Joint Press Conference

  • Transcript, E&OE
12 June 2014

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: This is my third visit to Japan since becoming Australia's Foreign Minister last September. In October of 2013 I was here for a bilateral meeting, and on that occasion I spoke here at the National Press Club. In April I was in Hiroshima for the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative meeting.

I am joined on this visit by my colleague, the Australian Defence Minister, David Johnston, for the regular 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial consultations with our Japanese counterparts, and I thank Ministers Kishida and Onodera for hosting the meeting yesterday.

The Australian Government wishes to enhance our security and defence relations with Japan. Our shared interests in peace and security in our region and beyond make us natural partners. There is an increase in confidence and trust in each other, and an increasing ease in working together, because our two countries share not only a strong bond of friendship, but also common values and interests. Freedom, democracy, rule of law, open markets and free trade are all natural concepts to both Australians and Japanese, and that helps make us natural partners.

We look instinctively to each other to respond to a range of regional crises. I am reminded of a meeting I had last December with Defence Minister Onedera at the air field in Manila. Our respective transport planes were laden with humanitarian aid and carrying personnel to assist the typhoon affected areas in the Philippines. As a generous contributor to global development, and a lynch-pin of the US alliance network, Japan has helped underwrite regional stability for many years. And Australia welcomes Japan's efforts to play an even greater role in global and regional affairs through a proactive contribution to peace.

In April, when the Australian Prime Minister visited Japan, Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Abe agreed to elevate our bilateral and security relationship to a new level. We have worked side by side in challenging environments in the past, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and in South Sudan; so we feel comfortable in continuing to enhance this relationship. I am very pleased that we have made progress on that aim during the course of this visit. There is considerable scope for us to enhance our cooperation, including through our mutual ally, the United States.

Since the Second World War, regional stability and growth have depended on the United States guaranteeing peace and stability in the region, and there is no doubt that our region would look very different if, for example throughout the Cold War, Japan, South Korea, other Asian countries had to stand alone. The imperative would have been to focus on arms, not on economic growth. But that order can't be guaranteed in perpetuity: the United States has many calls on its resources in many parts of the world. And while we welcome and encourage the United States' rebalance to the Asia Pacific region, countries in our region should not be complacent about how their continued growth and prosperity depends on United States' regional engagement.

Like Japan, Australia is concerned when regional tensions escalate in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. We don't take positions on sovereignty claims or on territorial disputes, but we do take a stand on how to resolve them, and that must be within the rules-based regional order that has served us all so well for the past 60 years. And that is why Australia will continue to insist that the tensions be resolved in accordance with international law, and without the use of coercion or force to alter the status quo.

Japan and Australia both agree that the East Asian Summit should be the region's premier security forum, and we welcome Prime Minister Abe's Shangri La speech when he made a number of significant points, but in particular his support for the East Asia Summit. Not only is it a leader level dialogue, it also includes all of the countries of ASEAN and key nations of the Indo-Pacific. So the East Asian Summit gives us the framework through which we can minimise disputes, communicate effectively, and build common understanding – it has the right members and the right mandate.

In April of this year, Prime Ministers Abbott and Abe agreed to enhance cooperation for economic development and peace and stability in the Pacific. My colleague, the Defence Minister, and I will bring the strategic vision to this cooperation. For example, the integration of Australia's aid agency and its programme administration into our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade helps ensure that our aid and trade and defence and diplomatic efforts in the Pacific are aligned and mutually reinforcing. For over a decade, Australia and Japan have been working together to help developing countries in the Pacific, but I think there's more that we can do together to enhance economic growth and help lift people out of poverty and lift standards of living in the region. For example, in Samoa, we are cooperating to enhance the quality of education; in the Solomon Islands, we're helping repair critical water infrastructure; and as two of the top aid donors in the Pacific, I think it's important that we continue to progress the partnership to make a difference in our part of the world. We are comfortable working with each other and we're confident that when we work together we deliver results. There's more we can do to support Pacific Island countries in responding to disasters, in building productivity, enhancing infrastructure and fisheries management and the like.

Finally, I just want to make one comment about the importance that Australia places on international education and student exchanges. There is a long history of student exchange between Australia and Japan but we're taking that to a new level through a new initiative called 'The New Colombo Plan'. Just as the original Colombo Plan brought thousands of young students to Australia to learn new skills and to gain qualifications, the New Colombo Plan will send Australian undergraduates into the region to study at universities, to live, to work and to come back to Australia with new perspectives, new ideas, new skills that will not only add to our productivity and prosperity but will set up relationships and friendships and networks that we hope will last a lifetime. This year, Japan has agreed to be part of our pilot scheme for the New Colombo Plan and over 400 Australian students will be in Japan during the pilot phase to undertake further university studies and work with Japanese businesses. I thank the Japanese business community for that support. Through the New Colombo Plan, Australia engages deeply in the region and it is through initiatives like the New Colombo Plan that our foreign policy of engaging with the region finds its expression and I'm delighted that Japan has been one of the original partners in our pilot phase of the New Colombo Plan. On that note, I'll hand over to my colleague, Senator Johnston.

DEFENCE MINISTER JOHNSTON: Minna san konnichi wa. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. May I thank Foreign Minister Bishop for her remarks and setting the scene on the wider relationship between Australia and Japan. I am very delighted to be here in Tokyo to address the Japan National Press Club and of course I want to also mention the very gracious and friendly hospitality of Minister Kishida and Minister Onodera in what has been a very successful 2+2 engagement. Security and defence cooperation between Australia and Japan is very, very important to Australia. In fact, it is a central pillar of our bilateral relationship and builds upon the 2000 Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation. Australia and Japan share the values of democracy and both have a deep and abiding respect for the rule of law. We share a common interest in a secure, stable and peaceful region. Australia understands the importance of building deep, lasting and trusting defence links in the Asia Pacific and encouraging the development of habits of defence dialogue and cooperation that go further in underpinning regional security. We have invested in supporting the development of our defence relations in South-East Asia and the Pacific through our Defence Cooperation Plan. We promote understanding through dialogue and enduring links between militaries in the region and we have a huge emphasis on military diplomacy.

In Japan we find a country that shares many of our capability platforms, technologies and doctrines in the military space. We also have some shared history; nearly one hundred years ago HIJMS Ibuki escorted Australian ships leaving from the Western Australian port of Albany, carrying the first Anzac forces to World War I. This event will be marked in November of this year, when the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force sends a ship to participate in a re-enactment of that event as a commemoration of the centenary of Anzac.

Ours is a relationship built on shared experience. Australia and Japan both contributed to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Our relationship has been built up in recent times in Cambodia, in East Timor, in Iraq and now we find ourselves together, confronting common challenges in the very fluid situation in South Sudan. Working side-by-side we indeed, I think, currently have eight Australian defence force members embedded with the Japanese force in South Sudan. Earlier this year, along with other countries, Japan contributed two Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force P-3 Orions and a Japan Coast Guard Gulfstream aircraft to assist in searching for the missing Malaysian flight MH-370 off the coast of Australia. This search was based out of RAAF Base Pearce in Perth, Western Australia, the hometown of Minister Bishop and myself. Tragically, the search for that aircraft remains unresolved. But it demonstrated the ability of the Japanese Self Defence Force and the Australian Self Defence Force to work together on a matter of importance, to not just outdo countries but to provide assistance to the broader region.

The Australia-Japan defence relationship is also built on a shared purpose. We understand the importance of maritime security and maritime safety. We agree on the need to work together to build a rules-based regional architecture that supports the peaceful – let me underline peaceful – resolution of disputation. We are both committed to closely coordinating and cooperating in the fields of regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and maritime security, together with other regional countries. These have been topics during my discussions with Minister Onodera on the four occasions that we have met since the election of the Abbott Government, and of course in a trilateral with Secretary Hagel in Shangri La some ten days ago. It is against this backdrop that our Prime Ministers have agreed to elevate our bilateral security and defence relationship to a new level. This was the outcome of their meeting in April this year.

Australia supports Japan's recent efforts to re-examine its security and defence policies to contribute to enhanced regional peace and security. These efforts could provide Japan with greater scope to work with other parties in the region in support of regional peace and security. We have already had a successful program of exercises focussing on military high-end skills development. These include a bilateral maritime exercise called Nichi-Gou Trident and trilateral maritime exercise Pacific Bond, a trilateral air defence exercise called Cope North Guam, and just a few weeks ago, the inaugural trilateral ground exercise, Southern Jackaroo.

Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Abe announced in April that negotiations had commenced on a framework agreement to share defence science technology and equipment. Those negotiations have concluded and we expect to see that agreement signed when next the two Prime Ministers meet. Yesterday, during the 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministers meeting, Minister Onodera and I, along with Minister Bishop and her counterpart, Minister Kishida, discussed a number of proposals for further deepening the defence and security relationship. These proposals covered a full range of defence activities including bilateral exercises, technology cooperation and we will put them forward to our Prime Ministers for their consideration as they requested we should when they met back in April. We expect that these proposals will propel the Australia-Japan defence relationship to the level that our Prime Ministers expect. We have an opportunity to build on what is already a robust and valuable defence relationship and may I add, very friendly relationship. I look forward to continuing to work with Japan to realise the ambitions of both our Prime Ministers and of course the Foreign Minister and myself and the Defence Minister and Foreign Minister of Japan. Thank you very much. Domo arigato gozaimasu.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much Ministers. So we'd now like to start the question and answer session. Those of you with questions, please approach one of the standing microphones, state your name and organisation before posing your questions. So, I am Ida from Kyodo News. I am the Chair of the Planning Committee of the Japan National Press Club. Allow me the privilege of raising the first question. Minister Bishop – recently Chinese vessels have approached the Christmas Islands and they have gone through the Straits and going to the near seas of Australia and Chinese vessels are quite active quite close to Australia. And Australian Government, how do you regard the intentions of the Chinese Maritime Policy, what are the motivations of the Chinese and how is Australia going to respond to such moves of China? So, Minister Bishop, please, could you respond?

MINISTER BISHOP: Thank you for the question. In this instance, we believe that China was traversing the international seas, it was in international waters. Had the Chinese vessels entered Australian waters of course there would be a different response, had we not been told of it. But they were exercising their right to sail through international waters. What we want to ensure is that there is deeper communication between the countries of the region. We have a legitimate interest in ensuring that the waters of our region are safe and secure and that people have the freedom to navigate them while they are respecting the sovereignty of each nation. So, just as Australia seeks to undertake exercises and travel through international waters, other countries are entitled to do the same. What we must ensure is that all behaviour, all actions, are in pursuit of peaceful purposes, nothing that could be seen as force or coercion or violence in any way. So we continue to call for peaceful resolution of disputes, we call for greater engagement between countries in the region. When Australia looks to upgrade or update its defence capability and equipment, we are transparent about it, we consult with our neighbours and friends and we would hope that they would do the same. So, in pursuit of peace and stability in the region, we believe that there should be deeper engagement and communication between all countries as to their motivations and actions.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Now I have a question to Minister Johnston. The review of the white paper of defence is being conducted. But most recently, the latest version had just come out so, what is being reviewed, what is placed under the review, to the extent you can disclose at this juncture, would you be able to share some information?

MINISTER JOHNSTON: Yes, look I'm very pleased to share that information, because transparency is a very important part of the way Australia does its defence and security business. In 2009 we had a very substantial white paper with a very large defence capability plan, setting out a very large shopping list of potential defence assets to be acquired. The funding for that white paper was not forthcoming. In 2013 a further strategic assessment was done and indeed again there was no adequate, apparent funding regime to accompany the document. What the Prime Minister and I have set out to do is to provide a detailed review and upgrade of the current strategic circumstances for, ten, fifteen and potentially more years and then provide a defence capability plan that provides assets and equipment to meet those perceived threats and circumstances with an industry plan and with a force structure review. Now the reason why we are redoing this is because we are looking to have a credibly funded plan, Defence Capability Plan, that gives industry, particularly Australian industry, a clear and reliable way forward so that there's nothing that should be read into the fact that we are redoing this from a strategic point of view. We don't see any emerging urgent threats, what we are rather doing is assessing and reassessing those threats, but seeking to put the funding on the table in the long-medium and long-term so that the plan is much more financially credible plan. Now that's a big challenge for us, given the current state of our budget, but we seek to do that and that's the fundamental reason why we are doing that so quickly after being re-elected.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. So now we would like to throw the floor open for questions. Those of you with questions, please raise your hand, wait until designated by myself. Yes, I see a hand up.

QUESTION: Pitch Black exercise is being conducted in Australia and Indonesia will be participating in the next round of the exercise and Pitch Black exercise in the past has been exercise. Are you having discussions with the Japanese side on these exercises?

MINISTER JOHNSTON: Look, we are having discussions. Remember some of these exercises involve other parties over a long period of time. Pitch Black is an exercise that we often invite near neighbours to. We are very open to invitations to our neighbourhood on very many exercises held in Australia. Now, the reason we do that of course is that the neighbourhood is not that conducive to large and broad scale, particularly aviation-type exercises. For instance, 13 seconds in a jet fighter out of Singapore and you're out of Singaporean airspace. The one thing Australia has much of, as many of you would know, is space. And so, it's very logical for us to invite our neighbourhood down in a host of exercises. Some of them are trilateral, some of them are bilateral, but we do have and host Indonesia, Singapore, the neighbourhood generally on a whole host of exercises and of course we are looking to do that with Japan. Now, we are sensitive to the constitutional disposition, we don't want to be seen to be too pushy about this. We see a very bright future, in terms of a defence and security relationship with Japan and are more than happy to invite them down. At the moment we are conducting trilateral exercises by and large. But ultimately, you know, with RIMPAC, the Chinese are with RIMPAC this year, I should mention, with RIMPAC and other exercises, we see there's plenty of scope into the future for bilateral exercises in Australia, with Japan.

MODERATOR: Next question please. Yes, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Takeuchi. I'm working for Takushoku University. I'd like to ask another question regarding the Indian Ocean. Australia is a very active and important member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and Japan is also a member. What is the benefit for you and what is the priority of cooperation in the Indian Ocean. The second question I have is related to security. In Darwin, US marines has already been located, and it will strengthen the security. On the other hand, in the Indian Ocean, the US base in Diego Garcia, it is reported that the lease contract with the UK will be finished in 2016 and so, how do you see this situation in the Indian Ocean of security, in particular Diego Garcia and Darwin, is that related to each other?

MINISTER BISHOP: Perhaps I'll take the first part of the question and then David could take the second part. The Indian Ocean Rim Association comprises twenty countries that have the Indian Ocean as part of their shores, they're the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and this organisation has been in existence since the late 1990s. In recent times it's been reinvigorated, first through the Presidency of India, and now Australia will take the chair for last year and then this year, for two years, and thereafter Indonesia will be the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. We believe that the Indian Ocean is one of the largest but least explored oceans in terms of global understanding and so we are determined during our chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association to raise to a new level the cooperation between the members of IORA and its dialogue partners, which include the United States, the UK, France, China, Japan. We're focussing on disaster relief, on increasing trade and investment, on fisheries management, on tourism, on scientific research, so a whole range of common issues that are of concern to the countries of the Indian Ocean rim. Australia is, of course, bound by both the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. I describe our neighbourhood as the Indian Ocean / Asia Pacific – 'the Indo-Pacific' – in recognition of the importance of the Indian Ocean to our security. A great deal of Australia's container and bulk vessel trade goes through the Indian Ocean and so it's in our national interest for this to be an ocean of peace and security. We look forward to continuing to work with Japan and other partners as we achieve greater levels of cooperation in the Indian Ocean rim. The countries of the Indian Ocean Rim Association are quite diverse, from Oman down to Madagascar, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia so it's a very diverse group of countries. But we do have in common our interest in securing peace, security and cooperation in the Indian Ocean.

MINISTER JOHNSTON: Thank you for the question. With respect to marines in Darwin, we currently have 1100 US marines in Darwin. But may I say they are not the biggest contingent by number, of foreign soldiers that come to Australia to train and to exercise. There are several other countries that have large contingents from time to time that come to Australia. Now the marines are currently exercising in a number of exercise training grounds in the Northern Territory. Some of those are approximately 700 kilometres from the coastline from Darwin and so we see the Marines using the facilities as an opportunity for us to further interoperability, to understand their doctrines, particularly amphibious doctrine and generally to build rapport between commanders. Bear in mind we have a number of imbeds in the Pacific command, we conduct an enormous number of exercises with the United States, both bilaterally and trilaterally. This is rather more an extension of that, the marines will rotate through over the course of six months and will be gone after that for another six months and then they'll come back with another training schedule which we'll participate in. So I tell the region exactly what I just said to you so that they understand it is really all about training and the use of our facilities which we are very proud. Again, I underline that in Australia we have a lot of space and a lot of training facilities that are beneficial to the region, and that's the situation with marines in Darwin.

QUESTION: Kurashie, from Mainichi Shimbun, I have two questions. The first question has to do with the right of collective self-defence. Currently, the Abe government, by reviewing the interpretation of the constitution, is trying to recognise the right to exercise collective self-defence. Minister Bishop, are you interested in this issue and how is this issue being handled in Australia? And if you have any advice to give Prime Minister Abe, we would appreciate hearing such advice. And the other question I wish to raise has to do with history. Prime Minister Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine and the United States has expressed its disappointment, as this is against the Tokyo Tribunal, which was conducted by the United States. In Australia, Judge Webb was in the Tokyo Tribunal and Australia was part of the Tribunal of Tokyo after the war. If you have any comments with regard to Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine, I'd also appreciate hearing those comments.

MINISTER BISHOP: In relation to the issue that is currently being debated in Japan about a proposal for Japan to exercise its UN Charter right to collective self-defence, Australia can see great benefits to our country and to our region, should Japan continue to play a greater constructive role in global and regional peace and security. We certainly support, and have said so from the outset, that we support Japan working towards a more normal defence posture, to help it play that greater global and regional role. We have worked well with Japan. Our defence force has worked very well with Japan in many challenging environments, as the Defence Minister indicated. Any decision by Japan to exercise that right to collective self-defence would only help our cooperation grow stronger. So we recognise the sensitivities here in Japan but most certainly we see the prospect of Japan playing a greater role as being in the interests of Australia, the region and the globe.

On the historical issues, again we are aware of the sensitivities between countries who participated, particularly in the Second World War, over current behaviour. In the case of Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, Japan did take the time to inform us of that visit and provide an explanation. We certainly want to ensure that historical sensitivities do not overshadow current levels of cooperation between countries who must work together to ensure regional peace, stability and prosperity. We call for parties to recognise those sensitivities and that's why we appreciated Prime Minister Abe's support for the Kono Statement, for example, and that an indication that there wouldn't be a review of previous statements on behalf of the Japanese government. So I think this again comes down to the question of being open and transparent about one's motives and continually communicating with our neighbours and our friends so that there is greater understanding of the motivations and aspirations of the different governments in our region.

MODERATOR: This will be the final question since we are under time constraints.

QUESTION: I have a question to Minister Johnston. The Malaysian Airline's aircraft is still missing. You were involved in the search and Japan also contributed to the search. But, Minister, what are your thoughts with regards to this aircraft? That's one question. Another question is for the Foreign Minister. By your visit to Japan, Japan-US-Australia trilateral security corporation shall be strengthened. That is one of the results and outcomes. Between Japan, US and Australia, is there a notion that trilateral control over Pacific is being pursued, and what are your thoughts with regards to Australia's dialogue with China on the security front? And I'm a journalist from a Chinese media company.

MINISTER JOHNSTON: If I may deal with MH-370 first. Can I say and extend all of our condolences to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on that aircraft. Now this is one of the great aviation mysteries of our time. We started at the beginning by trying to work out where this aircraft went. So a Doppler calculation from the Inmarsat located in the centre of the Indian Ocean was the only way we could work out the distance of the signal relating to the telemetry on the motors and going to Rolls Royce. Then, trying to calculate where and when that signal emanated from, which part of the antenna it struck on the satellite and working out which hemisphere it was in. We have tied down the track to a 700-kilometre stretch that is 80 kilometres wide. Some of the water within this particular area is up to 7,000 metres deep. What we observed, with respect to the regional response to that tragedy was: Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and the United Kingdom, all presenting various platforms, capability and assistance in the search for that aircraft. Now, the search, as we all know, has been unsuccessful.

The next phase of the search is to obtain a more highly-powered single sideband sonar swathing capacity, from larger scale ships that can be sustained for longer periods. Now, often the temptation is to make comparisons between the A-330 emanating from Brazil that crashed in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean. I remind everybody that the debris field for that aircraft was found within the first two days. At this point in time we have not found one single piece of debris that is relevant to that aircraft. Not one. Not a life jacket, not a seat, nothing. So, we are back to square one, doing recalculation with respect to where we think this aircraft has gone. Having done that, the owner of the aircraft is of course Malaysia. Malaysia is engaging China and Australia as to the way forward, and I believe there is a process which will yield the sort of capability I've just touched on. Now, it will be, I think, sometime before that capability starts to present onto the surface of the Indian Ocean, to make the sonar search that is necessary. Bear in mind that there is some recent experience. Titanic and HMAS Sydney have been found in circumstances where there was a reasonable clue to the rough vicinity of where those vessels were. Now, in this instance, we come back to the 700-kilometre stretch by 80 kilometres-wide strip that we have. It is trouble enough finding the haystack, let alone the needle, so this is a huge task. It will require substantial skill and ability in planning and logistics and then of course, it will be very, very expensive. I hope that answer has assisted you.

What was the second part of the question, I'm sorry?

QUESTION: In the meetings you had in Japan, there was going to be a trilateral Japan-US-Australia security corporation, which is to be strengthened and Japan, the United States and Australia, those three countries, what would you like to do in the Asia-Pacific region? And, what about security dialogue with China? What are the Australian intentions on this?

MINISTER JOHNSTON: Look, let's just do a quick snapshot and review of where we are at the moment. RIMPAC is a very important series of exercises across the region, involving countries of the Pacific Rim, conducted in Hawaii. So that's an opportunity for Australia, the United States and Japan to further extend their trilateral relationship. I had a trilateral meeting with Secretary Hagel and Minister Onodera in Shangri La ten days ago, as I mentioned during my speech. We discussed further enhancing the exercises that we currently carry out. One of the principal motivations for each of us is humanitarian and disaster relief. This interoperability and capability was observed following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. These are very important regional capabilities that, because of their size, dimension and logistical requirements, are really only the province of military output. And so we see that, in line with MH-370, to mobilise quickly, to deploy quickly and to address and respond quickly, interoperability of military forces, particularly air forces and naval forces, is very, very important to the region.

Now with respect to China, we have a relationship with Japan that should have nothing read into it with respect to our relationships with other countries in the region. We have a very close and productive relationship with China, I will be in China later this year, as I think Foreign Minister will be with me and we'll be there, discussing many of the issues that we've also discussed here. Now, the relationship between China and Australia and Japan and Australia, is not mutually exclusive. We both come from Western Australia, which has very strong and successful relationship with China and with Japan, and have had such a relationship for quite some long time. I think that's all I need to say about that. I think that one thing I should emphasise, is that we do want to see territorial disputation resolved according to international law, that is fundamentally as very, very significant and strong point that we, I'm sure, both would wish to make whenever we discuss the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Things must be resolved through negotiation, disputation must be resolved around the table and pursuant to the predicts of international law.

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