Press Conference Jakarta, Indonesia

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: ASEAN-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting; East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting; ASEAN Regional Forum; Pacific Islands Forum; Hong Kong security laws; Australia-China relations; China and the Solomon Islands.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Morning, everybody. It's such a great pleasure to be back here in Jakarta to attend the annual ASEAN meetings. I'll be attending the East Asia Summit, Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and obviously, the ASEAN Regional Forum.

I had the opportunity to meet today again with the Secretary-General of ASEAN Dr Kao Kim Hourn. It was good to meet with him. I met with him before he became Secretary-General, and I reminded him that the Prime Minister and I visited the ASEAN Secretariat two weeks I think to the day, since we were sworn in this time last year. I think what that reminds us of is Australia's support, the Albanese Government’s support, for ASEAN’s Centrality and the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

ASEAN holds the centre of a region that is stable, that is prosperous, that is secure. A region in which sovereignty is respected. Where all countries benefit from a strategic equilibrium. A region that safeguards our capacity to disagree and preserves our agency, that enables all countries to determine our own destiny. ASEAN matters to Australia. If you look up from Australia, up north, you see the ASEAN nations at the centre of our region. That’s why it's so important for us to continue to engage, and so important for us to build on our long-standing partnership.

We were ASEAN's first dialogue partner. We're a comprehensive strategic partner. And today I had a great honour of opening in the Heritage Building at the Secretariat, the Australia for ASEAN Futures Office with the Secretary-General. It's the next milestone in our relationship with ASEAN. A relationship that, of course, began in 1974, we’re nearly at 50 years and we look forward to the special summit next year when we celebrate our 50 year anniversary. I’m happy to take questions.

Journalist: Minister, good morning.

Foreign Minister: Good morning.

Journalist: Welcome back to Jakarta. Jessica Washington from Al Jazeera. I just wanted to ask, obviously, the issue of Myanmar is of key importance for ASEAN. Do you have concerns about the pace at which ASEAN is making progress on stopping violence, particularly in light of recent airstrikes on civilians?

Foreign Minister: We are all deeply concerned about the crisis, the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. We've seen what has happened to democracy. We've seen the violence. And we see an ongoing humanitarian crisis. I would say that members of ASEAN are deeply concerned as well. And I know Ibu Retno has been working very hard in her role to try find a way through.

It's disappointing that those in the junta and those in leadership in Myanmar have not chosen to come to the table on the five-point consensus that their colleagues in the region have asked them to respond to. I know that there's a lot of discussion going on at a foreign ministers’ level, and I have no doubt there will be a leader level, about what’s occurring in Myanmar.

We'll continue to provide humanitarian support. We'll also continue to add our voice to the voices urging returns to the transition to democracy. As you know, we don't sanction lightly, certainly not in the region and we chose to impose sanctions on top of the sanctions not long ago.

Nice to see you.

Journalist: Yes, thank you, Minister. Nice to see you here. The policing deal between China and the Solomon Islands. What is your exact concerns that is prompting the Australian Government to call for the transparent wording to be released?

Foreign Minister: I think transparency is a good thing. And Pacific leaders came together and were very clear that the priority was that security be provided by the Pacific family. So, let's just take a step back. We all know there's strategic competition in our region and one of the ways in which that needs to be managed in the context of the Pacific region is for Pacific institutions, the centre of which is the Pacific Islands Forum, to be respected. We support that as a member of the forum and at recent Pacific Island Forums, you've seen leaders reassert the importance of the family first, the Pacific family first approach to security. That matters for stability. So, Australia, like many others, would want transparency about what this agreement means and we would want it discussed at the Pacific Islands Forum.

Journalist: Would you raise it with China? Your counterpart with China?

Foreign Minister: I think we will be raising it most particularly in the Pacific Islands Forum. That's the body that is responsible for the strength of the Pacific, it’s a body that looks to the stability of the Pacific and we respect that institution. We would urge all parties to respect the institution.

Journalist: Do you think the conditions are right yet for the Prime Minister to take up the invitation to visit Beijing? And what impact, if any, is the Hong Kong police bounty having on the chances of him going this year?

Foreign Minister: Well, first, in relation to the - what we see in Hong Kong, I've raised consistently on behalf of Australia our concerns about national security laws. And in response to these most recent events, I've made very clear that Australia supports freedom of expression. And I particularly raised to him that the Australian Government will continue to support those in our country, including our citizens, who exercise their right to freedom of expression.

More broadly, obviously, the Prime Minister’s been invited. We will continue to engage with China about when it will be a convenient and appropriate time for the Prime Minster to visit and we will continue to assert more generally, the relationship that we believe it is beneficial for both parties for trade impediments to be removed. And will continue to call for Cheng Lei -

Journalist: Sorry Minister, has a date, has a potential date been set?

Foreign Minister: No, no, and I think I refer to my previous answer.

Journalist: Just one more. Do you think there has to be movement on those two particular issues before there is a visit?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, I think that we should always act on our national interest. Engagement is in our national interest and so to is the removal of the impediments that I’ve described, trade impediments. As you know, we have a process for barley, and we’d like to see that resolved expeditiously, and we would like a similar process to be taken in relation to wine. So, we’ll keep addressing that, we’ll keep pushing that.

Journalist: Minister. Are you planning to meet State Councilor Wang Yi this week in Jakarta?

Foreign Minister: Look, there are a lot of bilaterals being sought and – both by us and by others, and the diary is long and flexible. I think on my card today for how many orders I have - we have these little cards we carry around, it was three cards. And I said “What are you giving me three days?” and he said “No, Minister, that’s just today.” So, we will certainly be seeking meetings with many other parties. Whether they occur is obviously an issue for time tables, as well. But I am sure we will be upfront with you and take your questions about that.

Journalist: Yes, actually, just obviously the South China Sea is a big issue for ASEAN and we've seen these negotiations on the Code of Conduct really stalling. What would you like to see in that Code of Conduct?

Foreign Minister: We’ve made clear, we believe international law norms should always be observed. And I think today is the anniversary of the South China Sea arbitral decision. Australia supports that decision and we made the observation that when rules were observed, that contributes to stability.

Journalist: Paul Keating made some more noise about NATO’s Chief and NATO’s push into Asia. Minister, what’s your reaction to that?

Foreign Minister: I think the Prime Minister responded to that yesterday day or the day before. [Indistinct]. Thank you very much.

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