Transcript - Media doorstop in Beijing

Subjects: Foreign and Strategic Dialogue, bilateral relationship, G20 and APEC, Third Plenum, FTAs, Investment, New Colombo Plan, East China Sea/ADIZ.

Beijing, China

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

7 December 2013

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning.

I am pleased to have been able to attend the Foreign and Strategic Dialogue meeting here in Beijing. Yesterday, I had meetings with Vice President Li [Yuanchao], [Chinese Communist Party International Department] Minister Wang [Jiarui], and with Foreign Minister Wang [Yi]. Meetings lasted for almost four hours, so we covered a great many issues.

Australia and China have a strong and robust partnership – it is a Strategic Partnership – and this was an opportunity to discuss the many issues that we have in common, and it was an opportunity to discuss concerns over a range of areas, but it was a mutually productive meeting.

We look forward to Prime Minister Abbott coming here sometime next year, as part of the Strategic Partnership framework. We also look forward to welcoming President Xi Jinping to Australia around the time of the G20 in November in Brisbane. Next year, China will be hosting the APEC meeting, Australia will be hosting the G20 meeting, and we spent time discussing the cooperation that would exist between our two countries as we develop complementary agendas.

It was an opportune time to visit Beijing after the Third Plenum, and we had a very detailed discussion about the reforms that were announced during the Third Plenum, and we look forward to China continuing to be an open, market-oriented economy. There are many opportunities for our economic relationship to be broader and deeper and more diversified, and the potential for a Free Trade Agreement was discussed. Indeed, the Vice-President indicated that he thought we had the opportunity to conclude a Free Trade Agreement in the very near future.

The other day, Australia concluded a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, which was a high-quality, comprehensive agreement, and we hope that a similar agreement will be able to be negotiated with China.

I also had the opportunity to discuss the Australian Government's New Colombo Plan, which will be an opportunity for Australian undergraduate students to study in the region; and we particularly focused on the opportunity for young Australians to study in China. Chinese students are welcome in Australia, and we look forward to Australian students studying in China, learning the language, and coming to understand more about this significant nation.

So the relationship is strong, the relationship is robust, and we discussed a range of political, economic and cultural ties that bind us. And we hope that the relationship will endure as we are both significant players in the region, but we also cooperate on many levels in the multilateral scene.

So I'm happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST (Scott Murdoch, The Australian): Minister, was it embarrassing last night to have those comments directed at you from the Foreign Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: We had a very robust discussion, part of it was in front of the media, part of it was not. But the conversation lasted for almost four hours, and it was a very fruitful discussion.

Of course there will always be sensitivities and concerns. There are in any friendship, and there will be in the Australia-China friendship. But face to face meetings are an opportunity to voice concerns, and we discussed a whole range of issues.

And at the end of the four hours, I came away convinced that our relationship is strong, it is robust, and, as friends, we can speak our minds to each other.

The economic partnership which underpins the relationship will continue to grow. We discussed the increasing opportunities for investment, not only for Chinese companies in Australia, but for Australian companies in China. So at a two-way level, it was a very good discussion.

JOURNALIST (Stephen McDonell, ABC): Minister, can you just explain, what, in a nutshell, is Australia's main concern with this new flight zone?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is concerned that there be peace and stability in our region, and we don't want to see any escalation of the tensions, we want to see a de-escalation of tensions.

It is in our interests, and indeed in the interests of a number of countries in our region, that there be peace and stability in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the region more generally.

JOURNALIST (Chang Lei, CCTV News): PM Abbott has said that Japan is Australia's closest friend in Asia, so where does that leave China and Indonesia?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has many friends in Asia. We have a significant trading relationship with China. In fact, China is our largest two-way trading partner.

We have strong relationships with a number of countries in the region, as does China, as does Indonesia. So Australia is keen to cooperate with countries in the region, and work together at a multilateral level, at a regional level and on a bilateral basis.

That's why we're pursuing a significant agenda of free trade agreements in the region.

That's why we are introducing a New Colombo Plan that will see Australian students studying in the region, and that will be part of our longer-term engagement in the Indian Ocean-Asia-Pacific region.

JOURNALIST (International): Have the tensions in recent weeks over the ADIZ, have they done lasting damage to the relationship?

JULIE BISHOP: We have a very strong relationship. This is a strategic partnership meeting that I have been attending. And that strategic partnership means that there's a whole range of areas where we cooperate with China.

We will disagree on some matters. There were issues that were raised on our side, there were issues that were raised on the Chinese side, but the important thing is for us to be able to discuss these matters in a civilised way, and then move on. We have many, many areas of cooperation and engagement, and they will continue.

JOURNALIST (Phil Wen, SMH/The Age): How much of the discussion around the ADIZ did it take up during the meeting?

JULIE BISHOP: Of the four hours, a small proportion. We moved on to other serious issues that overshadow that regional issue, for example, North Korea, and we spent considerable time talking about the role that we believe that China can play in keeping the pressure on North Korea to prevent North Korea pursuing its nuclear weapons program, and the desire for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

We spent a lot of time talking about Syria, and Iran, and China's role and Australia's role on the UN Security Council.

We spent a significant amount of time on the economic relationship and on investment, and I took the opportunity to point out that since 2005, about 420 proposals for foreign investment from China have been approved by the Australian Government, that's valued at about $92 billion. We also looked at opportunities for Australia to invest in China, and discussed some of the barriers to entry in that regard.

We spent quite some time on the New Colombo Plan, because this is a first for the Australian Government.

So in terms of the break-up between political, economic and cultural, most of our time was spent on economic matters.

JOURNALIST (Stephen McDonell, ABC): So at the end of four hours, though, neither side had shifted its position, would it be fair to say that? And if so, could we see more ongoing tension about the East China Sea?

JULIE BISHOP: The Chinese Minister, Foreign Minister Wang, put his position, and I, on behalf of Australia, put our position, and we moved on to other issues.

This is a robust relationship. Friends don't always agree on every issue. Friends are able to discuss issues, and air their differences and move on.

We raised issues of human rights, we raised issues of consular matters. We raised issues that are confronting the UN Security Council. We spent some time on North Korea. So a whole range of issues were discussed. Australia and China will not always line up in exactly the same place on every issue, nor do we with other countries, other friends. Australia has its own national interest. Australia has its view, its position, and we should never be afraid to stand by our values and our views.

JOURNALIST (Stephen McDonell, ABC): Minister, can you tell us which human rights issues you raised?

JULIE BISHOP: We talked about it generally, a number of issues were raised.

JOURNALIST (Scott Murdoch, The Australian): Did you expect such a strong response though, in terms of, now, Australia has had issues with Indonesia and now China, does that show that the Coalition's strong point is not foreign policy?

JULIE BISHOP: I couldn't disagree with you more. The relationship with Indonesia has moved to another level as a result of the meeting I had with Minister Natalegawa on Thursday. These are issues that have been presented to us as the new Government, and we're dealing with them.

In relation to China, we had a very comprehensive discussion, because this is a comprehensive partnership. It's a strategic partnership, and that was emphasised by both sides yesterday. I had a very positive meeting with the Vice President, who talked in very glowing terms about our strategic partnership, and the opportunities for it to deepen and grow in the years ahead.

So, there can be bumps in the road, there can be challenges, there can be differences of opinion, but the strength of a partnership is how you deal with it. And after a very lengthy discussion on a whole range of issues, I am confident that the Australia-China relationship will endure and grow.

The reforms announced in the Third Plenum give Australians a real opportunity to enhance our engagement with China and vice-versa. So we are looking forward to the future, and particularly buoyed by the enthusiasm shown for a free trade agreement between Australia and China.

JOURNALIST (Cheng Lei, CCTV News): [can we get the FTA done] in 12 months?

JULIE BISHOP: We didn't put a time-frame on it, that's Australia's aspiration, but most certainly the Vice President was very positive about the conclusion of an agreement within a short period of time. And I think that the South Korea free trade agreement has given us an indication of what can be achieved.

We have been negotiating a free trade agreement with China for eight years now, and the high quality, comprehensive agreement that we were able to conclude with South Korea gives us hope that we will be able to do something similar with China.

JOURNALIST (Chang Lei, CCTV News): Did they mention the FIRB investment threshold?

JULIE BISHOP: We talked about foreign investment, both in China and in Australia, and I pointed out that the statistics speak for themselves. Since 2005, 420 proposals by Chinese companies and entities have been approved – about $92 billion worth of investment.

China is not our largest investor, but it's most certainly growing, and we welcome foreign investment from all over the world.

Likewise, Australian investors seek to invest in other countries. And so we talked about the opportunities, and also the challenges, facing Australian investors seeking to invest in China.

JOURNALIST (international): Just on the ADIZ – so can you just clarify that Australia's position has not changed? And then also on human rights, were there any particular cases that you brought up, because I believe there are some Australian citizens who are currently in…or who have recently run into trouble in China. So was it a very general discussion, or did you talk about any particular cases?

JULIE BISHOP: In terms of peace and stability in the region, Australia holds to the view that there should be no action on the part of any party that will increase tensions, or run the risk of a miscalculation occurring in the region. That's our view, it's a view shared by many countries in the region. And so that was the position we stated.

We don't take sides on territorial claims, we don't take sides on competing claims in the region. What we do is urge parties to act calmly, rationally, in a way that would ensure peace and stability, and not otherwise. And I think that's a credible position for Australia to take, and it's a long-term Australian foreign policy.

In relation to human rights, I won't go into the details of specific cases, but instances were raised. Likewise, in consular matters, specific instances were raised – matters that are of concern to the Australian Government.

JOURNALIST (Primrose Riordan, AFR): So what proportion of Australian students will go to China under the New Colombo Plan?

JULIE BISHOP: We are starting with a pilot program next year, which will focus on Singapore, Indonesia Japan and Hong Kong. The idea of the pilot is to test some of the issues, such as course accreditation, mutual recognition, our capacity to mobilise Australian students to study overseas. Work visas because there is an internship element to it.

And we specifically selected Hong Kong in discussions with Chinese officials because we felt there was an opportunity to address some of the challenges of having students studying overseas, in China, via a pilot in Hong Kong.

Ultimately, I expect there will be significant demand from Australian students to study in China. It's very popular, a lot of Australian students are keen to develop Mandarin skills, and given the strength of the relationship between Australia and China on an economic and cultural level, I anticipate that there will be a significant number of students seeking to go to China.

But it will be demand driven to a certain extent, so we will see how the pilot goes, then we will be able to roll it out to China, India, South Korea, Malaysia and other countries. I anticipate that China will be a very popular destination, as Australia is for Chinese students.

JOURNALIST (Phil Wen, Fairfax): Minister, do you accept the Chinese Foreign Minister's characterisation that Australia's position on the East China Sea has jeopardised the bilateral relationship? I mean, how much of this is bluster, and trying to twist your arm to change your position?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, at the end of an almost four-hour meeting, we had covered a whole range of areas where we are in complete and absolute agreement, a number of areas where we are not in agreement, but overall a most positive discussion.

And when you look at the areas – in our economy, across society, in our communities – where Australia and China work closely together, I believe it's in our mutual interest to continue that deep engagement, and that is the impression that I gained from the Foreign Minister.

We will continue to work closely and cooperatively – where there are issues, we can raise them with each other. And we committed to continuing high-level discussions - face-to-face, over the phone - we will continue to communicate with each other. Consultation and dialogue is the key to maintaining a strong relationship – that's what we committed to do, and the impression that I gained from the Vice President, Minister Wang [Jiarui] and from Foreign Minister Wang [Yi] is that the Chinese side are also committed to working closely and cooperatively with Australia.

(ENDS)

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