TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Tony Jones, Lateline
TRANSCRIPTION: Proof copy and E & OE
DATE: 06 June 2012
TOPICS: Australia-China relations; Defence White Paper; US Alliance
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: The Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, joins us now from Beijing. Minister, Thanks for being there. Let me start by asking you why it was necessary to take these precautions against electronic espionage in China?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Ministers are entitled to ensure the confidentiality of their communications. So this is nothing unusual, nothing extraordinary. These arrangements are made. There are different arrangements made depending upon Ministers, depending upon the delegations, and this is not the only occasion that such arrangements have been made in my case. I'm not proposing to go into details, but Ministers of the Crown are entitled to take steps to ensure the confidentiality of their communications.
TONY JONES: Well, to put this frankly-because the Chinese, as we've just seen, are being very frank with you in the talks there- were you worried about being bugged by Chinese spies?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's longstanding practice for the Australian Government and its officials to take steps to ensure the confidentiality of communications between Ministers and communications between Ministers and officials. It is as simple and as straightforward as that. Governments do it, private corporations do it for industrial reasons, so, this is just part of the modern world. As I say, it's not the first time that arrangements like these have been made, and it's not the only Minister's visit where such arrangements have been effected.
TONY JONES: But were you worried about being bugged by Chinese spies? Is that the reason?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I'm perfectly entitled to want to be confident about the confidentiality of Australian Government communications, and that's what I do when I'm abroad and that's what I do when I'm at home. And that's the longstanding practice of governments, the longstanding practice of government authorities and government officers in Australia, and when they travel overseas.
TONY JONES: Is there any evidence that your phones or computers have been hacked into while in China in the past?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Tony, I'm not proposing to go into my own personal circumstances. I simply say again that there are different arrangements in place for different Ministers, there are different arrangements in place for different travelling delegations, but the Australian Government, as is the case with other governments, as is the case with private corporations, are perfectly entitled to take steps to ensure the confidentiality of their communications. We do that at home, we do that abroad. It's a fact of the modern day, the modern era.
TONY JONES: I appreciate you're entitled to do it; no-one's denying that. But you wouldn't, for example, do it if you went to the United States, would you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we always take steps to ensure the confidentiality of our communications. And as I've said to you, this is not the first occasion in respect of which arrangements have been put in place for a delegation that I've been leading and it's certainly not the case - not the only case so far as Ministerial delegations generally are concerned.
TONY JONES: Is it always in China, or in other countries as well?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think I've just said to you, Tony, it's not the first occasion and this is not something that is restricted to any one country. We do it at home, we do it abroad.
TONY JONES: Alright, okay, let's move on to another sensitive matter. We've just heard Chinese officials- in a terrific attack of open democracy- questioning Australia's alliance with the United States; also asking you quite directly whether or not there's been a secret chapter that you have, and the public doesn't have, of the 2009 White Paper on Defence, which includes a scenario for a military conflict with China. Does that exist or not?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, it doesn't. I first saw this current report, I think, on Saturday when I was at the Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore. I debunked it privately on a couple of occasions there. I debunked it on the Insiders program on Sunday. And I was asked a question today at a speech and a dialogue I had with one of the think tanks and debunked it again. There is no so-called secret chapter of the Defence White Paper. It was made quite clear when the 2009 White Paper was published that the White Paper, the basis for the White Paper included confidential assessments so far as the Australian Government was concerned. None of these confidential assessments bear any relationship to the suggested story or the asserted notion. So I described the story I think earlier in the week as a nonsense, and I described it today again as a nonsense. It has no factual base whatsoever.
TONY JONES: Well, I mean, you've called it a nonsense, absolutely, but David Uren, who wrote the book in which this appears, he's a careful and a credible journalist and he's absolutely standing by his sources. So, I mean, what do you say to him? He's clearly got someone who claims to have seen this.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what I say to the author of the book is that he's perfectly entitled to publish. He certainly didn't come to me seeking comment. He certainly didn't go to the chief of the Defence Force or the Secretary of the Defence Department. He certainly didn't go to the senior officials who are involved in the preparation, for example, of the Force Posture Review in the run up to the 2009 White Paper.
He didn't go to the two officials who are primarily responsible for that work and dealing with the classified assessments that helped form the supporting documentation for the production of the White Paper. He hasn't done any of that. Well guess what, Tony- in the last few days, I have. And they have - those officials have- confirmed to me that the suggestion asserted by the newspaper reports surrounding Mr Uren's book have no basis in fact. They are erroneous.
Now, Mr Uren is a respected journalist. I enjoy from time to time reading his stuff on the economy. But it's the first time I've seen him enter into this area and I don't know who he spoke to. He certainly didn't speak to those people who were engaged in the production of the White Paper, and who helped the Government's assessment and consideration of that White Paper by preparing confidential assessments, none of which bear any relationship to the assertions made by Mr Uren. And I'm here not relying on his book- I haven't read it. I'm relying upon the newspaper reports which suggest extracts or a commentary from it.
TONY JONES: Well, I've spoken to him this evening to find out more detail, and as I say, he's standing by what he's saying. Let me just go - ask you this: the Force Posture Review that you've just talked about, is that classified?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Force Structure Review-
TONY JONES: Force Structure Review, I beg your pardon. The Force Structure Review, is that a classified document?
STEPHEN SMITH: The Force Structure Review is a classified document. It's one of those documents of a classified nature that is put together to help make any government form judgments about a white paper, the White Paper, and we're going through the same process for the production of the 2013 White Paper. As I understand the assertions in newspapers and from Mr Uren, the assertion is that the White Paper contained a top secret chapter which dealt with preparations for war so far as China was concerned. It's erroneous, it's just not the case.
TONY JONES: Well, I'll just interrupt you there. He's actually talking about the Force Structure Review. And so, let me ask you a simple question about that. Does that document include - does that document include the euphemism "major power adversary", and talk about a scenario for a conflict with a "major power adversary"?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've spoken through my office today again to the senior official, the senior Defence official who helped put together that force structure review, who was ultimately responsible for the presentation of that force structure review to the chief of the Defence Force and subsequently the national security committee of the Cabinet, and I'm assured by him that what is suggested by Mr Uren is simply not true.
Now, Mr Uren's entitled to stand by his story. I don't know whether I'm helping the sale of his book, or hindering the sale of his book. But I simply say what I've been saying for the last four days: the assertions, the basis that he is suggesting has been proceeded upon are simply wrong. The 2009 White Paper didn't have a secret chapter, it wasn't aimed at China, and the 2013 White Paper won't be aimed at China. It'll be aimed in the ongoing changes in our strategic considerations and the need to protect and defend our national security interests.
TONY JONES: Okay, well, we get confused here because the secret chapter is - what we're really talking about is the Force Structure Review, which is in fact secret.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, no, Tony, that's not right.
TONY JONES: No, no, well that's how it's been reported.
STEPHEN SMITH: Hang on, Tony. Let's look at the assertions.
TONY JONES: It's been reported as a secret chapter. That's not what he says in his book.
STEPHEN SMITH: It's been reported on Saturday - yeah, it's been reported on Saturday as being a secret chapter of a White Paper, which doesn't exist. You tell me he's standing by that story. Well he's standing by an assertion about a secret chapter which doesn't exist. End of story.
TONY JONES: No, it's not the end of the story, because he's actually talking about the confidential and secret Force Structure Review. And I'll just ask you this: wouldn't it actually make sense for the military to do precisely what the Pentagon does, and that is to war game possible scenarios of conflicts with potential future enemies? And if so, it wouldn't be beyond belief that they might use the term "major power adversary".
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Tony, having spoken to my office again today about this matter, having done that from Singapore over the weekend, they haven't spoken directly to the senior officer responsible for the force, for the preparation of the Force Structure Review. The answer is that the assertions made by Mr Uren are wrong, erroneous and is a faulty basis and an erroneous basis on which to proceed.
TONY JONES: Okay, let me ask you this- have you ever been advised, or does Australia have, any such thing as a major power adversary?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it's not a phrase, Tony, that's been used to me. It's not a phrase that's been used to me. When I consider these strategic matters, when you read what I say publicly, if you deal with me privately, if I'm speaking to think-tanks or to Chinese friends or American interlocutors, I make the very simple point that we are seeing a shift of strategic, economic, military influence to the Asia Pacific.
It's not just the rise of China. It's 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 and the ever-presence of the United States, which is not going away.
All of these things create a strategic flux, a strategic shift, and Australia, the regional community, the international community, needs to deal with that. And that is the basis upon which the 2013 White Paper will proceed and it's the basis on which the discussions I've had in China this week and the Shangri-la Dialogue over the weekend proceed.
TONY JONES: Okay, but you hear the sensitivity in that room. You hear sensitivity from Chinese people, worried about the relationship with the United States and whether it could at some point in the future turn war-like. Has the Government ever considered saying to the United States, "If you ever find yourself in a military conflict with China, count us out"?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we don't envisage that such an eventuality will arise. We say to the United States as we say to China, as I said to my Chinese Defence Minister counterpart, General Liang today and as I said publicly to the Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies at the speech and the dialogue, the single most important bilateral relationship in the course of the first half of this century is between China and the United States.
That has to be a positive and productive bilateral relationship. That is at the core of ongoing stability and security and peace and prosperity in our part of the world. And we say that to our United States friends and we say it to our Chinese friends and I certainly said it today to General Liang and welcomed the fact, welcomed the fact that he visited the United States recently, the first time in nine years that a Chinese defence minister has done so for what was in fact a very productive session between him and my US counterpart, Leon Panetta.
TONY JONES Okay, I mean, I ask that question because both - well, we had two former Prime Ministers, Malcolm Fraser, who's been urging Australia for years to make this case that it will not ever follow the United States into a war with China, and now more recently the former Prime Minister Paul Keating, is extremely worried that Australia's been locked into a US policy of containment of China. You hear the sensitivity from the Chinese.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I have said publicly and privately and I said it today at the Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies it's not possible to contain a country of 1.3 billion people. It's simply not possible. So, there is no containment policy so far as Australia is concerned. And you won't be able to contain another great country on the rise, India, which is also a country of over a billion people. So it can't be about containment.
It is about how does our region, how does the Asia Pacific or the Indo Pacific, if you're speaking also of India, how does it manage, how do we grapple with, how do we deal with in a peaceful and stable way the changes in this strategic influence. And the only way we can do that in the first instance is making sure that the bilateral relationships between these major powers are first class, not just economic and there's a very intense economic entanglement between the United States and China, but also military-to-military and defence-to-defence. And this is what we encourage. We encourage it of our United States friends, we encourage it of our Chinese friends.
TONY JONES: So - well, very briefly because this concern from two very senior Australian figures, both former Prime Ministers, has been expressed publicly. Have you taken their fears and concerns on board?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think the point that I have taken from former Prime Minister Keating is a point that I expressed in similar terms to the Institute of Strategic Studies today, which is: any rising power, any nation state that's growing, that's increasing its economy, as China is, is entitled to at the same time increase, for example, its military capability to reflect that growth in its economy. And so - and we see China doing that.
What we do need to ensure is that there is the clarity about the strategic intention. And so, the thing that I have urged upon our Chinese friends here on this visit is to ensure that there's no strategic competition between the United States and China, but that China and the United States work through these issues, grow the mutual respect and trust that is required, not just nation state-to-nation state, but defence-to-defence and military-to-military arrangements.
And on the basis of the conversations I've had with Leon Panetta and General Liang, both were pleased with the progress that they made in their Defence ministerial meeting in Washington recently and they're both looking forward to seeking to make further progress when Leon Panetta comes to Beijing later this year. That's not to say that there aren't differences, not to say that there aren't issues or difficulties, not to say that there aren't obstacles, but the key thing is to just stick at and to continue to try and build a forward-looking relationship which will reduce the prospect of misunderstanding, miscalculation and misjudgement and allow us to see continuing economic growth and prosperity which we've seen in the Asia Pacific effectively since the end of World War II. And in that cause, the United States has been a very considerable positive influence.
TONY JONES: Well, Stephen Smith, we'll have to leave you there. We thank you very much for coming in to join us tonight.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Tony. Thanks very much.