Fran Kelly:

Our Foreign Minister is Marise Payne, and she joins us now. Minister, welcome back to breakfast.

Minister Payne:

Good morning, Fran.

Fran Kelly:

Well, I guess it doesn't get any better than a state dinner at the White House. Donald Trump has only hosted one other world leader at a state dinner. That was the French President Emmanuel Macron early on. What will Donald Trump want from Scott Morrison and Australia in return?

Minister Payne:

Well, I think it's a very important visit, Fran. Obviously the opportunity for the state dinner as you referred to, but also key meetings in Washington with senior members of the administration, the Congress, and the Senate. We obviously have regular visits between Australia and the United States at the highest levels, but it is an honor to have a state dinner accorded, a visit to Arlington to lay a wreath in remembrance of the fallen at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and so on. So obviously, very important engagements and continuing from the very productive meetings at the G20.

Fran Kelly:

On the weekend, the Prime Minister was singing Donald Trump's praises. He described the president as quote, "A strong leader who says what's he going to do and then goes and does it. I can always rely on President Trump to follow through on what he says." Now, Australia has always tried to walk a fine line between China, our biggest trading partner, and the U.S., our strongest security partner. Is there a danger that the Chinese government will view this state dinner, this official visit, as Australia now choosing a side and choosing Washington, not Beijing?

Minister Payne:

Well, I think any administration around the world, no matter who it is, recognises that we have key relationships and alliances, and the U.S. most certainly is one of our most significant, but that does not detract from our ability to have important working relationships with others, including China. So I think it would be seen as a perfectly reasonable and sensible engagement between Australia and the United States.

Fran Kelly:

Is the relationship with China militarily or strategically getting more complicated? Just last week, the Chinese Defense Minister, Wei Fenghe, reportedly said China was to use its Belt and Road Initiative to deepen military exchanges with Pacific Island countries, which would be the first acknowledgement that the BRI has a military purpose. China, we know, wants to build ports and airports in Vanuatu and Manus Island and other places, clearly not in Australia's strategic interests. Will that mean our so-called step up in the Pacific will have to be even more assertive to try to counter Chinese influence?

Minister Payne:

Our engagement in the Pacific is very comprehensive and growing every day really in terms of our pursuit of the Pacific Step Up. I've been in Fiji in the last month since we were sworn in the Prime Minister, of course, in the Solomon Islands. I was also in New Zealand at the end of last week, and this week I'm heading to the Cook Islands and very much looking forward to that for a first opportunity to visit and meet with Prime Minister Puna there.

What we are focused on is the inclusivity, the prosperity, the security of the Pacific. We're focused on supporting the initiatives identified in the Boe Declaration of last year's Pacific Island Forum, and indeed I will also be at the Forum Foreign Ministers' Meeting convening in Fiji next week. Australia is very, very committed to ensuring that our neighbours, our family in the Pacific are supported in the most constructive way that we can, and we encourage others to support them constructively as well, and anything that contributes to security, to stability, to prosperity, is an important part of that.

Fran Kelly:

Well, one thing that does contribute, it would seem, is climate change and more action on climate change. We now see reporting in the Fin Review today, comments from the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, that he made last month apparently, warning that China could try to occupy Pacific Islands that might have to be abandoned due to rising sea waters. This confirms once and for all, doesn't it, that climate change is a national security issue, and Australia has to do more to help the region combat rising sea levels.

Minister Payne:

I was not at the event that you referred to, I've seen the report today, but as I've already mentioned, the Boe Declaration which was adopted at last year's Pacific Island Forum, it identifies climate change clearly as a key security issue, we are part of the pursuit of the Boe Declaration as a member of the Pacific Island Forum, and we are very focused on our engagement on climate in the region.

Fran Kelly:

I think it's fair to say our region is not satisfied with the level of focus Australia has on climate change. And to sort of emphasise the strategic issue it poses for us, we now also have internal briefing notes from the ADF obtained by the ABC today, which revealed a prediction that the military may have to increase its patrols in our northern waters to deal with an influx of climate refugees from Pacific Island countries. Is our government war-gaming a scenario like this?

Minister Payne:

Well, I haven't seen those briefing notes, Fran, as you would expect if they're Defence briefing notes, but the focus that we have through our Australian Infrastructure, Financing Facility in the Pacific, which will stream climate adaptation and resilience through its investment in energy, in transport, in communications, and in water reflects that priority that we are placing on these issues.

I was in a meeting in Canberra last week or the week before with the Fijian Attorney-General and minister for the economy, who was very, very focused with us on looking at AIFFP projects for their infrastructure financing and focused on what they can contribute in terms of climate resilience. So in a practical sense and in a very real sense, that is absolutely our focus.

We made an announcement around marine litter during the election campaign, another very important initiative and one which has been raised with me at meetings recently as well.

Fran Kelly:

It's 16 minutes to 8am. Our guest is Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Another strain in the China relationship emerging quite dramatically now is the incarceration of more than one million Muslim Uighurs in detention camps in the western region of Xinjiang. Australia cosigned a letter to the UN Human Rights Council last week urging Beijing to end its mass arbitrary detentions and related violations. Beijing has retaliated, accusing countries like Australia of "smearing China in total disregard for the truth and grossly interfering in China's internal affairs." Does the Australian government stand by its criticism of the treatment of the Uighurs?

Minister Payne:

Fran, we've said very consistently that we are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the use of detention facilities, and those concerns have been raised with China regularly, including directly by me in my visit last year.

A letter was signed to the president of the Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights a week or so ago, that we were one of 22 signatories for that letter.

I think what that reflects is an increased international focus on the developments in Xinjiang. We are concerned about the forced detention, as we are advised, by Uighurs and other Muslim groups, and we are very concerned about the underlying tensions that exist there. Even if....

Fran Kelly:

What are we doing about it? Tonight's Four Corners investigates these arbitrary detentions, as I said. At least 10 Australian Permanent residents are stuck in Xinjiang under this, including a two-year-old boy who's father's from Sydney. This boy is an Australian citizen. Have you raised his case with your Chinese counterpart?

Minister Payne:

Well we raise cases with Chinese officials as they are brought to our attention. We provide consular assistance to a number of Uighurs who are Australian citizens, and we sought information from the Chinese authorities at the request of Chinese Australians or Uighur Australians about the whereabouts of friends and family in Xinjiang.

As I've said, the Human Rights Commission, or Human Rights Council, is an appropriate place also to raise those concerns, and that's one of the reasons that we joined the correspondence in recent weeks.

Fran Kelly:

How muscular is our response though? As I said, this two-year-old is an Australian citizen, many of these others held are permanent residents, they have family here in Australia, reportedly they've had their passports confiscated. How vigorously are you raising this with your Chinese counterpart, and has Australia had, for instance, consular access, to these people?

Minister Payne:

Well, we do request consular access if and when we are notified of such a detention.

Fran Kelly:

And have we had it?

Minister Payne:

Well, can I just say, it's very important to note that there are complex family arrangements around family members who are in Xinjiang, and I don't want to go into the personal details, because that's not always appropriate for privacy reasons.

But if they're not Australian citizens, we don't have an entitlement to consular access. China doesn't provide consular access to dual nationals unless they've actually entered China on their Australian passport. So that does add to the complexity, but we continue to raise these issues and to seek information and access.

Fran Kelly:

What about more general access, just to find out what's going on? I mean this campaign in Xinjiang, appears to be the largest internment of people on the basis of religion since the Holocaust. What more can Australia and the world do to help these people because China claims, in response to that letter that you were a signatory too, officials from countries behind the letter declined an invitation to visit. Is that true?

Minister Payne:

I don't understand that to be the case. We have sought diplomatic visits in the past and indeed we have sought diplomatic visits for our deputy ambassador and previously for ambassadors and those requests, as far as I'm aware, have not been granted, and we will continue to do so and continue to press our concerns.

Fran Kelly:

And more broadly, what more could the world be doing?

Minister Payne:

Well, I think engagement through bodies, such as the Human Rights Council is an appropriate place and way in which to raise human rights concerns.

I think action, such as those, which were taken recently, including the letter that was sent, that you've referred to, are also appropriate, and then, of course, we take up other matters directly with Chinese counterparts. That is, what I understand, our countries who are also concerned to be doing.

Fran Kelly:

So just to check on the status of this two-year-old boy, an Australian citizen, and his mother, what is the latest? Have we have consular access to him?

Minister Payne:

No, and as far as I'm aware, as I have said, we have sought access to a number of cases. I'm not going to comment on individual cases, because there are privacy concerns which relate to those. We've sought access on a number of cases and also [inaudible] that have not been granted.

Fran Kelly:

Understand, thank you very much for joining us.

Minister Payne:

Thank you, Fran.

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