Interview with Christiane Amanpour, CNN

  • Subjects: Canada-India relations; strategic competition in the region; United Nations General Assembly; climate change and energy policy; Voice to Parliament referendum; relations between China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

Christiane Amanpour, Host: Welcome back to our program. We spoke this time last year.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: We did. And good to be with you again.

Amanpour: And you too. Thank you so much.

Foreign Minister: And 40 years. Congratulations.

Amanpour: Thank you very much.

Foreign Minister: That's impressive.

Amanpour: I appreciate it.

Foreign Minister: And such an impressive contribution to international affairs.

Amanpour: Thank you, thank you. And one for the women. How's that?

Foreign Minister: Absolutely.

Amanpour: Yes.

Foreign Minister: Absolutely.

Amanpour: Let's get back to allegation of murder on Canadian soil by the Indian government as what Prime Minister Trudeau said. This is an activist. India has labelled him a terrorist. As we know, Prime Minister Modi received kind of a hero's welcome in Australia when you had him in May, he received a very warm welcome at the White House, he received a very warm welcome a Bastille Day in France. The G20 was just held in India. How troubling is this allegation and how does it cause you, either to calibrate or not, how closely to hold Modi, how tightly?

Foreign Minister: Well, the first point I would make is, you know, these are serious allegations and, you know, they are deeply concerning for all of us. I would note, investigations are still underway. So I obviously, the Australian government, wishes to wait for those investigations being finalized. But we've made our concerns - we've conveyed our concerns about the allegations and we'll keep abreast of the developments in these investigations and -

Amanpour: Conveyed your concerns to the Indian government?

Foreign Minister: Well, we have a general proposition, don't we, Christiane, which is, you know, Australia has a view about the rule of law and we will always express that view.

Amanpour: Prime Minister Trudeau says he spoke to all the allies about this before, I guess, he made his public statement. Did he speak to Australia?

Foreign Minister: Well, I wouldn't -

Amanpour: Your counterpart?

Foreign Minister: Yes. I wouldn't go into details of diplomatic engagements and nor do you expect me to. But, you know, we have expressed our view about these issues to our Indian friends.

Amanpour: Now, on the bigger picture then, you know, it definitely looks like it, and that's what we're hearing from all of you, that India - it's really important to try to peel India away from close relationship with China and god forbid, Russia. Do you think that's going well? And how does this kind of thing, you know, cause a hurdle or an obstacle?

Foreign Minister: Look, I think the way to think about it is we share an interest in a world that is peaceful, stable and prosperous. And what is required for that sort of world is, you know, a balance or a strategic equilibrium to which all of us have to make a contribution, and India is a part of that, but so too are other countries of our region, in the Indo-Pacific region. And we will continue, Australia, to work with a range of the countries to contribute to that equilibrium, which is really key to making sure there is a region and a global order in which no one country dominates and no country is dominated.

Amanpour: So, that obviously brings us to the threat from China, as you perceive it, that it's trying to dominate that region.

Foreign Minister: Well, I think great powers do what great powers do. So, I wouldn't use the language but, you know, you obviously use your language.

Amanpour: So, how is deterrence working then?

Foreign Minister: Yes. That's - look, it seems to us the way in which you contribute to their strategic equilibrium is really to ensure you have military deterrence, also economic strength and resilience, as well as diplomatic reassurance. So, all of those go to that balance or reshaping, I think as you described it in the introduction.

Amanpour: Yes. Where do you, how do you assess, there's a huge sort of difference of opinion of how one is meant to deal with China. President Biden has gone out of his way to say, we don't seek conflict, we don't seek to contain, we seek to have a relationship based on mutual interest, but also, we're not going to just out and give away the Pacific region because we're Pacific powers. Is that message getting across to China? I mean, we see, you know, strange developments. The foreign minister is being sidelined. The defence minister has disappeared from public view. Lots of shifts at the top of the Chinese hierarchy. How do you read what's going on there? I mean, it is inscrutable, but you must have analysis?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, I've read and understood those developments. But obviously, they're matters for China to deal with. But the nub of your question went to the management of competition. And we welcome the position that the United States has taken, and President Biden rearticulated it today, which was a commitment to responsible management of competition. Because what we don't want, none of the world wants, is competition escalating into conflict. And I think powers like Australia, we're a middle power, all of the powers that are represented at the sovereign nations, which are represented at the United Nations, have a role here too - which is to urge, encourage and expect the great powers to manage their competition wisely.

Amanpour: And do you think, despite all the worries around, that it is closer to - you say, we don't want war, we don't want conflict. Are we taking the steps away from it or are we taking steps towards it? I mean, there's a lot of inflammatory rhetoric all over.

Foreign Minister: Well, I think that we are probably at a greater risk now of conflict than we have been for many years. And we have said these are riskiest strategic circumstances the world has seen for many years, and that means we all have to elevate our effort. We all have to redouble our efforts to managing, ensuring that competition is managed, but also, to deal with some of the issues that, you know, you've been talking about on your program, how do we deal with inequality? How do we deal with climate change? You know, these are about peace and stability, as well as prosperity, and they are part of the agenda that all nations have to address.

Amanpour: And climate change, we've heard many here. You, we've heard the secretary-general. I mean, we're pretty much this close to midnight, to coin a phrase. You have said climate is the number one national security issue for the Pacific. You visited many times, the Solomon Islands, you know, all sorts of areas. And yet, the government is expanding coal mining this year. A new one opened in May, facing legal action from green groups this week. Can you honestly say that your record on climate is in the right direction?

Foreign Minister: Look, Australia has been a very fossil fuel intensive economy. I mean, that is a reality. And so, part of what we are having to do is to transition, you know, a very carbon intensive economy to a clean energy economy, and that is a big task. And in many ways, it reflects the task that the global economy has to engage in. Because, of course, there are still many nations who are opening new coal fire powered stations who are going down that path. So, you know, we have a very ambitious set of targets. We will be, by 2030, in excess of 80 percent renewable energy. When we came to government, we were just over 30 percent. That's a big transition in a short space of time.

So, what I say to the Pacific, and I have visited every member of the Pacific Islands Forum, is I say, look, we recognize our history and nature of our economy, what I can say to you is we are genuinely motivated to change that. And that's what we're working on.

Amanpour: Can I you about, talking about history, there's a voice to parliament referendum coming up in about three weeks. Australians will vote to put potentially Indigenous people in the constitution and set up an advisory body to give them voice because they don't have it, on the policies that affect them. But polls show that support is low, around 45 percent. A, do you think it will pass? B, if it doesn't, what does it say about, to the world about Australia's commitment to Indigenous, especially at this time when all countries are trying to reckon with it?

Foreign Minister: You know, look, we've had like so many countries around the world, a journey when it comes to reconciliation with our First Nations people, with our Indigenous people. A journey that has, we've had many steps. We had the referendum in 1967, in which changed our constitution for the better. We've had the apology to the Stolen Generations, which was given by Kevin Rudd, a prime minister, an Australian prime minister in the government in which I served. So, this is another important step. It is, referenda are hard to win in Australia because of the nature of how our voting, of what is required to change the constitution. But, you know, we remain hopeful and we remain, you know, looking at the future. We remain focused on the future. Because ultimately, this is about that future and whether or not we can have a future in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia can walk together.

Amanpour: And I guess one last question then about the big picture of China. How do you assess, you know, the Russian, North Korean, China, Iran kind of, whatever you want to call it, alliance, anti-democratic, anti-U.S. alliance, and how much does it setback your attempts to deter China?

Foreign Minister: Well, I think it's important to recognize, first, that Mr. Putin reaching out to North Korea, for example, shows a degree of desperation. So, I would make that point. The second point I'd make is, the nations of the world who are not superpowers, and we're one of them, need to collectively continue to advocate, encourage, urge, perhaps put some collective pressure on great powers to act responsibly. That's what we'll continue to do.

Amanpour: And this is the place to do it. Even though -

Foreign Minister: Well, this is the place to do it.

Amanpour: Yes. Even though a lot of them aren't here.

Foreign Minister: Well that’s true but I did hear your interview with the Secretary-General yesterday actually, and I would make the point, there is - you know, there is no place in the world where we have this convening power, where we have this high-level representation of all nations and where we can deal with all of the issues that matter to us.

Amanpour: And I might just say, if anybody can hear the noise outside, that's the convening corner for the opponents of all sorts of governments who are represented here.

Foreign Minister: It's democracy in action, Christiane.

Amanpour: Indeed. Just to explain the noise now. Thank you so much, Foreign Minister.

Foreign Minister: Good to speak with you again.

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