Interview with David Lipson, ABC PM
David Lipson, host: Senator Penny Wong is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and we talked about that earlier. Minister, thank you for your time.
Penny Wong, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Good to be with you.
Lipson: Joe Biden says it’s unlikely that missile that hit Poland was fired from inside Russia. Do you have any information on its origin or who fired it?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Listen, clearly this is still an evolving situation and figuring out where these missiles are coming from is something that needs investigation. So I note that President Duda of Poland indicated that there would be an investigation to determine the origin of the missiles, and that was supported by the United States and others. I therefore think that at this time I would call for calm and I would await the result of such an investigation.
Lipson: Poland is a member of NATO. If it turns out to have been shot by Russians, what should NATO do in response, and could that mean escalation?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Listen, we know that Russia’s reckless use of force across Ukraine is both illegal, immoral and dangerous to the region. And we know that any conflict carries the risk of miscalculation. What I would like to say at this point is to echo the words of the Polish Prime Minister who urged all Poles to remain calm and cautious. And I think that’s the most responsible way to respond and handle the situation that we’re seeing.
I spoke this morning to the Prime Minister who, as you know, is at the G20. Well, he will be talking to his European counterparts this morning. I also spoke with the Australian Ambassador to Poland and the Polish Chargé d’Affaires here in Australia about the situation and also to express our condolences for the loss of life.
Lipson: Moving on to the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Chinese President, you have done a lot of legwork for this meeting to take place. How much of a breakthrough is that?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: I think that’s what foreign ministers do, isn’t it? We have to make representations on behalf of the country. So, you know, it’s always a privilege, and I think it’s a big step. This is a very important step. When we came to government, we said at the start that we thought it was in Australia’s and China’s interests that bilateral relations be stabilized. We have made it clear that we will not abandon any of our national security policy parameters. We have made it clear that we will continue to uphold Australian interests and Australian values.
But we have made it clear that we are open to dialogue and engagement, as we believe this is the best way to manage differences wisely. We will therefore cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must, and engage with China in our national interest.
Lipson: There is much skepticism about the significance of the meeting, largely because Australia has already chosen to side with the United States as strategic competition in the region intensifies and over issues like the independence of Taiwan as well. Do you think this skepticism is justified?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I would question, first of all, the framework of the question you just asked us. We are an ally of the United States, and the alliance is central to our security arrangements. What Australia is defending is Australia’s interests and Australia’s interests, alongside the United States and the countries of Southeast Asia, is that there is a region stable, secure and prosperous in which sovereignty is respected.
This is how we approach our engagement with Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I made it clear that we should not see the region – the region’s problems – as entirely related to conflict or great power competition. What we should be aiming for is the kind of region we want with the United States, with partners, with Southeast Asian countries. And that’s been my message to the region since we were elected.
Lipson: So can we expect this meeting to lead to an imminent lifting of the trade sanctions imposed by China?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, that’s ultimately China’s business. We have made it clear that we believe this should be the case. We have made it clear that we believe it is not only in Australia’s interest, but also China’s, that these trade blockages be lifted, and we will continue to advocate that view.
Lipson: Is the meeting itself a signal to Chinese students, tourists, businesses and others that Australia is open to them again?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, look, I think, you know, one of the many downsides of the way the Coalition has approached this issue in government is that it’s sent very negative and divisive messages, including within the Australian community. You know, we are a multicultural nation, a nation that accepts and respects, and we are a nation that has made global trade to our advantage for decades. And not just traded, you know, commodities, but also services like education. And what we should continue to do is continue to articulate that and continue to say clearly that despite the differences we may have, we will continue to engage and dialogue.
Lipson: And what about the detention of Australian citizens Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun? Does this encounter and what may follow bring us any closer to their release in your mind?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Look, we’ve made it clear in meetings that we’ve had the priority we give to Dr. Yang and Cheng Lei, as well as our stance on other consular matters. We will continue to advocate on their behalf, as did my predecessor Marise Payne.
Lipson: Do you still believe that they are subject to arbitrary detention?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, you know, we would certainly – and we’ve said this publicly – will continue to seek the release of Dr. Yang and Cheng Lei after their sentencing.
Lipson: Yeah, the reason I’m asking that question is because, you know, you’ve made it clear that Australia won’t bend to any of its core values. I’m interested in what China wants in return for these talks. Indeed, China has said it wants Australia to reach it halfway. Can we expect more muted criticism of China from you, the prime minister and other government officials, for example, about China’s human rights record? Is this the kind of thing China is looking for?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I think the question is not for the Australian Foreign Minister, it is less about what China is looking for and more about the position of the Australian government. And the Australian Government’s position is that we will continue to stand up for Australian interests, Australian values and Australian citizens – and we have. And we have been joined with others in relation to the UN report on what is happening in Xinjiang. We have been very clear about our views on Australians detained in China.
You used the phrase “meet halfway”. The way I described it is that we should work together. We recognize that there will be difficult issues. It is inevitable between countries that have different interests, different values and different political systems. But engagement remains something we believe is important, cooperation where we can, disagreement where we must.
Lipson: And very briefly, we’re almost out of time – will you be going to Beijing?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: As the Prime Minister said, we remain open to continued dialogue. When I first met Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bali at the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting earlier this year, I said there will be – that’s we are walking on a path and that there will be many steps to take, and we will take one step at a time.
Lipson: Penny Wong, nice to talk to you. Thanks.
Minister of Foreign Affairs: It’s good to talk with you.
Lipson: Penny Wong, Minister of Foreign Affairs.