Sky News, Beijing - interview with Tom Connell

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST Thanks for your timeForeign Minister. We know it's been a busy trip. When it comes to thesereports about the missiles in the South China Sea on one of these islands, doesAustralia accept the word of the US, that this is the case that these reportsare now confirmed?

JULIEBISHOP I have raised theissue of the surface-to-air missile reports with the Chinese at the highestlevels and they have not conceded that the reports are correct and so Australiawill of course carry out our own means of verifying the status of these reportson surface-to-air missiles.

Theissue of the South China Sea came up in each of the high-level discussions thatI have had here in Beijing with the Foreign Minister Wang Yi, with StateCouncillor Yang and with other officials. We agreed to disagree on arange of issues related to the South China Sea, but Australia's position hasbeen consistent both publicly and privately. We don't take sides on the varyingand competing claims over territory and boundaries, but we urge all parties toexercise restraint and to settle their disputes peacefully, and to de-escalatetensions, not act in a way that would escalate tensions and lead to potentialmiscalculation.

JOURNALIST Because one thing yousaid a lot on this trip and indeed you said in Tokyo before coming here is thatyou wanted President Xi to stick by his word not to militarise theseislands. Is it fair to say that if there are missiles being placed therethen that is militarising the islands?

JULIEBISHOP President Xi said inWashington that China did not intend to militarise the islands and I believethe international community can take that at face value - that is China'sintention. So therefore, any act that could be seen as militarisation will ofcourse raise concerns and raise tensions. That is why…

JOURNALISTSo would a missileplacement be that act? It seems…

JULIEBISHOP Well I'm not going tobuy into this until there's been verification that would satisfy Australia. Ofcourse I'm in Beijing and I'll be heading home this evening so this is a matterI will discuss with our intelligence and foreign policy experts.

Wehave raised the issue with China, but of course my visit here has been aboutfar more than just the South China Sea. We have been discussing ourenhanced level of economic and strategic cooperation. Indeed, at all themeetings I've attended the consensus with the Chinese side has been that theAustralia-China relationship has never been stronger or closer. So we areable to raise issues where we don't agree, as well as focus on the achievementsand milestones of this most special of relationships.

JOURNALISTAnd I know you'vespoken a lot about the productive meetings. I will get onto trade a little bitlater, but just when it comes to the South China Sea, Labor has said thatAustralia should conduct freedom of navigation exercises, unannounced ones,says Stephen Conroy. This should be part of our response to this latestdevelopment. What's your response to that?

JULIEBISHOP I like to speak froma position of informed analysis, not from ignorance. The fact is we doconduct transit through the South China Sea, we do conduct trips through thatpart of the world. We do embrace freedom of navigation, freedom ofoverflight, in accordance with international law. That's what Australiaalready does.

JOURNALISTWhat do you saythough, that there should be unannounced ones and that should be the responseto that?

JULIEBISHOP We already transitthe South China Sea. The majority of our trade goes through that area, we havedefence vessels in the region, they already conduct freedom of navigationoperations. Our planes go through the South China Sea. That is whatalready occurs in accordance with international law, but Australia is not goingto add to tensions in the region. We're calling for calm, we're calling for allparties to show restraint and exercise restraint.

JOURNALISTIt's obviously alwaysa bit of a balancing act, the China and Japan dynamic, if you like. I wasinterested in what you said earlier in the trip that you ruled out an alliancewith Japan, a formal alliance. Is that forever and why is that, what arethe reasons behind not considering that?

JULIEBISHOP Australia only has one alliance, apart from our relationship with New Zealand.We only have one alliance and that's with the United States. That wasentered into in 1951for various specific reasons. There is no need for us tosign formal treaty alliances with countries when we can have comprehensive orspecial strategic partnerships that serve our common interests, which serve ournational interests.

JOURNALIST On Japan, [there is]$66 billion of Japanese investment in Australia. That's how much there isand there are only $550 million going the other way. How do you helpaddress that imbalance?

JULIEBISHOP In relation toinvestment by Japan?

JOURNALIST How can the freetrade deal that's been signed, how will that open up Australian investment inJapan? $66 billion, as I said, has been invested by Japan in Australiabut only $550 million goes the other way.

JULIEBISHOP The free tradeagreements that we've entered into with South Korea, with China and with Japanare all about enhancing two-way flows of trade and investment. So theseare unprecedented opportunities for Australian businesses and investors toinvest in the North Asian giant economies, but also to encourage moreinvestment in Australia. That's precisely what these free tradeagreements are designed to do. They are to enhance open and to liberalisethe trade and investment between the destination country and Australia.

JOURNALIST Just anothercouple of quick ones, I know you're in a hurry. The UN Secretary Generalposition, there's been a lot of talk about Kevin Rudd maybe putting up his hand.Do you think he's got the temperament for the job [inaudible]?

JULIEBISHOP My position has consistently been that we will wait to see who puts their handup, who formally nominates. I'm not going to speculate on who may or may not bea candidate because that would be wasting your time, and perhaps mine. So whatI'm focusing on is who actually nominates, and when the nominations are knownthen I'll take a submission to cabinet and the cabinet will decide if Australiasupports a particular candidate or we don't.

JOURNALIST We'll cross thatbridge, I guess, when we come to it. The other position that Australia islooking for is the UN Human Rights Council seat. Minister, do you think thepublic war of words between Gillian Triggs and some members of your government,I know that's in the past now, but could that hurt the bid in the future?

JULIEBISHOP I don't believe so.In fact, Australia's track record on human rights matters and our advocacy iswell-regarded around the world. Australia will be advocating theabolition of the death penalty. We will be advocating gender equality and theempowerment of women and girls. We will be advocating good governance anddemocratic institutions and the embrace of freedom. So I think Australia has avery good chance. We are not taking it for granted. We are working veryhard to win support from other countries.

Thebid will be from the period of 2018-2020. That's why we have asked PhilipRuddock to be a special envoy, to meet with countries and to seek theirsupport. I think it's important for countries like Australia that does have astrong track record in embracing the rule of law, a commitment to theinternational rules-based order, to democratic institutions, to goodgovernance, that we should be on the Human Rights Council and have our voiceheard.

JOURNALIST JulieBishop, Foreign Minister, I know you're very busy. Thanks for your time today.

JULIEBISHOP My pleasure.

Media enquiries