Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Visit by Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, ASEAN meetings, Defence strategic review.

Sabra Lane, Host: Foreign Minister Penny Wong joined me a short time ago. Later today she'll head to Cambodia for a meeting of ASEAN nations. The Foreign Ministers of Russia, China and the US will also be there. Penny Wong, thanks for joining AM. Ms Pelosi's visit, some say it's provocative. Does it make our region less safe?

Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Look, I think the most important thing to say is this: that all parties should consider how they best contribute to de-escalating the current tensions. And, you know, we all want peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Obviously the level of US engagement with their Taiwanese counterparts is a matter for them.

I would just reiterate Australia has a bipartisan One China policy, and we have a bipartisan view about discouraging unilateral changes to the status quo.

Lane: China says, though, that this visit risks peace and stability. Beijing has previously warned both Taiwan and the United States that those who play with fire are perished by it. Is it folly to ignore those warnings?

Foreign Minister: I think we've seen a lot of rhetoric. We've seen a lot of things said. I note that the US Administration, the Biden Administration, has continued to be clear that it adheres to previous commitments made between the US and China historically. So my view is we should continue to be asserting that all parties should de-escalate tensions, and we should continue with others in the region to urge the maintenance of peace and stability in the region and, in particular, across the Taiwan Strait.

Lane: Many Australians will be extremely anxious about this, especially those who are living in Taiwan, and what might happen in the days ahead. What is your advice to them?

Foreign Minister: Look, I understand this is a very concerning situation for everyone. I think it's really important that we all continue to calmly assert the importance of peace and stability and to urge all parties to contribute to de-escalating tensions. I mean, we do have a situation where we see rhetoric increasing and we see military hardware being deployed. What we need to say to all parties is that the region wants peace and stability in the region, across the Taiwan Strait, and all parties should contribute to de-escalating tensions.

Lane: Does the AUKUS agreement mean that Australia has hitched its wagon to the US and will back Washington if there is conflict over Taiwan?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, I'm not going to be drawn onto hypotheticals about what actually would be in relation to ANZUS - I don't think that's appropriate. I remind you, and others, that AUKUS is actually a partnership which deals with ensuring we have cooperation on technology – obviously submarines is one of the most important areas there – and capabilities, but ultimately these are matters that I wouldn't be drawn on in terms of hypotheticals.

Lane: Is it time, as respected strategic thinker Hugh White suggests, to do whatever we can to help smooth – to help a smooth transition from the old US role in Asia to whatever comes next?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, Hugh's a writer with a long history of contribution in this area. With respect to him, I don't agree. The US Alliance remains our most important strategic relationship. What I have said, and what the Government has said, is we do want to be working with the region to ensure that there is a region which is peaceful, in which sovereignty is respected, a region in which there is a strategic equilibrium where countries are not forced to choose but can make their own sovereign choices. That's why, Sabra, I'll be making sure I attend the ASEAN meetings in Phnom Penh, a meeting with ASEAN nations in that context. Because ASEAN is central to the sort of region we want.

Lane: The Government is announcing a new Defence Force review today to be completed in just over six months. Is that in response to China's more assertive and confrontational presence in our region?

Foreign Minister: It's because we need an ADF that is well-positioned to meet our security challenges over the next decade and beyond. And we have inherited, as you will know, some real capability issues, some of which have been well publicised in the media. It is important that we look at how we ensure the Australian Defence Force can meet our security challenges not just now but in the years ahead. I welcome this, and the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister will have more to say about this later today.

Lane: Foreign Minister Penny Wong, thanks for talking to us.

Foreign Minister: Good to speak with you.

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