Interview with Bloomberg AU

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
dpm.media@defence.gov.au
02 6277 7800

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13 June 2022

JOURNALIST:

Deputy Prime Minister, great to have you with us for Bloomberg Television. China's Defence Minister has warned that if we do see any attempt from Taiwan to split, there will be no choice but then to fight at any cost. In that scenario, would you see Australia go to war to defend Taiwan?

RICHARD MARLES:

Well, look, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. Let me be really clear that our policy in respect of Taiwan and China hasn't changed. We have a One China policy. We do not support Taiwanese independence. We don't support any unilateral action on either side of the Taiwan Strait, which would change the status quo. The resolution of the people of Taiwan is a matter which should happen by consensus, by agreement, and that's the way in which we see it. We firmly have a One China policy and we don't support Taiwanese independence.

JOURNALIST:

You have though labelled China as Australia's biggest security anxiety. How are you working to counter China-specific ambitions?

RICHARD MARLES:

Well, we want to be engaged in the Pacific in the way that Australia should be, and you see the emphasis of that in the new government. Our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, was sworn in on Monday, she was in Fiji on Thursday, she's visiting the countries of the Pacific, and a number of us intend to be out there as quickly as we can be. In my experience in the Pacific, if we engage with energy, if we seek to place the interests of the Pacific people first, and there are lots of challenges that the countries of the Pacific face in terms of development, and Australia is in a unique position to assist. If we do all of that, we will be the natural partner of choice for the countries of the Pacific, but it's not something that we get by right. We need to earn it.

JOURNALIST:

Did Minister Wong have any interest or achievement in shifting some of the Pacific Islands against China?

RICHARD MARLES:

Well, what we're focused on is building Australia's relationship with the countries of the Pacific, making it clear that we're there to help, that we are in a unique position to assist in those countries’ development, in improving a whole lot of the social indicators which are pretty challenging for the countries of the Pacific, and that's what we come to our relationship with the countries of the Pacific from, that perspective, and in doing that, in a sense, the rest takes care of itself. I think if we engage with the sincerity of that, with a desire to help, we will be the natural partner of choice. And in my former role when I was responsible for the countries of the Pacific, I mean, it's just an incredible and magical part of the world. Being engaged there in that way, with that sincerity is the way in which we build those relationships and be the natural partner of choice for the countries of the Pacific.

JOURNALIST:

Relations between Australia and China have been fairly cold over the last couple of years. How is your government working to thaw those? Have you met with your Chinese counterpart here in Singapore?

RICHARD MARLES:

Well, look, I briefly met the Defence Minister and shook his hand, but I wouldn't want to overstate the interaction. We want to go about our engagement with the countries of the world, including China, in a way which is respectful, professional, sober. We believe in diplomacy, we believe in dialogue. That's what the Shangri-La dialogue is about. And in fact, when relationships are complex, that's when dialogue matters the most. And so we certainly stand ready to engage in that. But in saying that what is core to Australia's national interest, we will articulate and we will advance. And that does mean issues such as ensuring that the global rules-based order applies everywhere, applies to bodies of water such as the South China Sea. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, as it provides for freedom of navigation, is fundamentally important, and particularly there, where most of Australia's trade traverses. So we will be very strong in articulating Australia's national interest. But we'll do that in a way which is respectful, and we seek to build that up.

JOURNALIST:

Let's talk about the fact that Australia has paid nearly $600 million to France over the withdrawal and submarine pact. Does this reset relations with France?

RICHARD MARLES:

Look, we certainly hope it does. And yesterday I met with Minister Sébastien Lecornu. It was a very warm meeting. I think there was gratitude expressed for the fact that we have moved very quickly to try and draw a line underneath what was an episode that really did get in the way of our relationship with France. France matters to Australia. We don't think about it enough, but France is in many ways our nearest neighbour, the closest overseas population to Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne is actually in France - it's Nouméa, and the longest border that France has with any country in the world is with Australia. It underpins the fact that France is a Pacific country. We share strategic interests in this part of the world, and having a Liberal democracy like France as a neighbour is something we completely welcome. And we want to do more with France. And in my meeting with Minister Lecornu yesterday, I made all of those points. He was very keen to see that going forward, we build a relationship between our two countries, which really honours the very significant history that we have, and particularly military history that we have.

JOURNALIST:

When it comes to AUKUS though, there are concerns from some ASEAN nations as well that this is going to fuel an arms race. How is Australia working to counter those perceptions?

RICHARD MARLES:

I think it's important that people understand AUKUS is not a security alliance, AUKUS is about the sharing of technology between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, something that we're very keen to do. AUKUS is very important from an Australian point of view in delivering the successor submarine to our existing Collins class submarines and a submarine that has nuclear propulsion, but it's not a security alliance and we remain committed to building security relationships with the countries of Asia, doing that with countries like Japan and Korea, acknowledging ASEAN centrality in Southeast Asia and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus being the pre-eminent architecture for security within this region. We see all of that and we are going to engage very closely with the countries of this region. And when you look at here in Singapore, we've got a unique relationship between our two countries when it comes to defence, we do a lot of the training of the Singaporean armed forces in Australia. That's a very close relationship. We have a very close defence relationship with Indonesia. We want to build all of those.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Kishida from Japan said that the Ukraine of today could be the East Asia of tomorrow. How worried are you about instability, about potential war in this region?

RICHARD MARLES:

I think the point that Prime Minister Kishida makes is that the rules-based order is important everywhere and what we're seeing in Ukraine is a challenge to the rules-based order. The behaviour by Russia in a completely unprovoked way, crossing the border and seeking to invading Ukraine, another sovereign state, totally contests the rules-based order and undermines it. It's totally unacceptable in 2022 and it's really important that we stand with Ukraine. I might say that as we listened to President Zelenskyy yesterday and when we look at what the Ukrainian people have done in resisting Russian aggression, it has been completely inspiring. It's really a beacon to the world and it's really important that we stand with Ukraine. Ukraine is a long way from Australia, but the importance of it is because of the principles that are at stake and those principles about the importance of the pre-eminence of global rules-based order are principles that apply everywhere.

JOURNALIST:

Are you worried about a World War III?

RICHARD MARLES:

I'm not worried about a World War III. I'm not going to speculate on that. What we're about is trying to build regional security, regional stability, and that's about placing a pre-eminence on the rules-based order that was put in place after the Second World War. That global rules-based order has underpinned the growth of East Asia. It's underpinned the stability and prosperity in our region, and it's been very central to Australian economic growth, but it's been central to the economic growth of the countries of Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia. And we need to not take any of that for granted and make sure that all our actions are about supporting them.

JOURNALIST:

Deputy Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time. Bye.

END

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