JOURNALIST: Hello and welcome. I am Maria Ressa. This is a special edition of Rappler Talk. We are here tonight with Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister Bishop, welcome to the Philippines.
JULIE BISHOP: Good evening. Good to be with you.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us how do you see the Philippines today?
JULIE BISHOP: There has been a change of administration and change of President, and yet of course Australia’s relationship with the Philippines is longstanding indeed. So I am here in the Philippines to meet with the President and the new administration to reaffirm the commitment to working cooperatively and in partnership with the Philippines. We have been longstanding friends and we want that to continue.
JOURNALIST: President Duterte is the first one to successfully use social media. This was the first social media election in the Philippines. He rode to power on the wave of anger and frustration and that does not seem to be unique in the Philippines. Are we seeing a shift in the consequences of the failures of neoliberal democracy?
JULIE BISHOP: No, I do not believe so at all. I think that President Duterte was responding to the concerns of the people of the Philippines and the lesson for politicians around the world is to tap into those concerns, particularly those who feel left behind by globalisation, those who have been affected by the disruption of technologies and those who fear change. And we are seeing the consequences of that around the world whether it is Brexit, the US Presidential Election or even here in the Philippines. But we are also seeing outcomes in elections in Europe. So I think it is a phenomenon that will be with us for some time. There are uncertain times, restless times, but politicians – elected representatives – have to respond to those concerns.
JOURNALIST: There seems to be two waves that are coming together now. It is the technology giving people a greater voice and then the kind of anger of the people who have been marginalized. How do you see this turning out?
JULIE BISHOP: Really the challenge is to ensure that with the benefits of globalisation, we can share it more equitably, and I think that this is the challenge facing governments around the world. But while globalisation and economic integration, and economic competition has undoubted benefits, more people need to share in those benefits.
JOURNALIST: There has been this preference, both in President Trump and President Duterte, for strong-man leaders, populist leaders. How do you deal with this as the Foreign Minister of Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: I work very closely with all countries; countries that we have particular friendships with like the Philippines, like the United States. Of course we will work with whomever the people in their wisdom choose as their President or choose as their government, and it is in the interests of our country and the region that we get along well and can cooperate in areas of common interests.
JOURNALIST: President Trump when he came into power said that President Duterte, the President of the Philippines, essentially pivoted away from the United States to China and Russia. This kind of thing shortly followed by Malaysia has an impact on the region. President Trump then made statements about South China Sea, pulling away from TPP. How does this impact the geopolitical balance of power here?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I think you have to look at all of these events individually. I do not see a significant shift in United States foreign policy at all when it comes to our region. In fact, in my meetings with the US Administration, they have reaffirmed their commitment to continuing to be deeply engaged in the Asia Pacific. They have been the security guarantor and defender of the international rules-based order since the Second World War. We have all benefited from the United States alliances that both Australia and the Philippines have. Our countries have grown economically with relative peace and stability as a result of that commitment to defend the international rules-based order.
So I believe that the United States would remain deeply engaged. They will have differences with countries in the region as we have differences with each other. But overall, I am confident that they will remain committed on the TPP principles. It was the trade deal that President Trump did not negotiate. It was entered into by President Obama and he has said that if he does not think the United States is getting a fair deal, they want to renegotiate them. We happen to believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership set a very high standard. It is a quality free trade agreement, and we hope that the spirit and the principles and the benchmarks that were set in the TPP – in environmental standards, intellectual property rights, labour standards – these can be reflected in other trade agreements, and I am sure the United States will continue to be an open market economy and a supporter of trade liberalisation.
JOURNALIST: Will Australia push forward with the TPP?
JULIE BISHOP: We are still working with the other countries. There are 12. We are still working with the other 11 and maintaining contact with the United States in relation to it, but there are also other trade agreements around. We are negotiating one with Indonesia. We are working with India and there is also RCEP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that has ASEAN at its core and we are very keen to see that progress.
JOURNALIST: The 50th anniversary of ASEAN will be held here in the Philippines. How would you gauge the progress? It has been a year since the ASEAN Economic Community. Many people are frustrated. I would love to hear what you think. Where is ASEAN?
JULIE BISHOP: We are looking forward to the Philippines chairing ASEAN and we certainly urge ASEAN members to recognise the power that they have when they speak with one voice. When I was in the United States I spoke to the administration about the importance of ASEAN, the fact that it is a strong and powerful voice and does have a considerable moral force when it wishes to focus on an issue of common interest to the ASEAN countries.
JOURNALIST: Technology. What we have been seeing is that democracy has been impacted by Facebook, by the rise of exponential technology, the rise of fake news. How is this impacting governments in our countries?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, clearly each wave of new technology has an impact, and governments and politicians over decades have used or feared new technologies depending upon how they adapt. Social media can be a two-way sword of course, but I find that it is a way of engaging very broadly with a cross-section of people across Australia. I use social media as often as I am able. And it can – because of the anonymity that can be adopted – it can be a negative force as well. It is just a question of I think embracing it and harnessing it to your advantage, and I think skillful politicians do that.
JOURNALIST: The dangers again of the cognitive bias of people creating the echo chambers. What is the challenge for democratic governments?
JULIE BISHOP: Cutting through with the facts. At the end of the day, false facts will be found out and people have to continue to make and remake the case and the facts – continue to advocate for the positions they believe are right to the people.
JOURNALIST: In the Philippines since the election of President Duterte, we have had not just fake news but rising attacks against women online, rising sexism, misogynist statements. How do you advise women on how to deal with this?
JULIE BISHOP: It is clearly unacceptable. Violence or abuse against women in any form is totally unacceptable and we strongly advocate against it. We have a number of initiatives at the government level including engaging men to be champions of change, men to be the ambassadors to promote a violent-free world in terms of women and their families. The Internet, social media, is just one avenue. There are others, so we have to be ever vigilant to ensure that violence and abuse against women is just not tolerated.
JOURNALIST: In your mind are women better off?
JULIE BISHOP: Of course, I think women have come a very long way, and International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, but of course we have a long way to go before we can confidently say that women have opportunities equal to men in order to fulfill their potential.
JOURNALIST: In terms of again marginalisation and anger, ISIS. Australia has had to deal with this for a long time, but just this month a cell was busted in Malaysia and Sabah that is funneling ISIS fighters into the Southern Philippines. How do you see this?
JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply concerned about ISIS and other terrorist organisations that carry out such violent attacks on civilians and innocent people. We are working in a coalition with others in Iraq and Syria to crush ISIS at its source but we are also concerned about Australian citizens and others from our region who have gone in order to fight with this barbaric terrorist organisation. And as the Iraqi Security Forces, for example, have more success in driving ISIS out of Iraq, then they [foreign fighters] will, if they survive, return home. Now, this is where we are working very closely with Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in particular, to ensure that we share information, intelligence, law enforcement and security and defence, and border protection. We are all working closely together and that is a topic of discussion while I am in the Philippines.
JOURNALIST: Fantastic. You are meeting President Duterte tomorrow in Davao.
JULIE BISHOP: Yes, that is right.
JOURNALIST: The Guardian actually headlined this issue as ‘the Davao Death Squad’. There have been a lot of accusations made against the Philippines in terms of violations of human rights, extrajudicial killings. How do you deal with this charming man in his hometown? Will this be a topic of discussion?
JULIE BISHOP: He is the President of your country, and I will pay my respect to him – in his hometown, it turns out. I am going to be in Mindanao in any event as we have a number of programs that we are working with the Philippine government on – particularly in education and the peace process. Also, I will be announcing some funding so that we can continue to work in partnership with the Philippines in these areas, but also I have the opportunity to discuss a range of issues with President Duterte, and I am looking forward to it.
JOURNALIST: How do you see the way forward for the world?
JULIE BISHOP: In 2017, we are in very uncertain times and I think that would be the case for the foreseeable future. With every challenge, there is an opportunity and so, ever the optimist, I hope that throughout this year and beyond we will be able to continue to forge deep and lasting friendships and relationships – on economic matters, on strategic matters and in relation to Australia and Philippines. This is an important year for us. We will be supporting the Philippines as it chairs ASEAN and as a Comprehensive Partner of the Philippines. I look forward to deepening this already strong relationship.
JOURNALIST: Actually, can I go back and talk about the US. You did not really mention China. With the rising China, greater attention with more Chinese investors coming to the Philippines. Is China ready for this? Can China take that leadership?
JULIE BISHOP: China is our largest trading partner and we have a comprehensive strategic partnership with China which I think reflects the breadth and diversity of our relationship with China. Of course, it is a rising economic power. It will also be a rising military and strategic power, but of course, we must all encourage China to be a responsible regional and global player and ensure that it also embraces the international rules-based order that has served our countries so well.
JOURNALIST: Thank you so much. We have been speaking with Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Rappler Talk. Follow her, she is on Twitter, if you have any questions. I am Maria Ressa. Thank you for joining us.
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