Press Conference with President David Panuelo, Pohnpei, Federated States Of Micronesia

  • Transcript (E&OE)
Subjects: Marking 35 years of diplomatic relations with FSM, bipartisan delegation visit, Pacific Islands Forum, bilateral security agreement with Vanuatu, relations with China, climate, COVID-19

President David Panuelo: Well, thank you all for coming to this very special occasion, very historic occasion. Minister Wong and the delegation with the FSM delegation, had a very fruitful, productive meeting. We discussed many issues of import, ranging from maritime security, education programming and of course Pacific regionalism. So those topics are very important, and I thank you, Minister Wong for this very productive meeting, and of course, we discussed the 35 years of diplomatic relations, our anniversary which is a very productive one that I'm proud of, Australia being a very trusted Pacific partner. So thank you, Minister Wong, and I invite you to give a few words, thank you.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you so much, President Panuelo, and can I thank you and members of your Cabinet for meeting with me and my delegation here today, and to say how pleased we are to be here to celebrate 35 years of diplomatic relations. We are both members of the Pacific family; we are both committed to a region that is stable and secure. I know that the President has spoken previously about the importance of the stability of the Blue Pacific, and we are partners in that, and we are very grateful for being described as a trusted partner. That means a lot to us.

As I said to the President, and to members of the Cabinet, including the Secretary, who was with us, we are a bipartisan delegation, a very senior bipartisan delegation, and we come because we want to demonstrate our commitment to this relationship, a relationship which has expand a number of decades, but is even more important now, and I think the demonstration of the bipartisan delegation is a demonstration of the commitment to the relationship. Regardless who is in government, Australia will be a partner of FSM. So thank you very much for hosting us, and I might, if you will permit me, I'll invite my delegation to speak, if they wish, and then maybe take questions.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much, Minister Wong, and Mr President, Vice-President, Cabinet secretaries. Thank you for the very warm welcome that you have provided to our delegation. We are delighted to be here representing all of the parties of government in Australia in the Federated States of Micronesia. We're delighted to be here at this time to mark 35 years of diplomatic relations. Ours is a long partnership and an enduring partnership, a partnership that endures through times of change, through times of challenge, and a partnership that is now as important as ever for us to work together with the type of leadership that, Mr President, you have shown, that FSM has shown in our region, globally --

Journalist: My name is Bill James. I'm with an FSM publication. I read an article this morning, having no idea what to ask you, they describe the purpose of your trip as being COVID, climate change and China. How do you deal with the issue of China? This question is for both the FSM and Australian side?

Foreign Minister: The Cs which you reference are actually not out of my mouth, or I think even out of President Panuelo's mouth, so I think it was a discussion at the PIF Leaders Meeting in Fiji, and there was a discussion about the three Cs, COVID, contest and climate, and I think what I would say to you, I would say two things: the first thing is, those are realities; COVID, contest and climate are realities. So the question for all nations and all leaders is what do you do in the face of those realities. What Australia wants to do is to work with our partners and friends, like Federated States of Micronesia, to navigate this period wisely, to work together and to manage those challenges, to work together to drive the development and economic resilience of the people in the countries of the Pacific. And in this regard I do want to particularly commend the leadership of President Panuelo of FSM. This country has been a leader. This has been a difficult time for the Pacific region. Let's be frank, it's been challenging, and this President, and this country, has shown enormous leadership, and we are deeply respectful of that, we are encouraging of that, and I wanted to acknowledge it.

Journalist: Thank you.

President Panuelo: Thank you, Minister Wong. I have very few things to say after what you have just presented. We've been following the visit, historic visit from Vanuatu to here, Minister Wong, and I understand you'll be going to Palau, and so the message I'll say is that we value the trusted Pacific partnership that we have with Australia, and that's demonstrated in the leadership of the Albanese Government, and here, Minister Wong, you represent Australia, and I'm impressed with the way Australian leadership is presented, and that is the bipartisan leadership of your nation, coming here, ensuring that partnership endures, that the partnership is strong, and so the three Cs, of COVID, climate and cooperation is happening already. It's happened many years in this 35 years of relationship; it happens in the meetings of our Pacific Islands Forum family, recently during the 51st Pacific Island Leaders meeting in Fiji, and many issues of importance were discussed and adopted, including the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific continent. We congratulate Australia for the recent signing of the bilateral security agreement with Vanuatu, because we say "Family first." So congratulations. We recently had a meeting, the Pacific Nations, with the first US Pacific Island Leaders Summit, and that was a success, resounding success, and so we thank you for your leadership, Australia, demonstrated in climate change, COVID recovery assistance that is ongoing right now with the Pacific Nations, and overall cooperation. And so thank you for that, and we welcome you to our shores. Look forward to many years of cooperation in our very important diplomatic relations that we continue to enjoy. So thank you, thank you for that.

Journalist: Mr President, if I could ask you, please, six months on from your letter that you wrote to other PIF members, how do you see the strategic situation and China's strategic intent, and did you suffer any repercussions from that letter? And if I could ask, Minister Wong, please, how important was the President's letter?

President Panuelo: I think it's pretty easy. I've been asked a question before whether FSM, our country is sandwiched between super powers, and you know, my very direct resounding answer is no, no, because we are a country that is enemy to none and friends to all. I think that's our foreign policy, and that's very easy to determine. Our region, in terms of geopolitics, we're a country, you know, I say, and it is repeated again, and it's embedded in our constitution that we extend to all nations, peace, friendship, cooperation and love in our common humanity, and so we cooperate with every country that is like-minded to make sure that we are a country with a rule of law, that we preserve the rules-based international order, and that we look our systems of democracy to make sure that we represent our nation in the areas of cooperation, including peace, security and economic cooperation. I think that's something that a country should be proud of, and we're proud of our trusted relationship with our Pacific partner, Australia. Thank you.

Journalist: Minister?

Foreign Minister: Thank you. I've already said that I think President Panuelo has demonstrated real leadership at this time, as has FSM, but I'd make a broader point: when I'm in South East Asia or in the Pacific, I make the point we're not saying that what we are actually engaged in is choosing what sort of region we want, so it's not a choice between great powers for much of the region, and as the President said, this region is no stranger to great power competition, and if we go to Chuuk we see that. But the choice that is being made is what sort of region we want, and if you read the President's letter, and what else has been said, that's precisely what he and many others in the region are talking about, a region that is stable, a region in which rules are respected, and which sovereignty is preserved, and it is that regional concept of sovereignty which goes to the point of security being provided by the Pacific family. So I know that Journalists, some Journalists like to think in binaries; that they're easy. What we are about, all of us, in our different ways, is about thinking about and acting for the type of region we want to live in and we want our children to live in.

Journalist: Thank you, Mr President, to follow on from your comment about rules based order. What difference is FSM noticing to rules based order? Do you have any concerns from this part of the world?

President Panuelo: Well, you know in this day and age, I emphasise a rules-based international order, because we have to be a nation that loves peace, and if we don't love peace, then we're not respecting the sovereignty of other nations, the rights, human rights, individual rights, and democracy itself. We as a nation, we are a democratic nation, we represent our people, and they have a right that we all have to preserve. If we look at how FSM was dealt with in terms of our reaction foreign policy regarding the Ukraine War, for example, if I put up that to make a stark, you know, example, it's a country that invade a sovereign nation, and we didn't think twice to come out and condemn Russia's aggression, because that is not respecting sovereignty, not respecting rules-based international order, and so that's what the Pacific like. We are in a rule of law that must exist in a democratic nation. And so if you look at it, I think that's not a difficult situation, and we want the Pacific to continue to be an harmonious Blue Pacific region, and so through the Pacific Islands Forum, when we say "family first", we look after each other to make sure that the forces from outside doesn't come and disrupt the peace and stability of our region. So in that respect we thank all the countries that cooperate with our nation, and this time Australia, we thank you, and I said we cooperate in maritime security, and look at development cooperation, and today is a happy occasion, because we are celebrating the 35 years of diplomatic anniversary, thank you.

Journalist: You mentioned the Pacific Islands Forum and harmonious relationships. Obviously there's been tension with Kiribati. Do you have any indications, expectations, that they will re-join the forum any time soon, is there still process to go through?

President Panuelo: Well, Pacific regionalism, we discuss a bit of that in our engagement at this time, and you know that the Suva agreement is one of the issues that was discussed and dealt with and signed, and so the Suva Agreement really is bringing back the Micronesian sub-region into the Pacific family, reforms that are embedded in the structure of the Pacific Islands Forum. I'll say now that Pacific Islands Forum does not have the risk of being fractured again because of the conditions that are met in terms of what is built into the structure of the Pacific Islands Forum, and of course, unfortunately, Kiribati is not back in, but we're still extending the olive branch, the Suva Agreement, that we the Pacific Island Forum, there will be a special forum leaders meeting to look at implementing the Suva Agreement which would look at the placement of a sub-office of the Pacific Islands Forum in sub-regional Micronesia, a Pacific Ocean Commissioner's office, including the appointment of an Ocean Commissioner's position. And so those things is something we're looking forward to in its implementation, and I believe in less than 14 month Micronesia will take on the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum and be there for the next five years before it rotates to the other sub-regions of Polynesia and Melanesia, and we thank the leadership of Australia and the Pacific Islands Forum family in coming together to sign the Suva Agreement. That's what I can share.

Journalist: Today we're here in the Federated States of Micronesia to mark 35 years of diplomatic relations. Next week we're going to do the same with China. When do we think there will be an improvement in the relationship there in terms of seeing concrete results like the dropping of tariffs.

Foreign Minister: Ultimately, what Australia can do in its relationship with China is to do what we're doing, that is, we will look to stabilise the relationship, we will be clear that we think it's in both countries' interests for those trade impediments to be removed. We will seek to have an engagement which enables Australia to navigate its differences wisely, and we would encourage China to engage with us in a way that navigates the differences between our interests wisely. Ultimately, it's a decision China will have to make to choose to remove those trade impediments. We continue to say we think it's in their interests to do so.

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