Interview with Leigh Sales, ABC 7.30

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Visit to Samoa and Tonga; Chinese influence in the Pacific; visit to Indonesia.

Leigh Sales, Host: Foreign Minister, you're in Samoa and you're heading to Tonga. What do you think Australia's Pacific neighbours are wanting from us currently?

Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, what they want is more energy. They're getting that from this Government, but most of all, what they are seeking is a better position on climate, a more ambitious position on climate. So, one of the reasons we've engaged so closely is we think it's important that the new Government do what we said we do, which is to put more energy and more resources into the Pacific and to be very clear about our level of ambition on climate.

Sales: What are Pacific leaders saying to you about how they view China's overtures in the region?

Foreign Minister: Pacific leaders obviously understand the circumstances they face. I met with Prime Minister Fiamē of Samoa today. I met with Prime Minister Bainimarama earlier in the week, of Fiji, and I think it's very clear that these and other leaders understand the strategic circumstances they face and understand the importance of strong regional responses, strong regional institutions. What Australia is saying is we believe that regional security is the responsibility of the whole Pacific family, of which we are a part, and that's the approach we're taking, and that's the approach that many Pacific Island Nations are reinforcing in their responses to us.

Sales: You would have had security briefings by now. You are on the ground in the region. Do you believe that China is actively aiming to expand its military presence in the region, that it wants bases and so on in the Pacific?

Foreign Minister: Look, China is much more active in this region. We know that China is much more assertive in the world and in the broader Indo-Pacific region. We know that. So I think it's important not to simply focus on what China is doing, but to focus on what we're doing and on how we work most closely with Pacific Island Nations. And one of the problems we saw under the last Government is a very problematic position on climate, which did infect our regional relationships. We saw a Government that used to make jokes about Pacific leaders and their views about climate. So it's very important that Australia do what we're doing, which is to engage with the region, be upfront and clear about our position on climate, but as importantly, be clear about the importance of the Pacific family being responsible for the regional security.

Sales: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is currently in Papua New Guinea currently. When are you likely to head there?

Foreign Minister: Well, the advice I've received is because they're in their pre-election period, it wouldn't be appropriate to go at this stage. I have spoken to the Foreign Minister and I will be, as will I'm sure other senior Ministers inside the Albanese Government, heading to PNG as soon as we're able to.

Sales: You and the Prime Minister are heading to Indonesia later this week. What message will you be taking there?

Foreign Minister: Well, Indonesia is such an important partner for Australia. It's critical to our security. It's a nation with whom we have long standing ties. Long standing engagement. And as the region is being reshaped, it's very important we work closely with Indonesia on the nature and the attributes of that region and that's what we'll be focusing on in the discussions.

Sales: Foreign Minister, thank you very much for your time.

Foreign Minister: Good to be with you.

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