Joint doorstop, Australian Embassy, Tokyo

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP Minister Payne and I are in Tokyo at an opportune moment because we are to meet this afternoon with the defence and foreign affairs ministers on matters of bilateral significance and regional and global importance.

Australia and Japan hold regular defence and foreign affairs meetings, called 2+2, and we will be meeting at a time of increased insecurity in our region, at a time when North Korea is acting in a provocative, illegal and belligerent manner, and at a time when it is more important than ever for like-minded countries such as Australia and Japan to work closely together to increase prosperity in our respective countries and the region, and to work together to increase stability and peace in our region.

This morning, we had a very good meeting with a number of parliamentarians, including those who have served in defence and foreign affairs ministerial roles. We had a very productive meeting with Director Kitamura and other representatives of the Japanese intelligence community, and we have just completed a very constructive and productive meeting with Prime Minister Abe, where we discussed a range of bilateral, regional and global challenges and opportunities.

Every time I meet with Japanese representatives, I'm reassured that our bilateral relationship goes from strength to strength, and that as two like-minded countries in our region, we can cooperate and work closely together for the benefit of our respective nations but also for our region.

MARISE PAYNE Thank you very much Julie, and this is a very opportune time to, as the Foreign Minister said, to be visiting Tokyo for our 2+2, which I think is the seventh 2+2 between Australia and Japan. It's also a chance to have a follow-up meeting with Defence Minister Inada, following our initial meeting in August of last year. But this morning's discussions, particularly in relation to the intelligence relationship between Australia and Japan with leading defence and intelligence officials from Japan, and our meeting with Prime Minister Abe, have been particularly timely given the strategic environment in which we find ourselves.

Also particularly timely from the perspective of the Prime Minister Abe-Prime Minister Turnbull meeting in January, which set in train direction on defence cooperation which I am very pleased to be implementing on behalf of Australia, and to work closely with the Japan Self Defence Force, with Minister Inada and defence officials here in Japan. Over the last few years, we've achieved 44 different initiatives in the defence cooperation environment. This afternoon we look forward to pursuing more of those.

But to know that we have the very strong personal commitment and support of Prime Minister Abe for the deepening and broadening of that defence relationship and our defence cooperation goes a long distance to ensuring that we are able to present the strongest front as allies and as partners in the work that we do in the region, and in the work that we do together.

JOURNALIST Can you tell us, in the meetings you've had this morning and last night, did the Japanese express any disappointment about not being awarded the submarine contract, and do you think that will have any impact on how the sort of so-called defence cooperation moves ahead?

MARISE PAYNE Well, this is one of a number of meetings I've had with Japanese representatives since that decision was made in April of last year. And of course it's been discussed. That is, it's a matter of record, and I'm not surprised by that. But it is something which we will build upon, in fact, and one of the initiatives that we have talked about is further defence science, technology and equipment engagement, which will go a long way to supporting our interoperability, supporting our engagement at the very high-tech end of the defence relationship. I think those very productive partnerships are part of the future for Australia and Japan in defence terms.

JOURNALIST Did they express their disappointment though?

MARISE PAYNE Not today, no, we noted the decision and we continued to discuss opportunities for the future now. We are more than capable of moving on and that's certainly been the case.

JOURNALIST Minister Payne, is Australia keen on joining the Malabar trilateral naval exercise among India, Japan and US, and has Australia requested observer status?

MARISE PAYNE Australia is very interested in a quadrilateral engagement with India, Japan and the United States. What form that may take is a matter of discussion between our various countries. Of course, Prime Minister Turnbull just returned from a very, very successful visit with Prime Minister Narendra Modhi to India, and our defence engagement was part of that discussion. Exercise Malibar is an opportunity that may present itself in due course, but that remains to be discussed between the nations.

JOURNALIST Could you see an opportunity where we'd revitalise or sort of reconfigure the quadrilateral security dialogue which was part of the Howard government's initiatives?

MARISE PAYNE Well these are matters for consideration by the governments. I think the Foreign Minister and I are very seized of the importance of the Australia-India relationship. But in the context of our visit here today, obviously we have a main focus on the Australia-Japan relationship.

JOURNALIST Are the Japanese pushing for it though, to rekindle that?

MARISE PAYNE It's part of our discussions, but they're matters that we will consider between governments.

JOURNALIST Has there been any response to your request?

MARISE PAYNE We've not made a request.

JOURNALIST On North Korea, what comes next? The United States has said that the era of strategic patience is over, they've said that North Korea should heed the actions in Syria and Afghanistan. What comes next though? I mean there doesn't seem to be a particular strategy other than try and get them back talking.

JULIE BISHOP The escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula are as a result of North Korea's provocative and illegal actions in carrying out nuclear and ballistic missile tests, in defiance of international law and particularly numerous UN Security Council Resolutions.

The United States has indicated that the previous policy of strategic patience is no longer US policy. We support that because the stalemate between the United States, North Korea and others only led to North Korea increasing its capability and capacity in the area of its nuclear and missile programs. The United States administration has said that all options are on the table.

That does not rule out military action, but it also includes dialogue, diplomacy, economic sanctions, and in particular, we support the United States' view, and it has long been our view, that China has a unique and specific role to play in pressuring North Korea to cease its illegal behaviour. And we intend to work very closely with Japan, South Korea, the United States and with China to ensure that China can use its unique position, the leverage that it undoubtedly has over North Korea to ensure that North Korea behaves in accordance with international norms and rules.

JOURNALIST Is there any indication that the Chinese are actually doing that though?

JULIE BISHOP I believe the fact that President Xi Jinping telephoned President Trump to discuss the matter after his visit to the United States is an indication that China understands it has a responsibility in this area. During the period of strategic patience, China was able to deflect any suggestion that it had a greater role to play. And as I've pointed out on numerous occasions, China is the source of the majority, 95 per cent, of direct investment into North Korea, that North Korea's exports go mainly to China, that China is the source of energy, of ideas, of innovation, of expertise, that comes from China, into North Korea.

So we believe that there is a far greater role that China can play in assisting the region and the global community in bringing North Korea into line so that it ceases a nuclear and missile program that is clearly designed to attack the United States. I mean, the mock-up video that they showed recently is not a laughing matter, in fact it demonstrates the seriousness of purpose that North Korea has in seeking to target the United States, and of course if it targets the United States then all countries in the region are also under threat.

JOURNALIST What does Australia do to guard against this threat of a potential nuclear strike, what defences do we actually have?

MARISE PAYNE We of course work closely with our allies on these issues. Australia and its allies have appropriate capabilities in order to deal with these issues. It is not appropriate to elaborate any further on these issues and I won't be doing that.

JOURNALIST You expressed your support for the new United States' approach to North Korea. What role can Australia play in this new approach when all options are on the table, which includes dialogue and military support? Australia has shown much support for international conflict in similar situation for military approach. If it is dialogue what is the diplomatic approach?

JULIE BISHOP It is not in fact a new policy position of the United States. Previous administrations have been of view that all options have been on the table. The difference is that it is not following the strategic patience principles of the previous Administration. We believe that much more can be done in the area of dialogue. While we have seen North Korea walk away from the six party talks, we believe there are other formats that can be considered. We believe that sanctions could be increased. Australia has reviewed its sanctions against North Korea. We have recently held public consultations and I expect to be in a position to announce further sanctions in relation to North Korea.

The idea behind the sanctions is to send the very clearest message to North Korea that its behaviour will not be tolerated, that a nuclear armed North Korea is not acceptable to our region and the community and certainly not to China. We believe China has a significant role to play in dialogue, in economic sanctions, in persuading North Korea that there is a better path for it to be an acceptable member of the international community. The military option is an expression the United States has used in recent times, which one would expect them to, given that North Korea has threatened nuclear war against the United States.

JOURNALIST Will you confirm whether Australian advisers were with Iraqi troops hit with a gas attack? This happened five days ago, how can you argue that you would compromise their safety by discussing it when it has already been confirmed by Central Command?

MARISE PAYNE Well that is not my interpretation of what Central Command has said. I have made it very clear that Australian serving members were not exposed in the attack on members of the Iraqi security forces. Australian medics were engaged in first aid treatment at a different location in relation to the Iraqi Security Forces that were exposed. I have also made very clear that our focus is on force protection. Our focus is on ensuring in the operational context we are responsive and adaptive as we need to be. I don't detail those aspects. It is not appropriate and I don't think anyone would expect me to.

JOURNALIST Do you have an obligation to inform the Australian public without providing operational details?

MARISA PAYNE Well this a zone of severe, extreme conflict. I don't think anyone should underestimate the challenges faced by the Iraqi Security Forces and the members of the international coalition that are part of efforts to retake Mosul. We are in the hardest and toughest part of that battle and the position which our forces find themselves is one that we need to be very careful about and I don't intend to compromise that.

JOURNALIST Just before you go, on the issue of 457 Visas. Australia has always sold itself as being sort of open to foreigners and particularly open to skilled workers in the region. What sort of signal does it give to the region, not just Japan, but the broader region that we are now scrapping 457 Visas and tightening up on citizenship tests?

JULIE BISHOP What we are doing is replacing the 457 Visa with a far more targeted and more effect form of visa entry into Australia, that targets genuine skill shortages in Australia. It also involves Australian employers having to ascertain whether there is an Australian skilled worker able to complete the role and commit to training and developing Australian workers. I think most countries in our region and around the world would recognise that the responsibly of a sovereign government is that you provide opportunities to your citizens to have jobs. Where there are genuine skill shortages, then of course we welcome foreign workers, but it will be on visas that are specifically targeted for those genuine needs including those in regional areas.

JOURNALIST Would you expect that this may be seen by some overseas governments as xenophobic?

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely not. It would be seen as Australia ensuring that its citizens have opportunities to undertake skilled work as any government around the world would expect. In relation to citizenship the message is that Australian citizenship is to be prized, it is a privilege, it something that ought be respected and brings with certain obligations and responsibilities. So we believe the reforms to the citizenship test will, in fact, enhance our ability to be a strong multicultural nation committed to a fair and open tolerant society.

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