Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM programme
Australia's defence and foreign affairs ministers will sit down with their Japanese counterparts in Sydney today for the annual 2+2 talks.
It's occurring against a backdrop of increased tensions in this region, including a near miss last week between two warships in the South China Sea.
The Foreign Minister Marise Payne will be at today's meeting and she spoke with me a short time ago.
Senator Payne, is this a business-as-usual meeting, or given the unorthodox approach of the US President to foreign relations in this region, a chance to create even stronger ties?
Well, we're always pursuing the relationship in a very active way.
This is the eighth Japan-Australia 2+2 which we're holding here in Sydney today, and of course, it is symbolised by our special strategic partnership and that is a characterisation which is very important to both of us.
We will be very focused on maritime security, on democratic processes to which we're committed, on free trade, on the international rules-based order.
So I'm sure that all of those subjects will be matters for discussion.
How are Australia and Japan positioning themselves, given the US Vice-President's rhetoric recently on the US muscling up in this region to counter an emboldened Chinese military?
Well, the relationship that Australia and Japan particularly have with the United States is a very important one. We work together closely on a range of issues and engagements, whether they are diplomatic or military or multilateral or in economic terms, and we value the trilateral strength that that gives us.
In terms of the current approach of the United States, I was there last week, as you know, met with National Security Advisor Ambassador Bolton, met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and a number of other meetings to get an appreciation of the approach the United States is taking.
The US is planning freedom of navigation exercises next month through the South China Sea. This follows last week's near collision involving two warships. Will Australia and Japan join that exercise, or even plan their own exercises in or over the East China Sea?
Well, Australia – and I won't speak for Japan, that would not be appropriate – but Australia has consistently expressed our views about freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight in the region, according to international law, or in accordance with international law, and supporting the rules-based global order.
We have been extremely consistent in relation to that and our position hasn't changed.
How worried were you by that near miss?
Well, we would always encourage a safe and responsible approach to engagement. It doesn't matter of whom we are speaking and that applies equally across the entire region and Australia is very careful about the way we approach our maritime activity.
The Japanese have been very wary of the US President's denuclearisation initiatives with North Korea. Mr Trump is apparently close to another meeting with Kim Jong Un.
How confident are you that if Mr Trump does a deal with Pyongyang, it won't be detrimental to allies like Japan and Australia?
Well, I think the focus of the United States, the focus of Japan and the focus of Australia is on complete, irreversible, verifiable denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula and that has to continue to be our focus.
Both Japan and Australia are strongly committed, as is the United States, to continuing to enforce sanctions to make sure that the messaging is consistent, and the messaging is very strong around the international community's view on that.
And that was again reinforced in recent weeks, both in the United States and more broadly. Secretary Pompeo has met this week with Kim Jong Un, he has met this week with other leaders in the region.
That is, again, an important engagement to reinforce those messages and if we can progress the relationship in a constructive way whilst seeing those steps toward denuclearisation, then I think that is important.
I'm sure that will be a subject for discussion in Sydney today.
Would an early declaration of peace on the peninsula be detrimental to South Korea and Japan?
Well, I don't think it is constructive to speculate on an early declaration of peace, as such, because I think our focus needs to continue to be on the moves towards denuclearisation, and there are a number of steps which need to be taken in that process.
But the outcome that we all seek for the stability of the region, for the security of the region, is complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation. That is our very clear focus.
Nikki Haley has announced her resignation overnight as the US's representative at the United Nations. What legacy do you think she leaves?
Yes, I've seen that news this morning, of course, and she is a highly capable, extremely impressive operator on the floor of the United Nations. I have seen it myself in recent weeks and I know many have been impressed by her work.
I think she leaves a very robust period as the United States' Ambassador to the United Nations and I am sure that she has made a very significant impression.
Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
Thank you, Sabra.
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