Interview with David Lipson, ABC PM

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Missile strikes on Ukraine, missile strike in Polish Territory; Prime Minister’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping; relationship with China; detention of Cheng Lei and Dr Yang Hengjun; human rights violations in Xinjiang.

David Lipson, Host: Senator Penny Wong is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and we spoke earlier. Minister, thanks for your time.

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

Lipson: Joe Biden says it's unlikely that this missile that's hit Poland was fired from inside Russia. Do you have any intelligence as to where it came from or who fired it?

Foreign Minister: Look, it is clear that this is still a situation that's evolving and working out where these missiles came from is something that requires an investigation. So I note that President Duda of Poland has indicated there would be an investigation to determine the origin of the missiles, and that has been supported by the US and others. So I think at the moment I would be urging calm and awaiting the outcome of any such investigation.

Lipson: Poland is a member of NATO. If this is found to have been fired by Russians, what should NATO do in response, and could that mean an escalation?

Foreign Minister: Look, we know that the reckless use of force by Russia across Ukraine is both illegal and immoral and dangerous for the region. And we know that any conflict comes with a risk of miscalculation. What I would say at this point is to echo the words of the Polish Prime Minister who urged all Poles to remain calm and prudent. And I think that is the most responsible way of responding and dealing with the situation that we see.

I did speak this morning to the Prime Minister who, as you know, is at the G20. Well, he will be engaging with European counterparts this morning. I also spoke with Australia's Ambassador to Poland and the Polish Chargé d'affaires here in Australia about the situation and also to express our condolences for the loss of life.

Lipson: Moving on to the Prime Minister's meeting with Chinese President, you put in a lot of legwork to make that meeting happen. How much of a breakthrough is it?

Foreign Minister: I think that's what Foreign Ministers do, isn't it? We've got to do legwork on behalf of the country. So, you know, that's always a privilege, and I think it is an important step. It's a very important step. When we came to Government we said at the outset, we thought it was in the interests of both Australia and China for the bilateral relationship to be stabilised. We made it clear that we wouldn't be moving from any of our national security policy settings. We made it clear we would continue to advocate for Australian interests and Australian values.

But we made clear we were open for dialogue and engagement because we think that is the best way to deal with differences wisely. So we will cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must and engage with China in our national interest.

Lipson: There is a good deal of scepticism about the significance of the meeting largely because Australia has already chosen to side with the US as strategic competition in the region intensifies and on issues like Taiwan's independence too. Is that scepticism warranted, do you think?

Foreign Minister: Well, I actually would question, first, the frame of the question you just put with us. We are a US ally, and the alliance is at the heart of our security arrangements. What Australia advocates for is Australia's interests and Australia's interests, alongside the US and Southeast Asian nations, is for there to be a stable, secure, prosperous region in which sovereignty is respected.

That is the way in which we approach our engagement with Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I've made it clear we ought not be seeing the region – the issues in the region - as entirely about the conflict or competition between great powers. What we should be working towards is the sort of region we want with the US, with partners, with the countries of Southeast Asia. And that's been my message to the region since we were elected.

Lipson: So can we expect this meeting will lead to a lifting of trade sanctions imposed by China any time soon?

Foreign Minister: Well, that is ultimately a matter for China. We've made clear we think it should. We've made clear it is in, we believe, not only the interests of Australia but also of China for these trade blockages to be removed, and we will continue to put that view.

Lipson: Does the meeting itself signal to Chinese students, tourists, businesses and the like that Australia is now open to them once again?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, I think that, you know, one of the many downsides of the way the Coalition approached this issue in Government is it sent very negative and divisive messages, including within the Australian community. You know, we are a multicultural nation, a nation that is accepting and respectful, and we are a nation that has traded globally to our benefit for decades. And not only traded in, you know, commodities, but also in services such as education. And what we should keep doing is continuing to articulate that and continuing to make clear that notwithstanding the differences we may have, we will continue to engage and engage in dialogue.

Lipson: And what about the detention of Australian citizens Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun? Does this meeting and what may come next get us any closer to their release in your mind?

Foreign Minister: Look, we have made clear in the meetings we have had the priority we place on both Dr Yang and Cheng Lei and also our position in relation to other consular cases. We will continue to advocate on their behalf, just as my predecessor Marise Payne did.

Lipson: Do you still believe they're being subjected to arbitrary detention?

Foreign Minister: Well, you know, we certainly would be – and have said publicly – will continue to seek that both Dr Yang and Cheng Lei be released after sentencing.

Lipson: Yeah, the reason I ask that question is that, you know, you've made clear that Australia won't fold on any of its core values. I'm interested in what China wants in return out of these talks. Indeed, China has said it wants Australia to meet it halfway. Can we expect more muted criticism of China by you and the Prime Minister and others in Government, for example, on China's record on human rights? Is that the sort of thing that China's after?

Foreign Minister: Well, I think the question isn't for the Australian Foreign Minister, it is less about what China is after than what the Australian Government's position is. And the Australian Government's position is we will continue to advocate for Australian interests and Australian values and Australian citizens – and we have. And we have been joined with others in relation to the UN Report on what is occurring in Xinjiang. We have expressed our view quite clearly in relation to Australians held in China.

You used the phrase 'meet halfway'. The way I've described it is that we should work together. We recognise that there are going to be issues which are difficult. That's inevitable between countries which have different interests and different values and different political systems. But engagement remains something we believe is important, cooperation where we can, disagreement where we must.

Lipson: And just very briefly, we're almost out of time – will you go to Beijing?

Foreign Minister: As the Prime Minister said, we remain open to further dialogue. When I first met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bali at the Foreign Ministers G20 meeting earlier this year I said there will be – this is we are walking down a path and there will be many steps to take, and we'll take one step at a time.

Lipson: Penny Wong, great to talk to you. Thank you.

Foreign Minister: Good to speak with you.

Lipson: Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555