LINDA REYNOLDS: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here in Washington DC, my first visit as the Australian Minister for Defence. It is a particular pleasure to have been able to address the Hudson Institute today on an Australian vision for the future of the Australia-US Alliance in a contested world. The alliance with the US is Australia’s most important strategic alliance and particularly so as our region, the Indo-Pacific is becoming increasingly contested. Yesterday I had a wonderful meeting with Secretary Mark Esper and we discussed a very comprehensive work program that we are pursuing between our two nations, including what we are doing in the Indo-Pacific region. Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: You said today in your speech that the US must really listen to countries in our region. Do you worry that the Trump Administration doesn’t really care enough about our part of the world right now?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Absolutely not. The US is, and has been for many decades, very engaged in the Indo-Pacific region in conjunction with Australia and many other nations. My point today was that it is important for all of us to remember the sovereign aspirations, of countries large and small in the region. And sometimes as a larger country, including Australia, we can forget that. It is important for us to be in the region, to be of the region, and to really listen to the sovereign interests of all of our neighbours.
JOURNALIST: The US President can be quite bombastic and say some pretty direct things. Are you worried that he might be putting some of those smaller nations that are valuable to the US and the Australia Alliance as well, offside?
LINDA REYNOLDS: As I said in my speech, no I’m not. What I was talking about today was the broad alliance with the United States and Australia and in particular as the Minister for Defence, our defence arrangements. There is no doubt that our world is changing and for Australia and our region, the Indo-Pacific, and in the Southern Ocean, is becoming more contested. And that does provide new challenges for both nations. We have always, for over 100 years now, worked together on the emerging challenges.
JOURNALIST: The White House this week has announced that Donald Trump won’t attend a number of major summits including the East Asia Summit. What message do you think that sort of message sends to Asia?
LINDA REYNOLDS: The East Asia Summit is a very important summit for the region and it was the subject of some discussion between Secretary Esper and myself yesterday. And we both acknowledged the importance of it, and also other regional summits.
JOURNALIST: Did you ask him to put in a good word and see if the President might change his mind?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Good try, but as I said, it was a topic of discussion and we both acknowledged the importance of the summit.
JOURNALIST: Many here in Washington now openly say that China is the biggest economic and military threat to the US and must now be met head on, would you agree with that?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Again as I said in my speech today and as the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, Australia welcomes the economic prosperity, growth and development of China. But like any other country, we expect all nations to accord with international rules and norms.
JOURNALIST: Beijing has reacted angrily to the Foreign Minister’s recent comments about the nation’s human rights record. Will your government continue to advocate for democracy in China and speak openly and frankly about the country’s human rights abuses?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well I think it is no surprise to China or any other nation that Australia does speak frankly. And on this particular issue, Australia has been very clear on our position and our concerns about what has been happening in Xinjiang. But again that does not come as any surprise to China. We are very frank, privately and publically with our opinions on this matter.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of their opinions then? Because they’ve said that it’s not good for future relations?
LINDA REYNOLDS: The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister has been very clear about our concerns. It is important to remember that we do respect China’s sovereignty, we do encourage and support their economic growth. But we are also vastly different countries in terms of political systems, histories, our different cultures, and different values. But again, we respect their sovereignty but we expect all nations to accord by international rules.
JOURNALIST: Firstly can I ask you one question related to this human rights issue, do you have concerns about this ongoing protest in Hong Kong, what do you think about that?
LINDA REYNOLDS: The Australian Government has consistently urged restraint by all parties and to find a peaceful resolution to the concerns on all fronts. Our position is very clear, we call for restraint and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
JOURNALIST: And for China, they have a very big influence in the region right now. Recently we have seen in the South Pacific islands, one of the countries like the Solomon Islands has cut off ties with Taiwan and they switch to Beijing. Can you elaborate your concern about China’s influence operations in the region?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Australia respects the sovereignty of all nations large and small. And this issue that you mention is a sovereign issue for all nations independently. It’s not an issue for Australia to comment on.
JOURNALIST: In Australia you have this 5G policy and then you are concerned about Huawei, but also we have seen from some European countries like the UK, Germany recently, they still haven’t decided to keep Huawei totally out of their system in the non-contentious parts, so what’s your suggestion to your allies?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Far be it for me or the Australian Government to provide advice to any other sovereign nation on issues such as this. But what I can say is that Australia takes all of these decisions in our own national interest and it’s up for any other country and all other countries to make the decision for themselves.
JOURNALIST: Would you be disappointed if Canada didn’t follow Australia’s suit given how close we are on a variety of issues including defence.
LINDA REYNOLDS: As I said all of these issues are sovereign interests for each and every nation. We have taken a range of decisions in our national interest and it’s up to other nations to do the same for themselves. Thank you.