12 November, 2009
Interview - Linda Mottram, Radio Australia
STEPHEN SMITH: Australia is a founding member of the United Nations Secretary-General's Friends of Burma Group. We had a very good meeting in New York in September in the margins of the General Assembly. The Secretary of State was there, as were a dozen or so Foreign Ministers interested in Burma, including some of their ASEAN colleagues.
Whilst there are graduations of view, I think one could describe it as an emerging consensus that we need to try and do more. We need to be a bit more creative, and if all we do is do everything that we've done in the past, we might not get a successful outcome.
So we've seen the United States review. Australia's also been looking at what more we can do. In addition to a conversation with Secretary Clinton about Burma, I also had a conversation with Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State who has the day-to-day running of this matter.
We agreed that we'll have a more substantive conversation in a few weeks time.
So we're looking at what Australia can do to assist that process. We have a longstanding view about a return to democracy, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the release of political prisoners, and we've been sceptical about the proposed election process.
So we'll work closely with the United States and with our ASEAN colleagues. When I was at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Thailand a couple of months ago, it was also clearly an emerging view in ASEAN that ASEAN itself had to do more to help. All of these developments, I think, are very good things.
QUESTION: And Mrs Clinton clearly believes that ASEAN has to take a lead role?
STEPHEN SMITH: And Burma of course is a member of ASEAN, is a neighbour, and as a consequence, often the most influential people are people in your neighbourhood, in your region.
So the international community does look to our friends in ASEAN to be working positively and productively. Whether it's Indonesia, Thailand within ASEAN itself or whether it's China or India, the neighbourhood, the region, in our view has a responsibility to assist.
But we need to just look at what more we can do to try and, in a sense, break through what's been a longstanding debilitating position so far as the regime's concerned.
QUESTION: And any thought of sending delegations, sending any Australian senior figures to try to make some new ground?
STEPHEN SMITH: Parliamentary Secretary Bob McMullan did go to Burma, to Rangoon in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis where Australia, together with the international community, made a very generous contribution to assist in that humanitarian effort. But what we'll do will be done in conjunction and in coordination with the United States, with ASEAN and also with the Secretary-General, who of course has his own Special Representative, Ambassador Gambari. But we are open-minded and we certainly want to help.
One particular area we've been looking at is whether it's possible for us to do something on the development assistance side. We have always been generous in terms of humanitarian assistance. We've never wanted to do anything which would not assist the ordinary Burmese people, and so we've been generous with humanitarian assistance.
We're having a look at whether it might be appropriate for us to move into genuine development assistance, particularly in some of the social areas. But there are obviously risks associated with that and we'll do that in consultation with our like-minded friends.
QUESTION: Staying sort of in that general region, Thailand and Cambodia are experiencing considerable difficulties. How concerned are you about that situation?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're always concerned when two of our friends get themselves into a state of difficulty or tension. I haven't had the opportunity within APEC of course to speak to my Cambodian counterpart. I had a conversation with my Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Kasit, and I made the point that we of course want Thailand and Cambodia to resolve this issue amicably. We don't want to see any escalation.
The particular issue which is causing the current tension of course follows on quite quickly from the dispute over the Temple. So there have been a couple of difficult issues between Thailand and Cambodia and we hope very much that they can resolve them amicably and together. And certainly that is the view also of their ASEAN colleagues.
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