JOURNALIST: The Foreign Affairs Minister is Julie Bishop and she joins me on the line. Minister, good morning.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning.
JOURNALIST: North Korea's ambassador to the UN is accusing the US of bringing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war – is he right?
JULIE BISHOP: North Korea has vastly increased the threat that it poses to regional and global peace, so any rise in tensions is entirely due to the provocative behaviour of North Korea. It's on a path to achieving nuclear weapons capability. We believe Kim Jong Un has a clear ambition to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as far as the United States. That would mean Australia would be in reach. So unless it is prevented from doing so, it will be a serious threat to the peace and stability of our region and this is unacceptable.
JOURNALIST: The US Vice President Mike Pence is in South Korea, he says the era of "strategic patience" is over. So – is the US considering a pre-emptive strike on North Korea?
JULIE BISHOP: Clearly the United States is seeking creative ways of ensuring that North Korea is…
JOURNALIST: (interrupts) including a pre-emptive strike?
JULIE BISHOP: North Korea is to be prevented from carrying out further tests, but this can be done in many ways. And the Trump administration has explicitly rejected President Obama's approach of strategic patience because that led to a stalemate, during which time North Korea's illegal missile and nuclear program accelerated. So I believe that the United States is now looking at other ways – all options are on the table, according to the President, which clearly includes military options, but that's not a change from previous administrations. I think the Trump administration realises that a stalemate is not in its interests and it wants to work with China, who has clear leverage over North Korea and is uniquely and possibly the only country that is in a position to bring North Korea to heel through diplomatic means.
JOURNALIST: So when the Vice President says North Korea shouldn't test the resolve of Donald Trump, what does that mean?
JULIE BISHOP: Well it means that the Trump administration will seek out new and creative ways to meet the North Korean challenge. First, the United States is deploying what's called the THAAD missile system within South Korea. It is a missile defence system capable of intercepting a warhead mid-flight. So that deployment reflects a strong defence and security alliance between South Korea and the United States and is a direct response to the threat posed by North Korea. We certainly support the right of our allies and friends to ensure that their interests are protected and their citizens defended against any possible attack.
JOURNALIST: The US says China is working with it to tackle this situation, can you tell us specifically what that might involve?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, it's certainly not in China's interests to allow a nuclear-armed North Korea to threaten its neighbours or the United States. This will create extraordinary instability, which could even lead to conflict. So it's important for China to recognise that it's not in its interests to seek to appease North Korea, and, as I was saying, China does have leverage over North Korea which is unique and possibly decisive. About three-quarters of all North Korean exports go to China. China accounts for about 95 per cent of all investment into North Korea. It's the overwhelming source of technology and expertise and technical know-how into North Korea. So, we believe that there is more China can do in terms of sanctions and other economic efforts.
JOURNALIST: Well, President Trump, sorry, President Trump has also tweeted that if China can't deal with North Korea, the US and its allies will. So, as one of America's allies, what is it that Australia might do?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, we also support the United States putting pressure on Chinese banks to ensure that North Korea cannot continue to live, well, the elites cannot continue to live the comfortable lives that they currently do while the people of North Korea are suffering. Our point has always been that North Korea's long-term interests would best be served by ceasing its nuclear weapons and missile program and improving the welfare of the long-suffering, impoverished people. So, we'll continue to act with the international community in response to North Korea's actions. We'll support cooperative efforts to convince the regime that it should abandon its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, and that includes sanctions.
JOURNALIST: If I could turn to Turkey, should President Erdogan be congratulated for winning a referendum that expands his authority?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, the Turkish referendum on changes to the constitution is a matter for the Turkish people. There is yet to be an official declaration, but I note President Erdogan has claimed victory, and the initial results look to provide him with a mandate for the proposed constitutional reforms.
JOURNALIST: Do you accept the result?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, the opposition may well challenge it, and at this stage, until there's an official declaration, it would be premature to claim, although I note voter turnout was very high. Historically, the Turkish and international communities have had a high level of confidence in the integrity of the electoral system. I hope that the Turkish government takes the opportunity to be inclusive, to be respectful of differing views in taking the reforms ahead, if indeed they get a mandate to do so.
JOURNALIST: On domestic matters, your long serving Liberal colleague, Warren Entsch, says Tony Abbott should quit Parliament if he can't stop criticising the Government. Do you agree?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, Tony Abbott is a former prime minister, he's a Member of Parliament, and he will continue to serve for as long as he or his electorate wish him to.
JOURNALIST: Does that give him the right to continually criticise the Government, though?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, Tony's a former prime minister and he would understand that any ideas for the Budget would need to be tested for their impact and their cost to the Budget, which is entirely appropriate. He is still in the Parliament; it's expected that he has views on policies.
But that's what our Cabinet ministers have been doing in the lead-up to the budget. We've been testing ideas for their impact, testing policies and their cost to the Budget.
JOURNALIST: Alright, Minister, thank you very much for speaking to AM.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
JOURNALIST: That is the Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop.
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