Questions at the National Press Club Tokyo

Subjects: US pivot and force posture, Trans Pacific Partnership, Trilateral Security Dialogue, whaling, East China Sea, Australian bilateral relations with Japan and China, Free Trade Agreements, New Colombo Plan, India, Indian Ocean Rim Association for Region Cooperation (IOR ARC), refugees and immigration.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

16 October 2013

QUESTION: Your presentation touched upon the trade, the security, and other very broad-ranging topics. Roles of Japan and Australia will even become larger. I think that was indicated in your presentation. But as Minister mention in your speech, this month in South East Asia there were some East Asian-related or APEC-related meetings, or TPP-related meetings. The Summit-level meetings were held this month. President Obama was not able to make himself available because of his domestic fiscal problems. So he was absent from these meetings. In terms of security in relation to China, we will have to manage our relationship with China. That will require strong presence and a strong engagement commitment of the United States. However, in this arena as well, President Obama's international involvement, especially on questions like Syria as the backdrop, we question how much we can expect of his leadership in international arena. So, Honourable Minister, viewed from Australia, the American commitment to Asia, especially President Obama's commitment in Asia – how do you read that? Some critics say, verbally of course, President can talk about strengthen the commitment, but as a matter of reality, action and deeds do not accompany his words. Some critics criticise in this way. So on this point, can you talk about your idea.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you for the question.

It was unfortunate that President Obama was not able to be at the APEC Leaders' Meeting in Bali and at the East Asia Summit Forum in Brunei. However, I don't think it came as a surprise to any of the participants that his priority lay in remaining in Washington at that time because of the domestic issue of the government shutdown. So I think we would have been astounded had he been able to leave Washington and attend the meetings in Asia.

Secretary Kerry represented President Obama at the various meetings, and as far as I am aware, laid out the United States' agenda when it comes to its rebalancing, as it calls it, of its interests and focus on our region. I believe that the actions that we were looking for will manifest in the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If that is able to be concluded within the timeframe set by the participants – that is, by the end of 2013. That will be a remarkable achievement and will certainly give much weight to the United States to be focussing its economic interests and, more broadly, its strategic and security interests in our region.

So there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Likewise, the United States has shown its desire to take a leadership role, continue to take a leadership role, in our region when it comes to our security concerns. As you will be aware, Australia has expanded the joint operations under the ANZUS Alliance with more American troops rotating through Darwin. An agreement that was reached a couple of years ago. And we're seeing that playing out on the ground in Australia now.

As I talk to countries in our region, my impression is that, in the main, they are seeking more leadership from the United States in our region, not less. And through the deepening of its strategic relationship with Japan, as evidenced by Secretary Kerry's visit here recently. The deepening of the relationship with Australia, as evidenced through the Force Posture circumstances. Its relationship with the Philippines, with Singapore, with the ASEAN countries more generally, as well as its close economic engagement with China. I think it's apparent that the United States is focussing its efforts on our region, and that it will continue to do so, notwithstanding the domestic challenges it currently faces.

So, with the conclusion of the TPP, with increased security discussions and agreements, the US presence will be very much felt.

And I participated in the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue – the United States, Japan and Australia – and Secretary Kerry was deeply engaged in the discussion we held about the challenges facing the region, some of the global challenges as the published communique will attest. It was a case of three close friends talking about issues of mutual concern.

So I believe that the unfortunate circumstances preventing President Obama being in the region should not be read as anything more than a clash of priorities. But we will see the expression of the rebalancing through the TPP and through other strategic and security arrangements. Not only now, but into the future.

QUESTION: From Labor Party it has changed to the conservative Coalition. Look from Japan, what we would like to focus our attention on is – what may be the relationship with China going forward, including security as well as trade? Will there be any change from the previous Administration? Under the Labor Government Australia-China relationship has deepened. On the other hand, in terms of security, there have been few setbacks, is what we have been told. So under the new Coalition Government – what may be the changes to come, please?

JULIE BISHOP: In general terms, the new Australian Government wishes to deepen and broaden all our relations in the region because we believe that it's through economic engagement, the people-to-people links of relations built on mutual trust and respect, that we can more likely guarantee peace and security in this region.

China is now our major trading partner in terms of merchandise. Japan remains our second-largest trading partner, but our major investor from Asia.

So our relationship with China is important from an economic point of view, and we recognise that China's economic engagement in the region . . we are not the only country that now has China as our number one trading partner – many other countries are in the same position. But China's economic engagement can help to expand trade opportunities and improve opportunities for countries to link into the global economy.

We welcome China's peaceful rise. We want to encourage China to be part of the global community, the rules-based international community. So, in terms of our relationship with China, we hope that it will be based on mutual respect. We hope that, as with other countries, we can adopt a "no surprises" approach. One of the criticisms of the former government was that it took unilateral decisions without sufficient consultation. We do not wish to be accused of that, and wish to be a consultative, collaborative partner.

We believe that the more China is engaged in the region – economically, strategically – the better it will be for us all. I know there are concerns in some areas about China's increasing assertiveness, but I believe we should be encouraging China to be a responsible regional and global player. And I think that both Japan and Australia have a significant role to play in that regard.

QUESTION: Thank you Minister. Rick Wallace from The Australian newspaper. Just two quick questions. I notice that in your speech you mentioned that you support Japan shifting to I think you said was a more normal defence posture. Just wondering if you could define that a bit more closely, and does that extend to the changes to the Constitution that Mr Abe is seeking. And second, it's probably a related question, I wanted to ask you if you think it's possible for Australia to keep pursuing what I'll call a Japan first foreign policy, in terms of nominating Japan as the closest friend in Asia and inviting Mr Abe to Australia to address Parliament, without damaging the China relationship. And in asking you that I point out obviously that they seem to have taken umbrage at the wording that came out of the Trilateral Dialogue with Mr Kerry and Mr Kishida, accusing Australia and the US of ganging up on it in relation to its territorial interests. Thank you.

JULIE BISHOP: Just on the last first. I have also had meetings with Chinese officials, and explained that the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue is not aimed at any country, that it didn't represent a change in Australia's position at all. In fact our view on the East China Sea issue has been long-standing. That is, we don't take sides on territorial disputes, but we certainly don't support coercive or unilateral action in the resolution of such disputes. And that was what was expressed in the communique which is long-standing Australian policy.

In relation to the China-Japan question, I think that we can't deny our history, nor should we. Australia and Japan have been long-standing trading partners for almost 70 years, as I was at pains to point out in my speech. And it's not a relationship that should be ignored or taken for granted. It is a significant part of the Australian economy that we have today. Our standard of living, our economic growth has much to do with the foundation-stone put in place by that Commerce Agreement of 1957.

So there's no changing history in that regard. But like many other countries, we recognise China's growth, and we are taking the opportunity to provide China with many of the raw materials that it requires, as we did with Japan in the 50s and 60s. The raw materials that China requires for its growth and its industrialisation. So we believe that Australia can manage its relations in the region by being open and frank. By respecting the differences we have with other countries.

But it is a fact that Australia and Japan share a similar political system. We share similar outlooks and attitudes on many regional and global issues. We are democracies. We are committed to the same democratic institutions and values, and freedoms. And so, having so much in common, it's not surprising that we should describe Japan as our best friend in Asia. Not only just say it, but mean it.

But that's not to deny that we will continue to work on our relationship with China. As we will with our relationship with South Korea. And I think we'll be deft enough with the appropriate political leadership, to be able to manage our various relationships in a positive and constructive way.

As far as Japan's focus on collective defence, we support the direction set out by Prime Minister Abe that Japan can take a greater role in collective security and we welcome the steps that are being undertaken to ensure that it can undertake that role. We work in partnership with Japan in many locations around the world, and if Japan is in a position to be part of our collective defence and security arrangements then I believe that that will be for the betterment not only for Australia, but the region and globe.

QUESTION: On TPP, as well as [FTA], the ruling party, the Government, the LDP, is saying for the sensitive agricultural products – for those products for which not much impact may be seen. They have started consideration on the tariffs levels. So what is your assessment on this? Australian Government, are you also thinking to make compromise, for instance, abolition of tariffs on automotive products for example. If I may ask a separate question about the whaling issue. A new government in Australia, for the scientific-based whaling activities, and also Sea Shepherd, the NGO in Australia, that there could be some collision between the two in the Antarctic Sea. And I understand that Customs vessels may be sent. Is it to pressure Japan? Or is it to try to prevent any collision between the two parties?

JULIE BISHOP: In relation to your question on the Free Trade Agreement. Both sides are working very hard to deliver an outcome that will benefit both our countries. We enter into trade negotiations on the basis that the negotiated outcome will benefit both countries. And that means that there will be compromises for both countries. But after seven years of negotiations I believe that we are very close to a bilateral deal that will deliver the economic benefits that both our countries are seeking. And overall, a Free Trade Agreement between Australia and Japan will take our bilateral relationship to a new level.

We are currently finalising the market access package. And of course there are sensitivities. It's no surprise that agricultural market access for our key products is a priority for Australia. It's no surprise that Japan has an interest in cars and on investment. I believe that with the political will and the leadership already demonstrated by Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Abe in their discussions in Brunei and in APEC, that we can be ambitious. We will be pragmatic and we do have the political leadership and the political will to conclude an agreement.

We have concluded Free Trade Agreements with a number of other countries, and they have been overall of benefit to both countries. And where we fail to conclude a Free Trade Agreement and yet competitor economies are able to, we lose market share. And we've seen that recently with the United States and South Korea Free Trade Agreement. Australian beef producers are losing out to our American competitors.

So there are opportunities for both Japan and Australia that are not to be missed, and I'm confident that we will be able to conclude a mutually-beneficial Free Trade Agreement in the months ahead.

In relation to the whaling issue. As you would be well aware, there is a court determination to be handed down at some point, and so I won't comment further, except to assure you that we will respect the court's decision in that regard, as I understand Japan will. And most certainly the Australian Government is very determined not to let our differences over whaling harm our relations with Japan.

As for the Sea Shepherd's activities. We do not, and will never, condone reckless, dangerous, unlawful behaviour. And where it occurs on the high seas, we will unreservedly condemn it. The fact that the Sea Shepherd visits Australian ports or some of the Sea Shepherd fleet might be registered in Australia is not indicative in any way of the Australian Government's support for the organisation. And we will continue to comply fully with our international legal obligations with regard to safety at sea.

As the whaling season is upon us, we will make a judgement at the time as to what is necessary.

As for sending Australian vessels or Customs vessels, we will make that decision at the time. But it is to ensure that there is no risk to life, to ensure there is not any outcome that would see people harmed, or lives lost in some sort of outcome between the Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whaling boats. So it's not a question of intervening. It's a question of ensuring that our presence can lead to some appropriate behaviour. But I can assure you we will not be supporting any reckless, dangerous behaviour.

QUESTION: I have a question about New Colombo Plan. Australia originally is a popular destination. On the other hand, internationally there is a fierce competition for securing human resources. Tokyo is eclipsed by Shanghai for example. In this context what is the strength and advantage that Australia has? What will be the appealing point medium to long term? Shall human resources stay in Australia? Is that what you are expecting, what you are hoping for?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is already a popular destination for international students. We have hundreds of thousands of students coming to Australia every year to study in our universities and our institutions.

The New Colombo Plan is designed to send Australian students in reverse back to universities in the region. So that Australia undergraduate students will be offered an opportunity to study at a university in, say, Japan, and also undertake an internship with a business operating in Japan, for example. We expect that they will be semester-long exchanges or semester-long scholarships, if I can put it that way.

And in this way, by having more Australian students studying in Japan, counter-intuitively we are likely to have more Japanese students deciding to study in Australia, having made contact with Australian students.

So the New Colombo Plan is designed to send more students to the region, but still encourage that two-way exchange. The reason that this is a foreign policy initiative, and will be run out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia, is because we see it as part of our engagement with Asia. If we can have a large body of young Australians, our best and brightest university students, having an opportunity to live and study and work and immerse themselves in the culture and life of another country, they'll return to Australia with new insights and new ideas, and new perceptions and perspectives. That will not only add to our productivity and prosperity, but set up lasting networks and connections with people in our region.

The original Colombo Plan of the 1950s brought students to Australia and I am constantly surprised as I travel throughout Asia, to meet with Prime Ministers, or Foreign Minister, Cabinet Ministers, business leaders, community leaders, who were Colombo Plan scholars in Australia. Their experience has left them with very good feelings about Australia. So we want to be able to create that alumni, those networks of Australian students being in the region.

And that's why I'm delighted that Japan is likely to be one of our partners in the pilot program that we will establish in 2014.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask – it is good to know that your leader said that trilateral cooperation has been going on very well between Australia and Japan and the US. But I'd like to ask your opinion, your views on this idea that, in particular Prime Minister Abe apparently is keep to have a quadrilateral cooperation including India. So then it is said that it is a little bit stimulate China and so I asked previous Australian Foreign Minister Mr Downer about this idea in 2006, and he was very careful about this idea. But I'd like to ask your views on it.

JULIE BISHOP: About a quadrilateral agreement or framework with Japan, India, the United States and Australia? That did actually come about. There was such a quadrilateral agreement reached at one point under the Howard Government. So Mr Downer must have taken your advice, because it did come into being. But the Labor Government decided that they wouldn't proceed with it, and I don't think it ever really got off the ground.

There is another quadrilateral arrangement that has been suggested, and that's including Japan, South Korea, the United States and Australia. And that's something that we're also looking at.

In the case of India, I think that there is so much potential for both our countries to do more with India. It is a significant democracy in anyone's language. It is a growing regional power. It will be a significant global power in years to come. And just through the sheer size of the country, it will always be important. It will always be significant.

Australia is seeking to deepen our connections with India. We are part of what's called the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, which is a grouping of Indian Ocean Rim countries, the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. Japan is a dialogue partner to that grouping. Australia is about to Chair that forum, and I hope that through our engagement with India in that forum we might have an opportunity to deepen our bilateral relationship.

In terms of a quadrilateral relationship, that would have to be a judgement for both India and the United States to make. I think Japan and Australia would be keen to pursue it. Whether it was seen as being directly at China would remain to be seen. We would have to be open and frank and talk about what outcomes we were seeking to pursue. There is certainly some merit in it, but it was not a matter that was discussed in our Trilateral Strategic Dialogue in Bali the other day. So, I haven't heard it put forward as a recent suggestion, but it's certainly something that we can bear in mind as we look to more deeply network our strategic defence and security alliances and partnerships in the region.

QUESTION: I have a question regarding refugees. Every year more than 100,000 immigrants are received by Australia. Now, in terms of refugees, for the last ten years or so I think you were meandering. During the Howard Government they had a certain policy, and against the criticisms – boat people coming into Australia were suppressed. But the Labor Government eliminated that, and all of a sudden refugees increased, and then the Pacific solution is revived. Now you are the conservative Coalition Government. Once again are you going to have a similar solution at the time of the Howard Government? You will be criticised by Papua New Guinea and other countries accepting refugees. How are you going to respond to those countries? Refugees from Syria, they are going in to the peripheral countries and do you have a plan of having a framework or a ceiling to accept those refugees from Syria?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has one of the most generous refugee and humanitarian programs on a per capita basis, and every year we take a number of people who are assessed by the UNHCR as being refugees. The assumption in your question is that everybody who pays a people-smuggler and gets on a boat to come to Australia, is a refugee, but that is not always the case. So there is a concern that with the weakening of our border protection laws in Australia under the previous Government, it's sent a message to the criminal syndicates that make up people-smugglers, that they should get their trade going again and find customers to bring to Australia. It comes down to a question of the integrity of our immigration system, and the sovereignty of our borders. And the new Abbot Government is determined to ensure that we continue with our refugee program, but that we do not encourage in any way people to pay people-smugglers and get on boats and make a very dangerous sea journey to Australia.

In the last few years over a thousand people have died at sea in the waters between Australia and Indonesia. We intend to stop that, to stamp out that practice. People can come to Australia through our immigration program. But if they try to do it in ways outside the immigration program it will break down our system. And I'm sure that Japan would recognise the need to maintain the sovereignty of your borders. And that's what we're doing. We have seen some success in lessening the number of people who are taking that life threatening journey to Australia, but we will continue to put in place measures to ensure that people who come to Australia do so through the proper channels of our immigration system.

Australia is a migrant country. Apart from the Indigenous Australians, everybody who has come to Australia in one form or another has come from somewhere else in the world. And so we are an immigrant country, but the success of our system is that the Government must retain control of who comes to the country. And that's what we're seeking to do at present.

I meant to mention, yes, we have already indicated that we will take 500 people who have been found to be refugees from Syria. That was announced just recently.


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