TV Interview - William Geist, MSNBC, New York

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Russia-Ukraine conflict; China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific; China-Taiwan relations.

William Geist, Host: Joining us now, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Foreign Minister Wong, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good to be with you

Geist: You have been speaking with the Chinese Foreign Minister and trying to leverage your relationships there to get China to lean on Vladimir Putin, to bring an end to war that you have called illegal. What has the reaction been from China? Do you believe they're willing to step in, in that way?

Foreign Minister: Well, the point I was making, and good morning to you all. The point I was making was that China is a P5 nation, as a member of the -permanent member of the Security Council, has a special responsibility to uphold the UN Charter. And along with all of us, what we want is Russia to cease it's illegal and immoral invasion and end the war and end the bloodshed that we are seeing.

Geist: And are the Chinese willing to take those steps? We saw the meeting between President Xi and President Putin last week. There were some implicit criticism they have not - China's not offered material support for the war in Ukraine. Do you believe in your private conversations that the Chinese Government is, in fact, leaning on Putin to end the war?

Foreign Minister: Well, as you said, there's been some public comments, implicit comments, but we would like to see more. And that was what I put to State Councilor Wang Yi, that they are a great power, they have a special responsibility to back in the UN Charter and use their leverage, their influence to end this war, which we all want to see over.

Geist: And what is - how would you describe that leverage, Foreign Minister? What are they able to do? How much influence does President Xi have over Putin?

Foreign Minister: Well, as you know, China and Russia have engaged in what they described as a no-limits partnership. And that's a pretty big thing to say, so we hope - Australia hopes, along with every other country in the world, that this war can be ended. And we will be continuing to urge, as I'm sure others are, China and others, to exercise their leverage.

Journalist: Minister Wong, the US intelligence analysts see China's aim, one of China's strategic aims, as dominating the Pacific Region, including Australia. Is that what you see from your vantage point in Canberra? And what can Australia do to prevent this?

Foreign Minister: Look, that's a really good question. And there's no doubt there's a lot of competition in our region. There's no doubt that China is seeking to exercise much greater strategic influence in the region and the regional order is being reshaped. And the point I often make to my friends in America and elsewhere is that we are at a time where the global order is being reshaped. We've all got a role to play with that. But the focus of that reshaping is in our region, in the Indo-Pacific, which is why the attention that the Biden Administration is paying to the Indo-Pacific is very welcome.

Sam Stein, Journalist: Foreign Minister Sam Stein here. Fundamentally, what this is about with respect to the war in Ukraine is leverage points over Russia. I mean, the initial premise was international sanctions regime will be put in place right away. It would cripple the Russian economy, coupled with billions and billions in aids to Ukraine. And you could essentially leverage Putin to reconsider his war. That obviously hasn't happened. If anything, what we saw this week is that he's going to conscript 300,000 people. He's warning of nuclear attacks. So China’s a leverage point that you're trying to play here, but are there others? Let's say Beijing just continues to buy cheap gas and fund the Russians. What other leverage points exist to get Putin to back down?

Foreign Minister: Well, I think it's very important that the international community continue to put pressure on Russia, continue the sanctions regime, continue the pressure on President Putin. And whilst you reference, the conscription and the really irresponsible remarks that President Putin made, what I'd say is they also demonstrate a certain degree of desperation. The war has not gone as he wished because of the response of the world and the bravery of the Ukrainian people.

Geist: Foreign Minister, on another topic, President Biden said clearly and again in an interview on Sunday that the United States would defend Taiwan if China invaded that nation. What would that mean for your part of the world if there were a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and the United States intervene militarily?

Foreign Minister: Well, I think the first point we should make is that Australia's position is very clearly that we do not want to see any unilateral change to the status quo. And we have consistently urged de-escalation and restraint. Like the United States, we recognise One China policy. We have diplomatic relationships with Beijing. We've maintained people-to-people and economic ties with Taiwan. I think it's important to remember that a conflict over Taiwan could be catastrophic and the focus of the world should be on averting that conflict and ensuring there is no unilateral change to the status quo.

Geist: And that's obviously everyone's first hope, as President Biden said in that interview as well. But he did say if that line were crossed by China, the United States would step in militarily with his own soldiers, not in some tacit way or not in some other way of offering financial support, but would intervene with the military. What would Australia do in that case?

Foreign Minister: Well, as a Foreign Minister, I've been asked that question a few times, and I'll disappoint you by saying I'm not going to be drawn on hypotheticals, and I don't think anyone in my position should be.

Geist: Fair enough. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, thanks so much for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

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