Japan National Press Club Q&A, Tokyo

  • Transcript, E&OE
16 February 2016

JOURNALIST: Mr Bando of Mainichi Shimbun, moderator. I heard you are going to China after this visit. Your prime minister changed last year and our focus has been whether or not there will be changes in the Australian diplomatic policy toward Japan and that toward China. I don't know if this is the best way to put it, but which is more important to Australia, your relations with Japan or with China?

JULIE BISHOP: Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull made a visit to Tokyo last December, he met with Prime Minister Abe, they discussed in the most positive and engaging way on the range of issues that our region, indeed our globe faces and they reaffirmed the special strategic partnership that exists between our two countries and made a number of announcements including affirming the initiatives that had been proposed under the foreign and defence 2+2 meeting in Sydney in November.

Prime Minister Turnbull is yet to visit China, but I believe he will do so, hopefully before the budget in May this year. Under the Turnbull government, we will continue to broaden, deepen and enhance our relations with our friends and neighbours in this region.

Prime Minister Turnbull will continue to give priority to the Japanese special strategic partnership, as we give priority to comprehensive strategic partnership that we have with China. We don't believe that either nation is asking us to choose, or to place a priority over the other. Australia believes we are well placed to embrace constructive relations with all of the countries in North Asia and can play a constructive role in balancing the interests, economic and strategic of nations in the region. The fact that I have visited Japan five times in my time as Foreign Minister underscores the importance that we place on this relationship and that should be self-evident including the very strong constructive personal relationship that I have with Foreign Minister Kishida, and other members of the Japanese government.

But we don't think it's helpful to seek to prioritise friendships. Australia seeks to be friend to all and to ensure that we play a positive and constructive role in managing the different influences in the region with our overall priority in terms of Australia's national interest to ensure greater peace, prosperity and stability in our part of the world.

JOURNALIST: One more question from me. You mentioned about the submarine project. Was there any progress with the Japanese side during your Japan visit? We heard that the United States also supports the Japanese submarine technology. Are there any obstacles when choosing the Japanese submarine bid?

JULIE BISHOP: First, I should say the United States has said publically that it recognises Australia's sovereign right to determine the outcome of competitive evaluation process for a new submarine fleet. I had met with the Foreign Ministers of all three countries, who have put in bids for our future submarine program. I have spoken to Foreign Minister Kishida about it, and he certainly advocated strongly on Japan's behalf, as have the foreign ministers of France and Germany. There is a competitive evaluation process underway; we thank Japan and the other bidders for taking part in this process.

At present, the three bids are being analysed and considered by a team of experts. We have what's called the future submarine program office who is carrying out this evaluation. We are at the stage of what is called clarification process, that is, a team of experts are seeking clarification on certain aspects of the prospective bids. But I think all three bidders understand Australia is seeking to have the highest quality, capability that we are able to achieve, that we also see a significant role for Australian industry and that we are focusing on capability, quality and cost obviously, as being issues that will help determine the evaluation. But it has sometime to go, once the evaluation process has concluded, I believe there will be recommendations to our national security committee, which is a subcommittee cabinet and then, our cabinet will make a decision as to the international partner that will help build Australia's new submarine fleet.

JOURNALIST Ms Kidera of Nikkei. I have two questions. One is about North Korea. We heard that Australia is considering its own sanctions against the regime. What would they look like?

Another [question] is about the South China Sea. We heard that you plan to ask China about its recent activities in the area. In that case, what would be the satisfactory answers from China? The country has been claiming its rights, saying that it has a historical legitimacy over the area. Are such explanations acceptable to you? Do you think there is a possibility that Australia might take part in freedom-of-navigation operations conducted by the United States in future?

JULIE BISHOP There is quite a few questions in that one question. First on North Korea.

Australia immediately condemned the provocative, destabilizing and dangerous actions of North Korea in launching a ballistic missile and we reject the notion that what it was doing was launching a satellite to gather weather information. This comes hard on the heels of its fourth nuclear test which if claimed was thermo- nuclear device, so there is inconsistency with its public statements about what it has been doing. We join with the international community in condemning the behaviour and we call on the North Korean regime to focus its efforts on its long suffering people, rather than spending time, money and resources on developing nuclear and ballistic missile weapons.

We have implemented all of the United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea; we also have our own autonomous sanctions. Given to United Nations Security Council is still seized of a proposed resolution on further sanctions, having committed to taking further significant measures, a number of countries have considered, or are implementing autonomous sanctions including, I believe, United States, Republic of Korea and Japan also announced additional sanctions. Therefore Australia is considering what individuals or organisations could be subject of autonomous sanctions in addition to the sanctions regime that is already in place.

We must ensure North Korea is in no doubt that the international community condemns its actions and its behaviour is unacceptable to the region and to the global network.

In relation to the South China Sea, I know that President Xi said in Washington that China did not intend to militarise the islands and, therefore, I will be seeking further details from China as to what it proposes to do with the reclamation and construction work that it has undertaken. China has said in the past that these would be public goods; I wish to know how other countries can access these public goods.

We don't take sides on the competing claims in the South China Sea, but we do await the outcome of the arbitration brought by the Philippines. We recognise the right of the Philippines to seek to resolve the matter through arbitration, but we urge all claimants to settle these disputes peacefully, without coercion, without intimidation, and we support the ASEAN efforts to put in place a code of conduct.

Australia takes our right to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight seriously and we'll continue to exercise that right in international waters around the world.

And the South China Sea is of particular interest to us because much of our trade passes through the South China Sea, so we'll continue to exercise our right to navigation and overflight as we have done for many years, in accordance with international law, in international waters through the South China Sea.

JOURNALIST My name is Nobuhiroko from Reuters Tokyo.

You emphasised the significance of the strategical importance of trilateral relationship in United States, Japan and Australia. How would the submarine program, considered in terms of strategic importance, I think Japan would be the only option for Australia.

JULIE BISHOP Well, I would expect the Japanese government will promote what it sees as the strength of its bid, and likewise, other countries would be promoting what they see as the strengths of their bid. It's a competitive evaluation process, which means that each bidder will no doubt be promoting the advantages of Australia's partnership with that country. I have noted that Japan has promoted these strategic aspects as other bidders have promoted different aspects of their bid.

Our concern is to ensure that we have the very best capability that meets our needs as an island continent. Australia is very reliant on these kinds of capabilities, so we want to ensure the new submarine fleet is able to provide the most high quality, capable fleet that we are able to purchase with a view to the involvement of Australian industry as part of our overall defence industry requirements.

So, it is a matter that Australia will consider along with other matters that countries are putting forward and that's the process it's been undertaken at present.

JOURNALIST I am from Asahi, in charge of International Affairs. My name is Uemura.

My question is not relevant directly to Japan, but let's look at the next Secretariat General election of United Nations. It has been said that maybe Mr Kevin Rudd might run for that office. As the Foreign Minister of Australia, what do you think about Mr Kevin Rudd becoming the next Secretariat General of United Nation in view of this? Anything along that line please? Thank you.

JULIE BISHOP Currently, there have been a number of individuals who have publically declared their interest in being nominated to the Secretary General of the United Nations. As far as I am aware, Mr Kevin Rudd is not nominated, and has not publically declared his intention. In fact, I understand his last public statement he made on the issue was to point to the fact the number of nations believed that it is the turn of Eastern Europe to provide a candidate, and that a number of nations I believe it is time for a woman to hold the role. I understand from Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, that nominations have opened and that there will be a process involving an appearance by nominated candidates before the General Assembly and that ultimately, the Security Council will accept one nomination.

According to the Security General, he expects more than a dozen people to nominate or be nominated. Australia's position is that we will wait until all nominations have been made. We will consider the field of candidates at the time and our cabinet will make that decision as to whether Australia will support or nominate any particular individual.

So until such time, as nominations are formalised, it is too early to speak about what Australia's position would be.

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