JOURNALIST: The international community now has serious doubts about whether this was in fact a hydrogen bomb. Why is that?

JULIE BISHOP: It is clear that North Korea has detonated a significant nuclear device. It is not clear whether it was a hydrogen or thermonuclear bomb. There’s a deal of scepticism as to whether it was, as North Korea claims, a hydrogen bomb. It is more consistent with its previous conduct in detonating a nuclear bomb, but the experts are still considering this and it will take some days before North Korea’s claim can be established one way or another. North Korea does have a history of exaggerating its technological prowess, but regardless of the type of weapon that was used or the type of test that was carried out, this is further evidence of North Korea’s provocative and destabilising behaviour, which is a threat not only to regional stability, but also to international peace and security.

JOURNALIST: The UN Security Council has met overnight considering further sanctions, but this is already a very heavily sanctioned nation, so what more can be thrown at North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: The Security Council did hold emergency consultations overnight. All members were united in their condemnation of North Korea’s latest actions and agreed that further significant measures should be introduced because this is action that is in direct violation of previous Security Council resolutions and flouts international norms on nuclear non-proliferation. The Security Council members are currently considering what further significant measures should be taken. Australia has taken part in the sanctions regime, both UN Security Council and autonomous sanctions. What is necessary though is for all countries to ensure that sanctions are enforced and a key to this is China. The impact of the sanctions can’t be lessened by relationships that North Korea may have with Chinese companies and individuals.

JOURNALIST: You point out that China in particular and it is true to be said and analysts have been saying this for the last 24 hours that China’s financial backing of North Korea is something that keeps that nation going. So what is the UN Security Council and Australia saying to China?

JULIE BISHOP: Well China is of course a member of the UN Security Council and is as frustrated I believe as the rest of the international community with North Korea’s behaviour. China does have a relationship with North Korea. It claims that it is not as persuasive as some would like it to be when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Nevertheless, China has a deep and abiding interest in ensuring that North Korea does comply with international norms and UN Security Council resolutions because North Korea is on China’s border and if it were a collapsed state, of course China would bear the brunt of the refugees that would inevitably leave North Korea in that event. So China is key to this and Australia will continue to work closely with our friends, partners and allies in the region and with China to ensure that North Korea ceases its provocative behaviour.

Overnight I spoke with the South Korean Foreign Minister, Yun Byung-se, and he confirmed that they are deeply disturbed by this latest turn of events. They are sceptical as to whether it was a hydrogen bomb, but nevertheless it was another nuclear test by North Korea. This will be its fourth and in defiance of UN Security Council and regional urgings. So we’ll continue to work with our partners and friends and allies to ensure that North Korea starts to recognise the impact of its behaviour on regional and international stability.

JOURNALIST: You point out that this is the fourth nuclear test that North Korea has carried out. It has also been pointed out that this comes just two days before Kim Jong-Un’s birthday. Is there any more significance to the timing of this?

JULIE BISHOP: It’s hard to read the current North Korean leader’s mind or his motives. With his father, Kim Jong Il, there was an uneasy predictability about his behaviour or the regime's behaviour under his leadership. He would carry out a provocative act and then demand concessions, particularly from the United States but the international community more generally. But with the current leader, Kim Jong-Un, there’s no predictability about what his responses will be, what his motives are, what’s going on in his mind, and this was a point that was reinforced to me last night by the South Korean Foreign Minister. Apparently, in his new year message, for the first time he didn’t mention his nuclear weapons program or the nuclear program, and so there was some optimism that perhaps this was not going to be a focus of North Korea’s year in 2016, and yet only days later they carry out this nuclear test. So there’s no predictability about North Korea’s behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, can I please ask you about the Middle East as well. This has been something that we’ve been covering in the last couple of days, tensions, really sectarian tensions coming to the surface after Saudi Arabia decided to execute that firebrand cleric. This has certainly raised tensions with Iran in particular. Given Australia’s involvement in Syria and the kaleidoscope of different interests in that country, will this change anything for Australia? Do we need to tread more carefully?

JULIE BISHOP: We have certainly called for calm as tensions have risen between Iran and Saudi Arabia. We’ve not yet seen any impact in the anti-ISIL coalition, because of course both Saudi Arabia and Iran are pivotal to the fight against the terrorist organisation that is occupying parts of Syria and Iraq. The United States has been playing a very active role. I know Secretary of State John Kerry has been involved in discussions with both Saudi Arabia and Iran to seek to try and calm the tensions and deescalate tensions that exist between the two. Some commentators say that this is part of a proxy war being carried out by Iran and Saudi Arabia in various places throughout the Middle East, but we urge calm, we urge de-escalation of tensions and urge that the parties focus on destroying this terrorist organisation that is causing so much damage and havoc in the Middle East.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, just finally the young embassy worker that was caught up in the Jamie Briggs scandal in Hong Kong. We’ve seen that photo leaked of her on the front page of one of the nation’s newspapers. Malcolm Turnbull says there will not be an investigation, but can you give us some more insight into perhaps the support that’s being provided to her, is she taking any time off and do you think there should be an investigation?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe that this matter should now be left. Jamie Briggs acknowledged that his behaviour was inappropriate, acknowledged that he breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct and he resigned after obvious careful deliberation on the matter and that should be the end of the matter. As far as the officer is concerned, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has offered all appropriate support, counselling and whatever advice she may need and will continue to provide that level of support. There has already been an independent investigation into this matter and there have been consequences, so I think we should leave it there.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister thank you for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

- Ends -

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555