Australia and the Republic of Korea: Natural partners and true friends

Australia-Korea Year of Friendship Dinner


Speech, E&OE — Check against delivery

12 October 2011

Thanks very much Peter and to distinguished guests ladies and gentlemen, in particular to acknowledge my old friend Ambassador Kim who's now returned to academia in the safe environment of Yonsei University, far removed from the day to day challenges of diplomacy and may you think beautiful thoughts, may you write beautiful essays and in a great tradition of Confucian scholarship, give fearless advice to the emperor.

Can I also acknowledge the newly arrived Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, Ambassador Cho who comes to us from a highly impressive diplomatic career both within the foreign ministry in Seoul as well as the postings he's had around the world.

There is a prepared text for my remarks this evening but could I say that if you've been in the business of a one and a half track dialogue today, many of you, then it's probably not the occasion to deliver a formal text.

In the spirit of a one and a half track dialogue, let me just say a few things about my own personal observations about the importance of the Australia Korea relationship and where we could possibly take it into the future.

I regarded personally as a great privilege to have formed a strong friendship with President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea. I've got to know the President over a number of years now. I regard him to be a fine leader of the Korean people and also a person who has been brought to the highest office in his country.

He is a person in my experience who has a very clear vision for where he wants his country to go in the future and this is always a challenge if you're the President of the Republic of Korea when you have such an extraordinary neighbour as North Korea, otherwise called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. So that friendship that I'm proud to boast of is one which I hold dear, and knowing that in him a wise counsel prevails in dealing with the day to day rigours of the inter-Korean relationship.

Also, he has as a result of his visits here, and both Prime Minister Gillard's and earlier my own visits to Seoul a genuine regard for this country. And again I'd like to publicly acknowledge that. It's for reason such as that that we're able to kick-start very early in the piece the Australia — Korea Free Trade Agreement negotiations which officials — both Korean and Australian — advise me are near to conclusion. And I again acknowledge publicly his extraordinary role in supporting this given the other — shall I say international competition for Korea's attention, most recently by the Americans and then the European Union and by a whole bunch of other countries who are seeking now to negotiate FTA's with the ROK.

Let's just reflect for a moment on what our two countries have in common. We are countries who are founded in a deep historical experience at a time when frankly our people's knew very little of each other. And the struggles that we found ourselves embroiled in between 1950 and 1953 still edge deep within the souls of both of our countries.

The extraordinary devastation of the Korean War, the extraordinary carnage which occurred as a result of the North's attack on the South. The destruction of the economy was a war of intensity of the type that we only really associate with the darkest days of the First and Second World Wars. Cities were destroyed, tens, hundreds of thousands of people were killed in an extraordinary conflict.

We in Australia were proud of the fact that we played a part. We do not exaggerate the role that we played, we do not under estimate the role that we played. And we were one of the first countries to commit to that conflict in the period of Prime Minister Menzies' government in this country. And we stand today many, many, years later, 60-plus years later since the initiation of hostility to 1950. Proud in our recollection of those Australians who died. Some several hundred of them lie honoured in graves in your country at Busan which I have visited and presented wreaths at and these are young men's lives which were extinguished when all their life's lay before them.

I recall also that in that United Nations war cemetery at Busan we also have buried there a young Australian boy of the age of 16, who in a great tradition of the Australian military, signed up to go to Korea when he was under age, and he lies there buried with other heroes of Australian contributing in their own way to the freedom of the people of the Republic of Korea.

But our sufferings and those of your allies, the United States and others in their conflict, they're no comparison for sufferings for which you yourselves bore as the Korean people.

The extraordinary story though of Korea — and our relationship with Korea — is that is where our common bonds were forged. And there has been therefore a generation and a generation and a generation of Australians for whom the memories of the Battle of Kapyong and other engagements on the Korean peninsula are writ large in our national memory.

Of course this relationship extends way beyond historical recollection. It also goes to the vibrancy of our continued democracies. We know that in Korea this has been a hard fought fight. We understand the difficulties which our friends in Korea have been through in shaping and forming and founding and establishing and entrenching their democratic freedoms they have. And these are values which we deeply share.

As a member of the family of democracies worldwide these are values not to be considered lightly, they're not to be pushed to one side, they're not simply to be regarded as unimportant. And therefore it is a great moment to us as fellow members of this dynamic region of ours in the Asia Pacific that we have a strong robust country like the Republic of Korea as a full member of the community of democracies.

There was a time several decades ago when it was assumed that given the challenges of economic development in Asia, in Africa and elsewhere, that democracy was a remote European luxury inapplicable to the development challenges which we saw in other parts of the world.

Our friends in Korea have demonstrated that is not the case. Our friends in the Middle East now demonstrate that that is not the case, and our friends in South Africa have demonstrated that is not the case.

Your example, as a country of great antiquity, a country which celebrates justifiably its long civilisational tradition, to also be a member of the modern family of democracies, is of great significance in our wider region. And we celebrate that and we honour that. And together with our friends in Indonesia and elsewhere never underestimate the symbolism of what you do in the region at large in proving finally and beyond dispute, that the tasks of economy, the tasks of building a country are not incompatible with giving our citizenry a right to freedom of political participation and equality of the vote.

So we share democratic values. We also happen to be economies of roughly comparable size. Now this is largely an accident of history, but that is where we find ourselves at present, which as economies we look at each other and we feel neither intimidated, threatened or in any way feel as if we enter into a negotiation on an unequal basis.

This is no small thing either. We respect the strength of the Korean economy, the fact that you now have such a globally impressive set of brands everywhere — from Samsung, which I admired in my refrigerator label last night, to Hyundai, and the fact that it sells 90,000 units of cars in this country each year.

The Hyundai rep in Australia tells me that under the FTA you will do a lot better. And I said that was entirely conditional on what you still yielded to Australian farmers. But the point is these are two strong economies. Our economy is the 13th largest in the world. Korea, depending on the calculations, is the 14th or the 15th. But this means that these are economies of substance and size. We are both trillion dollar plus economies, which means that together it is not just a passing item of economic interest. These are substantial economies and therefore markets in their own right, which provide us with an opportunity to raise both our people's living standards even further, because we represent markets of size. And not just in terms of trade, but as the investment relationship grows between us as well.

Of course, beyond the economy, there is also the common local challenges we face as well. Because of our relative economic size we both, in the last two to three years, have become active and full members in the G20. The G20, as of 2008 and 2009, has been designated as the premium global institution of global economic governance. This is no small title, it carries with it great responsibilities. And again I would acknowledge the great leadership shown by President Lee Myung-bak, in the hosting of the most recent G20 Summit in Seoul.

And as we look at great global economic uncertainty coming out of Europe and coming out of elsewhere, the role of the G20 when it meets again in Cannes in a month's time, will be in the forefront of national media and market attention.

You cannot have a stable global economy if you have rolling structural instability in global financial markets. The way in which global financial markets are ultimately calmed is on the basis of concerted action by Governments and financial systems of size and consequence. And these financial markets and systems of consequence and economies which give rise to them, gather together through the financial stability of all, through our common participation in the Basel Committee and in the broader economic stabilisation mechanisms which fall within the rubric and the agenda of the G20.

And I know, from my own experience, that the work which we Australia and Korea have done in partnership with others in the G20, has been fundamental in shaping not just the framework for sustainable long term global growth, which we agreed together in Pittsburgh, but critically what we agreed together at Seoul, which was extending the global economic development agenda also to what we now do for the developing world.

And this is critical as well. The Seoul Development Consensus underpins much of the work which will now unfold at the Cannes summit, and how we deal with endemic global challenges, such as food security. So we are active together in the G20.

Beyond that of course, we're active on the other great global challenges, such as climate change. This has been the subject of intense debate in the Australian political system and the Australian Parliament over some years now. And today, in the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament, we reached resolution on our approach to the pricing of carbon.

Our friends in the Republic of Korea have for some time now pursued their own green growth agenda — domestically. And I respect very much Korea's leadership around the world on this critical question.

And when we sit in forums around the world, we can always rely upon a strong progressive voice from Korea on what now should be done in terms of dealing with the global challenge of global warming.

On the list of what we have in common, I've been through a range of factors, they're historical, they're strategic, democratic, economic, financial as well as environmental. But there is a point which I gather has been discussed also today in this Dialogue, about the gap which perhaps exists between what is now a robust and strong official engagement between our two countries.

And where our respective populations stand in terms of their knowledge of one another. If I listen carefully to what participants in the one and half track dialogue have said today, it's that a challenge for the future is how we close that gap.

And it's not a bad thing that Government could take the lead. It is in fact a good thing that Government has taken the lead. But there is a whole agenda waiting to be developed now of how we bring our peoples closer together.

How we bring our domestic politicians closer together. How we bring the other levels of business, beyond the great Australian mining houses, down to other levels of business. And I believe this is an agenda which we can craft together and will work well.

The fact that we have in our number right now 26,000 Korean students happily studying at Australian universities is a very good start. The fact that these students are going to be graduates of our universities and form part of a new bond of human friendship and therefore a basis for future business relationships, is also a good thing, but is only a beginning. And I think this is an agenda which we need to reflect on carefully as Governments so that we do not end up with a relationship which is officially heavy, but at a population level somewhat light.

These then are the things which bind us together. These are the values we share, the interests we share and the institutions in which we are commonly engaged around the world.

Let me in the remaining few minutes that I intend to speak, touch on three challenges. One is the future of North Korea. The second is our common engagement with China. And the third is our common engagement with our common ally, the United States. A few remarks on each.

We in Australia, are in deep admiration for the patience, the forbearance, the extraordinary national self discipline which our friends in the Republic of Korea have displayed over many years now, notwithstanding the list of provocations that have come from the North.

We study these things carefully in this country. We studied carefully the sinking of the Cheonan by a North Korean submarine. We participated willingly in the subsequent excavation of the naval wreck to in fact conclude with the rest of the International Commission that this was a North Korean torpedo which sank this ship, despite the robust denials coming out of Pyongyang and the ambivalence coming out of Beijing on the question.

We watched carefully the response from the Republic of Korea, the unprovoked shelling of several communities on the Korean side of the parallel by North Korean artillery units.

And we have watched with admiration what our friends in the ROK have done in seeking to develop the beginnings of a commercial relationship with the North and to provide humanitarian assistance to people who starve in the North at the same time. We admire all these things. And they show great restraint on the part of our friends in the ROK.

I think it's important for us all in this country of Australia to remind ourselves each day that the single greatest flashpoint in the world for large-scale global conflict is the Korean Peninsula.

If we reflect for a moment on the assembled military might on both sides of the parallel, if we look at the unrestrained development of nuclear capabilities by the North and we look at the fact that the war of which I spoke earlier, of 1950 — 1953, does not have a formal peace treaty, but only a temporary armistice, we are sitting on the edge still of a conflict which is raw and deep and with great consequences.

We are familiar in this country acutely with the progress and lack thereof of the Six-Party Talks. We understand the postures taken by various governments in it. But what we look at in Australia, because we are a practical people is the evidence. And the evidence we see coming from the North continues to disturb us greatly.

We have seen not just the development of nuclear fissile material by the north, to the extent that its ability to construct a number of nuclear bombs is now really beyond technical dispute by those who analyse these things carefully.

We also watch carefully the practical evidence of what North Korea is doing in terms of long-range rocket capabilities. Short-range rockets, medium-range rockets and also the prospect of further testing of North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile, the Taepodong-2.

It is worth us thinking through very carefully, as two democracies and two countries which now talk to each other at an intimate strategic level, how we deal with this challenge in the future. The consequences for Australia are great.

To remind again our Australian friends, if the North Koreans develop a Taepodong-2, with a range of up to nine thousand kilometres — I'm looking at Peter Abigail to nod — then the capacity for such rocketry to reach an extended perimeter, including northern parts of Australia, as well as coming close, if not beyond Hawaii, as well as a much wider ark around, including obviously our friends and partners in Japan, these are deeply disturbing developments. And we see no evidence whatsoever that the DPRK is retarding the development of these capabilities.

So while it may not be in the newspapers each day, can I say this very clearly. We in Australia have a deep and abiding strategic interest in working with our friends in Seoul on the depth and complexity of what the North Koreans are doing and how we best prepare ourselves for scenarios in the future. This unites us all.

The second point I wanted to raise was about China. China is Korea's largest trading partner, I believe. It is certainly Australia's largest trading partner, as of about one and a half years ago. And China's global economic might is there for the world to behold.

China now is the world's second-largest economy, having passed Japan two to three years ago. It is on a trajectory to become the world's largest economy sometime around about 2019 or 2020, according to PPP measures, and by market exchange rates by 2030 or in the early 2030s.

This therefore represents a fundamental rewriting of recent economic history. China of course was the dominant global economic power some time before the eighteenth and nineteenth century. But things now have radically changed. And the transformation of China, since the end of the Cultural Revolution and since 1979 when Deng reformed the economy, has been profound.

Every analysis that I have seen in the intervening 30 years or so which says that China cannot sustain this growth any further has been proven to be diabolically wrong. Every prediction in the popular literature that China will fall apart in terms of provinces breaking away from the centre has equally proven to be diabolically wrong. I think it is robust for us all to assume that China will continue to grow and to remain united.

That does not mean that China is without challenges. It has many. We know the list. A huge population, the challenges of urbanisation, of land distribution, public protests over the use of land, as well as challenges within its own financial economic system. But China has had these challenges for some time and continues to prevail.

When China does become the world's largest economy, it will be the first time in more than 250 years that a non-democracy and, for those of us who come from the western tradition, a non-western country will be the dominant economy in the world. It's worth thinking that through in terms of where it takes us for the future.

That is why we, together with Korea, are such active participants in this wider region of East Asia, engaging our friends in China and developing a rules-based system for our own wider region and for their global engagement for the future as well.

Because what we want is a China which having recognised has benefited from an open economic system and a stable and predictable security order in the decades which have led to the present, that these will also serve China well into the future.

That is why now we are engaged deeply, Korea, Australia and China, in the East Asian Summit, as we evolve for the first time a region-wide political and security agenda which will hopefully over time cultivate the culture and the norms of security cooperation, rather than the expectation of some future conflict.

That is where both our diplomacies are targeted and as it should be. I'm an optimist about China's future. I'm an optimist about our ability to avoid conflict in the future between China and the United States. But these things are not given. They have to be worked at. And it is a challenge of our combined diplomacies, Korea's and Australia's, to ensure that that is the case, because the alternative for us as countries is unspeakable.

Which brings me to my third challenge. And that is our common ally, the United States. There are many who have written the Americans off. There are many who have believed that, because of the problems of their economy, that America is engaged in some perpetual slide. I do not share that view.

The American economy has been through ups and downs, depressions, recessions and recovery, for the last 100 years and will continue to do so. America's population continues to grow. In its own right, it is a significant mass of people, some 300 million plus.

The capacity therefore for the American economy to continue to reinvent itself and to bounce back should not be underestimated by anybody. And anyone caring to analyse the size, complexity and sophistication of the US military should be in no doubt that this remains by a country mile the most sophisticated military capability anywhere in the world and for decades and decades and decades to come.

The one question we have for America is where its own national political leadership in the future — and I make no comment at all on the Obama Administration – his policies of engagement in the Asia Pacific we accept and respect and work with. But where Americans that are in leadership take that country long-term in its wider engagement with the Asia-Pacific region again is a common challenge for Korea and Australia to work on and to work towards.

Australia's interest is clear. I believe they are those of the ROK as well. Our stability and our prosperity in East Asia in the post-war period has hinged upon a strong strategic engagement in that part of the world by the United States. Our judgment therefore is that should continue into the future. It is important therefore we speak with one mind and clear voice to our friends in Washington about the importance of that for themselves, but also for ourselves and for our region to the future.

As America, for example, undertakes the analysis of its own future force posture review, it will be important for our community of nations in Asia to see clearly that America remains comprehensibly committed to the military and security needs of this region into the twenty-first century.

I am confident that it will. But we should not simply assume that America's friends, partners and allies, such as the Republic of Korea and Australia, that their views are automatically known at the highest level or the congressional political leadership levels in the United States. We have a constant challenge to make those views known in Washington, because there are views in Washington and the Congress which would seek to take the United States in a different direction.

So therefore, these three challenges I think are worth reflecting on for the future of our informal dialogues with one another, but also the formal engagement which we have as governments, as foreign services and as military establishments in the future.

And they for me are the three big questions: your peninsula and the folk that you have to the North of you, our friends in China and of course our ally in the United States. And we in Australia and Korea I believe have a deep common interest in shaping and forging a common view as to our response to those three challenges in the future.

If I could conclude on this.

The whole point of political and strategic stability is so that our respective populations enjoy rising living standards, that we work together on the other great challenges of the world, whether it's ensuring that we have environmental sustainability or ensuring that the poor people of the world have a decent access to a future which is one of dignity.

And so on those questions too I look forward to a deepening engagement with our friends in the Republic of Korea. And I opened these remarks and so I conclude them, we have so much in common, these two democracies of ours, so much in common. I believe based on those commonalities we can build a strong, robust and real partnership for the future of a type that our countries have not experienced in the decades past. I thank you.


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