Lateline, Sydney – interview with Tony Jones

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: China, Indonesia, Ukraine, Israel, Fiji

6 March 2014

TONY JONES: Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is bound for London tomorrow for talks with the British Government as the international diplomatic community works furiously to defuse the crisis in Ukraine. There've been some real stresses closer to home too for Julie Bishop in her first six months as Foreign Minister, notably in relations with Jakarta and Beijing. Julie Bishop joins me now in the studio.

Thanks for being here.

JULIE BISHOP: There are always challenges in the foreign policy arena. It's not a question of the challenges, it's how you cope with them, how you manage them, and there have been a number for me to manage in the first six months, but I believe that in each instance we are working thoroughly through the issues that confront us and coming up with resolutions.

TONY JONES: Well you've been rudely upbraided by the Chinese Foreign Minister, you've had Indonesia recall its ambassador over the Snowden spying revelations, you've had their Foreign Minister accuse Australia of an unacceptable and unbecoming act over the spying and warn that the whole relationship is in danger over the "turn back the boats" policy. It's been pretty tumultuous. Out of these, which has been the most difficult?

JULIE BISHOP: Well in the case of Indonesia, we inherited a series of issues. The live cattle ban is still a frustration that Indonesia expresses. The resurgence of the people smuggling trade which focuses on Indonesia of course occurred under the previous government, as did the Snowden allegations. So we're dealing with them. It is challenging, of course, but any relationship that's worth fighting for is going to be the focus of our attention and so it is with Indonesia. I'm in constant contact with the Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa as we work through a way to come to terms with some of these issues. But overall – and I stress this – overall the relationship continues. There is a ballast, a resilience to our relationship with Indonesia that's been built up over many years.

TONY JONES: Well, the Indonesian President demanded Australian sign up to an agreement on a code of ethics governing our bilateral relations which would have to be, he said, truly implemented before relations could be fully restored. How far are we along the road to seeing a code of ethics?

JULIE BISHOP: That wasn't the terminology. It was to be a joint understanding to cover sovereignty issues based on the Lombok Treaty.

TONY JONES: Well he used the term code of ethics.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, when we concluded the discussions that I had in December, we called it a joint understanding and Australia provided our draft and Indonesia was to provide theirs and I'm waiting on Indonesia to provide their draft. I believe that this matter is now caught up in domestic politics in Indonesia in the sense that they have an election in April and I'm not expecting as much progress to be made now that their attention is turned to their domestic election. And that's not surprising. When an election is about to be held in Australia, the Government's focus and the Opposition's focus tends to be on domestic politics and the upcoming election.

TONY JONES: So, do you regularly ask what's happening with this agreement, code of ethics, whatever you like to call it, and whether there is any progress? Because if what the President said is right and relations can't be fully restored – and he was talking about security, police and other matters; that's full cooperation he was referring to – not being restored until this was signed.

JULIE BISHOP: We actually call it the joint understanding.

TONY JONES: The joint understanding.

JULIE BISHOP: We call it the joint understanding. And I have conversations from time to time with Dr Natalegawa about progress in that regard. He's drafting his version of it, so I'll await that. But the relationship continues in other areas. Yes, there has been a suspension of co-operation particularly in relation to people smuggling, but also Defence, but otherwise there are about 60 areas of co-operation between Australia and Indonesia, covering about 22 Australian government departments and agencies and authorities and that is continuing. For example, Indonesia is one of the pilot locations for our new Colombo Plan, a student exchange, and that will be occurring in April; in other areas, in trade, in commerce, in business, education, environment, scientific exchanges – it's all still continuing.

TONY JONES: Would this joint understanding include concrete rules about surveillance and spying? Is that what you would anticipate?

JULIE BISHOP: I made it quite clear that Australia would not use its resources, including our intelligence resources, to the detriment of our friends and neighbours and that includes Indonesia.

TONY JONES: So that's put in writing, is it, in this agreement?

JULIE BISHOP: That will be part of the agreement, yes.

TONY JONES: Was the return to full co-operation, the re-establishment of the relationship set back at all by revelations that Australian naval vessels during Operation Sovereign Borders had actually breached Indonesia's naval borders?

JULIE BISHOP: We immediately …

TONY JONES: Maritime borders, I should say.

JULIE BISHOP: We immediately contacted Indonesia when we became aware of these inadvertent breaches and we gave a full apology, both Scott Morrison and I, to our counterparts and also the Chief of Navy and I believe that Indonesia accepted that it was inadvertent and there was no intention on our part.

Indeed, our policy, written, spoken, is to respect Indonesia's sovereignty and that is part of our mutual understanding, but it's also part of Coalition policy to ensure that we respect Indonesia's sovereignty. Where it was inadvertently breached, we contacted them immediately and apologised.

TONY JONES: You say you're speaking regularly with Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian Foreign Minister. Has he come to accept and has Jakarta come to accept the idea that the "turn back the boats" policy to Indonesia is actually in their interests, which is one of the arguments been run by this government?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I don't want to speculate on what others think, but it is a fact that we are now seeing fewer people coming into Indonesia, so if we are able to prevent the people smuggling trade from flourishing, then that means that there will be fewer people transiting through Indonesia.

When we did meet with President Yudhoyono last year, he described Indonesia as being a victim of the people smuggling trade, so therefore if there are less people utilising the services of these criminal syndicates, that should impact positively on Indonesia.

TONY JONES: But they haven't expressed any gratitude at this point?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'm not expecting them to express gratitude. They have been aware of our policy from the outset and we have made it clear through our guarantee of no surprises with Indonesia that we will inform them of our policy and what we do and what we intend to do and that's been the case from the commencement of our time as government.

TONY JONES: Alright. Let's move on to China and that celebrated row. The claim of rudeness on the part of the Chinese Foreign Minister came in Senate Estimates from a senior official, one of your own senior officials, Peter Rowe, who runs the Asia desk. "I've never in 30 years encountered such rudeness." Do you think China was trying to set a tone with the new Foreign Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's a personal observation of the officer, but it's not the way I saw it. I make no apology for standing up for Australia's national interest. China disagreed that we had an interest in the tensions between China and Japan. I disagree and the issue is too important for us not to speak frankly. China spoke frankly; I responded in kind.

TONY JONES: They certainly did speak frankly, but they spoke frankly in front of the press, which is unprecedented. As Mr Rowe said, he's never seen anything like this in 30 years. Was it a kind of bullying effort on the part of the Chinese?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it didn't work if that was the intention.

TONY JONES: Well, Mr – go on.

JULIE BISHOP: But we did – but I must say, Tony, we did continue the meeting for another three hours and then we had dinner together, which was a very delightful evening, so there might have been some staging of events for the media, but I do understand that in the past China has spoken rather frankly behind closed doors to Australian Foreign ministers. On this occasion the media were there and I responded that we do have an interest in de-escalating the tensions between China and Japan over the East China Sea. After all, they are our two largest trading partners and we have an interest in standing up for what we believe will impact on our national interest.

TONY JONES: Sure, but the Chinese Foreign Minister accused you in front of the media of jeopardising bilateral mutual trust and affecting the sound growth of bilateral relations. Now, Mr Rowe, as I said before, is the head of the Asia desk, told Estimates they wanted to make a point. "They often do this with a new Foreign Minister." Is that the advice you've been given by your own department?

JULIE BISHOP: I had heard previously that Minister Smith, Minister Rudd, Minister Carr have had some rather robust discussions behind closed doors. In this instance, part of the discussion was picked up by the Chinese media – and I might say the Australian media who were there – but fortunately, it's not had the impact that the Chinese Foreign Minister suggested.

TONY JONES: Well perhaps he'd met his match and that's my point.


TONY JONES: Do you think that he thought he was able to try it on because you're a woman?

JULIE BISHOP: Oh, Tony, I think you're reading too much into it. We had a robust exchange of views and I'll continue to speak very frankly about issues of concern to Australia – whether it's China, whether it's Japan, whether it's South Korea, countries in our region. I am working very hard to build strong, mature relationships with these countries, but if Australia's interests are affected, I will speak out.

TONY JONES: OK. The Chinese Premier Li announced yesterday a 12.2 per cent increase in Defence spending. Is it important for Australia to remain tough in the face of a fast-growing Chinese military which seems to be becoming more adventurous?

JULIE BISHOP: It's not a question of being tough; it's a question of managing the relationship. It's inevitable, as China economy grows, as its status in the region increases, as its global status increases, it will increase its military spending. I think that's inevitable.

TONY JONES: But it's not necessarily inevitable that they'll become more reckless in the way they do things and start, in a way, putting serious pressure on Japan. After all, there was a pointed warning to Japan in Premier Li's speech that China will safeguard the victory of World War II. What do you think that means?

JULIE BISHOP: Well this is why we are seeking a de-escalation of the tensions. We called for greater cooperation. We don't want to see any unilateral coercive action by any party to these territorial disputes. We've been calling for dialogue.

In the case of the South China Sea, which involves other ASEAN countries and China and territorial claims, again, we take no side on the actual claims, but we call for calm, we call for dialogue and we call for a sensible resolution to these claims.

In the case of the South China Sea, the ASEAN nations are proposing a code of conduct and seeking to engage China and we certainly support that course of action.

TONY JONES: Were the Chinese annoyed that the Prime Minister had referred to Japan as our best friend in Asia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I remember Prime Minister Julia Gillard referred to Japan as our closest friend in Asia at the Japanese Press Club some time ago and I'm not sure that that received much coverage, so …

TONY JONES: No, it's not about coverage. I mean, you have these behind-the-scenes talks with a very angry Chinese Foreign Minister who chose to vent his spleen in public.

JULIE BISHOP: I don't know that he was very angry. He made a very robust point to which I responded equally robustly and then we went on for a three-hour meeting thereafter.

TONY JONES: That's my point, really: in the three-hour meeting, did he discuss the fact that the Prime Minister had referred to Japan as "our best friend in Asia"?

JULIE BISHOP: Not specifically, but we certainly talked about the China-Japanese relations and I expressed my concern that they appeared to be deteriorating and that it was in the interests of all that we focus on issues that really count in our region including what's happening on the Korean Peninsula and the activities of North Korea, for example.

So there are many common interests that China and Japan have in economic and trade and investment, but also in security areas, including their collective response to North Korea.

TONY JONES: So, just very briefly, is Japan our best friend in Asia?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't rate it that way. I say we have many close friends. But it is a fact that Japan has been our closest economic partner for about 40 years. We share common values, common interests, we've had a very long history of sister city relationships, educational and cultural exchanges, a long history going back to essentially the 1957 Commerce Agreement. More recently, China has become our largest trading partner.

TONY JONES: Yes – I don't mean to interrupt you there, but you've talked today about economic diplomacy being a core of your – of what you want to achieve and of course the military hardline of China is kind of the stick; the carrot, if you like, could well be the free trade agreement that they're offering to Australia. Does Australia have to be careful not to get too enmeshed in this growing Chinese economic power?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I did speak at the Sydney Institute tonight about economic diplomacy being a pillar of Australia's foreign policy. That means that we see it as being in Australia's national interest to pursue economic opportunities, trade and investment globally, but underpinning our economic diplomacy is an ambitious free trade agenda which will involve free trade agreements with, amongst others, Korea, which has been signed, Japan, which we hope to sign, and China, as well as taking part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the RCEP, which is the ASEAN free trade agreement. So, we believe that a broad economic free trade zone in our region that includes China will be for the benefit of the region and the globe more generally.

TONY JONES: Now, in Israel in January, you surprised many by suggesting that Israeli settlements beyond the 67 lines are not illegal under international law. Is that now official Australian policy?

JULIE BISHOP: No, what I said is I wasn't aware of any binding determination on the issue of the settlements. And that …

TONY JONES: Can I interrupt there? You were quoted, at least in the Israeli press, as saying, "I would like to see which international law has declared them," – the settlements, that is – "illegal."

JULIE BISHOP: Well it was hardly the Israeli press. It was a blogger who was interviewing me and that was his quote. But what I believe I said was that there is no binding determination of which I'm aware in relation to all of the settlements and I believe that that is a fact.

But the point I was making is that we currently have negotiations underway for a two-state solution and the question of the boundaries and the settlements will be part of this negotiated political solution, not the result of a binding judicial determination.

TONY JONES: The UN Security Council, which Australia now chairs, holds the position that those settlements are illegal based on Article 49, paragraph six of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, "An occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Isn't that the key legal issue here?

JULIE BISHOP: Well this is exactly what the negotiated settlement will focus upon and I don't think it's helpful to pre-empt precisely the issues that the negotiations being facilitated by Secretary of State Kerry is focusing upon – the settlements, the boundaries, the status of Jerusalem, the question of refugees, the question of the State of Israel and its right to exist. They are the very questions that have to be negotiated for a lasting peace settlement.

TONY JONES: Of course that's correct, but do you agree that that article does set out that those settlements are illegal under international law?

JULIE BISHOP: No, that article doesn't set out those settlements. I mean, the Convention has not been applied by any court to the question of the settlements. I'm not being pedantic here, I'm just pointing out that the Convention says what it does. The situation relating to the settlements is part of the negotiated peace process and that's where I think we should be focusing our efforts. You can get legal opinions and advice and interpretations – of course you can – but I think we would be better off spending our time focusing on the negotiated peace settlement. That's where I would hope the international community put its efforts.

TONY JONES: OK. You're flying out tomorrow to meet your counterpart in London and the crisis in the Ukraine is at the top of the agenda. It just got worse tonight because the Crimean Parliament has now voted to join Russia. How do you see this developing and is Putin – do you think it's his end game to annex the Crimea, and possibly other parts of the Ukraine for that matter?

JULIE BISHOP: I wouldn't want to speculate on President Putin's ultimate motives, but what I can say is I see no justification at all for the increased Russian military presence in Ukraine or in Crimea. And I join with the international community in urging Russia to withdraw its troops, to de-escalate the situation and to respect Ukraine's sovereignty. I see no justification …

TONY JONES: What about this move by the Crimean Parliament? Does it have any legal status, do you think, in the eyes of the rest of the world?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's clearly a matter that we'll have to discuss and I intend to discuss it with William Hague.

TONY JONES: It's going to be a huge issue, isn't it …


TONY JONES:… because within 10 days they're talking about having a referendum?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, that's right. As we know, Crimea was provided to Ukraine back in 1954. It's been an autonomous region since that time, but the justification for entering Ukraine or Crimea is just not there. It's not as if there was an intercommunal conflict, it's not as if there was any attempt to discriminate or attack the Russian majority in Crimea and Ukraine's sovereignty has been breached.

TONY JONES: Will the – here's the point because you're going to end up having to decide this – will the world decide that that vote that's going to happen in 10 days' time is illegitimate?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe that there is a long way to go before we get there. Yes, it's in 10 days' time, but it will depend how the Ukraine responds, it will depend how Russia responds, and as far as the legal aspects of it, I haven't looked at that deeply enough. It's just happened in the last little while.

But in terms of the international community, I think there is a collective view that Russia's actions in breaching Ukraine's territorial sovereignty are utterly unacceptable. There's no justification for the military presence. Now whether or not the people of Crimea are able to go to a referendum that has a binding result remains to be seen.

TONY JONES: I'm just going to move us quickly – we're nearly out of time, but quickly moving closer to home to Fiji. You're fast moving to – if I could put it this way: normalise relations. Will that include lifting sanctions, the long-standing sanctions against Fijian authorities?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, this was a promise we took to the last election, that we would seek to normalise relations with Fiji as soon as possible in anticipation of an election being held in September and I'm satisfied that significant steps have been taken in that regard, particularly Prime Minister Bainimarama standing down as the military leader. He's now going to contest the elections as a political candidate. To me that was a landmark. And I have certainly reviewed the travel sanctions policy that was in place under the previous government and I will take a position to cabinet.

My view is that we should seek to engage as deeply as we can with Fiji. There's deep affection between the people of Australia and the people of Fiji. We should normalise political ties and Defence ties as soon as possible.

TONY JONES: I'm going to jump in there because we're nearly out of time, but you'll take a position to cabinet to lift the sanctions?

JULIE BISHOP: That's what I have – I have reviewed the sanctions policy and I'm taking a position to cabinet and I hope that as a result of that we will more deeply engage with Fiji and we'll be able to welcome Fiji back into the Pacific family.

TONY JONES: Well, what about Mr Bainimarama, the man who basically staged a coup to become Prime Minister. Will he be welcome to visit Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it's a question as to whether or not he wants to come. I'm sure he'll be campaigning …

TONY JONES: Well, you spoke to him face-to-face recently.

JULIE BISHOP: On 14th February, you're right.

TONY JONES: Does he want to come to Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: I think he's more focused on winning the election, but we have been providing exemptions to some ministers in his government. Foreign Minister Kubuabola has visited me in Sydney and I think that's been important in progressing the journey that Fiji is on back to democracy.

TONY JONES: But Mr Bainimarama himself, if the sanctions are lifted, would be welcome to visit Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's a matter for cabinet. I'll discuss it with my colleagues.

TONY JONES: Julie Bishop, we'll have to leave you there. Thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us tonight and explore all these areas. We hope you'll do it again soon.

JULIE BISHOP: I look forward to it.

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