Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

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10 August 2022

SUBJECTS: Taiwan; Australia-China relations.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's go to politics now. And China's Ambassador to Australia is preparing to address the National Press Club in Canberra today, after officials in Beijing warned Australia to stop criticising its military drills in waters near Taiwan. The Defence Minister and the Acting Prime Minister this week, Richard Marles joins us now from Parliament House in Canberra. Richard Marles, good morning to you.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Good morning, Michael. How are you?

ROWLAND: Very well, thank you. China is effectively telling Australia to butt out. What do you say to China?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, we speak to our national interest. And our national interest right now is in having a region where there is a de-escalation in tensions and where there is a greater peace returned. And to that end, we are calling for a de-escalation in the region. And I think what we've seen in terms of China's intentions in relation to its exercises is concerning. We want to see de-escalation, and all of that is underpinned by a position that we've consistently held over a very long period of time, in fact, across governments of both persuasions in Australia, of not wanting to see a change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

ROWLAND: Very strong words late yesterday from Taiwan's Foreign Minister. He says China is using those drills, using those manoeuvres, to prepare for an invasion of Taiwan. Do you share those concerns?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think what we are seeing is very concerning, which is why we do want to see a de-escalation, and that means a return to a greater sense of peace in the region and a greater sense of normality. That's what we're advocating for, but it's what the world is advocating for.

ROWLAND: Do you wake at night worried about a miscalculation in the waters of Taiwan and the air over Taiwan that could seriously escalate all this?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the more that we are seeing drills of this kind, the greater the risk of miscalculation. So it definitely is a concern, and that's a product of having tensions which are escalated, which is why we've been saying for some time now that we really want to see a de-escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. And our position, as I say, is underpinned by not wanting to see any change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. And that means that as a country, we have adopted a One China policy that we've had in place since the 1970s, and again across governments of both persuasions in Australia. So that's our position. But we really do need to see a de-escalation of tension right now.

ROWLAND: There were signs shortly after Labor took office of a minor rapprochement between Australia and China - you met your counterpart, there were other olive branches extended. Are you worried now that relations between the two countries are now well and truly back in the freezer?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm not going to speculate on that. What we can do is control our side of the equation. And what we will do is have a different tone to the former government. We're going to engage with the world, including with China, on a respectful, professional, diplomatic basis. We believe in the power of diplomacy, we want to have and we value a productive relationship with China and we would like to see the relationship in a better place. But that said, while there's been a change of government in Australia, our national interest hasn't changed. And we will obviously speak to our national interest whenever that is required. And we will do that without fear or favour. And we will do that irrespective of whether or not that differs from the action of other countries, including China. So that's how we're going to go about things. And if engaging in a more respectful, diplomatic way takes us some way down a path, it does. And if it doesn't, it doesn't. We can only control our end of this equation, but we will always be speaking up for the national interest.

ROWLAND: Richard Marles in Canberra appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Michael.

ENDS

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