JOURNALIST First of all concerning the relationship between Japan and Australia, it’s the 40th Anniversary of the Basic Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation with Japan and Australia, what is your opinion on the importance of the relationship between both countries.
JULIE BISHOP Australia and Japan have been close partners for decades now. Japan is one of our most important trading partners and we are also very important strategic partners not only bilaterally but also in the region and more broadly. Prime Minister Turnbull’s recent visit to Japan to meet with Prime Minister Abe underscored the importance that we attached to the relationship. This my fifth visit since I became Foreign Minister and there are numerous high-level visits not only with Australian political leaders with their Japanese counterparts but also in business and among investors, and the people-to-people links are also very strong. We are natural partners, we share many common interests and values, and we work very well together not only for the peace and prosperity of our region, but also beyond.
JOURNALIST Do you think the importance of the relationship is increasing more than before?
JULIE BISHOP Without a doubt. We are building on a platform of a very significant trade and investment relationship. We are now cooperating across a very diverse and broad range of areas, from the challenges our region faces –whether it be terrorism or cyber-security or transnational crime. We work closely together to meet those challenges, but we also seek opportunities together for example in trade agreements. The Economic Partnership Agreement between Australia and Japan is held up as a model for others and that led to the negotiating of the Trans Pacific Partnership where Australia and Japan are two of the founding members of that agreement which is paving the way for greater prosperity in our region.
JOURNALIST Concerning the Chinese security issue particularly in the South China Sea, the Chinese Government is very aggressive in the area. How do you see the situation in the South China Sea?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has been consistent in claiming that while we do not take sides in relation to the various territorial and maritime boundary disputes, we urge all parties to exercise restraint, de-escalate tensions and not act in a way that would inflame the situation. We encourage all parties to resolve these disputes peacefully through negotiations in accordance with international law, including rules relating to the law of the sea. Australia has called on all parties to cease reclamation, construction work and any militarisation of the islands. That’s a call that we have made to all parties to the disputes.
JOURNALIST You said to all parties. It means China doesn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP Other countries have also reclaimed and carried out construction work. We think the disputes between parties should be resolved by negotiation. We encourage the ASEAN countries to conclude a code of conduct with China so that behaviour in the South China Sea can be in accordance with an agreed code of conduct. We haven’t given up hope that it will be achieved. But we also recognise the right of freedom of navigation and overflight which should be exercised in international waters.
JOURNALIST What do you think Australia and Japan can do in this area?
JULIE BISHOP Australia and Japan can cooperate with other countries to ensure that the claimants to the various disputes are able to resolve their issues peacefully without intimidation, without coercion. And we call on all parties to exercise restraint. We don’t take sides on various claims. We respect the right of parties to have their claims arbitrated, but we think that peaceful negotiation is the way to resolve these disputes.
JOURNALIST I also think that it’s very important to cooperate with the American Government. How do you see this trilateral cooperation in the South China Sea?
JULIE BISHOP Well the United States is a significant security guarantor in our part of the world and has been for many decades. The security guarantee that the United States provides to our region has enabled nations to grow and prosper and has driven economic growth in this part of the world, and many countries have benefitted from that. The United States has a policy of rebalancing to the Asia Pacific and we welcome that. We believe that countries in our region are looking for more leadership from the United States, not less. And of course the Trans Pacific Partnership is the economic manifestation of the United States rebalance to the region. The United States will continue to have a significant role to play both in security and defence, and in economic terms in our part of the world.
JOURNALIST And the US is doing freedom of navigation operation around the Spratly Islands, and they asked the Australian Government to join in those operations. How do you see that?
JULIE BISHOP Well that’s not correct. We recognise that all countries have the right to freedom of navigation, freedom of over flight in accordance with international laws. The United States has not requested Australia to do anything in that regard. We already transit the South China Sea through international waters in accordance with those freedoms of navigation and overflight.
JOURNALIST I mean the operation to go through the sea of the Spratly Islands, didn’t they ask for Australia…?
JULIE BISHOP Australia already transits through the South China Sea in accordance with international laws, and will continue to do so. The South China Sea is a very important transit-way for Australia for the majority of our trade, passes through the South China Sea. So we have an interest in ensuring that there is freedom of passage through that area because of course Australia needs to transit the South China Sea for trade and defence purposes.
JOURNALIST So how important is the South China Sea for Australia?
JULIE BISHOP Disputes over the territory is a matter which we are concerned about because we transit through the South China Sea for the purposes of trade in particular so of course we have interests in ensuring peace and stability in our region. That is why we are calling on all parties to resolve their differences peacefully in accordance with international law including the law of the sea.
JOURNALIST Also concerning North Korea and in particular the nuclear and missile tests, what is the position of the Australia Government?
JULIE BISHOP Australia joins Japan and other members of the international community in condemning this latest provocative act on the part of the North Korean regime. The ballistic missile test was a provocative act. It certainly escalates the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and we join with the United Nations Security Council in considering what other measures can be taken against North Korea so that it understands that the international community considers its behaviour unacceptable.
JOURNALIST So what will you do?
JULIE BISHOP Australia already has autonomous sanctions against North Korea. We have implemented all of the United Nations sanctions and will continue to work with likeminded countries, particularly countries on the United Nations Security Council, to consider what other steps can be taken. I am considering what further individuals or organisations would be the subject of sanctions in order to send a very clear message to the North Korea regime that we expect peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. We call on North Korea to return to the negotiating table to discuss a peaceful resolution to the fraught state on the Korean peninsula.
JOURNALIST Also China is the key country in this area, and I heard that you will visit China after this visit to Japan. What is your message to them?
JULIE BISHOP I have discussed this before with China. It is a fact that China is North Korea’s most significant trading partner and China is the source of much of the goods and resources into North Korea. On that basis I believe China can use its influence to curb the provocative behaviour on the part of the North Korean regime. We certainly urge China to do all it can as a neighbour and supporter of the people of North Korea to use that leverage to get a better outcome in terms of North Korea’s commitment to stability.
JOURNALIST The United Nations Security Council tried to have a new resolution which will implement new sanctions on North Korea. There is a report that the Chinese Government still hesitates to implement new sanctions on North Korea. How do you view that?
JULIE BISHOP I believe that China faces a rather diabolical dilemma. If it continues to increase sanctions on the North Korean regime it could have consequences which could impact upon China in terms of a humanitarian crisis that could result. So I think China sees a balancing act between condemning North Korea for its provocative acts, but ensuring the system doesn’t collapse to the extent that China does not have to bear the burden of any fallout from North Korea. So we continue to support China in using its influence to curb North Korea’s behaviour.
JOURNALIST Does this mean you do not agree with new sanctions on North Korea?
JULIE BISHOP No, we are certainly considering our own autonomous sanctions. We believe that if the Security Council is able to agree to new sanctions, then we certainly would support that. But we supported the Security Council statement that they would seek additional significant measures against the North Korean regime and we certainly support the international community taking action in that regard.
JOURNALIST Just concerning Australia’s new submarine contract. What is your opinion of the Japanese bid?
JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government welcomes the fact that Japan has been part of the competitive evaluation process that we have in place for the building of our new fleet of submarines. That competitive evaluation process is currently underway, there are three bidders including Japan, and we are deeply appreciative of the time and effort that the Japanese Government and industry supporting the Japanese bid have put into it. But it’s in the middle of a process and I expect that we will be able to announce sometime this year the international partner that Australia will work with to develop our new submarine fleet.
JOURNALIST What are your criteria for the decision?
JULIE BISHOP That has been set out clearly in the documentation. But we are looking for capability, quality, and ensuring that our domestic, regional and global needs are met. Submarine capability is very important for an island continent such as Australia and so we will be looking for the best possible outcome in Australia’s national interests which will cover a whole range of capability, quality and technical issues, and that’s part of the competitive evaluation process that is currently underway.
JOURNALIST You said you were going to make an announcement this year. When is it?
JULIE BISHOP 2016.
JOURNALIST Yes, but which month?
JULIE BISHOP Well that hasn’t been determined yet. Obviously it’s a very detailed process that must be undertaken. The technical analysis, the technical evaluation, must be very thorough and we have a team of experts working on our future submarine program, and are currently evaluating the three bids.
JOURNALIST Is the possibility that Japan will win the bid high?
JULIE BISHOP I am not going to answer in that way. I am sure you would love me to, but we must stay at arms-length, and be professional in the way we conduct a competitive evaluation process for such a significant defence contract.
JOURNALIST Concerning whaling, Japan restarted its scientific whaling program last December. What is your reaction to that?
JULIE BISHOP We are very disappointed that Japan has recommenced whaling in the Southern Ocean, in our part of the world. We believe that in accordance with the International Court of Justice finding that there is no reason to walk away from the global ban on commercial whaling. We don’t believe that lethal methods are necessary to gain the information required to manage and conserve the whale population. It’s an area of disagreement with Japan and we have made our position well known to the Japanese Government.
JOURNALIST The Japanese Government still keeps their future target as commercial whaling. What’s your view on this?
JULIE BISHOP We support the global ban on commercial whaling. In terms of the claim of scientific whaling, we don’t believe that lethal methods are necessary to gain the information required for any scientific research to manage or conserve whales. This is an area of disagreement but we have a much broader relationship and partnership that we focus upon while disagreeing on the issue of scientific whaling.
JOURNALIST What will be your reaction if the Japanese Government continues to do these things?
JULIE BISHOP On the last occasion we disagreed we took the matter to the International Court of Justice and there was a ruling. We hope that all parties will uphold that ruling, and the fact that the Japanese have decided to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean is a matter of great disappointment to us and we have conveyed that to the Japanese Government.
JOURNALIST You would go once again to the International Court of Justice?
JULIE BISHOP Well, obviously there are options and avenues available to us but at this point we are expressing our deep concern to the government.
JOURNALIST Concerning the TPP, what are your thoughts on the importance of the TPP to the Australian economy?
JULIE BISHOP I believe that for the 12 member countries this is one of the most important trade deals in at least the last two decades. It will provide unprecedented opportunity for the 12 nations that make up the Trans Pacific Partnership to increase trade and investment, to grow our economies and to increase job opportunities in our respective countries. It also sets a standard for other trade agreements in our region and I am delighted that Japan and Australia are both founding members of the TPP. Also there are challenges. The agreement was signed in Auckland on the 4th of February and it was an historic moment. But now the agreement must pass through the domestic treaty making processes of each of the member nations. Australia has introduced the treaty to our parliament for our domestic processes, but each country will need to also achieve that so it might be some time before we reap the full benefits of the Trans Pacific Partnership.
JOURNALIST I heard of a report in Australia that there will not be much benefit in the TPP for Australia. How do you respond to this?
JULIE BISHOP We look at a much larger picture. We believe that the Trans Pacific Partnership will be beneficial for Australia. Other countries may benefit more and others less, but overall it’s a great benefit to our region because it sets the standard for the quality and composition of future trade agreements, and hopefully the standard which we agreed, will become the baseline for other free trade agreements. Australia has benefitted enormously from being an export-orientated market economy and liberalising trade, and entering into free trade agreements is part of our economic success story.
JOURNALIST You also mentioned the ratification process. Is it difficult for Australia?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has in place a detailed process for ratifying trade agreements. We have domestic legislation, there is a committee process. I think that we can be confident that the Trans Pacific Partnership will pass through the Australian parliament, but other countries may find it more challenging. I’ve been in the United States recently and the US Congress is currently seized of this issue so we will watch very closely and monitor its passage through the United States Congress.
JOURNALIST When do you think they can do that?
JULIE BISHOP Well hopefully this will be done this year during the presidency of Barack Obama so we hope that US Congress will be able to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership because it is not only of benefit to the 12 nations that are party to it, but I think it is also of benefit to the region by setting the standard of future trade agreements.
JOURNALIST Just one final question, and it is about Syrian refugees. You announced the acceptance of the 12,000 refugees. Why did you decide to do that?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has been deeply concerned about the escalating conflict in the Middle East, not only in Syria, but also in Iraq and Libya. In Syria it’s a civil war but this has enabled the terrorist organisation ISIL, or Daesh, to establish, declare a caliphate over the sovereign borders of both Iraq and Syria, and carry out brutal attacks on civilians not only in the Middle East but also around the world. So we see this as a global problem that requires a global solution and Australia is prepared to play its part in ensuring that the civil war in Syria can end, therefore the humanitarian crisis can end and we can focus on defeating this terrorist organisation that is exporting terror around the world. I was in London recently at a Syrian humanitarian donors’ conference. Both Australia and Japan provided support to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. This is in its sixth year and we need to bring an end to the conflict so that the humanitarian crisis can also be resolved.
JOURNALIST It is surprising for me that Australia is very far from Syria. Of course Turkey and Lebanon received many refugees. What is the reason why Australia received so many refugees.
JULIE BISHOP We believe that we must resolve the conflict in Syria in order to be able to counter the terrorism which is being exported from that part of the world. There are Australian citizens who have taken up as foreign terrorist fighters in Iraq and Syria and we want to prevent them from gaining experience as terrorists and coming back to our part of the world and carrying out terrorist activities. So we have a direct interest in ensuring that terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq are stopped and that they can’t carry out terrorist attacks elsewhere. But secondly as a global citizen, we believe that the escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria, probably one of the worst the world has seen since the Second World War must be resolved, and that is why Australia has been prepared to contribute militarily to the fight against terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
We have also provided humanitarian assistance to particularly UN organisations that are trying to carry out this humanitarian relief work on the ground. We have also agreed to take 12,000 Syrian refugees, particularly focused on those who, even when the conflict is over, have nowhere to return. So permanent resettlement for 12,000. We are also providing support for hundreds of thousands of refugees who are in camps on the borders of Syria but also particularly on the borders of Jordan and Lebanon. Overall Australia’s contribution is over $1.5 billion but we see it in our national, regional and global interests to alleviate the suffering in the Middle East, and I know that Japan has likewise made a significant contribution to the humanitarian effort in Syria.
JOURNALIST As you know the terrorism attack in Paris last year involved one terrorist who entered Europe as a refugee. If you receive many refugees, there might be a danger there. How do you feel about this?
JULIE BISHOP The Paris attacks reminded us that no country is immune from terrorist attacks, and terrorists can find many ways to carry out attacks even by radicalising people in their own country. The idea of the home-grown terrorist is an appalling phenomenon that we have seen in recent times. We have thwarted a number of terrorist attacks on Australian soil from those who have been radicalised by an extremist ideology. So this is an issue for all countries to be concerned about. We of course have strict screening measures and security screenings to ensure that the people who come to Australia are not going to do us harm. Australia has a long history of taking refugees and people in need of humanitarian support. We are one of the most diversified, multicultural nations on earth, and our prosperity and economic strength has been built through our immigrant populations that have made Australia a very multicultural society. So we continue to take those who are claiming refugee status or humanitarian status and work very hard to make sure they becoming contributing members of Australian society.
JOURNALIST The Japanese Government does not accept any refugees. How do you feel about that?
JULIE BISHOP That’s a matter for the Japanese Government of the day to determine their immigration policies. Australia has found it to our great advantage and benefit to receive immigrants from all over the world. We have citizens in Australia from every corner of the globe and we have significant humanitarian and refugee program that brings in people who require our help. But we also have gained much from people who have come from other countries on skilled migration visas, business visas, investment visas and family reunion visas. So while we are a country of 24 million people, a significant number of them have been born overseas; indeed many have one or two parents who were born overseas.
JOURNALIST So you don’t see any irresponsibility on the part of the Japanese Government in the international community
JULIE BISHOP It’s a matter for the Japanese Government to determine their own migration policies. What I do know about the people of Japan is that they are very generous in providing support for humanitarian crises around the world. Japan indeed plays a leading role in peacekeeping, and plays a leading role in humanitarian and natural disaster relief. So each country can make a contribution in accordance with the government’s policies of the day.
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