TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH JIM MIDDLETON, NEWSLINE AUSTRALIA NETWORK
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 JUNE 2011
TOPICS: 10th Shangri-La Dialogue 2011
JIM MIDDLETON: Australia was represented at the dialogue by Defence Minister Stephen Smith. I spoke to him as the gathering drew to a close. Minister, good to talk to you again.
STEPHEN SMITH: My pleasure, Jim.
JIM MIDDLETON: Business as usual seems to be what the United States wants in the Asia Pacific. How does that square with China's demand to be treated as an equal?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think there are a couple of general points that need to be made. Firstly, it's my first appearance as Defence Minister at the Shangri-La Dialogue but Australia's been represented every one of the 10 years by its Defence Minister, and that's a good thing because the Dialogue has now turned into a very important second track dialogue amongst nations of our region and beyond.
Secondly, it was very good to see General Liang, the Chinese Minister for National Defence, here. It's the first time we've had a Chinese Defence Minister at that level and of such standing and he gave what I think people are generally regarding as a wide-ranging speech which was - which was positive.
So was Secretary Gates' speech and Australia's attitude is that when it comes to the United States' engagement in the Asia Pacific, when it comes to China's rise, one doesn't have to be at the expense of the other. It can be win-win and that's why we continue to urge China's unfolding as a emerging power, doing that into, as the Chinese would say, a harmonious environment, but also doing it in a way in which the bilateral relationship between China and the United States is a positive and productive one and General Liang himself made that point. He's been very pleased with the high level contact and exchanges that China and the United States have seen in recent times.
JIM MIDDLETON: But has China, through its economic growth, earned the right to be treated as an equal in the Asia Pacific?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, General Liang himself made the point that all countries should be treated equal irrespective of their size.
We are now seeing an historic shift to global affairs. The rise of China is one important element. The rise of India another. The ongoing influence of the United States, the ongoing economic strength of Japan and the Republic of Korea, the emergence of Indonesia as a global influence, not just a regional influence, all of these things see economic, strategic and military power heading in the direction of our region and, in that context, China has to be treated as a emerging power.
JIM MIDDLETON: The Chinese Defence Minister made a pointed demand to the nations of the region not to make alliances aimed at China. How did you read that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, so far as Australia is concerned, what we do in terms of our alliance with the United States, our close partnerships generally and on the defence and security and strategic front with countries like Japan, the Republic of Korea or, indeed, closer to home, New Zealand or, indeed, Indonesia, where we are as well enhancing our defence and military cooperation relationship and the same is true of India, we do that on its merits and we do that not just because it's a good bilateral thing to do but it's also a good regional thing to do. We don't have, when we pursue military and defence cooperation, we don't have a particular incident or a particular country in mind.
We do it because we believe that positive cooperation on the defence to defence, on military to military side is something which, in the event, will minimise or reduce the potential for conflict or misadventure or miscalculation rather than maximise it.
So we don't have any particular country in mind when we pursue what we regard as very much pursuing our national security interests.
JIM MIDDLETON: At the beginning of this year's dialogue, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak spoke of the need to replace the bilateralism of the Cold War with a security order that would not force nations of the Asia Pacific to choose between China and the United States. That's going to be easier said than done, isn't it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Unfortunately because of other commitments I missed Prime Minister Najib's speech but he's saying, I think, in his words, what I've said earlier which is with the rise of China, the ongoing influence of the United States. It can be win-win and that is Australia's strong view so Australia believes in our case we can have a strong and productive relationship with China which is not at the expense of the United States.
We also, of course, and I made the point in my own contribution to the dialogue, that there is a continuing under-appreciation of India's rise. India is also on the rise as a country of over a billion people and its significance can't be under-appreciated.
One of the good things about the dialogue so far as Australia is concerned is that it has reinforced our very strong view that the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus meeting, the first of which we held in Hanoi last year, is going to be a very important piece of regional architecture for peace and security and stability in our region.
The so-called Defence Ministers Plus meeting mirrors the expanded East Asia Summit which at foreign minister and leader level now includes the United States and Russia. So at leaders' level, at foreign minister level, at defence level, we now have a piece of important regional architecture where, to be put it in general terms, all of the key players are in the room at the same time, able to have a conversation about security and stability and that's a very good thing.
I think Prime Minister Najib's comments also reflect what I've detected in my bilateral meetings here, a very strong view that the development of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus meeting arrangement is going to prove to be a very valuable thing for the region. Certainly Australia believes it will be a valuable thing for us.
JIM MIDDLETON: But do the various structures surrounding ASEAN - you mentioned the Defence Ministers, ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus meeting and also the East Asia Summit - show any signs of developing the muscle necessary to settle the many outstanding territorial disputes which persist within the region?
STEPHEN SMITH: In the case of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus Meeting we've established five expert working groups in a range of important areas. Disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and maritime security is another.
The Maritime security working group is one which Australia co-chairs with Malaysia and given that we need to work very carefully through a range of maritime and territorial disputes, not just in the South China Seas but in the East China Seas and elsewhere in our region, we are confident that will prove to be a very important part of the Defence Ministers Plus arrangement.
JIM MIDDLETON: I'm just wondering, how does the desire of Australia and other Asia Pacific nations to resolve these matters multilaterally square with China's demand that an important issue, most important issue, like the South China Sea, for example, be settled, be resolved bilaterally?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think if you carefully examine General Liang's contribution today there is - there is a suggestion, I think, that China acknowledges that in these issues, whilst it needs to be determined between the countries themselves, there are often regional implications or regional concerns and so one always has to keep one's eye or eyebrow raised for implications for the region.
Australia articulates that in the following way, which is we don't seek to impose ourselves into a particular maritime or territorial dispute and there are plenty of maritime or territorial disputes which don't involve China - so we don't seek to determine the outcome between the parties.
What we do say is that the parties need to resolve any dispute amicably and they need to do that in accordance with established international norms and the international law of the sea.
The reason that that is the case is that if territorial disputes, maritime disputes aren't resolved in such a manner, then they can be a significant cause of concern or destabilisation in any region, not just our own region.
JIM MIDDLETON: Minister, thanks very much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Jim, thanks very much.