Lachlan Kennedy, Ten News First, Ten

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Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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10 August 2022

SUBJECTS: Chinese Ambassador’s address to the National Press Club; Taiwan.

LACHLAN KENNEDY, HOST: Welcome back. Tensions between China and Australia are at an all-time high after our Foreign Minister joined the United States and Japan in condemning Chinese military drills near Taiwan. It’s a response that has seen Beijing accuse Australia of undermining regional peace and stability.

Our Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, joins us from the capital this morning. Minister, thank you for your time. Beijing’s Ambassador to Australia will address the National Press Club today. It’s a speech obviously that will be closely watched. Are you going to be there for that?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Look, I won’t be at the Press Club. I think it’s good that the Chinese Ambassador is addressing Australia’s media today, and we’ll see what he has to say. I mean, from our perspective - the government’s perspective - what we want to see is a de-escalation of tensions in the region. I think, to be frank, the world would breathe a sigh of relief if we saw a return to normal, peaceful activity in the Taiwan Strait. That is really what the world needs to see. But that’s what Australia is calling for. And what underpins that is an unchanged position on our part of not wanting to see any change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

KENNEDY: Just on that National Press Club address, are you aware if the government is going to send any senior representative? My question being whether Beijing might see this as a snub if their Ambassador is speaking today.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, Beijing would not be able to read that into the address from the Ambassador today at the National Press Club. I mean, we think it’s a good thing that he’s speaking there, and we believe in freedom of speech and it’s important that views are put out there. But I won’t be there in the ordinary course of today. But our position is the same, in relation to this is unchanged.

KENNEDY: Now Beijing has accused the Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong of violating the UN Charter, it claims, after she condemned these military exercises. How does the Federal Government respond to that accusation?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, we don’t accept that accusation, obviously. Look, we control our end of this equation when it comes to the way in which we engage with the world and the way in which we engage with China. And we’re going to do this in a respectful, diplomatic, professional way. That is a different tone to what we saw from the former government. But while there’s been a change of government in Australia, our national interest hasn’t changed, And so we will speak to that national interest and we will do so with vigour, even when it differs from the actions of other countries, including China. And I don’t think anyone could expect us to do anything other than that. That’s all Penny Wong has done. And where our national interest lies right now is in seeing a de-escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait, a return to normal, peaceful activity around the Taiwan Strait, underpinned, as I said, by the principle that we do not want to see any change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

KENNEDY: Of the tone of the former government, would it be helpful if Opposition Leader Peter Dutton toned down his anti-Chinese rhetoric that we’ve been hearing?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean, again, that’s a matter for the Leader of the Opposition. But what I can say in respect of the Australian Government, as we are now, is that we will engage with the world in a respectful, in a diplomatic, professional way. We believe in the power of diplomacy. And that is what we have sought to do in the way we engage with every country, and that includes China.

KENNEDY: Now, you’ve said China’s actions are of enormous concern. How high is the risk of conflict here?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Again, I don’t think it helps to speculate on that, other than to say that when we do see exercises of this kind obviously the risk of miscalculation goes up. But we really do need to see now every effort put into a de-escalation of tensions. I think that is where the world would breathe a sigh of relief if we were able to achieve that.

KENNEDY: I don’t want to speculate, but you are the Minister for Defence. You’ve got our military officials no doubt briefing you. What do they think that China’s main objective here is?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, what we have seen from China, not just now but over a number of years, has been to shape the world around it in a way that we’ve not really seen before. And that does present a whole lot of challenges for Australia. And, you know, part of the strategic challenge of that obviously is that China remains our largest trading partner, and so to that end, you know, we do want and value our productive relationship with China. We’d like to see it in a better place. But as China seeks to shape the world around it that does create challenges for us, and it’s important that Australia stands up in those moments and the global rules‑based order which has underpinned, not just peace and stability in our region, but the prosperity of the East Asian time zone of which we’ve been a part is really important to maintain. And we need to make sure that we are a part of protecting and enhancing that.

KENNEDY: It is a high stakes balancing act. Acting Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles, we do appreciate your time this morning.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Lachlan.


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