Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: AUSMIN conference, security in the Indo-Pacific region, Australia-US-China relations, human rights issues in China.
29 July 2020

Ben Fordham: The Foreign Minister has just called in from Washington. Marise Payne, good morning.

Marise Payne: Good morning Ben. How are you?

Ben Fordham: Very well. Thank you for calling in. What role can Australia play in protecting islands in the South China Sea?

Marise Payne: Ben, I think the discussions that we've had today have been very significant. We're dealing with some of the most significant strategic challenges in generations while also dealing with the health and economic crises of COVID-19. And we have talked about, in context of that, the work that we do together in the region, including in the South China Sea. We've agreed to pursue increased and regularised maritime cooperation in the region, whether that is in the South China Sea or indeed in the Indian Ocean. We might do that bilaterally, we might do that in concert with other like-minded and regional partners, but it is important that every decision we take, of course as Australians would expect, will be taken in our national interests, and each decision made on its merits and each decision is grounded in our values.

Ben Fordham: It's certainly in our national interest to find out the origins of coronavirus, but ever since we started asking questions China has punished Australian businesses. And the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has spoken about that after his meeting with you. Here he is.

[Excerpt]

Michael Pompeo: The United States commends the Morrison Government for standing up for democratic values and the rule of law. It is unacceptable for Beijing to use exports or student fees as a cudgel against Australia.

[End of Excerpt]

Ben Fordham: Mike Pompeo describes China's actions towards us as intense, continued and coercive. Do you agree with that assessment?

Marise Payne: Well, I think that the Secretary of State has certainly made his views clear, but we make our own decisions, Ben, and we use our own language. We often hold common positions with the United States because of those fundamental values that we share, but for us it is about advancing Australia's interests, our national interests, in making all of those decisions. As I said before on our values, what we have done here with AUSMIN and what has happened for many years now – this is the 30th AUSMIN meeting – is about that alignment of the broad perspectives of both Australia and the US on global and regional issues, and of course at the moment that particularly includes China.

We have stood up for the things that we think are important, that included – and you and I have discussed this – that included an appropriate review into the origins of the COVID-19 virus, its impact on the world. We have had so many deaths, we have such an extraordinary economic impact and it is going to affect the world for generations. We don't resile from that. At the same time, we want to have a constructive and a mutually beneficial relationship with China. Of course we do. They're a very important country in our region. But we will not be compromised in standing up for our own values and Australia's national interests.

Ben Fordham: I know that trade and coronavirus in the South China Sea are way towards the top of the list, but I'm wondering where human rights falls into all of this as well? Because you would have seen that drone footage from China of the Uighur Muslim minority group being treated like prisoners - blindfolded men being led off a train, being put in re-education camps. Do we still talk to China about human rights issues? I suppose it's a bit hard when they're not even picking up the phone.

Marise Payne: Ben, we do indeed. And we have longstanding and serious concerns about human rights issues against Uighurs and other minorities in China, particularly in Xinjiang. We have seen the evidence that you've referred to. We have continued to receive evidence of arbitrary detention; on surveillance of individuals; of attacks on their reproductive rights; forced labour - and they are very concerning.

At the Human Rights Council recently, the United Kingdom led a resolution on both Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Australia was a supporter of that resolution with tens of other countries who share our concern. And when you come to the table with the values that we express and that we hold, then of course human rights continue to be of concern and they were most certainly part of our discussions here in Washington.

Ben Fordham: We really appreciate you calling in this morning, and we'll catch up when you're back home.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much, Ben.

Ben Fordham: Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister calling in from the United States. By the way, Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds will be exempt from hotel quarantine when they return, they will instead isolate at home where they will continue to work.

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