23 May 2023
JOURNALIST: The Indian PM touched down overnight. The Greens have urged the Prime Minister to raise human rights violations against minority groups in his talks with Modi tomorrow, will that issue be raised?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: India is a democracy, India is a country with whom we share values. There'll be a very full conversation, I'm sure, between Prime Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Modi befitting two countries whose friendship is growing. We have never had a greater strategic alignment with India than we do right now. Both countries are deeply invested in the collective security of the Indo Pacific region. And having a free and open Indo Pacific region where the rules of the road- the global rules based order- is respected. And all of this is driving a much closer relationship between two countries upon a really significant platform of affection, actually. There's a large people-to-people relationship now with a very significantly growing Indian-Australian community in this country. So I think the conversations that are going to happen between our two Prime Ministers tomorrow will be highly productive, and one which takes our relationship further down the road of closeness.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in your speech last night, you said that we have a complex relationship with China and that human rights is a case in point all of us have been vigilant in raising these issues at every occasion, and you outlined some human rights abuses. Why not do that with India and be more forward? If, like you say relationships aren't always simplistic?
MARLES: Well, firstly, I think we're talking about two very different situations-
JOURNALIST: But under the umbrella of human rights abuses.
MARLES: As I said, we share values with India. India is a democracy. And I'm not about to go through what will be said or not said in the conversation between our two Prime Ministers tomorrow. There's is a very full and open relationship. And I think what you'll see is a very fulsome conversation, but I'm going to leave that to them.
JOURNALIST: Last night, you spoke about needing to confront inconvenient truths in the relationship with China. What exactly did you mean by that?
MARLES: Well, simply to say that it is a very complex relationship. And China is a complex country. And it's not one, which lends itself to simplistic platitudes. And I think if you wind the clock back, a year or more what we had in this country was a debate which was overly simplistic when it came to China. I mean, there are human rights issues in China, and we are vigilant in the way in which we raise them. We've also seen a huge growth in the Chinese economy, which has given rise to the single biggest alleviation out of poverty that we've seen in human history. All of those facts sit together, and they are complex. We have a trading relationship with China, which is of enormous benefit to this country. And we value that. At the same time, we do have security anxieties in relation to China with the significant military build-up that we've seen. All of that is complex. There's not a way around the complexity of that, which is why we've made clear that with China, we will work with China, where we can- we want to- we will disagree with them where we must. But at the end of the day, we value a productive relationship with China. That's obvious because China matters. And we're seeking to stabilize that relationship with China. And you can see that happening.
JOURNALIST: Can we fix a trading relationship with a nation that we're training to go to war with?
MARLES: Well, again, you've got to look at the totality of the relationship. I mean, the answer to that question is we can stabilize the relationship with China. And that is what we are seeking to do. But we're seeking to see the entirety of the relationship and guide this through with all the nuance that is required- and what you have- and now with Albanese government, is a government which is going to look at the whole picture and manage this in a sober, adult way, which is a very different position to what we had just over a year ago prior to the last election. And that's what this country needs because our relationship with China obviously matters.
JOURNALIST: So, can I just ask sorry, on clarification about this balance; where does that lie in terms of- do we need to cap the amount of trade that goes through, should strategic circumstances deteriorate? Do we need to put bands on certain exports or imports of- let's say critical minerals- should strategic relations deteriorate?
MARLES: We need to manage the relationship sensibly-
JOURNALIST: But what does that mean?
MARLES: What that means is what I've said. We want to work with China where we can. And we will disagree with China where we must. That is the only way that a rational, adult government can deal with the relationship of this complexity. And that's what we are going to do. What we will not do is what we saw from the last government, which is to try and boil down a very complex relationship to an overly simplistic attitude. Because that gets us nowhere. So we need to be advancing our national interest, we do need to be making sure that we get our strategic posture right. We need to be thinking about our hard power equation. We're doing all of that, and doing that very thoughtfully at the same time, and on the basis of that we want to stabilize the relationship and move forward.
JOURNALIST: You said we need to look at the whole picture in the relationship with China, does the same not apply with India and you know, the alleged treatment of Muslim minorities, are we overlooking that?
MARLES: Well, the same applies with every country, in terms of the relationships that we seem to have with every country- that's how you go about foreign relations, strategic policy in a sensible and mature way. And that's how we advance Australia's national interest. What I'm saying with India is that we share values with India, both of our countries are democracies, we have a very significant strategic alignment. And yes, we do have an open and frank relationship, and I'm sure that will be expressed in the conversations that happen between our two Prime Ministers, but I'm going to leave it to them.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, just a quick one on PNG. Minister Conroy's over there at the moment, we saw the signing of a US security pact. But before the signing of the US security pact, we saw protests both from university students and the local Opposition about transparency. Our own negotiation seem behind schedule, they are supposed to be wrapped up in, I believe, April, before signing next month. Did the local reception of this US security pact and transparency, spook what we had, and draw us back to the drawing board?
MARLES: We are focused on the significance of that relationship- of our relationship with Papa New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is profoundly important for Australia in so many ways. But that includes our national security, which is why we are building our relationship evermore with PNG and we welcome an American- a further American engagement in the region and specifically in its relationship with Papua New Guinea. So I think the fact that America is walking down this path is something that we certainly see as being very positive and we will continue to work with PNG in terms of developing our own agreements.
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Opening remarks - Australia-India bilateral Defence Ministers' meeting, New Delhi, India