Sunrise with Natalie Barr
Natalie Barr, Host: China says it is still ready to "recalibrate and reinvigorate" its ties with Australia, despite Prime Minister Anthony Albanese dismissing a four-point list of demands issued by Beijing to repair relations. The battle for influence in the Pacific will be front of mind at a Leaders’ Forum in Fiji today. It comes as Australia and the United States enter into a new partnership, to bolster energy and security to counter China's growing influence. There have been suggestions that pressure from China prompted one of the island nations to pull out of discussions at the last minute.
Joining me now is Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is in Suva for that Forum. Good morning to you. You met recently with your Chinese counterpart. China wants to be friends again now but we've dismissed those four points in that plan, have we? What are the next steps to improve relations?
Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Good to be with you from here in Suva at the Pacific Islands Forum, the first meeting in three years face-to-face and thanks for having me. You're right. When I was at the G20 last week I did have the first meeting between the Foreign Ministers of China and Australia in quite a few years. I said at the time, "this is a first step. We've got a long path to walk and both countries will have to choose to walk it." I think and the Australian Government thinks it's in the interest of both nations for the relationship to be stabilised and if both parties wish to do that, then there's a way forward. But I made the point to the Chinese Minister, privately, and I will make it again publicly, the Government of Australia has changed but our national interests and sovereign choices have not.
Barr: So, what was wrong with their four-point plan? Part of it was they wanted to be treated as a partner not as an adversary and they blamed the previous government for things going downhill.
Minister for Foreign Affairs: I'm not sure I would describe what was put out as a four-point plan. Those are, essentially, the points that the Chinese have made for some time. They're reasonably high-level rhetorical points and they're reasonably unsurprising. I'm not going to – and you should ask me those questions, I understand that – but I'm not going to try and walk what is a difficult path on behalf of the country through public messaging. We will deal with China diplomatically and in a considered way.
Barr: OK, onto the Pacific. The United States Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to announce America is going to increase its presence in the Pacific. Opening two new embassies: one in Tonga and another in Kiribati. Everyone is throwing money at the Pacific. China is, now the US is. Who is going to win over the Pacific?
Minister for Foreign Affairs: Ultimately I hope the Pacific wins, in this sense: that we see greater development, we see a prosperous, stable, secure region where sovereignty is respected and where assistance comes with transparency and without strings attached. In that context, of course, we welcome US engagement with the region. We want a region that has those attributes: stability, security, respect for sovereignty and of course prosperity. And the US is responding to some of the things that the Pacific put to Secretary Blinken and is meeting with them. So, it's good to see them upping their engagement.
Barr: OK. It should be an interesting meeting. Minister, thank you for your time.
Minister for Foreign Affairs: It's great to be with you.
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