Press Conference, New Delhi, India

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting; G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting; freedom of the press; Russia’s presence in Ukraine.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Can I first say it has been a really productive morning. We've had the Quad Foreign Ministers' breakfast meeting and then of course the Raisina Dialogue Quad panel, which was, I think a good opportunity to talk to a bigger audience about what the Quad does. And of course, we reaffirmed our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, reiterated our conviction that the Quad can be a force for regional and global good and is to be guided by the priorities of the region and reaffirmed again our commitment to ASEAN centrality and unity.

If you look at the statement, we also committed to supporting Pacific Island countries in line with the principles set out in their own strategy, the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. We committed to a counterterrorism working group and cooperating more on the Indian Ocean Rim Association. Australia has a deep interest in the region remaining open, stable and prosperous and respectful of sovereignty, something that all Quad partners share.

We live in a region that's being reshaped, and the question is, what is our response to that? We can either choose to play a part in that or we can choose to sit back and let that be decided by others. Australia believes strong partnerships, mutually agreed rules, enable more choices, enable more stability, and protect sovereignty. So we place a deep value on our Quad relationship. And that is also why we place such deep value on our partnership with India. As I expressed in the panel itself, we see India as a critical part of the Indo-Pacific, we see India is critical to the attributes of that region. And I am very grateful to Jai for the work we are doing together and we are looking forward to the Prime Minister visiting in the near future. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, obviously no joint communiqué at the end of this meeting. Does that concern you about the efficacy of the G20?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, I think everybody knows there are differences of views between great powers, particularly on the issue of Russia and Ukraine. But whatever the difficulties on those issues, the G20 must continue to cooperate on key issues and must continue to seek to resolve differences, even if not everybody agrees, having all countries come together is the only way. The only way the international community can deal with some of the challenges we face, whether it's climate or development, the effect that COVID has had on the development challenges, these can only be dealt with together. We learnt that, I think humanity learnt that through the pandemic.

JOURNALIST: Senator, can I just ask, in the panel discussion, I think you described India as a civilisation?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Civilisational culture.

JOURNALIST: Civilisational power, I think it was.

JOURNALIST: Can you just elaborate?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well I think what India brings to diplomacy is a deep history and a sophistication of its world outlook and its strategic outlook, and I was making the point, Australia has the oldest continuing culture in the world, but we are a nation, as a nation that is quite young. And when you engage with India and you listen to Jai or Prime Minister Modi, you have a sense of that history and civilisational knowledge being brought to bear on the current circumstances. That was the point I was making.

JOURNALIST: A running theme of the last few days has been that multilateralism is in crisis.


JOURNALIST: The G20 couldn't reach an agreement statement, but the Quad this morning has. Does that signify that these smaller groupings of countries are going to be more…

FOREIGN MINISTER: You asked me the question yesterday about multilateralism in crisis and I made the point that that sentence also talks about - in Prime Minister Modi's contribution - also talked about the importance of multilateralism - multilateralism reforming, and the importance of nations working together. So I don't think it's a binary. I think that there are different groupings to seek to work together on common problems and I do think the Quad at this time is of elevated importance because of both what is happening in the Indo-Pacific and it is a region that is being reshaped, but also the collaboration that we discuss on practical issues and more broadly, the habits of cooperation.

JOURNALIST: I think Dr. Jaishankar said that there was an agreement this morning about reforming the UN. What areas of the UN does Australia look to reform?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, that's a longer discussion but we in the communiqué talk about our cooperation in the multilateral context. But Australia's got a long standing position of seeking reform of UN structures and particularly the Security Council to give more representation to this region, including through India.

JOURNALIST: We've heard a few details about this short talk between Blinken and Lavrov. A few details there, some jabs, strong words. Do you feel that's counterproductive to getting some sort of solution here or some sort of working relationship going with Russia?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I don't think the world should take a backward step in our condemnation of Russia, and let me remind us all why, the world came together after the worst war humanity has experienced to agree rules to prevent such a war occurring. And that is where the UN Charter, that is the origin of the UN Charter and if we allow another country to abrogate that charter, worse, a permanent member of the Security Council to do so, then we are all less safe. So we should continue to be united in our support for Ukraine and in our condemnation of Russia.

JOURNALIST: But would more discussion with Russia be something that could garner something and be more useful than these strong words?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think the way to resolve what is occurring in Ukraine is for Russia to recognise that it has become, that it is not at one with the great majority of the international community. I mean over 140 states have supported, again, a condemnation of its invasion.

JOURNALIST: I asked questions of you this week about freedom of attacks on media and violence against minorities in India. Did you raise those issues with your Indian counterpart?

FOREIGN MINISTER: You have asked a number of questions this week, and I wanted to make a few comments, and before I answer the last part of your question. Look, first, you know, Australia is one of eight countries that actually drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We've got a long history as a country of elevating the importance of human rights, and Australian values and interests go to upholding human rights, and we bring that to our engagement with the world, including with India. As a matter of principle, we also support freedom of press, as I said to you yesterday, that is an Australian view. We advocate in relation to these matters publicly and privately, and I think yesterday I declined to do so through the media. But you asked me a direct question and yes, I have raised this with Dr. Jaishankar, as you would anticipate.

JOURNALIST: And what was the response?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm not - it's the obvious next question, isn't it? But we have a strong partnership. I don't propose in relation to this or in relation to other engagements to go through chapter and verse what's discussed.

JOURNALIST: Did you relay those commitments to freedom of speech and the free press and so on to Dr. Jaishankar?

FOREIGN MINISTER: You would anticipate in our engagement with all countries that those values form part of how we engage.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us, if you discussed with Dr. Jaishankar, the role of India as a possible intermediary with Russia? I mean clearly, you know, they still have open channels with Russia. They still talk, they still trade. They have in the past said those channels are of value to the international community. Did you speak about how they could be possibly leveraged?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, it is the case that whether it's India or other countries, we would want to see Russia being pressured, encouraged, urged to do the right thing.

JOURNALIST: Hi, how are you going?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Hi, how are you – nice to see you.

JOURNALIST: Good thank you, Midori from Japanese broadcaster NHK.

FOREIGN MINISTER: We were very pleased that Minister Hayashi was able to attend this morning.

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much. So during Quad meeting this morning, did you discuss about China and Ukraine and could you reach any unified response, unlike G20?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, look, the Quad partners, I think, are very clear about the need for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine and express concerns, as Prime Minister Modi have about what is occurring. We  continue to urge the international community to stand firm and for Russia to withdraw. Anything more?

JOURNALIST: I do have one question from Canberra.


JOURNALIST: Unrelated to G20 - does Australia have any concerns about the Pacific Islands Forum decision to endorse Baron Waqa given the long history of allegations of abuse of court processes and intimidation of political opponents in Nauru?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We are supporters of the Pacific architecture, and those decisions are made by members of the Pacific family. I'm not across all of the detail of the assertions you make, but I'd say more generally, we want the Pacific Island Forum to work well. And I was very pleased to attend the Leaders Forum on behalf of the Prime Minister. Thanks very much, everyone.

JOURNALIST: Just one other question, which Beatle are you in the Quad?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think, well I said to Tony Blinken that he was clearly Lennon because he's the most, he’s very cerebral, and I told Yogi I reckon he was Paul, and I thought I might be George, but Jai decided he was it, so therefore I'm Ringo. Cheers.

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