Doorstop following G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: Former Japanese Prime Minister Abe, G20, meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I want to start by expressing my sympathy and my thoughts, and the sympathy and thoughts of the Australian people and the Australian Government to the people of Japan following the passing of former Prime Minister Abe. Mr Abe has been the closest of friends to Australia. We condemn this shocking act of violence. His death is tragic. It is devastating news for Japan and its people, for Australia and for the international community. As the Prime Minister said in his statement earlier today, earlier this evening, it was Shinzo Abe's vision that saw our bilateral relationship elevated, to a special strategic partnership in 2014 and he was absolutely a giant on the world stage. He was a leader in the region, he was a leader in the G7, at the G20 and at the United Nations. And in many ways, the Quad and certainly the CPTPP are the result of his diplomatic activism. He's also the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japanese history. His legacy was one of global impact and a profoundly positive one for Australia and its people. He will be greatly missed.

As you know, I have been at the G20 today and before I turn to one of the bilaterals – which was the meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi – I would just say it was, I think, a very constructive meeting. A meeting which reaffirmed the importance of multilateralism at this time, when the world faces so many challenges, from the war in Ukraine, Russia's illegal, immoral invasion of Ukraine, to food security, to climate change. I also had the opportunity to meet with many others, other counterparts: the US Secretary of State, the Foreign Minister of France, of Germany, Canada, the EU representative and many others. So I am grateful for the privilege and honour of representing Australia at this forum. This government will continue to be forward-leaning in our activism internationally. We recognise as a middle power and at a time where there are great challenges in this world, Australia's security and national interest lies in our engagement with our region and with the world in multilateral forum and in our support for a system that reflects international law and international norms as a basis on which disputes can be settled.

As you are also aware, tonight I met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. I welcome our discussion on issues of concern between our two countries, as well as our discussion on the prosperity, security and stability of the region. We spoke frankly and we listened carefully to each other's priorities and concerns. As you would expect, I raised a number of issues in relation to bilateral, regional and consular issues. Australia and China have gained much due to the strength of our economic and people to people ties. We do have our differences. We do have our differences. But as I said this morning, and as I previously said, we believe it is in the interests of both countries for the relationship to be stabilised. And this Australian Government will always seek to resolve issues calmly and consistently under the comprehensive strategic partnership and in accordance with Australia's national interests. I'm happy to take questions.

Journalist: Minister, earlier today you appeared to be trying to temper expectations of what might be achieved with this meeting. Has it exceeded your expectations? What can you tell us about where we're at now?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: What I can say to you is that this is the first step towards stabilising the relationship. So, we are a government and we are a nation that's made certain decisions and on the basis of our national interests, our national security and our sovereignty, and we won't be resiling from those. But we do think it's in our interests and we would say in China's interest for the relations to be stabilised. It's going to take time, it's going to take effort, it's going to take work and it's going to take some nuance.

Journalist: Do you feel you made some progress today?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: It was an important first step.

Journalist: Did you discuss next steps?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I think we both agreed it was an important next step. I don't intend to give a blow-by-blow account of the meeting for obvious reasons. But I think it is a fair summation to say we both recognise it is the first step for both our nations. We've got a path to walk and you know, we'll see if it can lead to a better place between the two countries.

Journalist: Can you at least say what some of those concerns were on both sides that were raised?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: It is unsurprising that that we would raise consular cases, including Ms Cheng Lei and Dr Yang and others. Obviously, we discussed the trade blockages that exist and that remains the Government's position: those trade blockages should be removed and we have said so publicly and our private position reflects that.

Journalist: And did China ask for anything for the concrete in return?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I think the Chinese position is well known and the issues of difference and different perspectives is well known and obviously what was put to me reflected what we know China's position to be.

Journalist: Did you find any common ground on trade and did they give you any reason to hope that there might be an imminent release of our detainees?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I think all of these issues will take some time and I think there is a path we are walking and we will take one step at a time in the interest of the country.

Journalist: Does that path include further meetings anytime soon?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I think it would be in our interest to do so, both our interests, but that would require both countries to agree to do so.

Journalist: Would you convey that same message you gave in your speech in Singapore about convincing them to put pressure on Russia to end the war? Did you convey that same message personally?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I'm not going to go through all the detail of what was and wasn't said, but you can take is as read that that our view about international law and the importance of the UN Charter, which is the basis as you heard from many of my speeches of our position on Ukraine, is our public and our private position.

Journalist: What can you say about the sessions today as part of the G20, and the collective response, if you like, to the issue of the war in Ukraine?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I thought there were some really powerful contributions on the effect of the war in Ukraine. The consequence of it. I was really moved by some of the contributions. The German Foreign Minister and the Canadian Foreign Minister in particular made profoundly moving contributions. And in the second session, the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, who spoke to us about the number of children who have been lost in this war, brought a poignant fact to the attention of the G20. Obviously, Russia has a different position and Russia's position is untenable. It is untenable.

Journalist: Mr Lavrov said today that Australia should do its homework in terms of the background to the war in Ukraine -

Minister for Foreign Affairs: I don't take, I don't think any Australian takes lectures from Mr Lavrov about the war in Ukraine. I think we all know that is a consequence of Russia's aggression, Russia's abrogation of international law, and it is really important, and this is a point I made, that we do not normalise or minimise what is occurring in Ukraine. Thank you very much for your time.

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