Interview with ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript (E&OE)
Subjects: One year since Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine; additional military assistance to Ukraine; further sanctions on Russian individuals and organisations; Pacific Islands Forum; US troops training in Taiwan; China-US relations

Michael Rowland, Host: Vigils and events are being held across the world on the anniversary of Russia's invasion of the Ukraine, as leaders and communities mourn the dead and continue to call for peace. Australia is stepping up its support, and joining me from Fiji is Australia's Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. Minister, very good morning to you. So tell us about the extra support Australia is now offering Ukraine?

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good morning, Michael. Good morning to all. And as you said, today is the anniversary of the first, of the full‑scale invasion by Russia of Ukraine and we mourn those lost. We continue to condemn Russia's illegal and immoral war and we stand with Ukraine. And the Government's demonstrating that by what we are doing in addition to what we've already provided so far. We're providing an additional defence capability, uncrewed aerial surveillance, and I have, overnight, issued more sanctions against Russia, against 90 people and organisations which take our sanctions to in excess of 1,000. So it's a very heavy sanctions regime against a government which has chosen to engage in an illegal and immoral war, breaching sovereignty, breaching the UN charter. That's why we all have to stand against Russia.

Rowland: Do you believe that sanctions regime is biting in Russia?

Foreign Minister: Well, it's a very heavy regime and it's a regime which reflects the actions of many in the international community, other like‑minded partners. Look, this is a tough, this is a tough war. This is a war with incalculable loss. This is a war which, unfortunately, has continued and Ukrainians are defending their country with their lives. Their bravery and their courage is something we all honour.

Rowland: Now, overnight, the NATO Secretary‑General Jens Stoltenberg, Minister, said that he and his organisation have seen signs of China considering supplying arms to Russia. What do you think of that, and if that was to happen, what consequences should China suffer?

Foreign Minister: What I would say is that Russia is a member of the, a permanent member of the Security Council. It has a special responsibility to ensure that international law, including the UN Charter, which protects everyone's sovereignty, is protected. This war, waged by Mr Putin is an attack on sovereignty and it is an attack on the UN Charter, so we would urge China to do all it can to not only not escalate this conflict, but to end it.

Rowland: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that if China was to supply arms, he's talking about consequences. Do you believe there should be international consequences if China was to supply arms?

Foreign Minister: Look, I think the global community would be put in a position where there would be widespread condemnation of such an action. But, look, I'm not going to be drawn into what would happen. What I want to say is it shouldn't happen.

Rowland: You're in the region, meeting a range of Pacific Island leaders. Minister, how would you describe the current state of relations between Australia and the Pacific Islands?

Foreign Minister: Well, from our perspective we've been out in the region. We've engaged more. We've listened more. We've obviously got a much more sensible and ambitious position on climate, which is the central issue, the most important national security and economic issue facing Pacific Islands. We've engaged and it's fantastic to be here – one of the really positive developments ahead of this Pacific Islands Forum is of course Kiribati, which left the forum last year, coming back into the forum. That's something we've been supporting. We're really pleased that that has occurred, because, as I said yesterday to a number of the leaders, we're stronger together.

Rowland: Speaking of the region, of course, lingering concerns about China's ambitions in the region. Overnight, as well, the US announced it is quadrupling the number of troops it will have on the ground in Taiwan for training purposes amid rising tensions, of course, between the US and China after the Chinese spy balloons and a range of other things. What do you think of that move to increase the number of troops, American troops, in Taiwan?

Foreign Minister: Look, on Taiwan, it's very clear what we want is the maintenance of the status quo. We don't want any party to unilaterally alter the status quo. And one of the things that we have been calling for, which is consistent with President Biden's own words, is to urge both the United States and China in particular to ensure they have guardrails to manage their competition. The region, the world can't afford the great powers engaging in unrestrained competition. Certainly, President Biden and Secretary Blinken has made clear they understand that, and we would want there to be engagement between the two major powers, the two great powers to ensure there is no escalation.

Rowland: Foreign Minister Penny Wong, appreciate your time this morning from Fiji. Thanks for joining us.

Foreign Minister: Great to speak to you.

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