JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon. I have just returned from a series of meetings with counterparts here in Beijing. I had a very long and fruitful and productive meeting today with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. I have also met with Minister Song of the International Department of the Communist Party of China and I met with Special Representative Xie Zhenhua on the issue of climate change and the implementation of the COP 21 climate change agreement.
This evening I will be attending the launch of the New Colombo Plan in Beijing. This is our signature student exchange program. Within two years – that is, by the end of this year – 2000 Australia undergraduate students will have lived, studied and worked in China under the New Colombo Plan, which will be a cornerstone of our bilateral relationship going forward.
We have a comprehensive strategic partnership with China and my visit here has been about broadening, deepening and enhancing that bilateral relationship which is so important to Australia. Any questions?
JOURNALIST Minister, can I ask has it been raised in any meetings you’ve had about Australia’s political changes that we’ve had? The Turnbull Government has had three ministerial reshuffles in six months. Has that been raised in any concerns about investing in Australia or anything like that?
JULIE BISHOP Not at all. It hasn’t been raised by anybody, nor would I expect it to be. We spoke very positively about Prime Minister Turnbull’s upcoming visit to China. Premier Li will be visiting Australia, hopefully Prime Minister Turnbull will also be able to return to Beijing for the G20 meeting in September.
We also spoke about Australia’s commitment to Chinese investment, we spoke about our foreign investment framework and there were very positive discussions with Foreign Minister Wang Yi about further investment in China.
We particularly talked about the Northern Australia White Paper where there’ll be so many opportunities for foreign direct investment in the development of northern Australia as we build our economy and build job opportunities.
JOURNALIST Minister have you had any confirmation or are you seeking any about surface-to-air missiles being placed on South China Sea islands by China, and what do you make of the explanation that the media should focus on the lighthouses and weather stations that are apparently being built there as well?
JULIE BISHOP I did raise that report with Foreign Minister Wang Yi as did the media in the press conference and you heard his response. At the time I spoke with him he had not heard these reports. I reiterated Australia’s welcome of President Xi’s statement in Washington that China did not intend to militarise the islands.
JOURNALIST Is this a step though that means that they appear to be going towards that route?
JULIE BISHOP Well I’m yet to hear whether those reports have been verified.
JOURNALIST Minister you said that in the meeting you had some candid discussions about the South China Sea. Was there, did you raise at all any of the concerns that have been arising in recent months about the legal crackdown that is going on here in China. I note recently some Australian lawyers joined an open letter in The Guardian expressing concerns. Was this an issue that you raised in any way?
JULIE BISHOP Yes I did.
JOURNALIST Can you elaborate at all on the nature of how you raised it?
JULIE BISHOP As we said in our press conference, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and I had a very broad-ranging discussion across a very diverse range of topics. I spoke about our human rights concerns, I spoke about the Human Rights Dialogue that we hope to have with China this year. I raised some specific instances. We also spoke about some of the concerns in Hong Kong. We talked about a whole range of issues and it was a very frank and forthright discussion as I indicated. I won’t go into the specific details of specific cases, but I can assure you that these matters were raised.
JOURNALIST Minister can I ask, you just mentioned human rights. In terms of that there’s been something like 170 lawyers detained recently, there’s been journalists detained, there’s been journalists pushed to the ground out the front of court trials and things like that. What’s Australia’s stance on that? Australia is China’s largest trading partner. Can we accept this?
JULIE BISHOP I have raised these issues in the appropriate place which was in the ministerial and other meetings that I’ve held today. And I won’t go into the details, I don’t think that would be useful. It wouldn’t be useful for those involved for me to raise specific cases in the media, but I can assure you I raised these matters in my discussions with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and others.
JOURNALIST But is that disappointing though? Are you disappointed with the response that this is still happening, with our largest trading partner?
JULIE BISHOP I’ve raised my concerns in the appropriate place and that was part of the ministerial discussion that we had today. The discussion went for about an hour over time, so you can gauge from that that we had a very long and detailed meeting and I’m very pleased that we were able to spend so much time together canvassing such a diverse range of topics.
JOURNALIST Minister, Minister Wang talked about enhanced law enforcement cooperation. They’ve recently sent up a government department targeting corrupt officials overseas. Have you, is there, can you explain what sort of further cooperation Australia will be involved in?
JULIE BISHOP There is a draft extradition treaty that is under consideration, and that’s one example of the sort of cooperation that Australia and China could undertake, but also in terms of law enforcement, exchanges of information and cooperation more generally.
JOURNALIST And will that be ratified, that extradition treaty? Did you talk about that today?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has a detailed treaty-making process through our parliament and any such treaty would go through that treaty-making process, which includes a review and examination by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
JOURNALIST Is China pressuring you to ratify that treaty?
JULIE BISHOP No, I’m not under pressure.
JOURNALIST Minister, did Minister Wang raise any concerns or discuss the nature of Australia’s relationship with Japan at the moment, particularly the prospect of possibly buying submarines?
JULIE BISHOP No, that wasn’t discussed in our meeting. I note that the ABC raised it in a press conference with Minister Wang Yi so you all heard his response. But no, it wasn’t the subject of our bilateral ministerial discussion.
JOURNALIST What did you make of the link there that was given by Mr Wang, in terms of wanting to make sure that Australia is conscious of the feelings of the Asian people, dating back to World War II and what was then an aggressive Japan? Is that still relevant to the situation?
JULIE BISHOP I thought that I made it clear that Australia has sought bids for our future submarine program from three countries, that included France, Germany and Japan. In terms of the historical context, Australia has moved on. We moved on many years ago in relation to both Germany and Japan, and the submarine competitive evaluation process will be focused on capability and Australia’s national interest to ensure that we have the most capable, high quality submarine fleet that meets our national interest.
JOURNALIST Apart from the reports of surface-to-air missiles in the South China Sea, Australia has repeatedly called on all countries to cease land reclamation in the area but China appears to not have done so. What can be done further to ensure that China does cease land reclamation and construction?
JULIE BISHOP We continue to have dialogue with China over this issue. It will have been evident from the press conference today that we differ in relation to the right of the Philippines, for example, to take this matter to arbitration. And as I pointed out, the Philippines, as far as we read their case, is seeking a ruling, a clarification on international law as to whether artificial islands can create a maritime zone. Whereas China sees, and I won’t put words in Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s mouth, but China sees the Philippines’ case as seeking determination on the maritime boundaries. We don’t see it that way, so therefore we have a different view of the Philippines arbitration.
Overall, Australia has been consistent, both privately and publicly, that we do not take sides in the various maritime disputes and territorial claims. We urge all claimants to cease reclamation and construction, and certainly any militarisation, and we urge parties to resolve their differences peacefully, through negotiation and if necessary through arbitration.
JOURNALIST Minister, what do you make of Bob Carr’s idea that we should cut immigration by fifty per cent?
JULIE BISHOP I haven’t heard of Bob Carr’s ideas. I know he comes up with a number of them from time to time, but I’m not sure that he’s provided any details as to how he would implement this if he were in government. The fact is he was in government, that’s right, and I don’t recall him raising that matter at the time, so this is obviously a thought that he’s had since leaving parliament but I haven’t got any details of what he’s proposed.
JOURNALIST Just on the draft extradition treaty, it’s been in draft form for a number of years now. Are you saying there’s been movement just recently in terms of getting it ratified?
JULIE BISHOP The Australian government will seek to progress this matter. We think that our bilateral law enforcement relationship should be enhanced, as all aspects of the bilateral relationship with China are progressing. I think that our relationship is as broad and deep and diversified as it has ever been, but there’s still more that we can do together.
We also talked about the issues of cooperation in counterterrorism. In fact, there will be a meeting of officials on counterterrorism in Beijing shortly. So there is a whole range of areas where we will continue to enhance cooperation. I also raised the opportunities that I see in Australia and China carrying out more joint aid and development projects in the Pacific, such as we’re doing in Papua New Guinea. So there is a whole range of areas where I think there are more opportunities, more potential for us to cooperate.
JOURNALIST Minister, on the domestic front, in terms of the government having three ministerial reshuffles in six months. Is that embarrassing?
JULIE BISHOP Of course not. It’s not embarrassing that Warren Truss and Andrew Robb have decided to retire from parliament. I think that’s a sign of renewal, a sign that they have both chosen to leave parliament at the height of their…
JOURNALIST But it wasn’t just prompted just by that though.
JULIE BISHOP Well that was one, so I’m going through them. That was one and I think that’s entirely appropriate that there be renewal. In other instances ministers have chosen to stand down and so therefore there’s a reshuffle necessary. This happens from time to time. This wouldn’t be the first time there’s been a ministerial reshuffle or two or three.
JOURNALIST Minister, did the instance of Stuart Robert’s trip to China and how that was characterised come up in your discussions today?
JULIE BISHOP No, it did not.
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