Sky News First Edition, interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE
05 July 2017

JOURNALIST: Joining us on the line now from Grenada is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for her first comments on this latest in the Korean crisis. Thanks for your time, Minister. Pyongyang and the leader, Kim Jong-un, claim that it was an intercontinental ballistic missile. What's the advice that you have? Is that claim accurate?

JULIE BISHOP: The advice that we have, Kieran, is that it is likely North Korea has now tested an intercontinental ballistic missile. This is a serious escalation of North Korea's ability to threaten nations even further afield than its immediate region, and this is yet another further serious and blatant breach of multiple UN Security Council resolutions that banned ballistic missile testing, and the concern is now that North Korea will master the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on such a weapon. So it's the scale and the pace of North Korea's testing and the development of its ballistic missile program that makes it a threat not just to South Korea and nations in the region, but the United States and directly to Australia.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, it does now enter the range of Alaska and the US and, as you mentioned, Cairns and Darwin in the Top End.

JULIE BISHOP: We have been saying for some time North Korea is not just a regional threat, it's a global security threat, and that's why we've been calling on China to take strong action against the regime, as China is uniquely positioned as North Korea's economic lifeline to bring maximum possible pressure on the regime to change this provocative behaviour. So Australia will certainly support any Security Council resolutions. We'll certainly work with the Security Council to ensure the sanctions that have been imposed will have an impact, and indeed Australia has been increasing the sanctions on North Korea. I have recently increased the financial sanctions and the sanctions against North Korean individuals who are involved in the ballistic missile testing program.

JOURNALIST: Does it all come down to pressure from China, which has been the sponsor nation really of the rogue regime over many decades?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia calls on all nations to take comparable action. The regime must get a global message that its behaviour is unacceptable. And Australia has been saying for some time – I've said this in global forums – that the North Korean regime should be putting the interests of the impoverished North Korean people first, and not diverting precious resources into a ballistic missile program that threatens the region and does nothing to improve the standard of living for North Korean people. The emphasis on China is because China is the source of foreign direct investment into North Korea, the source of remittances, the source of technology. So China is North Korea's economic lifeline, and that's why we've been calling on China to bring pressure to bear on the North Korean regime to change its behaviour.

JOURNALIST: In relation to the approach to Pyongyang, obviously this is a ratcheting up of their missile testing and their capability; however, surely, even as unpredictable as they are, they would know any use of their deterrent would be suicidal?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, indeed. It would be assured destruction. The tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been caused by North Korea's belligerent behaviour. The South Koreans will not tolerate any threat to their existence. Japan, China, the United States, there are a number of countries who have a direct interest in curbing North Korea's behaviour. Australia now, of course we're concerned about the reports that this is an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking beyond the region, and so we will continue to work with all nations who have a direct interest. But as I said, this is a global issue and we call on all nations to take comparable sanctions action so that North Korea gets the message that it cannot behave in this way. It's belligerent, it's provocative behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, sure, and while Pyongyang is unpredictable, so too is the US administration. We don't know how Donald Trump is going to react. Is that a worry?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I believe that the State Department's policy on North Korea has been pretty coherent. They have been reviewing their North Korean policy after the Obama Administration's policy of strategic patience. The Trump Administration believes that that is no longer feasible; that North Korea, in spite of a strategic patience policy, has continued to build capability and has continued to increase the scale and pace of its nuclear and ballistic testing and development. And so the Trump Administration's position is that countries, including China, must take greater responsibility for curbing North Korea's behaviour. It is not just a matter for the United States. It's not as simple as saying North Korea can demand that the US withdraw its troops from South Korea. North Korea must cease its production of ballistic missiles and most certainly must cease its nuclear weapons program. And I point out again, this is in direct and blatant violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions that have been supported by China, Russia, and the entire Security Council.

JOURNALIST: Is there any potential though for Trump to act unilaterally here? Because surely the allies in the region – South Korea, Japan, particularly in the firing line – wouldn't be too keen on that sort of action from the US.

JULIE BISHOP: The United States Administration did say that all options are on the table and I took that to include military options, but of course there would have to be a risk assessment of that. And as you pointed out, it would mean assured destruction of North Korea if it were to be so provocative and foolhardy as to seek to dump a nuclear payload on the United States. I mean, this would be a deplorable situation. So clearly we have to continue with the diplomatic efforts to curb North Korea's behaviour, but the United States will work with coalition partners. The United States will be in contact with Japan, South Korea, Australia and others. They're also in direct dialogue with China about North Korea's behaviour, knowing the special relationship that China has with North Korea. But this is what is commonly called a rogue nation; all options have to be considered to ensure that we can keep our region safe and that we can prevent North Korea becoming an even greater global security threat.

JOURNALIST: Minister, finally, as I mentioned in the introduction, you're in Grenada in the Caribbean; you've been meeting with Caribbean foreign ministers. This comes as the UNESCO World Heritage Committee set to make a decision on the status of the Great Barrier Reef. The agency has criticised our government for not doing enough to protect the Great Barrier Reef. I believe that that's one of the issues you've been discussing, reef management, with your counterparts in the Caribbean?

JULIE BISHOP: I most certainly have. The CARICOM meeting is a meeting of the prime ministers and foreign ministers of the Caribbean community, and one issue that they share with Australia – we have many issues in common, of course many of the countries of the Caribbean are Commonwealth members – but one issue we had in common is the preservation and conservation and management of coral reefs. Australia of course has the Great Barrier Reef – the largest living structure on earth – so our experience in managing the reef is of deep interest to the countries of the Caribbean who depend on their coral reefs for their livelihood, for tourism, and they are deeply concerned about the environment impacts on their coral reefs. So we have had a very positive discussion about Australia's 2050 Reef Plan that was endorsed by the World Heritage Committee, the $30 billion that Australia will be investing over the period in preserving the reef. We've also assisted some of the Caribbean countries, including Grenada, with what they've called "reef guardian" programs. That is, assisting local farmers in changing their agricultural practices, things that Australia has been doing for a long time, but here in the Caribbean a lot of this experience is yet to be shared. So we're working with Caribbean countries to ensure that they can adopt Australia's practices when it comes to reef management, including changing agricultural practices, preventing drilling and exploration in what should be marine park areas, and there's been a lot of interest in what Australia has been doing.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Grenada. Thanks for joining us on the phone. Appreciate it.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure, Kieran.

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