ABC 7.30 with Sarah Ferguson

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting; Meeting with Director of China’s Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs; China-Solomon Islands policing pact.

Sarah Ferguson, Host: Penny Wong is in Indonesia for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting. It follows a debate during the NATO Summit this week over whether that organisation should establish a presence in Asia. NATO was explicit in its communication this week that China poses a threat to European and US values and security. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered a broadside against the proposed expansion. In Jakarta, Penny Wong will be meeting China's highest ranking diplomat, Wang Yi, in a few hours. Penny Wong, Welcome to 7.30.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good to be with you from Jakarta.

Ferguson: Do your ASEAN partners see any advantage in inviting the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation into Southeast Asia?

Foreign Minister: Look, I think ASEAN is very clear about its view, which Australia shares, that ASEAN has the centre of the region in which we live, and ASEAN centrality within the Indo-Pacific is so critical to peace and prosperity and stability. Obviously, Australia engages with other partners in support of a rules-based order, in support of stability. We engage with NATO. We engage with other partners, including through the Quad, and we'll continue to do that.

Ferguson: Paul Keating has been scathing of NATO. He says it has denied peace to Europe. He said exporting that malicious poison to Asia would be akin to Asia welcoming the plague on itself. What do your ASEAN colleagues make of this kind of vehement opposition?

Foreign Minister: Look, Mr Keating has his views, and we in the Government have ours, and we have a job to do, and that's what we're doing. So, what I would say is I had a very good meeting today with ASEAN Foreign Ministers, as of course, Australia was the first dialogue partner of ASEAN. And we spoke at length about not only ASEAN centrality, but the importance of ASEAN leadership, ASEAN outreach, and what more work we can do together, practically, on both the economic front, but also the security front.

Ferguson: Did they not raise the comments of a former Labor Prime Minister?

Foreign Minister: With respect, I suspect the ABC and others are more interested in those comments than the Foreign Ministers in the region in which I'm working.

Ferguson: Let me ask you this; the French President, Emmanuel Macron, said that NATO has no business in Asia. In the light of this kind of opposition, does Australia still support the opening of a liaison office in Asia for NATO?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, those are matters for NATO, but I'd make the broader point - we live in an era where there is great strategic competition. We know that. We live in an era where the multilateral system is under pressure. So, partnerships which contribute to the maintenance of rules and norms, which help keep us safe, are a positive thing.

Ferguson: But the Prime Minister has been at NATO this week. So, I just want to know if the Government still supports the opening of a liaison office for NATO in Asia?

Foreign Minister: And I've just said to you that I think partnerships are a good thing. But I'm very clear about ASEAN centrality in the region which we live.

Ferguson: I'm not sure if that's an answer to the question, but I'll move on. NATO's communique this week said that China challenges the alliance interests, security and values with its stated aim and coercive policies. Now, is this helpful to Australia when Australia is trying to re-establish relations with China?

Foreign Minister: I'll leave it to others to comment on what NATO says. I think that we have made clear the approach we take to China is to engage. I've said cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in our national interests. And that's what we'll do. That's what we have done.

Obviously, we have differences. We have very different political systems. We have different interests, and part of what we need to try and do is to manage those differences wisely, and engagement is part of that. I will be meeting with Director Wang Yi, who was here in Jakarta, this evening, and it will be another engagement with him. Obviously, I think the first time since my visit to Beijing in December of last year.

Ferguson: You said you'd like the Prime Minister's visit to China to take place under positive circumstances. What are those positive circumstances, and will you be discussing them with Wang Yi?

Foreign Minister: Look, the Prime Minister has obviously received an invitation to visit China. We would look to make sure that a visit can occur. We do want, as I said, positive circumstances, a positive atmosphere for such a visit. There's obviously progress we want to see continued on a number of matters. You know that my position publicly, as has the whole government's has been, we want to see the trade impediments removed. We've seen some progress there, and obviously we're always keen to see more.

Ferguson: Again. When you speak to Wang Yi tonight, I think you said it's going to be, will you be asking him to share with you the details of the police pact that the Solomons have just signed, along with a number of other pacts in China?

Foreign Minister: Well, on the general point, I am aware, as you are, of reports of a memorandum of understanding, which is the implementation of the agreement that was signed in March 2022 between Solomon Islands and China. We have made clear our view that Pacific leaders in the Pacific Island Forum, of which we are a member, have said very clearly that security should be provided from within the Pacific family. And we are continuing to call for transparency from China and Solomon Islands in relation to this agreement. I think it is of benefit for the Pacific Island Forum to discuss it.

Ferguson: Is Australian diplomacy not a match for China in the Pacific?

Foreign Minister: I think when we took office, I said a couple of things about that. One is we lost a decade and we're not going to get it back. And we are in a different type of engagement in the Pacific. We know there's a lot more strategic contest in the world and in our region. So, I think you've heard me say we're in a different time and Australia has to continue to engage because the Pacific matters to us, it matters to our security and it matters to the security of the Pacific.

Ferguson: You've said in a previous statement, and you're saying it again now, that China and the Solomons should release the details of the policing pact. Why are they under any obligation to do that?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, I mean, it's a decision for them, but I think Australia thinks transparency is important and the point the Pacific leaders have made, first, that security should be provided within the Pacific family, and second, that the sovereign decisions of one nation can affect the security of others. Now, given the circumstances, I think it is a good idea. Australia would hope that the Pacific Island Forum could have the opportunity to discuss what arrangements might lead to in terms of Chinese policing operations or Chinese policing presence, additional presence in Solomon Islands.

Ferguson: What is it that you're afraid of in relation to China and the Solomons?

Foreign Minister: I am making the point that as a member of the Pacific Island Forum, there has been a discussion amongst leaders, that we were part of, which agreed that security would be provided for within the Pacific family. Now, obviously, what's been reported as a different set of arrangements. I think it is a good idea for that to be the subject of some discussion in the Forum.

Ferguson: I just want to come back to your meeting with Wang Yi this evening. What will be the consequences of Australia delivering a snub to China? That is, if the Prime Minister decides not to go to China this year, having been invited.

Foreign Minister: Sarah, you're asking me to comment on something which hasn't happened. You're inviting me to comment on a hypothetical. It's not a good thing for Foreign Ministers to do that. I'll simply come back to what I said to you before. We want to engage with China. The Prime Minister has been invited. We'd like that visit to occur in the most positive circumstances. We're pleased with some of the progress that's been made on some of the issues we've raised and we’d look to more progress being made.

Ferguson: Penny Wong, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Foreign Minister: Good to speak with you.

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