JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Colonel Lee for hosting us here at the DMZ today. Australia’s Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne and I are in South Korea for the third what’s called “2+2” meeting between Australia and the Republic of Korea’s Foreign and Defence Ministers. This is a timely visit, for the Australia-South Korea relationship has never been closer or stronger. We have very deep economic ties; South Korea is our fourth largest trading partner; our fourth largest export market; and we have a very beneficial Free Trade Agreement between our two countries.
We also have a very close and strong defence and security relationship. This morning we had a very detailed briefing from Director Suh of the National Intelligence Service. Australia stands with the Republic of Korea in solidarity against the provocative and illegal behavior of North Korea. We reiterated our support for the collective strategy of maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea, so that it will be compelled to return to the negotiating table. North Korea’s actions are illegal, in defiance of eight UN Security Council resolutions, and Australia will play our part in supporting South Korea, our friends and allies, in deterring North Korea from further provocative acts, and compelling it to return to the negotiating table. I’ll ask my colleague to say a few words.
MARISE PAYNE: Thank you very much Foreign Minister, and I want to acknowledge the United Nations Command here this morning, Colonel Lee and the members of the combined battalion here from both the United States and South Korea. Their presence here, and our visit here to the Demilitarized Zone, is a salutatory reminder of the importance of the effort that has gone in, over decades, in this part of the world, in this region. Australia sent 17,000 members of our defence forces to Korea in the 1950s, 340 of those defence forces made the ultimate sacrifice.
For Australia, our relationship with South Korea is characterized in the way the Foreign Minister has outlined it today, but also importantly by a shared military history as well. We are working closely in defence terms. We continue to do that, and we reiterate the words of the international community, read by the United Nations Security Council, that the behavior of North Korea is provocative, is illegal, and is in breach of United Nations sanctions. We stand with South Korea. We stand with the United States in the efforts that they are both making to ensure that the sanctions regime has the most significant impact possible. We encourage other members of the international community to equally apply that focus, that strength of application in relation to the sanctions. We look forward, the Foreign Minister and I, to extremely productive 2+2 talks with our South Korean counterparts here in Seoul tomorrow.
JOURNALIST: Minister Bishop, you’ve been closely communicating with Secretary Tillerson. And from your conversation with Minister Tillerson, how likely do you think military options will be on the table in the event of North Korean military provocations, especially as they are threatening a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific?
JULIE BISHOP: First, as we both stated, the actions of North Korea are illegal, they are in breach of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. The United States has a long-held policy that all options are on the table when it comes to seeking to deter North Korea from its current behavior. The focus of the efforts of the United States, South Korea, Australia and others is to ensure that maximum political, diplomatic, and economic pressure is placed on North Korea so that it changes its course. And in my discussion with Secretary Tillerson and with Foreign Minister Kang the aim is to ensure a peaceful negotiated outcome to the current tensions. It is unacceptable for North Korea to launch illegal ballistic missiles over sovereign territories like Japan. It is unacceptable for North Korea in defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions to develop a nuclear weapons program. And Australia has urged the UN Security Council, particularly the permanent five members, to uphold the authority of the UN Security Council, and not have its authority diminished in any way by North Korea.
JOURNALIST: Minister Payne, Australia seems to be emphasising the idea of diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea. So if President Trump actually brings up the idea of actual military options on North Korea, does that mean that Australia may not be on the same page with the US in the near future?
MARISE PAYNE: So you’re correct in the beginning of your question that our absolute focus is on exercising the sanctions process to its most impactful outcome. And that is to change the approach of the North Korean regime. That is both a political, economic and diplomatic focus. But the US has made clear that military options remain on the table in the event of the worst outcome. And Australia has made it very clear that we are working closely with the United States, working closely with South Korea, without wishing to engage in hypotheticals, our Prime Minister has made very clear our support for the United States. But most importantly, our support for regional stability and security.
JOURNALIST: North Korea’s ballistic missile range may reach Australia. Is Australia intending to purchase any kind of missile shield?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia does not see ourselves as a primary target. We believe that the provocative and belligerent behavior is directed towards others. However, we are concerned to maintain regional stability and security.
MARISE PAYNE: We constantly review our options and our capability. Our focus is on ensuring the protection of our deployed forces. You will see that Australia has recently commissioned our first air warfare destroyer, HMAS Hobart, one of the three air warfare destroyers soon to come into operation. We have also made announcements recently in relation to the adoption of AEGIS combat system for our future frigates. We are very focused on ensuring that the ADF has the capability it needs and whatever further requirements might be we keep under constant review.
JOURNALIST: And in light of that is Australia planning to increase Australian troops to the Korean Peninsula during the US-South Korea joint forces exercises.
MARISE PAYNE: Well we have a very strong presence in the Indo-Pacific region broadly, and also in this region. We currently have a joint task group which is travelling through the broad of the region, most recently in the Philippines, but in due course members of the vessels of the joint task group will also visit South Korea, and we look forward to that engagement.
JOURNALIST: Australia has recently denied entrance of North Korean youth group leaders. Is that any sign that Australia is planning any kind of military relations shut down with North Korea?
JULIE BISHOP: I made the decision to deny entry visas to the members of a North Korean soccer team because I felt their presence would be inconsistent with Australia’s stated aim of placing maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to ensure that it would change course. It would be inconsistent with the focus that Australia has in upholding UN Security Council resolutions and implementing fully the range of tough and comprehensive sanctions that must now apply to North Korea. It is also consistent with the view of many other members of the international community to lessen, reduce, or completely diminish any diplomatic relationship with North Korea.
JOURNALIST: How do you forecast North Korea’s next provocation in the near future? There are possible dates coming up, possibly in October 18, or next month when President Trump visits Asia. How do you forecast the future North Korean provocation?
JULIE BISHOP: We do expect that North Korea will continue with its provocative behavior, but the stronger the international community’s response is, and the stronger the response to the sanctions is, the less options that North Korea will have. And the strategy is to deter North Korea from carrying out any further illegal acts and to compel it back to the negotiating table so that there is a peaceful resolution to the current crisis
JOURNALIST: It is very important that we put restrictions on North Korean provocation, and many South Koreans are concerned about the possibility of war breaking out. The Moon administration is pursuing humanitarian aid to North Korea and is also pursuing conversation to talk. What do you think about this?
JULIE BISHOP: We understand that South Korea has suffered for many decades from provocative acts on the part of North Korea. North Korea’s capability in terms of its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs has increased, and therefore the level of tension has also necessarily increased. We note that President Moon wishes to engage with North Korea, and most certainly our view is that whatever steps can be taken to bring North Korea to the negotiating table are worth pursuing. And I’m looking forward to having a deeper discussion with Foreign Minister Kang tomorrow and Defence Minister Song in relation to the approach that South Korea is taking in relation to North Korea’s illegal acts.