JULIE BISHOP Good morning, I am in Beijing for the Foreign Minister’s meeting at APEC and I have a very full agenda, but before I go into the detail of what I will be doing here at APEC I did want to mention that overnight, the eminent Australian lawyer Professor James Crawford has been elected by an absolute majority of the UN Security Council and the General Assembly to the International Court of Justice. It is over 50 years since an Australian has served on the International Court of Justice and the Australian Government is absolutely delighted that Professor James Crawford has been honoured in this way. His nine year tenure will commence in 2015.
On arriving in Beijing last night I met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guest House. We had a long and productive and engaging meeting. We discussed the APEC agenda and what China and the member economies hope to achieve during our visit here. We also discussed the upcoming G20 meeting in Brisbane and we discussed in detail President Xi Jinping’s visit to Australia which will include visits to states other than Queensland. We also discussed the Free Trade Agreement negotiations which are occurring as we speak and I am feeling confident Australia and China will be able to conclude the Free Trade Agreement.
This afternoon I will be taking part in the APEC meetings, I also have meetings with State Counsellor Yang this morning and also bilateral meetings with other Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries who are here in Beijing.
JOURNALIST What are the chances of the Free Trade Agreement being concluded in time for President Xi’s visit to Australia?
JULIE BISHOP We are hopeful that it will be concluded in time for the President’s visit. I think that would be a fitting tribute to the relationship between Australia and China, which is strong and comprehensive and collaborative, but that will be a matter for the negotiators, to ensure that both countries benefit from the Free Trade Agreement. Andrew Robb is also here in Beijing and I know that he is meeting with his counterpart Trade Minister now.
JOURNALIST The signals you’re getting though, is, the deal will happen?
JULIE BISHOP I’m feeling confident that we will be able to conclude a Free Trade Agreement with China. It is important for both of us that it will be a benefit to both our economies and I am looking forward to the opportunity for Australian businesses to have access to this incredible market, this huge consumer market - 1.3 billion people here in China, but there are some sticking points and I know that there are still some areas that still need to be agreed.
JOURNALIST What are those sticking points and will they need to be elevated to say, between Abbott and Xi Jinping to work out between themselves?
JULIE BISHOP Well, I won’t go into the detail. I won’t give you a running commentary on the trade negotiations. After all, they have been in place for nine years. I think we have narrowed it down to a couple of areas which still need to be negotiated but overall I am delighted with the progress that we have been able to make since we came into government last September. Not only have we concluded Free Trade Agreements with South Korea and Japan but it looks like we will be able to conclude one with China and this will enhance our trade and investment and commercial ties to the benefit of Australian businesses, particularly export businesses. Of course we are an open export-orientated market economy and it is in our interest to enhance existing trading relationships to create more opportunities for small, medium, large businesses in Australia to export to China, more opportunities for capital to invest in Australia, to grow our businesses.
JOURNALIST When you met with Wang Yi last night, did he express his displeasure that Australia had not signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?
JULIE BISHOP No, not at all. We did discuss the AIIB, and Australia welcomes the initiative for we understand that more infrastructure funding is required in our region. We talked through the issues that Australia had with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he hoped that we would be able to agree to join at some point. I also expressed the hope that it would be an inclusive, multilateral institution that would include the United States, Japan and South Korea, as well as Australia in due course.
JOURNALIST Are they our issues, is that what the issues were or were there other issues that we had?
JULIE BISHOP No, we talked generally about the principles that Australia had decided upon as being fundamental to a decision to enter into an agreement to be part of this. Those principles haven’t all been met so we are continuing to discuss and negotiate. It was a very positive discussion.
JOURNALIST Is the worry that with China’s shareholding so great that this will be just an arm of their foreign policy?
JULIE BISHOP We talked about a number of issues involving the structure of the bank, the governance principles, the reason why people are, nations are investing in the bank and Australia has a number of matters that we’d like to see clarified before we sign up to it. Foreign Minister Wang Yi indicated that there was no deadline, no timeframe. He hoped that we could continue to negotiate.
JOURNALIST Is Australia at risk of losing out in terms of infrastructure development and potential to participate in projects when not signing up for this?
JULIE BISHOP No, Australia is unlikely to be a recipient of the infrastructure funding that’s the point. The 20 - 21 nations that have signed the Memorandum of Understanding are all likely to be recipients of infrastructure funding, development assistance. Australia is unlikely to be a recipient, so we are not missing out, we just need to ensure that a multilateral institution of this type meets the same governance standards as other multilateral institutions including the IMF and the World Bank and the like.
JOURNALIST John Hewson and Paul Keating and others argue that we should be at the table, take a senior role, maybe Deputy Chair, which was apparently offered to Australia, and try and influence the bank from within rather than without.
JULIE BISHOP I don’t believe that was the case, I don’t we were offered that, but we certainly have been negotiating with China. They understand the principles that we are operating upon and I hope that we can negotiate an agreed position at some point. But Australia is focusing on infrastructure in the region at the G20 meeting. It is high on our agenda so we are all on the same page when it comes to appreciating the need for further infrastructure funding in our region.
JOURNALIST If Japan doesn’t join or the US doesn’t join, is that a deal breaker for Australia?
JULIE BISHOP That is not the way we have cast it, that is not the way we see it, we have encouraged other countries to be involved in the negotiations as Australia is.
JOURNALIST What assurances would you need from the Chinese Government in order to join? President Xi Jinping has said that the bank will be transparent and adhere to international standards.
JULIE BISHOP Well there are a number of specific principles that we will adhere to, China is aware of them, and these are the subject of the negotiation, so I won’t go into any more detail but it was a cordial discussion and it was certainly not an issue of tension, at all, in any sense.
JOURNALIST Can I ask you about APEC? Is there anything that we especially hope is going to come out of this meeting?
JULIE BISHOP We hope that there will be a refocus on the fundamentals of open trade. We want to see more trade liberalisation, more trade facilitation, so we are very keen to promote the trade agenda of APEC. We are also very keen to promote the people-to-people links, and connectivity, as it is called here at APEC, and Australia through our New Colombo Plan that will see young Australian undergraduates take the opportunity of a government scholarship to live, study and work in a number of APEC economies, is a highlight of Australia’s contribution to that debate.
JOURNALIST What about corruption? I mean do you have concerns that Australia could potentially extradite people or seize funds from Chinese nationals in Australia that have not gone through due process here in China and indeed could carry the death penalty if people were extradited back to China?
JULIE BISHOP Well we don’t have an extradition treaty with China at present. We have a number of extradition treaties that are currently under consideration by our Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. But Australia has very strong anti-money laundering laws, we have very strong laws and I am confident that all appropriate steps are being taken.
JOURNALIST Do you get a sense, or are you concerned, that Australia could be used for what is essentially being described here in China as a purge, by President Xi Jinping? He is using corruption as a stalking horse to get rid of some of his political opponents. Are you concerned that Australia could be used in that sense?
JULIE BISHOP We welcome President Xi Jinping’s agenda to stamp out corruption. I think that is an admirable reform agenda item, Australia is conscious of these suggestions, allegations but I am confident that our anti-money laundering systems in place will prevent that and as I said we don’t yet have an extradition treaty with China.
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