Topics: 2016 Defence White Paper, Australia-Indonesia relations, South China Sea
GENERAL RYAMIZARD [translated from Indonesian]: Bilateral discussions went well. I have already sent a White Paper to Australia. The bilateral went well. We agree in what we are doing and we also agree with what they are doing. We discussed other issues, particularly with regards to training and discussions about terrorism.
MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much Minister, Pak Ryamizard. May I thank you most sincerely for your hospitality in hosting my visit here today. This is our third opportunity to meet since I became Defence Minister and on this occasion it’s a most valued opportunity to meet in this very elegant, old Jakarta building to discuss with you the key aspects of the Australian Defence White Paper 2016 and the associated documentation.
Minister, may I say at the outset though, as I have said to you privately and in our bilateral meeting, may I express on behalf of myself and the Australian Government and Defence, our sincere condolences in relation to yesterday’s tragic helicopter accident and particularly to the families of those who have lost their lives. Our thoughts, very much, go with those families. To engage in the service of one’s country is a dangerous undertaking for so many men and women in both of our countries at the best of times and this is an example of how very, very dangerous it can be.
Minister, I very much appreciated the opportunity to engage with you both last night and this morning in relation to key aspects of our White Paper, and particularly to re-enforce the importance of the Defence relationship between Australia and Indonesia. As we have observed today, it goes back over multiple decades and we find ourselves in a very dynamic, changing region, and world for that matter. As we both review the strategic and security environments in which we work, and indeed the Indo-Pacific region in which we live and work, it is timely to have had the opportunity to bring to you, not only a formal copy of the White Paper today, but also to engage in this personal briefing process.
I also very much appreciate your engagement in today’s meeting with your senior officials and providing me with some insight into the upcoming White Paper of Indonesia, which I understand will be an update on your 2014 White Paper. Indeed, the updating process is an approach that Australia will be taking to its own White Paper in coming years – that is to say we very much recognise that because of the dynamism of the environment in which we live in the world, that these can’t be static documents, they can’t be cast in stone and never revisited. We as Governments and as Ministers are going to face the need to be responsive, to be engaged in our White Paper review processes. So, I look forward very much to the finalisation of your White Paper and the sorts of future that it will paint for defence in Indonesia and also for the Australia–Indonesia relationship. I am confident, given the solid foundation on which that is built and the solid engagement that you and I have had in recent months, that that will be a very productive outcome. Thank you very much.
I understand there’re a couple of questions from each side. I will let the Minister start with his crew.
LOCAL JOURNALIST [translated from Indonesian]: My question is about immigrants. In past years the issue between cooperation between Indonesia and Australia has been about immigrants. Will Australia still follow a strict policy related to immigrants and [for the Indonesian Defence Minister] there is an issue that Australia is bribing the Indonesian Navy to return the immigrants back to Indonesian territory. What is your response? Do both Ministers already have a policy about this issue?
MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much and of course my colleague the Foreign Minister of Australia, the Honourable Julie Bishop MP, is here at the same time as I am for a meeting on the Bali process, as you would be aware. The thing I would particularly like to acknowledge is the degree of effective cooperation that occurs between our two countries, our two Defence Forces, in relation to these issues. They are not just challenges for Australia and Indonesia of course, they are worldwide challenges. But more closely within our own region I think the Bali process is a very important engagement between our two Governments and key players in those portfolio areas to manage the challenges that we see as best as we possibly can. Australia has worked very closely, as I’ve said, with Indonesia over an extended period of time now, both here and from our own base. In relation to the White Paper, you will see that there are certain aspects of the White Paper which go to the level of Defence support for our Border Protection and Immigration Department in particular, and that is an ongoing engagement within the Australian Government. And I will leave any other comment domestically to the Minister.
GENERAL RYAMIZARD [translated from Indonesian]: Media colleagues, it has been discussed between Foreign Minister but the basic discussion between Australia and Indonesia. The important thing is we agree that if there are immigrants coming, we need to help them first, give them food, medication and other things and then we will need to cooperate with the immigrants’ country of origin. Why? If there is no issue there is no problem but if there is a radical in the immigrants, this is what each country is afraid of. We don’t want the radicals to go through and our country too thinks it’s a humanitarian action. We don’t want humanitarian actions to be used as an excuse for radicalism. The first point though is that we need to respect them as human beings – give them food, a temporary place to say, clothes and then other actions will follow. And then we will cooperate about the other matters that will follow. Of course Indonesia respects Australia. If there is any other issue, it is up to each country to determine. Indonesia respects Australia and Australia respects Indonesia.
JOURNALIST: Hello my name is Amanda Hodge and I am from The Australian Newspaper. I actually have a question for the [Indonesian] Defence Minister. Sir, obviously over the weekend we saw an incursion in Indonesian sovereign waters by a Chinese fishing vessels. Indonesia has tried very hard to remain unaligned in the South China Sea disputes. It says it’s not a claimant though there is an overlapping area where there was this problem over the weekend. I would like to ask you Sir, is there any point at which it would appear in Indonesia’s national interests to exercise its Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea or join FONOPS with other ASEAN nations?
GENERAL RYAMIZARD [translated from Indonesian]: Okay, I will answer about the South China Sea issue. So, since I became Minister of Defence the South China Sea seems like taboo. It seems that (the discussion) is avoided. But last year I raised it at the Shangrila Dialogue. I will find a way out of this issue. So there will be an open discussion. We are always avoiding that topic but we would like to find a solution to this problem. But how can we find a solution if there is no communication? I have opened a discussion and China is responding. When there is a way of communicating, the result is that we can coordinate with any party. It’s now a more open discussion; China wants to discuss it as well.
So now there are more than 100 vessels and aircraft which have passed through with no problems. This is what we want – for the South China Sea to be open. And why does it need to be open? Because at the same time, the South China Sea is like the heart of maritime trade, including for Indonesia.
So for the time being there is no issue. Initially it was something that could not be discussed. Now we can start to discuss it but a green light on this issue is still quite far off. We are working on it through line of communication. Indonesia already opened communications and each party can join in. Indonesia has no problem about this. We are friends with all other countries involved – with America, Australia, Japan, China – we are only facilitating how this can be discussed and how to make the South China Sea stable.
MINISTER PAYNE: Another Indonesian question? One of the people behind you perhaps?
INDONESIAN JOURNALIST [in English]: Australian Defence Minister, I would like to ask you about your decisions about immigrants because your Immigration Minister said that there will be 14,000 immigrants coming to Australia from Indonesia.
MINISTER PAYNE: Australia has a very comprehensive migration program as you would be aware. We have recently made announcements in relation to an intake of refugees particularly from Syria and the conflict there, but we do also have a process whereby through an audit arrangement through our Department of Immigration and Border Protection – through those normal processes –that a number of individuals do come to Australia from within their location in Indonesia. I don’t have specific numbers with me but if you would like the specific numbers I could respond to you on that. I think that is again a reflection of the engagement between our two countries that our respective Departments of Immigration and Foreign Affairs work very closely together to manage as far as possible was is – as Pak Ryamizard has pointed out – a very challenging situation of the movement of people. Thank you.
GENERAL RYAMIZARD: One more question – the Minister would like to go home!
MINISTER PAYNE: Two plus two ladies and gentlemen!
JOURNALIST: My name is Jewel Topsfield from the Sydney Morning Herald. I was wondering if you could both discuss ways that Indonesia and Australia can work together or will work together to combat rising fears about Chinese militarisation of the South China Sea.
MINISTER PAYNE: I’ll let the Minster go seeing as I just spoke.
GENERAL RYAMIZARD [translated from Indonesian]: We need to sit together. We cannot discuss it without China attending and vice versa. China will need to speak with the respected parties in order to solve the problem because communications are now open. So if it’s just a one sided discussion then the other party will not accept it. We need to respect each party’s reasons. This is the most important part: to respect other’s reasons. If we don’t respect each other, we won’t find a solution.
MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much. I think I endorse the Minister’s remarks. It is a matter upon which all the participants and neighbours in the region are working closely together. You will see indeed that one of the key aspects of the White Paper is about growing Defence’s international engagement, not with regard to any particular country, area, or region but saying that we recognise that a greater engagement of Defence across our region particularly is a good thing for Australia and a good thing for our partners.
We have a region which is growing and is very, very dynamic. It has a combination of military modernisation but also some significant challenges, whether they come from domestic issues, from natural disasters, whatever they may be. And so the approach we have taken particularly in the White Paper and, not necessarily Jewel targeted to the specific of you question but more broadly is to say – and our Indonesian engagement is a very good example – we’ve indicated we will pursue a renewal of our Defence cooperation arrangement which is due in 2017 and look to make that the most contemporary it can possibly be, in terms of our needs and desires and Indonesia’s needs and desires. I think our preparedness to do that in an open and engaged and constructive way is a really important acknowledgement of the importance of this relationship.
More specifically, and I have said this regularly, Australia supports the right of any nation under international law, appropriately under international law, to engage in Freedom of Navigation, Freedom of Overflight, and that position has not changed. As you would know, whether it’s in the work of our Navy as its transiting the area; whether it’s in the work of our Airforce; we continue to operate in a way that complies entirely with international law, and to do that as we will. Most of the other nations in the region also observe those actualities.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. I have obligations elsewhere now but Minister, may I again thank you. It’s very, very good to see my friend and colleague and I look forward to doing that again very soon.
Henry Budd 0429 531 143