TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH FRAN KELLY, RADIO NATIONAL
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 JUNE 2012
TOPICS: Australia-China relations; Defence White Paper.
FRAN KELLY: The Defence Minister joins us now from Beijing. Stephen Smith, welcome to Breakfast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Fran, good morning.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, you met last night with Xi Jinping, expected to soon take over from Hu Jintao, China's President. What did you say to him to allay some of the concerns we were just hearing about there, about Australia's military relationship with America, and the latest strengthening of that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the call that I did on the Vice-President, of letting [inaudible] exclusively and extensively on the Australia, China bi-lateral relationship. Part of the reason for my visit is the 40th Anniversary of our early adoption- of our early diplomatic recognition of China and our early adoption of the One-China policy. And the Vice-President has been to Western Australia, my own home state, on a number of occasions. So it was very much a warm and friendly conversation about how our relationship has developed quite extraordinarily over the last forty years.
We didn't dwell on those issues that you've referred to, nor indeed did we dwell on those issues at my formal meeting with General Liang, the Defense Minister. But my meeting with the Vice-President was essentially, if you like, a stock take of forty years of a relationship. And being positive and optimistic and constructive about the future, both on the economic front but also on our defence to defence and military to military ties.
FRAN KELLY: The Vice-President didn't raise the issue of the US Marines being based in the top end, and the other elements that came out of the visit by the US President last year?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no. We had a warm and friendly conversation, we've started on the 40th Anniversary, the fact that our economic engagement was now substantial, starting with minerals and then petroleum resources from largely Western Australia, but now a comprehensive economic relationship across the board. Our defence-to-defence and military ties have seen for the last 15 years, a strategic dialogue between the Chief of the General Staff and the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, and the Secretary of the Australian Defence Department. I'd agreed with General Liang that we would now have a Defence Minister's dialogue that we would meet on a regular basis. He and I have met every year since I've been Defence Minister. It was a forward-looking, positive, and constructive engagement about what is frankly a remarkable 40 year period which has served Australia well.
FRAN KELLY: Given the relationship ship, as you say, you've already been developing with the Vice-President, he has visited Australia, has some familiarity with this country, perhaps many of us don't know much about him. What can you tell us about him in terms of, if we can expect any change in the leadership style of China, and particularly in the Australia [indistinct] relations? If he takes over as President.
STEPHEN SMITH: Quite correct, Fran- it's not for us to anticipate, what I can say is that he knows Australia well, he's been there on a number of occasions over the years. And he indicated quite clearly that he particularly enjoys visiting Western Australia, he was impressed with his first visit to Australia. He started in the West and then went up to the Pilbara, so he's familiar with our iron ore industry.
He expressed and an interest that one place he hadn't been to in Australia was Tasmania, so he's keen to get to Tasmania. So, if he does become the President, then I'm confident that we will have very positive and warm relationship with them. He was very relaxed and very friendly. It always helps when one's formally meeting with the Chinese that you've met them before, and you've got something in common. And we had done that and we had, if I say so myself, Western Australia in common. So that's a good thing, he'll be a very positive and constructive senior leader, if the transition is effected, as many people expect.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, you're the first Australian Defence Minister to pay a visit to China since Brendan Nelson back in 2007. On this visit you're there with the Chief of the Defence Force, David Hurley, and the head of the Defence Department, Duncan Lewis. Is this a bridge building visit, and with those anxieties in mind - admittedly you didn't, weren't discussing with the Vice-President but we heard them voiced by one of the former Generals there earlier about our decision to have the Marines stationed in the Northern Territory.
Are we actively working to build bridges, and perhaps even on a more practical level, engage in joint exercises or something like that, some kind of exchange with China? Because say part of the agenda was committed to developing even stronger military relations with China through practical activities and dialogue. What kind of practical activities are we talking about?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what we're seeing in terms of the defence-to-defence and military-to-military relationships over the last three years since I became Minister in September 2010. I've met every year with General Liang, we've agreed we'll establish a formal Defence Ministers' dialogue, and we'll meet on a regular basis. And that now occurs not just in, say, Beijing or Canberra, but in the margins of the Shangri-La Dialogue, or in the margins of the ASEAN [indistinct]. So there are plenty of opportunities now where people can meet additional to their home countries.
Secondly, as I say, we've had a 15 year defence dialogue at the highest level. But we've also in the last few years seen, for example, that for the first time Australian Defence Force personnel engaged in an exercise in Sichuan Province last year, humanitarian exercise and disaster relief. We've invited the Chinese to do the second leg of that in Australia, and that's been agreed, we will work through the details. We've also seen for the first time in 2010, a Naval exercise with a live firing HMAS Warramunga. We've had HMAS Ballarat up here in Shanghai in the last period, and we'll see a return visit from some PLA Navy ships into Australia. They'll be finishing an anti-piracy operation. So we're going to have essentially a lessons learned discussion about anti-piracy.
So that's building a substantial practical cooperation approach, and that's a good thing because it gets us at the military to military and defence to defence level, knowing them better, building the mutual respect, building the mutual trust. On the United States engagement, the point I've made here publically, and privately, in my meeting with General Liang, is that we very much see no inconsistency with an alliance with the United States which we've had for more than 60 years and our engagement with China.
FRAN KELLY: The point is not whether we see it is it? I mean that's clear we don't see that, that's why we pursue them, but it's just how it's viewed in those countries. How does China see it?
STEPHEN SMITH: And the point I've made here is at the heart of any expressions of concern about Australia is really an expression of concern about the United States. If you say we're concerned about 250 Marines in Australia, what you're really saying is that you're worried about the United States-China relationship.
And I've made the point here strongly, publicly and privately that in the course of the first half of this century when we see change of strategic influences in our part of the world, the movement of political, economics, strategic and military influence 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, not just the regional influence.
Our region and the world has got to move to accommodate that and effectively manage it. At the heart of that, central to that, is the bilateral relationship between the United States and China and we urge both our United States colleagues and our Chinese friends that that's the most important relationship we see and that has to be a positive and constructive one, and that's why I welcome very much the fact that General Liang visited the United States recently, the first visit by a Chinese Defense Minister to the United States in nearly a decade- in nine years. Leon Panetta will do a return trip here.
So that's really at the heart of it. And we say to China as we do to the United States, there's no inconsistency between an alliance with the United States, and a comprehensive engagement with China. Central to no inconsistency in that is a good relationship between China and the United States, and that's what we urge and that is frankly essential to ongoing peace and stability and security and opportunities for prosperity, investment and trade in the Asia Pacific.
FRAN KELLY: It's sixteen past eight on Breakfast. My guest this morning is Defence Minister Stephen Smith, he's in Beijing. Minister, central to all of that as you say mutual respect and trust, over the past few days here there have been these reports of a secret chapter in the White Paper, the Defence White Paper of 2009 which allegedly war gamed a plan to fight a conflict with China. Now you've dismissed the report as nonsense. Do you say there was no such consideration and has there been any response to these reports in Beijing?
STEPHEN SMITH: It was raised at the [indistinct] questions at the Centre of International Strategic Studies. It wasn't raised in my formal or official meetings with General Liang or the Vice President. And I said in Australia, before I left for China, I've said here at the Centre for International Strategic Studies and also on media, that the story frankly is erroneous, there is no such alleged secret chapter.
The White Paper itself in 2009 itself said that there were classified assessments on which the White Paper itself made judgements. They don't form part of the White Paper but they're a classified document which you'd expect, analysis-
FRAN KELLY: So one of those assessments was that we would be ready to go to war alongside the US against China?
STEPHEN SMITH: I've made the point in Australia and I've made the point here, I make it again on your program, the assertions that I've seen in newspaper reports of this are erroneously based. There's no such chapter, and that the assertion that the White Paper 2009 was in that manner or generally aimed at China is just wrong and this is an important point that the 2009 White Paper was not aimed at China, the 2013 White Paper will not be aimed at China. And I've essentially said privately in Singapore- because the story first emerged on Saturday- that the story is erroneously based and it can't be relied upon.
FRAN KELLY: And just finally Minister, talking about trust building, a lot of Australians are I think intrigued to read that before you entered China, you left the laptops and the mobile phones and other electronic devices in Hong Kong because you feared being spied upon. Now you've visited China before, a couple of times as Foreign Minister, are you worried you were bugged on those occasions. Is that what led you to do this?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's my third visit to China. That's the first point-
FRAN KELLY: And you're phone's been bugged in past visits?
STEPHEN SMITH: My first visit as Defence Minister. Simply make this general point. Ministers are entitled to make arrangements and take precautions to protect the confidentiality of their communications-
FRAN KELLY: Of course, but we're wondering why you've done it this time, is it because you've had bad experiences in the past?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we do it in Australia and we do it when we're overseas. It's not the first occasion that such arrangements have been made. There are different arrangements for different ministers and different delegations. It's not the first time-
FRAN KELLY: In different countries or only in China?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, no, no, in different countries. There's a general point here which is worth making which is this is not just an issue about governments protecting the confidentiality of their communications.
This story will come as no surprise to my international colleagues, it will come as no surprise to members of industry or members of commerce. It's not just governments these days who work to protect the confidentiality of their information, it's private industry and commerce. It's one of those facts of the modern day. Many people might regard that as regrettable but whether it's in Australia, whether it's overseas, Ministers are entitled to take steps to protect the confidentiality of their communications and we do that on a regular basis, not on a one-off basis.
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Fran, thanks very much.