SABRA LANE:

Marise Payne is off to China on Thursday for a two day trip to Beijing. It’s the first visit by an Australian Foreign Minister in more than two and a half years signalling a thaw in relations between China and Australia. The Foreign Minister joined me earlier.

Senator Payne, welcome back to the program. Why has China decided to end the freeze now?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Good morning, Sabra. Well this is actually a great opportunity for me to follow up on the meeting I had with State Councilor Wang Yi during the UNGA week in New York. Obviously we have a very substantial relationship and it works in the interests of both sides and we’re committed to building on our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which provides a very solid platform for the relationship in the broad, and also of course Minister Birmingham this week has been very focused on the benefits that we already have established through our Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.

SABRA LANE:

China’s trade expo has been on this week. Given the US President’s trade dispute with China, how important is this opportunity for Australia to possibly leverage a trade advantage right now?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Well there are enormous opportunities out of the presence of 150 companies in Shanghai this week with Minister Birmingham. We obviously appreciate the strength of the two-way economic relationship and in fact in trade, in direct investment, in education and tourism, all of those activities are at their highest levels at the moment, so there is great value for Australia in that engagement and I’m looking forward to engaging further with State Councilor Wang Yi this week as well.

SABRA LANE:

President Xi said yesterday the country should not just point fingers at others to gloss over their own problems, largely seen as a swipe against President Trump. Again, is the opportunity presenting itself now for Australia to leverage advantage?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Well a number of the comments that the President made yesterday including the announcement of new market access, improvements in education and in health, are opportunities which can provide further growth for Australia’s higher education providers, for our health services companies to operate in China. And I think importantly, there was also a commitment made about improving the system of intellectual property protection and enforcement in China. This has been a significant concern for foreign businesses, including Australian companies, over a lot of years. So we’re very pleased to see that signal. But in terms of the US-China relationship, the stability of our region depends on relations between two of our most important partners. They are the United States and China. They are economically interdependent and their own relationships are sophisticated. They’re multifaceted. So we want to continue to ensure the strength and vitality of our own relationship with the United States. It’s fundamental to our security. But we can also be strengthening our relations with China and as I referred to earlier particularly through advancing our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

SABRA LANE:

Your invitation to visit comes as Victoria has just signed a memorandum of understanding with China on its belt and road initiative. Is your trip and that deal related?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Not in the least. No, that’s a matter for Victoria in that regard. We obviously seek opportunities to strengthen engagement with China on regional trade and infrastructure development projects and that includes the BRI where those align with international best practices and we’ve been very clear about our threshold standards and requirements in that regard. We have a range of agreements and MOUs with China. They govern infrastructure and other cooperation opportunities and state and territory governments also look to expand those opportunities. Victoria and the other states have a variety of similar arrangements with China and not just with China in fact with other countries as well of course.

SABRA LANE:

Victoria says it consulted with the Department of Foreign Affairs about the MOU, was the Commonwealth advised that a deal was being signed last week and did you get to see the contents of that MOU before it was signed?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

No, that’s a matter for Victoria. They signed the arrangement last week and made an announcement and we as I’ve said encouraged the states and territories to expand opportunities with China, but the most important threshold aspect are those alignments with international best practices around contributions to stability and security, to prosperity, and also the usual transparency requirements that we would expect.

SABRA LANE:

But just on that point, if Victoria didn’t give you a heads up, is that a little embarrassing?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Not in the least, the states and territories as I’ve said make arrangements of this nature of this level regularly with other countries in this region and more broadly. Any treaty level arrangements of course are made at the Commonwealth level and you would expect that to be the case.

SABRA LANE:

The MoU has not been revealed. The Victorian government says it won’t be made transparent and public. In your experience, is that typical for MOUs to be kept secret?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

It depends on the arrangements between the parties and usually those arrangements are made with each party respecting the others’ views. In this case, I understand that to be the Victorian government’s view.

SABRA LANE:

The ABC highlighted last week the construction of a massive internment camps for the minority Uighers in Xinjiang Province. Data has been gathered by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. It’s shown a huge expansion of those camps. How worried is Australia by this and do you intend raising that with your counterpart?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

I have noted the report that you’ve referred to and I have said as well that we do have serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. We’ve expressed those concerns directly to the Chinese Ambassador in Canberra and as well as the foreign ministry in Beijing.

SABRA LANE:

Will you follow it up?

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Well there’ll be statements made in the Human Rights Council this week and I will pursue matters in the course of my discussions in an appropriate way.

SABRA LANE:

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, thank you very much for joining the program this morning.

FOREIGN MINISTER:

Thanks very much Sabra.


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