Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
06 November 2018

SABRA LANE:

Marise Payne is off to China onThursday for a two day trip to Beijing. It's the first visit by an AustralianForeign Minister in more than two and a half years signalling a thaw inrelations between China and Australia. The Foreign Minister joined me earlier.

Senator Payne, welcome back to theprogram. Why has China decided to end the freeze now?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Good morning, Sabra. Well this is actually a great opportunityfor me to follow up on the meeting I had with State Councilor Wang Yi during theUNGA week in New York. Obviously we have a very substantial relationship and itworks in the interests of both sides and we're committed to building on our Comprehensive StrategicPartnership, which provides a very solidplatform for the relationship in the broad, and also of course MinisterBirmingham this week has been very focused on the benefits that we already haveestablished through our Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.

SABRA LANE:

China's trade expo has been on thisweek. Given the US President's trade dispute with China, how important is thisopportunity for Australia to possibly leverage a trade advantage right now?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Well there are enormousopportunities out of the presence of 150 companies in Shanghai this week withMinister Birmingham. We obviously appreciate the strength of the two-wayeconomic relationship and in fact in trade, in direct investment, in educationand tourism, all of those activities are at their highest levels at the moment,so there is great value for Australia in that engagement and I'm lookingforward to engaging further with State Councilor Wang Yi this week as well.

SABRA LANE:

President Xi said yesterday thecountry should not just point fingers at others to gloss over their ownproblems, largely seen as a swipe against President Trump. Again, is theopportunity presenting itself now for Australia to leverage advantage?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Well a number of the commentsthat the President made yesterday including the announcement of new marketaccess, improvements in education and in health, are opportunities which canprovide further growth for Australia's higher education providers, for ourhealth services companies to operate in China. And I think importantly, therewas also a commitment made about improving the system of intellectual propertyprotection and enforcement in China. This has been a significant concern forforeign businesses, including Australiancompanies, over a lot of years. So we'revery pleased to see that signal. But in terms of the US-Chinarelationship, the stability of our region depends on relations between two ofour most important partners. They are the United States and China. They areeconomically interdependent and their own relationships are sophisticated.They're multifaceted. So we want to continue to ensure the strength andvitality of our own relationship with the United States. It's fundamental toour security. But we can also be strengthening our relations with China and asI referred to earlier particularly through advancing our Comprehensive StrategicPartnership.

SABRA LANE:

Your invitation to visit comes asVictoria has just signed a memorandum of understanding with China on its beltand road initiative. Is your trip and that deal related?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Not in the least. No, that'sa matter for Victoria in that regard. We obviously seek opportunities tostrengthen engagement with China on regional trade and infrastructuredevelopment projects and that includes the BRI where those align withinternational best practices and we've been very clear about our thresholdstandards and requirements in that regard. We have a range of agreements andMOUs with China. They govern infrastructure and other cooperation opportunitiesand state and territory governments also look to expand those opportunities.Victoria and the other states have a variety of similar arrangements with Chinaand not just with China in fact with other countries as well of course.

SABRA LANE:

Victoria says it consulted with theDepartment of Foreign Affairs about the MOU, was the Commonwealth advised thata deal was being signed last week and did you get to see the contents of thatMOU before it was signed?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

No, that's a matter forVictoria. They signed the arrangement last week and made an announcement and weas I've said encouraged the states and territories to expand opportunities withChina, but the most important threshold aspect are those alignments withinternational best practices around contributions to stability and security, toprosperity, and also the usual transparencyrequirements that we would expect.

SABRA LANE:

But just on that point, if Victoriadidn't give you a heads up, is that a little embarrassing?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Not in the least, the statesand territories as I've said make arrangements of this nature of this levelregularly with other countries in this region and more broadly. Any treaty levelarrangements of course are made at the Commonwealth level and you would expectthat to be the case.

SABRA LANE:

The MoUhas not been revealed. The Victorian government says it won't be madetransparent and public. In your experience, is that typical for MOUs to be keptsecret?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

It depends on thearrangements between the parties and usually those arrangements are made witheach party respecting the others' views. In this case, I understand that to bethe Victorian government's view.

SABRA LANE:

The ABC highlighted last week theconstruction of a massive internment camps for the minority Uighers in XinjiangProvince. Data has been gathered by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.It's shown a huge expansion of those camps. How worried is Australia by thisand do you intend raising that with your counterpart?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

I have noted the report thatyou've referred to and I have said as well that we do have serious concerns aboutthe human rights situation in Xinjiang. We've expressed those concerns directlyto the Chinese Ambassador in Canberra and as well as the foreign ministry inBeijing.

SABRA LANE:

Will you follow it up?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Well there'll be statementsmade in the Human Rights Council this week and I will pursue matters in thecourse of my discussions in an appropriate way.

SABRA LANE:

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, thankyou very much for joining the program this morning.

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Thanks very much Sabra.

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