exercise self-restraint in theconduct of any activities that it would complicate or might otherwise escalatedisputes. Many regional leaders at many regional forums for many years havebeen calling for there to be no militarisation of the South China Sea. That hasbeen a consistent statement of numerous regional leaders at numerous regionalforums.

SABRA LANE: Is the state of the relationship suchthat Australia is able to formally announce a visit by the Prime Ministerthere, later this year or that's still under negotiation?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the PrimeMinister would never announce the dates of a meeting this far in advance withany country, as far as I'm aware, until the actual dates are confirmed. Leaders' diaries change from time-to-time,depending upon domestic, and regional and sometimes global issues. So that's amatter for the Prime Minister's office to announce at the appropriate time. I expectto visit China soon. I certainly accepted Foreign Minister Wang Yi's invitationto visit Beijing for the purposes of our annual Foreign Ministers Meeting,which this year it will be in Beijing. Last year it was in Canberra. In factForeign Minister Wang Yi visited Australia twice last year and so I am lookingforward to visiting Beijing this year.

SABRA LANE: You have also met US Deputy Secretaryof State John Sullivan. The issue over the South China Sea and the principal offreedom of navigation were discussed there. What more can the US and Australiawork on cooperatively there?

JULIE BISHOP: In relation to theSouth China Sea, we will continue to exercise our rights to freedom ofnavigation and overflight under international law. We will continue to supportthe rights of others to do so. Obviously, this is a matter I also raised withForeign Minister Wang Yi that we will continue to maintain our right of freedomof navigation and overflight including in the South China Sea.

SABRA LANE: North Korea has threatened to back outof the June 12 talks. How important is China in making sure that the meetingstill happens in Singapore?

JULIE BISHOP: There are a numberof significant nations dealing with this issue, including South Korea, ofcourse, the United Stations naturally, and also China. I spoke about NorthKorea with both Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, and also with ForeignMinister Wang Yi, and we are hopeful that the summit will take place inSingapore. Indeed, I have just had a meeting with the Singaporean ForeignMinister as well and they are looking forward to hosting the proposed meetingbetween Kim Jong-un and President Trump in Singapore on the 12th ofJune. There is an expectation that meeting will proceed. There may be somechallenges along the way, but there is a clear ambition on the part of Chinaand the United States and others that there be full denuclearisation of theKorean Peninsula and that there be a pathway forward for a lasting peace on theKorean Peninsula. This was a discussion I have had with a number of theMinisters here including the Chinese Foreign Minister.

SABRA LANE: Are you confident that it will actuallyhappen? There are some critics who believe that Donald Trump has given too muchaway by agreeing to have a face-to-face meeting so early.

JULIE BISHOP: North Korea hasagreed to the meeting. I won't be surprised if it doesn't go ahead becauseNorth Korea has been making many promises over many years, and has not honouredthem, but the United States seems quite confident this will proceed. Mostcertainly, a lot of effort and energy is being put into this summit, not onlyby the United States but also by China, Japan, South Korea, Australia andothers. We certainly have been talking to other nations about the necessity tobring North Korea back to the negotiating table. In the meantime, of course weare all committed to maintaining the economic, diplomatic and politicalpressure on North Korea because I believe that that is one of the main reasonsthat we have seen North Korea take steps to return to the negotiating table.Whether it lives up to the commitments it made in the Panmunjom Declarationremains to be seen.

SABRA LANE: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop thanksfor joining AM.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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