JULIE BISHOP Our priorities for the region focus on peace, prosperity, security and stability. The East Asia Summit comprises the ten heads of South East Asia, plus eight others including Australia, Japan, the United States, China and India, all significant in terms of importance to the region.
This will be the Foreign Ministers Meeting of the East Asia Summit, to prepare for the Leaders Summit that will that will take place in November. Today I am holding at least a dozen bilateral meetings with my counterpart Foreign Ministers. This morning we also took part in the first Australian-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting under our new Strategic Partnership status. Last November Australia was elevated to the position of Strategic Partner of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, and we held a Ministerial meeting today to report on the progress of elevating that relationship.
I took the opportunity during my remarks to focus on not only the opportunities of increased trade and investment in Australia with the nations of South East Asia, cultural links through the New Colombo Plan, Australia’s overseas student study program. I also focussed on a number of the challenges, particularly the tensions that have arisen over the South China Sea. I made it plain that Australia does not take sides in territorial claims, but we urge all nations to halt reclamation work. I pointed out that a number of countries have been involved in reclaiming land, that China has claimed 20 times more than other nations. Indeed its reclamation has gone from five acres to 3000 acres in under 18 months. We are deeply concerned that there may be militarisation of artificial reefs and structures and we called a halt to that as well.
Our interest is primarily one of peace and prosperity for the region, but we should also point out, as I did, that about 70 per cent of Australia’s trade is through the South China Sea. So we call upon the countries of South East Asia and China to respect freedom of navigation, freedom of over-flight and to reject any coercive or unilateral behaviour that can lead to increased tensions.
I also spoke about our support for an ad hoc criminal tribunal in respect of the past [inaudible] in relation to the bringing down of the Malaysian Airlines MH17, given that we’re in Kuala Lumpur, and the Deputy Foreign Minister of Malaysia was present. I also spoke about our continuing commitment to search for MH370.
This afternoon I have a continuing number of bilateral meetings. I’ve met with the Foreign Ministers of Cambodia and Myanmar. This afternoon I’m meeting with Foreign Ministers from Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Philippines, Thailand, then this evening we will have the dinner, and tomorrow the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. On Friday I will be spending the day with a bilateral program with Foreign Minister Anifah of Malaysia and here in Kuala Lumpur more generally on some events that reflect that this is our 60th Anniversary of our diplomatic presence in Malaysia.
Okay, any questions?
JOURNALIST So, Indonesia, what are you going to discuss? Obviously it’s the first meeting since –
JULIE BISHOP I have seen Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on the sidelines already, we have spoken together. I warmly welcome the opportunity to meet later this afternoon. Retno Marsudi also took part in the meeting just held between the ASEAN countries and Australia under our new strategic partnership and she made a very positive contribution about Australia’s increased engagement with the nations of South East Asia.
This afternoon I expect to canvas a range of issues with Indonesia. As you are aware Ministerial meetings had been suspended in the aftermath of the Chan and Sukamaran executions. This will be the first meeting of Foreign Ministers, indeed Ministers, since that time. It will be an opportunity to re-assess our relationship, to look to a strong ongoing friendship, to focus on some of the challenges we have faced recently, particularly in relation to live cattle, and following on from Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s work to ascertain how we can continue to ensure the supply of live cattle to Indonesia, given that we would be looking at other markets for our cattle. We will also discuss a range of significant concerns, including counter terrorism, countering violent extremism, our very good cooperation on intelligence sharing, and what more we can do together to defeat this increasing security risk in our region of returning foreign terrorist fighters or preventing young people from being radicalised and going overseas to take part in terrorist activities. There are already a number of joint efforts underway and we discussed those. Also on the question of people smuggling we have continued cooperation in that regard, and then on our economic relationship. It is very important, from our perspective that we increase the business activity between Australia and Indonesia. I often use the statistic that we have a $20billion two way trade relationship with New Zealand, a country of 4 million people, yet a $15billion two way trade relationship with a country of 245 million people. So we are looking to greatly enhance the business-to-business links between Australia and Indonesia, and we will be discussing ways to do that. Minister Andrew Robb is hoping to travel to Indonesia with a significant Australian business delegation and I will talk about preparations for that.
JOURNALIST Back to normal, the relationship?
JULIE BISHOP The relationship has always been strong. We do face challenges from time to time. It’s how we respond to them, how we recover from them that I think is important. And Foreign Minister Marsudi and I have maintained contact throughout the period that we were in disagreement with Indonesia over the use of the death penalty. We maintained close contact and we do that in the interests of both our countries. I think as Foreign Ministers we have to maintain open channels of communication. We have a warm personal relationship and I believe that assists in being able to maintain a very positive dialogue. We are neighbours, we have many interests in common, it’s in our national interest for our relationship with Indonesia to remain active and productive and forward looking, and that’s what I hope would be the take-out from this afternoon’s meeting. As I said, we’ve already met on the sidelines and had a very warm discussion, and she was very positive about Australia’s contribution to regional affairs generally, during the ASEAN-Australia meeting.
JOURNALIST Going forward, how will Australia engage with its neighbours including Indonesia on the death penalty?
JULIE BISHOP We have made it plain through a number of fora, but including in relation to the Chan/Sukumaran matter, that Australia opposes the death penalty. We have for some time. We oppose it at home in Australia, and we oppose it being imposed across the region and globally. And particularly where an Australian citizen is concerned, we will make the strongest possible representations, as we did during the Chan/Sukamaran matter, to seek clemency or a transfer from the death penalty to another penalty, depending on the circumstances. So we will continue to advocate for a suspension of the death penalty where it applies in countries in our region, to the abolition of it over time. It is an issue where there is a wide variance of opinion.
Australia will continue to maintain our commitment to the region, but we do disagree with a number of our neighbours on the use of the death penalty. We don’t see it as a deterrent. We believe there are other ways of working together to achieve a better outcome. I do not for one moment reflect on the right of a sovereign nation to impose their own judicial system, I don’t for one moment take away from the seriousness of the crimes that attract the death penalty. However, Australia opposes its application to Australian citizens and will continue to do so.
JOURNALIST Just on people smuggling, you said that you were going to talk about cooperation there. With the recent reports that Australia paid a boat crew to bring asylum seekers back to Indonesia. The lack of response from Australia on that angered the Foreign Minister. Has there been any discussion with her about that? Between you and her?
JULIE BISHOP This will be our first meeting, our first official meeting, this afternoon. We have made it clear that we don’t discuss intelligence issues, we don’t discuss on-water activities. We show great respect to Indonesia’s sovereignty and we appreciate Indonesia showing great respect for Australia and our sovereignty. So we will find ways to work closely together on a whole range of issues. Our mutual cooperation on the issue of people smuggling has continued. We have very strong cooperation in law enforcement and intelligence, and I’m sure Foreign Minister Marsudi and I will continue to find ways to cooperate for the benefit of both our nations. As a number of Indonesian leaders have said, most notably former President Yudhoyono, Indonesia is a victim of the people smuggling trade, and Australia’s strong stance in dismantling these people smuggling networks benefits Indonesia as well. So we are going to have a very positive discussion about areas of cooperation.
JOURNALIST Just on the topic of asylum seekers, Cambodia today, can you elaborate a little bit on how that’s going and whether you see more resettlement?
JULIE BISHOP I had a very positive meeting the Cambodian Foreign Minister and he confirmed that four people who had found to be refugees had been resettled in Cambodia under the Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodia. A number more will be resettled there. He gave me some detail of how they are being integrated, learning languages , the accommodation in which they are living and he confirmed that from Cambodia’s perspective it was positive outcome and we look forward to ensuring that more people who are found to be refugees are able to be resettled in Cambodia.
We both spoke of the increased economic activity and social dividend to come about through the positive resettlement of refugees. A number of countries around the world have built strong economies on the back of increased immigration, and I think that Cambodia should be supported for its efforts to resettle refugees and its commitment to a regional solution to what is a regional problem.
JOURNALIST Would there be more on the way?
JULIE BISHOP Under the Memorandum of Understanding that is what’s proposed. They are hoping to ensure the first group are appropriately resettled and then they will continue on.
JOURNALIST Have there been many selected at the moment, or?
JULIE BISHOP I’ll have to defer to the Immigration Minister. I’m aware of the details but not specific numbers.
JOURNALIST On MH17, you expressed your disappointment that Russia used its veto power. Is that a flaw in the Security Council? That a power that supposedly backs rebels that shoots a passenger plane out of the sky can then use a veto power to stop investigation into the incident.
JULIE BISHOP The use of the veto has been an integral part of the UN Security Council since its establishment. There have been a number of incidents where the veto has been used, for the frustration of other countries and international communities. I firmly believe that we will achieve justice. One door has been closed but there are others that will open. As frustrating as it’s been to see Russia use its veto in this way, Russia has not said there will no international tribunal ever. It has used its veto on a particular resolution on a particular day.
So we are determined to bring to justice those who are responsible for the bringing down of MH17. As I indicated in my opening remarks at the ASEAN- Australia Ministerial Meeting it would send an appalling message to the world if international communities are not able to unite and bring to account those responsible for bringing down a commercial aeroplane in commercial airspace with 298 innocent people on board. There are an increasing number of violent terrorist organisations, extremist groups, non-state actors. We cannot allow there to be any suggestion of impunity for what occurred in these circumstances.
JOURNALIST What is your next step? Your next avenue?
JULIE BISHOP The five nations that make up the joint investigation team, Australia, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Belgium and Ukraine are working on other options and our officials will be meeting shortly, and I expect the Foreign Ministers of the five joint investigation team nations will be discussing shortly what options we will pursue. We are receiving a lot of support from other Security Council member States and suggestions as to what could be done, but the Security Council option can be available in another forum. In the meantime the collection of evidence by the joint investigation team is nearing its conclusion. That evidence must be able to be presented to a prosecuting authority, one doesn’t currently exist. That is why Australia is seeking to establish one along with the other members of the joint investigation team.
JOURNALIST On the South China Sea, when you have the bilateral with China, will you raise this issue?
JULIE BISHOP I won’t go into the nuances or the details of a private meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and me, but I have raised this issue in the past, and I assure you I will raise it with him. Indeed, I will raise it in forums available to me tomorrow, the EAS, the ARF and the bilateral meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister.
JOURNALIST And what of China’s response?
JULIE BISHOP Our interest is focussed very much on freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight in the South China Sea and regional peace, stability and security. Any act, any behaviour that undermines that peace, stability and security would be the subject of adverse comment by Australia, publicly and privately. So I know ASEAN countries are united in their call for a Code of Conduct and obviously seek details as to the progress of that Code of Conduct.
JOURNALIST You are not worried that China has made it very clear ahead of this meeting that they didn’t want the issue raised?
JULIE BISHOP That has been the Chinese position for a number of years. It does not wish the East Asia Summit to raise matters such as the East China Sea, the South China Sea. However I believe the majority of members do make statements about it. It is a matter that is raised and I understand China’s objection to it, but a number of nations believe it is sufficiently important. Australia certainly does believe it is sufficiently important for regional stability and security for it to be raised in what is the premier Leaders Forum, the East Asia summit, to deal with regional issues of security and prosperity. And anything that impacts on regional security and prosperity should be the subject of discussion given that Foreign Ministers of eighteen relevant nations would be present in anticipation of the Leaders Summit later in the year
JOURNALIST Given the importance of that strip of water and the increasing amount of conflict between the nations vying for it, is there a role the UN could play in peacekeeping in that region?
JULIE BISHOP Well we haven’t got to the point where there needs to be peacekeeping, but there needs to be an adherence to international law, there needs to be respect for each nations’ sovereignty, and territorial claims need to be resolved peacefully in accordance with the rules-based order and international law, and that is what Australia urges.
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