SABRA LANE: Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in Argentina for a meeting of G20 Ministers. She has had a meeting with the Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the conference. Relations between the two nations have been a little bit strained lately and the Minister joins us now from Buenos Aires. Good morning Julie Bishop.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning, good to be with you.
SABRA LANE: You have met with your Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. What did you discuss?
JULIE BISHOP: We spoke over the course of the G20 Meeting and then we had a formal bilateral meeting at the end of the G20 Meeting. It was very warm, and candid, and a constructive discussion. It was quite lengthy - we chatted for well over an hour. We discussed a full range of issues and interests, both bilaterally and globally, on security, on trade, on economic issues, on specific matters like North Korea. So it was a very worthwhile discussion with Foreign Minister and now Sate Councillor Wang Yi. It is probably my twelfth formal meeting with him and we talked about my next visit to China, and he said he was looking forward to hosting me for our annual meeting which this year will take place in Beijing. We discussed a whole range of matters of mutual interest and how to enhance our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
SABRA LANE: The relationship has been strained of late. The Global Times recently described Australia’s relations with China as among the worst of all the western countries. Are relations normalised?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I would utterly reject that characterisation in any event, but we certainly had a very warm and positive meeting, as I expected. I get along very well with Foreign Minister Wang Yi - we have known each other for a very long time. Australia will continue to approach our bilateral relationship with goodwill, and realism, and pragmatism and open communication. Of course, Australia will always stand up for our interests. We won’t always see eye to eye on every policy with every country but it is how we manage the differences. While we stand up for our values, and our interests, and our policies, we can disagree with friends from time to time. Most certainly, the relationship is strong and we discussed ways on how we can cooperate further and even new areas of cooperation.
SABRA LANE: New areas? Did you convey any message to the Chinese about the presence of a Chinese bomber on the disputed Paracels Islands on the weekend? That plane is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and it puts it in range of Northern Australia.
JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I certainly raised these issues with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as I have in the past. Australia’s position has been very clear and consistent, and it is very well known to China. Our concern about militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea has been the subject of a number of discussions and was again today.
SABRA LANE: Is it a provocative move given that China has previously promised that those islands would not be militarised?
JULIE BISHOP: We have raised Australia’s concerns about militarisation in the South China Sea as part of our enduring broad dialogue with China, and I don’t believe China was surprised by my raising it again today.
SABRA LANE: But it seems to be thumbing its nose at countries like Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: Well China has also repeatedly made public commitments to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of any activities that it would complicate or might otherwise escalate disputes. Many regional leaders at many regional forums for many years have been calling for there to be no militarisation of the South China Sea. That has been a consistent statement of numerous regional leaders at numerous regional forums.
SABRA LANE: Is the state of the relationship such that Australia is able to formally announce a visit by the Prime Minister there, later this year or that’s still under negotiation?
JULIE BISHOP: Well the Prime Minister would never announce the dates of a meeting this far in advance with any country, as far as I’m aware, until the actual dates are confirmed. Leaders’ diaries change from time-to-time, depending upon domestic, and regional and sometimes global issues. So that’s a matter for the Prime Minister’s office to announce at the appropriate time. I expect to visit China soon. I certainly accepted Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s invitation to visit Beijing for the purposes of our annual Foreign Ministers Meeting, which this year it will be in Beijing. Last year it was in Canberra. In fact Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Australia twice last year and so I am looking forward to visiting Beijing this year.
SABRA LANE: You have also met US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. The issue over the South China Sea and the principal of freedom of navigation were discussed there. What more can the US and Australia work on cooperatively there?
JULIE BISHOP: In relation to the South China Sea, we will continue to exercise our rights to freedom of navigation and overflight under international law. We will continue to support the rights of others to do so. Obviously, this is a matter I also raised with Foreign Minister Wang Yi that we will continue to maintain our right of freedom of navigation and overflight including in the South China Sea.
SABRA LANE: North Korea has threatened to back out of the June 12 talks. How important is China in making sure that the meeting still happens in Singapore?
JULIE BISHOP: There are a number of significant nations dealing with this issue, including South Korea, of course, the United Stations naturally, and also China. I spoke about North Korea with both Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, and also with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and we are hopeful that the summit will take place in Singapore. Indeed, I have just had a meeting with the Singaporean Foreign Minister as well and they are looking forward to hosting the proposed meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Trump in Singapore on the 12th of June. There is an expectation that meeting will proceed. There may be some challenges along the way, but there is a clear ambition on the part of China and the United States and others that there be full denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and that there be a pathway forward for a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. This was a discussion I have had with a number of the Ministers here including the Chinese Foreign Minister.
SABRA LANE: Are you confident that it will actually happen? There are some critics who believe that Donald Trump has given too much away by agreeing to have a face-to-face meeting so early.
JULIE BISHOP: North Korea has agreed to the meeting. I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t go ahead because North Korea has been making many promises over many years, and has not honoured them, but the United States seems quite confident this will proceed. Most certainly, a lot of effort and energy is being put into this summit, not only by the United States but also by China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and others. We certainly have been talking to other nations about the necessity to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. In the meantime, of course we are all committed to maintaining the economic, diplomatic and political pressure on North Korea because I believe that that is one of the main reasons that we have seen North Korea take steps to return to the negotiating table. Whether it lives up to the commitments it made in the Panmunjom Declaration remains to be seen.
SABRA LANE: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop thanks for joining AM.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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