TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP – AUSTRALIA-INDIA DEFENCE MINISTERS’ DIALOGUE
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 5 June 2013
TOPICS: Australia-India Defence Ministers’ Dialogue; Afghanistan.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you very much for attending, I'm very pleased to formally welcome India's Defence Minister, A. K. Antony, to Australia.
This is indeed an historic visit, this is the first visit to Australia by an Indian Defence Minister. Yesterday Minister Antony arrived in Perth, our Indian Ocean capital, and we laid a wreath at the War Memorial in Perth at Kings Park. And then I hosted a reception of Western Australian and Indian community leaders in honour of the Minister's visit.
Today, we started our program by laying a wreath at the War Memorial in the company of the Director of the War Memorial Brendan Nelson, who the Minister had met when Brendan was Defence Minister in 2007.
And we have just conducted a formal Australia-India Defence Minister's Dialogue. We will shortly leave here for a call upon the Prime Minister and then conclude the formal part of the Minister's visit with a lunch at Duntroon.
It's a great honour for me as Australia's Defence Minister to host the first visit by an Indian Defence Minister to Australia. It is not the first time we have met, indeed this is the fourth occasion in less than three years that Minister Antony and I have met, either in India, in Australia, in Hanoi for the ASEAN Defence Minister's Plus meeting or in Singapore for the Shangri-la Dialogue.
We have agreed a range of enhanced practical cooperation between Australia and India, and that is reflected in the joint statement which has been issued to you, and I will draw attention to a couple of those key points.
The relationship between Australia and India is on the rise. And that is reflected not just by the enhanced military to military and defence to defence engagement, but by the bilateral relationship generally.
In terms of specific things that we have agreed today, India will provide a ship for the International Fleet Review, which will be conducted in Sydney in October. We welcome that very much.
Because of our shared military history which started in Gallipoli as part of the 2015 Centenary celebrations, a book will be commissioned on the Indian contribution to the Gallipoli campaign, as part of our Centenary celebrations. And yesterday I presented the Minister with an archive photo of the Indian Artillery Units' contribution to the Gallipoli campaign.
Importantly, we have agreed that in 2015 we will conduct a maritime exercise and our two Navies will effect that. We have also agreed to continue our regular meetings and to continue the engagement between our respective defence organisations and our militaries.
India is on the rise. And this is reflected by the enhanced engagement that Australia has effected with India over the last half dozen years. It is also reflected by our Defence White Paper referring to the strategic arc that we now find from the Pacific to India, what we now describe as the Indo-Pacific, with Southeast Asia at its geographical centre.
India and Australia are both maritime countries, in Australia's case a maritime continent. So maritime security, maritime engagement is very important to us. That is why we are working very closely in Iraq, the Indian Ocean Association for Regional Cooperation and also IONS, our Indian Ocean Naval conclave which Australia will host in Perth - a meeting of the IONS conclave in 2014.
Our engagement in the ASEAN Defence Minister's Plus and the Shangri-La Dialogue continues to grow from year to year. So we have spoken today about not just enhancing our practical cooperation in the bilateral sense but also to continue to enhance our cooperation and collaboration in the important regional architecture that I have outlined. And what is true of Defence Ministers is also true of our Prime Ministers and our Foreign Ministers through the ASEAN related architecture, in particular the East Asia Summit.
So Minister, we are very pleased to see you here. I would ask you to make some remarks. We will then take a couple of questions only, and then we will head off to Parliament House for a call upon the Prime Minister. Minister?
A. K. ANTONY: Minister Smith and friends from the media. First of all I wish my best wishes to all of you. I am very happy to be in Australia. While the visit is very short. I am very happy about the visit, and also about the outcomes from the visit.
I am here on the special invitation on my colleague and counterpart, Mr Smith. I am very happy, on this occasion I could meet Brendan Nelson, with whom also I had very close interactions It's a true democratic spirit and, I appreciate that.
One comment, we are the two great democracies in the world. India and Australia, two great democracies. Vibrant democracies, unique democracies. We are very strong democratic institutions.
India has a proud and free democracy - very vibrant, totally free. That is Indian democracy's speciality. And we are very vibrant and totally independent judicially. So these are the similarities between the two countries.
It's a diverse century. Both our countries will have to work together in many areas. That close relation is already there. It is now gaining new momentum.
The visit of your Prime Minister to Delhi in 2012, October, was a landmark visit, it's a turning point. After that, the relationship is gaining a new momentum [inaudible]. In the area of economics, politics, trade, commerce, education, information [inaudible] communications, all these areas, development is moving very fast.
Of course relations in the area of defence is one of the important facets of our close relations. Over the years, our defence relations are improving steadily, especially after the signing of a MOU on Defence Cooperation 2006 onwards. The relation is moving steadily.
Already there is regular interactions between our defence establishments, between [inaudible]. Regular visits, exchanges, trading programs, exercises, all of these things are growing steadily. I am sure this visit will also further strengthen our relations, already cordially strong relations will be further strengthened.
I had very detailed discussion with Minister Smith, not once, not twice, thrice. Yesterday we had two lots of discussions, one discussion at Perth. I landed in Perth first because [inaudible]. Very fruitful discussions, short, but frank discussions, free and frank discussions. We shared each others' perception about that, Indian-Australian relations, [inaudible] relations, and also developing [inaudible] situations.
We came to the conclusions that the emerging world, the emerging region. [inaudible] in the coming years. We discussed at length about our bilateral relations, and also our relations in the whole region also, regional [inaudible]. We will strengthen our bilateral relations, and work closely in the regional architecture, like IOR-ARC, IONS, and other areas.
So this visit is very fruitful. I'm sure we will be able to work closely in the areas which are common to us. And in areas where both countries are concerned about the security aspect. Thank you very much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you very much Minister, we've got a chance for a couple of questions.
JOURNALIST: A question to both of you if I may, Catherine McGrath from Australian Network.
Minister Antony, Australia is dealing with the strategic relationship with China and the US pivot to Asia which Australia's very involved with. Can you give an indication of India's position on both of those issues, and I understand there's a very big debate in India about its strategic relationship with China.
And Minister Smith could you also comment on any details of inter-operability plans or actual specific exercises with India?
A. K. ANTONY: China is our closest neighbour. We have a very long land-bond with China. And our relation starts, not this century, but last century. Our relation starts from immemorial. Mainly people to people relations, cultural relations. And now, even though there are unresolved border issues, both countries and the relation of both countries, it's farsightedness to [inaudible] decisions.
We should move forward. Our relations is expanding in the area of economics, trade, commerce, education in all other areas. Our relation is [inaudible], that through dialogue and discussions we must find a solution to the pending issues, for that we have already installed mechanisms to resolve issues through discussions.
On the whole, our border is peaceful. That also is the [inaudible] decision by both areas. We feel our Prime Minister repeatedly telling, every time, that there is rarely so large, there is even a space for India and China to [inaudible]. So that is our belief about China's race.
A few weeks back Chinese new Prime Minister Li visited India. During the visit both countries at the highest level had [inaudible] third world discussions about all the issues, bilateral issues, regional issues and [inaudible] issues.
So we decided to increase our relations in the area of economics, trade and other areas. Of late there is [inaudible] relations also now start. We are going to join the next stage with Chinese military. So the kinds of things are going on, that is the [inaudible] of relations with China.
India-United States relations is steadily improving. We are two great democracies in the world, greatest democracies in world, we have many things in common. So both our countries, highest [inaudible], in this new contest we must also [inaudible], not only for the benefit of two countries, for world peace security. We have to work toward that, so India-United States relations also now gathering new momentum, it will further gather momentum. This is my observation about relations between China and the United States.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you Minister. Well as the White Paper makes clear and as I've made clear previously, we see into the immediate future the most important bilateral relationship in our region and the globe as the United States-China relationship. They have a highly intense economic relationship, but need to grow their security, strategic, political, military and defence relationship to the same level. And we welcome the efforts that they have made today.
We are optimistic about China's emergence as a power, and optimistic about the productive and positive nature of that bilateral relationship. The point the White Paper also makes, and I've made previously and made to Minister Antony is that we also see India on the rise. And in due course we see not just two great powers, but three great powers; India, United States and China. And so in due course, in the course of this century the relationship between India and China, India and the United States and China and the United States in our view will be of roughly equal importance. Which is why we welcome very much the ongoing positive and productive efforts that China and India make in their own relationship.
The most successful visit to China by Prime Minister Li in the last couple of weeks, and on going efforts at enhancing the practical cooperation between China and India. These are nothing but positive developments.
In our own case in terms of specificities, the focus of enhanced practical cooperation between Australia and India has sensibly been at a maritime level, Navy to Navy. And in the short term a contribution by India of a major fleet unit to the International Fleet Review, that may well see a port visit potentially to HMAS Stirling, but that will be matter for the two Chiefs of Navy to work out operationally. But certainly we welcome the contribution to the International Fleet Review, that's significant.
But secondly and more importantly we've agreed to do a maritime exercise between our two Navies, and we'll plan and do that in 2015. So that's the significant maritime focus, we've been talking about a maritime or a naval exercise for some time, and we've agreed to do it on that timetable.
STEPHEN SMITH: I think that's the obvious place, yes-
JOURNALIST: Minister do you have any idea about just what form that exercise will take, will it be exercising high-end war fighting skills, or search and rescue?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've made the decision at our level, we'll now hand that over to our respective Chiefs of Navy, and our planners - it'll be a significant exercise.
JOURNALIST: Minister Antony, given that India has historically had a very long and close relationship with Afghanistan, that's been overshadowed by events there over the last few decades. How do you feel the situation is going to develop in Afghanistan once the main international operations cease there by the end of 2014?
Are you optimistic for the future of Afghanistan, and how do you see the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan? And do you believe that India can counter that in some way? I was going to ask Mr Smith if you could give us any indication of have there been any decisions, are we closer to decisions on what will happen through 2014 and after?
A. K. ANTONY: Afghanistan is one of our closest neighbours. And before we [inaudible] in [inaudible] in 1847, Afghanistan was our next-door neighbour. And people [inaudible] relations with Afghanistan is unique, is [inaudible], cultural, sentimental, and to some extent religious cooperation also is there. Relations are there.
So more than anybody we are concerned about always [inaudible] Afghanistan. Last many years India is helping Afghanistan in a big way, not militarily, in the area of development, reconstruction. We can do that support.
What will happen after 2014 I can't really predict an [inaudible]. But we are a bit worried about that, because we want a stable, peaceful Afghanistan. It is a matter of concern to us that fell out of actions in 2014.
So we wish that the percent [inaudible] taken by Afghan governments, for a peaceful resolution of their problems, we wish them to succeed. But we believe that whatever solutions comes, it should be Afghan-led, it should be inclusive, and our role is complimentary only.
So we hope for the better. Too early to predict also.
STEPHEN SMITH: In terms of Australia's view, we've made the point that after all of the effort and the tears and the pain that's gone into Afghanistan, not just from Australia's perspective but the international community's perspective over the last more than decade. We need to ensure that post the transition in 2014 there continues to be support for the Afghan National Security Forces, that's reflected by Australia's contribution of $100m per year for three years starting in 2015. And reflected by a substantial international community contribution to continue to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces.
We've also indicated, as have other nations, a view - that an agreement to make an ongoing contribution so far as training is concerns, particularly officer training. We've also made it clear that if there's an appropriate mandate, that we would be in a position to make a Special Forces contribution, either training or counter-terrorism, or both.
And our rationale for indicating for some period of time that we're prepared to make those various contributions is for the same reason that the Minister outlines. We want to ensure that Afghanistan is stable and peaceful, and does not become a base or a breeding ground for international terrorism.
We welcome the fact that in 2010/2011 India entered into a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan reflecting the long-term commitment of the international community to supporting and sustaining Afghanistan. And we did likewise in the margins of the Chicago Summit, as have NATO, as has the United States, as have other countries.
Final point I'll make is the same point that the Minister made, which is in the end peace and stability in Afghanistan will not be found by military or enforcement action alone. Which is why we encourage the efforts at peace and reconciliation which are being made. I've had discussions in recent times, in the United States and in Singapore with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. And we're awaiting the outcome of discussions between the United States and Afghanistan for a bilateral security agreement, what we would call a Status of Forces Agreement before we can proceed further forward.
In Afghanistan over the weekend, I had discussions with Foreign Minister Rassoul and National Security Advisor Spanta. They briefed me on the most recent efforts at peace and reconciliation, which of course I won't detail. But Australia, like India, believes that those efforts need to be Afghan-led. And long-term stability in Afghanistan and in the region will be served by those successful peace and reconciliation efforts.
I can tell by the actions of the Secretary that that's it for questions. So thank you very much. Minister, thank you.