Sixth Seoul Defence Dialogue Keynote

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Senator the Hon Marise Payne

Minister for Defence

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11 September 2017

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and to Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon and Minister Song Young-moo. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here this morning and meet with you all. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the Seoul Defense Dialogue has a very well-earned reputation as a major forum for fostering understanding and cooperation on regional and global security issues. It has become an important fixture in high level discussion on strategic challenges. The more interconnected and interdependent the world becomes, the more important this forum becomes. I'm very honoured by the invitation to deliver this year's 2017 keynote address.       

The powerful message that the introductory video presented this morning reminded us of the importance of the issues that are going to be discussed in the dialogue this week. We meet in the aftermath of the most recent and most dangerous provocations by North Korea to date: the claimed detonation of a hydrogen bomb and the intermediate range ballistic missile tests last week which overflew Japan. Australia unequivocally condemns North Korea's flagrant defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which are specifically aimed at North Korea's illegal nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. And we stand together with the Republic of Korea, with Japan, with other like-minded nations in meeting and addressing the challenges of such provocations through collective action.       

Pyongyang's dangerous behaviour continues to be completely at odds with the spirit of growth and connection that have defined this region since North Korea's in aggression was first felt more than 70 years ago. Visiting Seoul today in 2017, it is hard to imagine the absolute horror of the Korean War. When North Korean forces attacked from north of the 38th Parallel, they pushed into Seoul and beyond, leaving a terrible toll in their wake. The United Nations forces then, as we know, pushed back after the daring landing at Inchon. But the war continued for a full three years, and devastated the Korean Peninsula. The death toll of this brutal conflict may never be accurately known, but it certainly exceeded one million lives.       

Yet, it was from that destruction that the Republic of Korea arose. Not only did it rise, it built the Miracle on the Han River – one of the great tales of rapid economic development in human history. And in the decades since, The Republic of Korea and its people have created a modern, dynamic, globally connected economy. And decades later, Australia is proud that when the call went out from the United Nations to assist Korea, we answered that call as a determined and confident member of the United Nations. In fact, Australian military observers played a key role in then persuading the UN Security Council to take action.       

In the weeks that led up to the outbreak of hostilities on 25 June, Major FSB Peach and Squadron Leader RJ Rankin were conducting inspections on behalf of the Committee of the Whole, under the UN Commission on Korea. Their report, attesting to the purely defensive nature of South Korean deployments, was key to the Commission's submission to the fledgling UN Security Council and the decision to invoke Article 27 of the United Nations Charter. As Robert O'Neill writes in the History of Australia in the Korean War – and I quote:

"The journey of Peach and Rankin ranks as one of the foremost consequential reconnaissances ever conducted by Australian service officers."

Indeed, more than 17,000 Australians subsequently served in Korea during the conflict, 340 of whom lost their lives.       

Ladies and gentlemen, Australia remains a nation that is committed to making a contribution to global security, including when nations are under open threat. Today, we have Australian Defence Force personnel and combat aircraft in Iraq, training and supporting the Iraqi Security Forces in their fight against Daesh. And in Afghanistan, we are training and advising the Afghan Security Forces in their fight for protection against the Taliban.

These observations about history and today's contributions by Australia to global security illustrate the key point that I want to make this morning. That is: that peace and stability don't just happen, they're not free, and they're not part-time pursuits. Indeed, peace and stability are only achieved when nations work together to build them; and once achieved, peace and stability must be cultivated and developed, and ultimately preserved. The alternative is unthinkable.       

The best example we have right in front of us is the rules-based global order that was built in the aftermath of World War Two and the Korean War. A rules-based order that has delivered great stability and extraordinary prosperity. A global order that has enabled Korea and many others to drive their economic development and determine their own future as equals in the world. And a global order that only functions when we all actively contribute to its maintenance. And as we consider the uncertainties ahead, I would contend that we have to hold onto that order all the more tightly, for the uncertainties are indeed considerable.       

Our region's unprecedented economic growth owes as much to its integration with global financial systems and ambitious economic co-operation between nations, as it does to the ongoing peace and stability of the region, which has been underwritten by the participation of the United States over many decades. 

Our host country's transformation into an economic powerhouse is, as I said, a case in point. The Republic of Korea has enjoyed enviable economic growth over recent decades, to indeed become the world's 11th largest economy in 2015. Korea is Australia's fourth largest trading partner and our fourth largest market for goods and services exports in the last financial year, totalling almost $20 billion. This is part of Australia's strong integration with Northeast Asia, as are our connections with Japan and with China. Japan indeed is Australia's third largest trading partner, a value of over $60 billion, while China is Australia's largest overall trading partner, export market, and source of imports at over $155 billion.       

By 2030, only 13 years from now, it's predicted that East Asia will produce one-third of global GDP. But what we can't do, what we can't afford to do, is to assume that our growing economic interdependence will automatically deliver the security dividends we might expect. In particular, therefore, we need to ensure that our regional security architecture keeps pace with the shifting dynamics between major and emerging powers. China, for example, is now far more engaged on political and security issues in the region than it was 20 years ago, and its economic growth continues. The United States, a long standing bulwark for the region's security and wealth, will continue to be the partner of choice for many in the region. Our regional stability continues to rely on confident, economically vibrant and military capable allies, including Japan and Australia and the Republic of Korea.       

However, broader global trends also have an impact on our region's security. Lacklustre growth in productivity, rising nationalism and social rigidity, globalisation of terrorist threats, and some wavering commitment to opening economies are making the global system more fragile. At the regional level, territorial disputes may present potential flashpoints that continue to plague interactions between key players in the region, and rapid military modernisation has, in some cases, increased tensions. So too, have activities which are contrary to international law, including the actions of land creation, of construction and militarisation on disputed features in the South China Sea. We've seen global terrorism spread to Southeast Asia with foreign fighters being lured to new theatres, such as the southern Philippines. Most disturbingly, North Korea has demonstrated it is set on a course of flagrant and reckless defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. These are actions which are clearly destabilising. Responsibility for those increasing tensions in the region sits squarely with Pyongyang and we cannot allow that sort of brinkmanship to succeed.       

This is a critical test for the international community. I do not believe that we are bound to repeat history. We can avoid conflict and confrontation. We can look to our own experiences to see the approaches that have delivered tangible benefits to the region. Namely, that adherence to a rules-based order brings prosperity to millions of people across the Indo-Pacific through economic liberalisation, cooperation and integration. It provides security through recourse to disputes settlement forums and international law. In a region as diverse as ours, as enormous as ours, common rules are a strong, stabilising force representing our best investment in managing uncertainty. The appeal of the rules-based order is not lost on countries across the entire region – whatever their political system, whatever their size – greater security and greater prosperity are the measurable outcomes.       

It has shown that competition can lead to cooperation when countries are able to compete fairly. That applies no less to China and the United States than it does to Singapore and Vietnam, or to Laos and Australia. All of us have benefited from the rules-based global order – an order that came of hard work over many years, not from random chance or simple good fortune. So at this time of heightened uncertainty, we should be reinforcing the rules, not allowing them to be bent or disregarded. It doesn't mean that they are carved in stone, but it does mean that efforts to change them need to be orderly and collaborative.       

What does it mean, though, in practical terms? Simply put, it means that no country is above the law and no country can be denied recourse to the law. That's why Australia, with others, has urged the parties to the UNCLOS arbitration, established in accordance with the UN Convention, to abide by the ruling on the South China Sea, to show responsible leadership and deference to the rule of law. That's why Australia supports further strong UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, to demonstrate and reinforce that flouting legitimate international commitments will have consequences. That's why Australia is participating in the international coalition against Daesh, against the Taliban, and is providing assistance to the Philippines, to show that any unlawful and illegitimate attack against the fundamental values at the heart of international law will be held accountable at the source.       

That leads to a second question: What can we in this region do to promote adherence to the rules-based order? More specifically, how can we, as Defence Ministers, as Vice Ministers, as Secretaries, as officials, bolster regional security cooperation and ensure that disputes are settled before they grow into conflicts?       

First and foremost, in the context of this Seoul Defense Dialogue today, we must address the real and growing threat posed by North Korea. Our starting point must be that North Korea cannot be allowed to exercise coercive power of any sort under any circumstances. Our goal, agreed through the work of the UN Security Council, must be to change North Korea's behaviour and deter it from threatening the region and the world with illegal weapons. The most recent UN Security Council resolution imposing new measures against Pyongyang raised the bar significantly, but North Korea's flagrant provocations since then showed that more can and, indeed, must be done. The key now is not only to ensure that existing measures are implemented in full by all members of the international community but, as recent discussions have demonstrated, we must also consider further measures to place additional pressure on the regime to change its destructive course.       

For our part, Australia is playing its role through full implementation of UN sanctions and our own autonomous sanctions regime. And Australia is also, with other parties, calling on the UN Security Council to urgently consider further strong measures that will pressure North Korea into changing its destructive course.

China's role is vital. We believe that China can do more. It has economic leverage and influence over North Korea that other countries simply do not have. We can't lose sight of the fact that these provocative acts that result in increasing tensions are entirely of North Korea's doing and that responsibility sits squarely with the regime.       

Australia is actively involved with the United Nations Command and is committed to increasing cooperation and coordinated activity amongst likeminded countries to de-escalate tensions on the peninsula. In particular, we are strengthening our respective bilateral and multilateral relationships with other partners, such as South Korea, such as Japan and indeed, the United States.       

Secondly, I believe that we need to set a higher level of ambition for addressing security issues through our existing regional architecture, particularly through engagement with ASEAN. And further to that, the East Asia Summit, ASEAN-centred and bringing together all 18 regional leaders can be the region's key leaders' forum that can help manage the region's strategic risks. We have to continue to work together with ASEAN and other regional partners to strengthen the strategic dimension of the East Asia Summit. In light of the commitment that leaders made in the 2015 Kuala Lumpur Declaration. We, from a defence context, can also reinforce these efforts through more regular meetings of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meetings Plus, and through practical exchanges through capability and interoperability activities that the framework facilitates. I'm very pleased to hear of ASEAN's support for increasing the frequency of meetings from biennial to annual events.      

The ADMM-Plus has made impressive gains in fostering military cooperation towards achieving common regional security goals, and Australia is very pleased to be playing a key role by co-chairing the ADMM-Plus working experts' group on peacekeeping cooperation with Indonesia to 2020. I very much look forward to discussing the ADMM-Plus priorities, as well as the evolving security environment, at the ministerial meeting in Manila in October. Australia greatly values ASEAN's vision for regional prosperity and peace, and I speak in support of my Prime Minster, the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull, when I say that Australia is looking forward to hosting the ASEAN-Australia Summit in March 2018 and to advancing that strategic partnership.       

Third, our collective success in both strengthening this regional security architecture and building stronger relationships more broadly depends on more and better bilateral engagement between both traditional partners, as well as new ones. And it's vital that regional nations maintain strong independent foreign and defence policies, free of coercion from other countries. In this environment, Australia restates, as we have in recent times, that we will continue to exercise our rights of freedom of navigation and overflight, including in the South China Sea. We are also stepping up our international engagement efforts, particularly including those outlined in the government's Defence White Paper of 2016. These efforts include conducting and participating in more regular multinational engagements and exercises.       

In fact, this week Australia deployed a Joint Task Group Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 to promote security and stability of the region through bilateral and multilateral engagement, through training and capacity building. The Task Group will comprise elements from across the Australian Defence Force, led by one of our largest vessels – the Canberra class amphibious assault ship, HMAS Adelaide. Over the next two months, the Joint Task Group has a program of visits and exercises with many of the nations who are represented here this morning. Many of our challenges are common ones and, like this Seoul Defense Dialogue, Indo-Pacific Endeavour is a valuable mechanism to build regional cooperation. We have made good progress on delivering Australia's commitment to maritime security in the Pacific, with the construction of our first Guardian class patrol boat commencing in August ahead of delivery late next year, and we have contracted aerial surveillance commencing across the Pacific just before the end of this year.       

We are growing our bilateral defence relationships to foster better understanding and enhance interoperability across the region. We engage in training, in exercises, exchange activities, including the Australia-China bilateral army training exercise, which is to be hosted by China for the first time this year. We offer English language training to Vietnam to enable it to carry out its planned peacekeeping mission in South Sudan as part of UNMISS. We have a strong program in counter-improvised explosive device cooperation with Thailand to address the threat from IEDs by insurgents in the south of that country, and a suite of annual special forces exercises with Thailand as well. These and other activities are made all the more productive through regular dialogue, which is aimed at enhancing transparency and trust, including the recent Australia-China Defence Strategic Policy Dialogue for officials, which was held recently in Canberra, our 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministers' Meeting with Indonesia, as well as working level exchanges with many nations.       

Australia's approach is to look to steadily grow our relationships with non-traditional partners, to create habits of cooperation, and contribute to security initiatives within and well beyond our region. I valued the opportunity to travel just recently to Singapore, to Thailand, to Laos and to Vietnam for talks on regional security issues just two weeks ago. I was very honoured by the warm and positive welcomes I received and encouraged by our productive discussions. I was very pleased to be able to offer the Royal Australian Air Force's assistance in providing transport support for Vietnamese peacekeepers to South Sudan when I was in Hanoi ten days ago. At the same time, we're able to offer practical assistance wherever it might be needed, whether it is in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief or, for example, our support to the Philippines in addressing the recent upsurge in terrorist activity in the south of that country.       

For us regionally, the threat posed by ISIS-affiliated extremist groups in the Philippines and the resurgence of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Southeast Asia is a serious threat to our shared security, and we all in this room, have an interest in combatting that scourge. We've been working with the Government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines with two Australian AP-3C Orion aircraft, providing surveillance support to the current effort against Islamic extremists in the south. In fact, I look forward to travelling from Seoul to Manila tomorrow to discuss the evolving threat and our bilateral cooperation further.      

Ladies and gentlemen, Australia is very pleased to be delivering the keynote address here this morning. We want to be seen for what we are: a security partner who is consistent; who can be relied on both in the region and through our contributions to coalition efforts, such as in the Middle East and Afghanistan, to fight terrorism at its source. This also applies to global challenges and how we address them in our region, such as the threat of weapons of mass destruction. As we meet here today, Australia is hosting a major exercise, under the Proliferation Security Initiative, to enhance regional capabilities to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.       

This brings me to my fourth and final point of bolstering security cooperation in the region. Cooperation between like-minded countries plays, and will continue to play, a key role by showing leadership on adherence to the rules-based order and the stability and the predictability this breeds. The sort of cooperation that our senior speakers – the President, the Prime Minister and Minister Song – spoke of this morning in relation to the Seoul Defence Dialogue: Cooperation against the sort of threat that we are discussing today in relation to North Korea, but also in relation to counter-terrorism, in relation to disaster relief, or in relation to cyber security and cyber warfare.       

Ongoing US engagement in this region is vital in this regard, as much for the US's future as for that of the region and for the world. There's no question that we will all stand to benefit from a US-China relationship which is grounded in cooperation rather than competition. The ideals of the United States – their power, their ability to innovate – have been the bedrock of the region's security and its economic primacy for decades. And their commitment to the rule of law, alongside that of like-minded partners, offers more reassurance to those nations small and large who don't want to become the victims of coercion or the arbitrary actions of more powerful states. Australia, the Republic of Korea, Japan, have been important partners in this regard. India is likewise playing a more active role. The sense of responsibility that we bring individually makes the whole much more than the sum of the parts, and it is important for each of us to engage as a vital partner for resolving challenges and reinforcing rules that enhance predictability and stability for all.       

We want to see China in the region build a leadership role in a way that strengthens the regional order, because nobody can be in any doubt that the future of our world is being authored here in the Indo-Pacific region.

So it's imperative that we succeed in ensuring that this future is a peaceful, a stable, a secure and a prosperous one. The best way that we, as defence ministers, as senior military and defence organisation officials, can do that is to commit ourselves to finding the new opportunities to build that cooperation and making sure that our international cooperation is at the core of what we do as defence organisations, ensuring that we have an ability to look out, as well as focus internally on what we do every day.       

In concluding, I note that Australia has long based its defence and security policy on a region-wide outlook. Our 2016 Defence White Paper made it clear that one of our three strategic defence interests is a stable Indo-Pacific region and rules-based global order. Our third strategic defence objective is to provide meaningful contributions to global responses that address threats to the rules-based global order and which threaten Australia.       

Alongside heightened interests in the Indo-Pacific, Australia will continue to engage constructively in and with the region that is increasingly driving the world economy. Our response to uncertainty and complexity in our strategic environment will be to create new opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, to consolidate like-minded cooperation, to engage with China, to draw on the diverse strength of our strong and valuable alliance with the United States, and to pursue openings with new partners.

We are realistic about our prospects, but we don't want to artificially fetter our arrangements. We will be consistent. We won't shy away from making our national interests known, so that we can work in the space where they overlap with others and in the interests of all. And in all that we do, we will continue to point to the enduring benefits of the global rules-based order as a point of reference for the future.   

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today. I look forward to coming back to Seoul next month, in fact, for our next round of bilateral defence and foreign ministerial talks, and I wish all of you, as participants in this very important sixth Seoul Defense Dialogue, the best for your deliberations on those critical issues for our region and for the world. Thank you. 

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