TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH SUHASINI HAIDAR, CNN IBN
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 DECEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Uranium; India; Piracy.
SUHASINI HAIDAR: Australian Defence Minister, Stephen Smith is in India at an interesting time, just after the Australian Government has voted to lift sanctions against India for the sale of uranium, and he joins us here on CNN IBN.
Minister Smith, I would like to come to the uranium issue, but also first to your discussions with Defence Minister A. K. Antony. What sort of announcements are we really expecting on closer strategic cooperation? There is much speculation about further naval exercises between India and Australia?
STEPHEN SMITH: We have agreed to do a number of things. We had a very productive meeting. Firstly I met with A. K. Antony and then with the Service Chiefs, and we have agreed that all of the strategic reasons why we entered into a strategic partnership in 2009 and also the security declaration at the time, all of those reasons remain true.
So we have agreed that we can and should do more in terms of practical cooperation. We are firstly going to have a 1.5 Track Dialogue in the Defence and security area, that will be a mix of academic and think-tanks and officials, and so adding to our strategic thought process. We have a 1.5 Track Dialogue with Japan and Indonesia.
Secondly we have agreed we can and should do more in the naval and maritime area. We are both maritime nations, we are both Indian Ocean rim countries, we have a good working relationship so far as our Navy is concerned. But there are a range of things we believe we can do in the maritime space. Australia is a strong supporter of India’s initiative, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which Australia will host in 2014.
We had a good conversation about piracy [indistinct] there is a lot more we can do in the Navy space. Finally I was very pleased that Mr Antony has accepted my invitation to come to Australia. So we will find an agreeable and convenient time in 2012 for him to visit Australia and that is a very good thing because it sets us up for annual Ministerial dialogues. We have met in 2010, we met now, and we will meet next year in Australia.
SUHASINI HAIDAR: Alright so closer cooperation in Defence, of course you are the first Australian leader to visit India after the Government and the Labor Party agreed to lift sanctions, how soon are we likely to see this being put into action really, in terms of uranium exports to India?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we have changed our policy, we are now authorised to export uranium to India. Of course our previous policy approach was to only export uranium to a country that has signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and a bilateral safeguards agreement.
India, of course has made it clear since 1967 that it does not propose to enter into the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, so next year the work will start of officials formalising an official bilateral safeguards agreement and then export of uranium will follow. It will be a commercial matter at the time, but the important thing is, from a policy point of view we have removed what some saw as an irritant in the relationship and that is a very good thing.
It has been warmly welcomed by Minister Antony, warmly welcomed by Indian officials, warmly welcomed by India. I am obviously very pleased to be the first Australian Minister to visit after the decision was made but the real thrust of our conversation today was an agreement that we can do more, we should do more and will do more so far as our military to military and defence to defence practical cooperation and relationship is concerned.
SUHASINI HAIDAR: And of course, this is a big U-turn for the Labor Party itself, because before when you came to power you reversed the former Government’s decision to lift the sanctions against India. Former Primer Minister John Howard speaking to CNN IBN last week, in fact, said that you had ‘simply wasted the last four years’, would you agree?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we had a long-standing party position and commitment. Australia like India has been historically very active on disarmament. We had, for many years since the early 1980s attached ourselves to a public policy position of not supporting the export of uranium to a country that has not signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.
What changed in all of this now, in our view, is India voluntarily undertaking to put itself under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and this came about when India sought approval of those bodies after the India-United States Civil Nuclear Arrangement.
Australia was a member of the Board of Governors at the time, we are a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and we strongly supported approval in those two forums; so lifting our ban on export of uranium is a natural consequence of it. We have a long-standing party policy commitment.
There is no one like an Indian politician to understand how difficult it can be to change a long-standing party position and what we have done is a very good thing. It also, importantly, recognises that India is the world’s largest democracy, there has never been a suggestion of proliferation from India, but importantly it is also a rising power. In the course of the first half of this century, India, the United States and China will be the three great super powers and India needs to be accorded that status and that in part is what our decision has done.
SUHASINI HAIDAR: Alright, you are making that exception for India. There are also reports that Pakistan has actually asked for a similar lifting of sanctions against Pakistan as well. Is that going to come?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I said before I left Australia, that is not in contemplation. Circumstances which attend to India are unique, India bringing itself under the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group but India is also, as I said, the world’s largest democracy and a rising power, so there is no contemplation as far as Australia is concerned that this will be extended to any other country.
There are special and unique circumstances which pertain to India, our decision reflects that. It also reflects that a part of the reason that the world is moving to Asia, is moving to the Pacific, moving to the Indian Ocean is the rise of India, and it needs to be accorded that status, and that is what we have done.
SUHASINI HAIDAR: Australia was among the first countries actually to put these sanctions against India in the past few years. As you pointed out, this has been a big thorn in the relations between India and Australia. As you look back, do you think it was perhaps a mistake to have made as many stringent clauses against India on the subject of nuclear-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it wasn’t a decision that was made against India. In the 1980s when the decision was made originally, it was a decision made in support of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. So it was not a decision which was aimed against India or any one particular country.
Given the changes that occurred in 2008-2009 with the recognition by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency of the India-United States Civil Nuclear arrangement, it didn’t make sense to continue with our own policy and that is the fundamental reason why we changed it.
A. K. Antony warmly welcomed me and was very appreciative of this but putting the uranium issue to one side, in some respects, more importantly what we have agreed is that all of the reasons we entered into this strategic partnership, all the reasons that we signed the declaration on security in 2009, all those reasons continue, and we need to do more of a practical cooperative nature to reflect that, and that is what we have agreed to do, particularly on the naval and maritime security.
SUHASINI HAIDAR: When it comes to strategic cooperation, of course your colleague Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd quoted as I have been saying something he clarified later, the possibility of a India-US-Australia strategic partnership. Do you see any chance of that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it wasn’t raised in my discussions with A. K. Antony or the Service Chiefs and my own analysis in that respect, there were discussion papers that have been released by a number of think tanks both in Australia and in India that suggest that India, the United States and Australia might want to think about a trilateral strategic dialogue. For example, Australia has entered into a strategic dialogue with the United States and Japan, but that is not something that we have pursued or suggested or progressed as a Government. It was suggested by some think tanks, and hasn’t been a part of our conversations
SUHASINI HAIDAR: In fact India, Japan and the US will have a trilateral dialogue later this month, the question really are more is one of these partnerships really a signal of the worries in the region over China’s military might, particularly its naval power in the Indian ocean within the region.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well China is a growing power as well. All we ask of China is that as its economy grows it is certainly entitled to enhance its military prowess and capability, all we ask is that it is clear and transparent about its strategic intentions. I have also seen the suggestion that some of these arrangements are about containing China. Australia does not have a policy of containing China, it is not possible to contain China.
What we do want to ensure is that China, as it emerges as a great power to use a phrase coined by Bob Zoellick "is a responsible stakeholder” or as the Chinese themselves describe as a harmonious environment. So, when there is strategic change there is always a need of the part of the region to deal clearly and calmly and sensibly with that change, but it is not just the rise of China, it is also the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined, the ongoing seminal importance of the United States and our region has to deal with this.
It is not possible to contain China, so the suggestions of a containment policy are to me shallow suggestions. It is about making sure our region and the world manages the change in a strategic environment, and the rise of India is as much a part of that as any other factor.
SUHASINI HAIDAR: When you say it is not possible to contain China, do you think Asia needs to worry about the rise of China if it is uncontainable?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Australia is confident, we are confident and positive and optimistic that China will emerge as a responsible stakeholder, will emerge as a country which respects international norms and we want that to occur, and that is what we say with China as part of our bilateral relationship with China. We have made a strategic partnership, we have a comprehensive bilateral relationship with China, we have an alliance with the United States, and none of these things are mutually exclusive; it is not a zero sum game.
It is possible to have a comprehensive relationship with China, it is possible to have a strategic partnership with India, it is possible to have an alliance with the United States, and none of these things are inconsistent with the other. It is a matter for, in the course of this century, the world has to come to grips with China in a period of strategic flux, and we are confident and optimistic we can deal with that.
What we do want to see in our part of the world is ongoing peace, ongoing prosperity and India is the largest democracy in the world, it has got a very important role to play in there, the United States has got a very important role to play in there, as an emerging China has an important role to play in there.
SUHASINI HAIDAR: And finally, when it comes to piracy, you mentioned India and Australia working together, what is the dynamics of that, how does that work?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the margins of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, which is of course the capital of West Australia, there was a meeting of Indian Ocean rim countries, Ministers and officials. Australia and India took part in it and we agreed that this is a present and emerging, growing difficulty for countries in the Indian Ocean, and we need to make sure that we are taking every step possible to deal with this scourge of piracy.
Australia has agreed to host a further meeting on piracy next year. We need to make sure there is a very solid international legal basis for action against piracy and make sure that the regional and international communities are coordinated and we need to do a lot more work on detention and prosecution and incarceration of pirates. A number of Indian Ocean countries, including the Seychelles and Mauritius, have got a growing experience in this area and-
SUHASINI HAIDAR: India certainly – bore the brunt of a lot of these pirate attacks, there is also a move to rename piracy or to include piracy in terror laws. Is that something Australia would be?
STEPHEN SMITH: One of the things we spoke about was that in an ideal world, the international legal basis to deal with piracy would be the Chapter 7 Resolution from the Security Council. We need to get a much more focused effort by the international community on piracy.
Some people view it as a problem in the Horn of Africa, but it more broadly spread than that and it is a growing Indian Ocean challenge. We need to work closely together to combat it, and that is what we have agreed to do-