TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, BEIJING
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 6 June 2012
TOPICS: Australia-China relations; US Alliance; Defence White Paper
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turning up. I'm very happy to be in Beijing. This is my third visit to China as a Minister, but my first as Defence Minister.
Yesterday I had a dialogue at the National Defense University, and this morning I've just delivered a speech and answered questions at the Institute for Strategic Studies.
This afternoon I'll have a formal Ministerial dialogue with Minister for Defence Liang. Whilst this will be the first of what we describe as a formal Ministerial dialogue, it's not of course the first time that I've met him. We had a formal bilateral meeting in Hanoi in the margins of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus Meeting back in October- November 2010, and last year we met formally in the margins of the Shangri-La Dialogue. So I'm looking very much forward to that.
We're very positive and optimistic about Australia's defence to defence and military to military relationship with China. We've seen in recent times live fire exercise with HMAS Warramunga. We've seen the first occasion in which we've had Australian Defence Force officials performing a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise in Sichuan Province, and we've invited China to do likewise in Australia in the course of next year.
So we are very positive about that relationship, just as we are positive and optimistic about China's emergence in what we describe as the century of the Asia-Pacific.
So I'm very pleased to be here. Tomorrow I go south to Guangzhou, to see the South Sea Naval fleet. That will be a very good opportunity to spend some time in the south.
But my meetings here so far have been very positive and instructive and I look forward to my formal Defence Ministers dialogue with Defence Minister Liang, and also later this afternoon I'll be calling upon Vice President Xi to also have a formal bilateral with him. I did that when I was last here in 2009 so I'm also looking very much forward to that.
I'm happy to respond to your questions.
JOURNALIST: China is obviously still pretty worried about the presence of US troops in the north of the country. Do we have some convincing to do on that front?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I was asked that question today at the Institute for Strategic Studies and my response is as I've said publicly and privately previously. There's no inconsistency between Australia continuing an alliance with the United States and developing a comprehensive relationship with China, including a comprehensive military to military and defence to defence relationship.
Both of these things have existed side-by-side for the 40 years of our early recognition of China. There's nothing inconsistent with them.
As I said to the Strategic Institute, we see the ongoing presence of the Untied States in the Asia-Pacific as a force for peace and stability; also a force for investment and trade and prosperity. And we want to see not just the United States presence continue but we want to see a positive and constructive bilateral relationship between Australia and China. That is very much at the heart of ongoing peace, stability and prosperity in our part of the world.
JOURNALIST: The question really though is do we still have some convincing to do though, because the question still keeps coming up, no matter how many times we tell Chinese officials that that is Australia's attitude.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the question may keep on coming but the analysis and the answer is exactly the same. We've had an alliance with the United States for over 60 years. We've had a Status of Forces Agreement since the early 1960s which sees US personnel transit or travel through Australia for exercises, and the like. We are simply enhancing those practical defence cooperation arrangements. There are no US military bases in Australia and we're not proposing to have them. So these things can exist side by side.
In Australia's view, if there is any concern about the presence on a rotational basis of anywhere from 250 to 2500 Marines, it's not as a result of the presence in Australia but it is as a result of needing to ensure that the bilateral relationship between the United States and China is a positive and constructive one.
What we don't want to see is what I describe as strategic competition between China and the United States. And the presence of 250 Marines in Australia is neither nor there in that context. What we do need to see is a positive and constructive relationship between those two powers.
And that's why we've welcomed, for example, in recent times the first visit by a Chinese Defense Minister to the United States in nine or ten years, and why we welcomed the success of the United States-China economic and strategic dialogue here in Beijing recently.
JOURNALIST: If it's such an important relationship why has it taken Labor five years to get a Defence Minister up to China?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm the first Defence Minister to visit here since 2007 but I'm not the first Australian Defence Minister to sit down with Chinese friends or Chinese counterparts. Yes, it's my third visit here. It's my first as Defence Minister. We're now 2012. I'll have a formal bilateral meeting with China's Defence Minister this afternoon, just as I did in 2011, just as I did in 2010.
And my predecessor John Faulkner hosted the visit to Australia of General Guo, I was Foreign Minister at the time and I had a bilateral conversation with him.
So these days, when you look at the changing environment, the changing strategic influence, and the growth of regional architecture, whether it's a Defence Minister, whether it's a Foreign Minister, indeed whether it's the Prime Minister - these days as many meetings tend to be held in capital cities of respective countries, as they do in the margins of East Asia summit meeting, ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus meeting, the G20, and the like.
JOURNALIST: Minister, could you explain to us why your entourage left some phones and other electronic equipment outside the mainland before coming to China, and whether you've done this on other overseas trips before.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as a general proposition, whether it's a Defence Minister or whether it's another Ministerial travelling team, there are different arrangements so far as security of communications from delegation to delegation and from country to country. And that is nothing novel nor is it exceptional nor is it surprising-
JOURNALIST: Have you done it before though?
STEPHEN SMITH: We place great store on the confidentiality of Ministerial communications. It's not the first time I've gone to a country where arrangements have been made for security of confidential information to ministers. I'm not proposing to go into the details but this should come neither as a surprise nor be viewed in any exceptional way.
JOURNALIST: Is Australia concerned about China? The rise in apparent cyber-spying from China as sort of - the Pentagon put out a number of reports about this.
STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry, just - missed the first-
JOURNALIST: The Pentagon has put out a number of reports about the rise of cyber-spying from China. Is Australia concerned about that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, again, let me make some general remarks by cyber. Cyber is one of those issues where you're dealing not just potentially with state actors but also with non-state actors. And this is one of the reasons why the Australian Government has been saying two things. Firstly, to our own institutions whether they're Government or private institutions in Australia, people need to be aware that the security of their information, the risk and the danger of cyber attack is real and people have to take the necessary precautions. That applies whether you are a Government or whether you are a company.
Secondly, here there is a concern not just potentially from the activities of nation states but non-state actors, and that is why Australia has also been at the forefront of arguing internationally that we need to have some established rules of the road. We need to have some established international norms so that use of communications in cyberspace is protected, and the rules are understood. And, together with a range of other countries, we've been arguing that quite strongly over the last couple of years.
JOURNALIST: Is there some confusion over this White Paper and whether or not there was a sort of secret section involving a plan, a war plan for Australia and China or-
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, there's no confusion in the minds of the Australian Government. The only confusion, if there is any, has been caused by inaccurate reporting.
I've seen the reports in the last few days. This is the not the first time we've seen those suggestions. They were inaccurate when they've been made in the past and they're inaccurate now, and people shouldn't rely upon them. I've made that point clear in Australia recently, made it again today, and made it privately when I was at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
JOURNALIST: So there's no section of that report which involves a war plan - Australia going to war with China?
STEPHEN SMITH: There is no so-called top secret chapter of the White Paper which deals with those matters which have been erroneously asserted in public.
JOURNALIST: But there is a published and an unpublished version?
STEPHEN SMITH: Any White Paper has some classified materials which are used in the preparation of the White Paper and that is not a surprise. That there are classified materials associated with the White Paper is well known. That's been on the record for some time, indeed on the record since the publication of the white paper back in April-May 2009.
But the assertions that we've seen in recent days, either through extracts from books or from newspaper reporting, that somehow there is a top secret chapter of the White Paper dealing with such matters, is erroneous, it's wrong, it's misleading, it's inaccurate.
JOURNALIST: But are any of those things that have been talked about in the classified materials?
STEPHEN SMITH: Don't deal with any of the materials that have been erroneously asserted in recent days. Do not deal with any of the subject matter erroneously asserted in newspapers in recent days.
JOURNALIST: So it's completely categorical there's no war-
STEPHEN SMITH: Do not deal, do not deal with those matters erroneously asserted in newspapers in recent days.
JOURNALIST: This is the associated classified material.
STEPHEN SMITH: Do not deal with the subject matter erroneously asserted in recent days.
JOURNALIST: Got it. Okay. Sorry, just one more. Just back on the cyber stuff - so does Australia think China engages in cyber-spying?
STEPHEN SMITH: We don't identify any particular nation or nation state so far as cyber security is concerned. We simply make a couple of points.
Firstly, you are dealing here with the protection of information. That is a risk, not just for Governments but for private individuals and companies. So everyone needs to be conscious of the need to protect and secure their information.
Secondly, you're not just dealing here with nation states, you are dealing with non-state actors, and that's why nation states have to work together to establish international norms to establish the rules of the road.
JOURNALIST: Minister, there is an arms build-up in the region. I think that's unarguable. How long can we see this trajectory going of, you know, not just China but the region?
STEPHEN SMITH: The reason that these days we all focus on the Asia-Pacific, or the Indo-Pacific if we are talking about India, is that we see economic weight moving to our part of the world; the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined, the emergence of Indonesia as a global influence, the ongoing economic importance of Japan and the Republic of Korea. So economic weight is moving in our direction and it's enhancing, it's growing. And any nation state is entitled, as its economy grows, to modernise its military capability. Australia has done that historically. Other countries have done that historically. Countries in Asia are now doing that.
All Australia asks for is that there are simply transparencies so far as strategic intention is concerned, transparency about the capability.
We've made that point not just to China but we've made it to other countries as well, that when there is military modernisation as a result of economic growth, the region, other countries are entitled to certainty so far as strategic intention is concerned.
JOURNALIST: Okay, thank you. Mr Smith, we all know that the US Defense Minister has reiterated its position at the Shangri-La Summit, said US will not only maintain its ties with traditional allies like Australia or Japan and South Korea, but also to strengthen the ties with new partners like Vietnam, like India. So how will this strategic shift influence the security situation in this region?
STEPHEN SMITH: And what Secretary Panetta also made clear is that he wants to enhance the United States' military to military and defence to defence arrangements, and practical cooperation and relationship with China. We welcome very much the fact that Secretary of State for Defense Panetta will visit China this year.
And so, yes, the United States is maintaining and indeed enhancing its engagement in the Asia-Pacific. That's a good thing. It's also a good thing that the United States wants to enhance its engagement with China.
As I've said in my remarks, the bilateral relationship on every front, including military to military and defence to defence, the bilateral relationship between the United States and China is probably the most important bilateral relationship we'll see in this century but, equally, the bilateral relationship between China and India, the bilateral relationship between India and the United States will also be deeply significant and very important.
But at the heart of Australia's analysis is that it's absolutely essential that China and the United States have a positive, a constructive and forward-looking bilateral relationship.
Thanks very much.