Sky News AM Agenda, interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thanks very much for your time. You're there for the 2+2 talks with Defence Minister Marise Payne. Now from what you've ascertained talking to your South Korean counterparts – of course that country's lived with this threat from Pyongyang for many decades – are they taking the latest provocations in their stride or is their position hardening?

JULIE BISHOP: You're absolutely right, the people of South Korea have been living with the threat in some form or another for over 60 years and they are stoic in the way they go about their business, given that Pyongyang is so very close to the capital of South Korea, Seoul. Yesterday we visited the Demilitarised Zone and again you can feel the heightened tension between UN Command US-South Korea joint forces. But here in Seoul people are going around their business but there is an undercurrent of tension and we have had numerous discussions with commentators, with politicians, with the Director of the National Intelligence Service. Clearly there is a determination on the part of South Korea to bring this tension to an end and compel North Korea back to the negotiating table. Australia has reiterated our support for South Korea. We will stand with them in doing what we can to deter North Korea from further illegal ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests, and compel them back to the negotiating table to resolve the current tensions and crisis.

JOURNALIST: Polling in South Korea and in Japan for that matter, shows that the vast bulk of people want a diplomatic approach to succeed here, obviously for understandable reasons. Is there a sense of concern about the rhetoric and the tweeting and the messages from Donald Trump, you know referring to Kim Jong Un as 'Rocket Man' and so on?

JULIE BISHOP: The collective strategy of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia and others is to maximise the diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea so that it will be compelled to come back to the negotiating table. That is a strategy embraced by all including China, who has been taking a much more active role in implementing the very tough and comprehensive set of sanctions. The rhetoric from North Korea has been longstanding, I think there is a view that people are used to this kind of outburst from North Korea. What the US President has done is ensure that China can no longer stand back and say, "This is just a matter between Washington and Pyongyang". What he has done is brought China much closer to the collective strategy and we now see China playing a very active role, and China is the key. China has the most extensive economic relationship with North Korea. About 95% of North Korea's foreign investment comes from China, about 75% of its trade. So these new sanctions really do focus on China's efforts to put so much pressure, economically speaking, on North Korea that they will come back to the negotiating table and give up their illegal ballistic and nuclear weapons tests, which are in direct violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions.

JOURNALIST: The Chinese obviously, the relationship between Korea and China very complex and we've seen sanctions, economic sanctions against Korean companies over the THAAD missile defence system that South Korea has put in place. In relation to China we've got the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party next week, that major five yearly event where Xi Jinping consolidates his Cabinet, his leadership, his Politburo. What's the expectation and the hope out of South Korea as to the Chinese leadership on North Korea beyond the Congress next week? Is there any scope in their view that they could go even further in bringing Pyongyang into line?

JULIE BISHOP: We had a very long briefing yesterday with the Director of National Intelligence Service, South Korea and he made it clear that the concern around the 19th Party Congress is that North Korea may use that opportunity to further embarrass China by having another nuclear test or letting off another ballistic missile, because there seems to be some pattern to North Korea's behaviour in having these illegal tests at the same time as China is showcasing its nation on the world stage. So we are expecting possibly a further provocation from North Korea. In relation to China's direction, I think the world will be waiting to see the outcome of the 19th Party Congress and clearly we are hoping that China will take a more active role in bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table. It has much more it can do in the economic sanctions front but as well diplomatically, so this strategy of increasing, maximising diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea must include China at the forefront.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, is it your view that President Xi will be looking to lay the foundations at this Congress for an additional term? There's a sense among many foreign policy commentators and analysts that he's heading towards at least 15 years if not longer in the Presidency, as opposed to the recent approach from Presidents in China of two five year terms to a maximum of 10 years.

JULIE BISHOP: There seems to be a view that this Congress will provide President Xi Jinping with an opportunity to extend his term beyond that of previous leaders, but we'll have to wait and see the outcome. I know that President Trump is planning a visit to Beijing as well as to Tokyo and Seoul in coming weeks, and so this may well be an opportunity for President Xi to lay out his plans for his leadership, for China more generally, and then there'll be a meeting with President Trump, the first visit of President Trump to China since his inauguration. So that will likewise be a very important meeting where we will gain some idea of President Xi Jinping's plans for the future. Our focus of course at present, and will be today during our 2+2 meeting with the Korean Foreign and Defence Ministers, will be how to deal with North Korea and its increasingly belligerent and provocative behaviour because this presents a risk not only to our region, it's a global security threat.

JOURNALIST: The other security threat that President Trump will be focussing on in the immediate term is that of Iran, due to give a major speech on the Iranian deal that was struck by the Obama Administration. Are you worried that Trump will pull out of this entirely and therefore alienate the Europeans? I know Germany and others want him to stick with the Iranian deal as struck by the former President.

JULIE BISHOP: We have expressed our concerns and I have spoken directly to Secretary Rex Tillerson about this, that we would rather the United States leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the JCPOA – in place. There's no credible or viable alternative to that in relation to Iran's nuclear program. The United States has rightly expressed concerns about other aspect of Iran's behaviour, in terms of ballistic missiles, its support for organisations like Hezbollah, and we believe that they should be the subject of separate negotiations, discussion, debate. But we would rather see the JCPOA remain in place so that we can continue to monitor Iran's nuclear program. There is no alternative. It's not a perfect negotiated agreement but it's the best we have at present, and that's the view we have expressed.

JOURNALIST: It looks like he's going to withdraw from or at least change that agreement, as he's just, his Administration announced via the State Department that they're pulling out of UNESCO because of an anti-Israel bias. Is that a worrying development in your view?

JULIE BISHOP: It's not the first time the US has pulled out of UNESCO. It occurred under President Ronald Reagan at a time when the Administration was deeply concerned about the anti-Israel bias at that time, and I believe that this is another message from the United States that they won't tolerate the anti-Israel bias that is so manifest in some UN organisations. Australia has expressed our concern as well in various forums in the United Nations about the persistent and consistent targeting of Israel to the exclusion of others, and we voted against a UNESCO resolution recently which was targeted at Israel and only Israel. So it's not the first time the United States has done this.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with them in their assessment of UNESCO in its anti-Israel approach as seen by the US? Do you agree with that assessment?

JULIE BISHOP: We have voted in accordance with that view on a number of occasions in UN forums and also within UNESCO, but we take each resolution on a case-by-case basis – we consider it, we think if it's broadly applicable then we'll support it, if we think it's targeting Israel and is unfair and biased, we'll vote against it. Our view is to try and effect change from within the membership of UNESCO and other organisations. The United States can send a very powerful message because its ability to withdraw funding will have a profound impact on UNESCO, but they do have a fair point that resolutions that target only Israel are not fair and not balanced and should not be supported.

JOURNALIST: And finally, last night you said that Tony Abbott is the person that needs to explain the difference in his message today as opposed to when he was Prime Minister when it comes to issues of climate change and so on, but from an international perspective, does this impact on Australia's credibility when you've got a former Prime Minister, a very recent former Prime Minister, suggesting we should renege on the Paris deal of which he pledged Australia's commitments?

JULIE BISHOP: The focus is very much on what the Government is doing. I was in New York recently attending the United Nations General Assembly Leaders Week and I attended a number of functions including one hosted by the United States to discuss energy policy, the Paris Agreement and so the international community are interested in what the Government is doing and our Government is committed to affordable and reliable energy that still meets our international obligations. Accordingly we will remain in the Paris Agreement that was negotiated and agreed under Prime Minister Abbott, and we will retain our commitment to our nationally concerned targets, the targets that we brought to the Paris Agreement under Prime Minister Abbott, and Australia will retain those commitments.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop from Seoul, appreciate your time. Thank you Foreign Minister.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

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