29 May 2023
ANGELA COX, HOST: It's right on China's doorstep, making it a must have ally. Tonight the Defence Minister is in South Korea, aiming to beef up our security ties with Seoul and in turn, our standing in the region. Joining me from Seoul is Richard Marles. Minister, thank you for your time. You're attending a first of its kind of summit there between Korea and the nations of the Pacific Islands Forum. Is this a united flex against Beijing?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I think it is, is Korea showing admirable leadership within the region in which both of our countries live. And what it shows was an engagement on the part of Korea and a willingness to do so with the Pacific, which I think was really well received by the countries of the Pacific. And it says a lot about how both Korea and Australia are seeing the world in very similar terms. You know, we both see that our security lies in the collective security in the region– of the regions in which we live and the maintenance of the global rules-based order within those regions. And so that commonality of interest is going to, I think, drive a growing relationship between our two countries.
COX: Labor won the election promising to counter Beijing's influence in the Pacific. How do you expect South Korea will help? Doesn't Seoul already have enough to worry about with North Korea?
MARLES: Well, I mean, Korea is a country which well understands how important it is that the global rules-based order is maintained. I mean, it faces a northern neighbour which is completely ignoring the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is engaging in ballistic missile tests in an unprecedented frequency, which is of deep concern, obviously to South Korea and the world to be frank. So they absolutely understand how important the global rules-based order is.
COX: Minister a new report out from the US Congress takes a few swipes at the AUKUS deal. Among some of the issues raised: whether America can meet its own submarine needs as well as ours; and will the project actually deter China. Are you worried leaders in Washington might get cold feet on the sub sale?
MARLES: This is a massive project in terms of the United States working with the United Kingdom to provide Australia with the capability to operate nuclear-powered submarines. This technology has only been provided by one country to another once before, and that was when the United States provided this capability to the United Kingdom. So that it's happening again for only the second time in history says how big a deal this is. We will become one of only seven countries to operate nuclear-powered submarines. So we get the significance of the endeavour here. But the United States has been just a wonderful partner. And we're really confident that we will be able to take this forward in the way in which we've agreed with the Biden administration.
COX: Okay, moving on, let's talk about Ukraine. You’ve spoken about standing shoulder to shoulder with Kyiv. They've given you a quote– “menu of options” in ways we can help. What sort of support will we be sending as their counter offensive gears up?
MARLES: What Ukraine has provided to us is, if you like, a menu of options that we could pursue which would give them meaningful support. We want– and that's what we've been doing to be frank, up until now. And we'll also work with other countries that are providing support to Ukraine, like the United States and the United Kingdom to make sure that our support coordinates with theirs.
COX: The US has committed to providing Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, why doesn't Australia provide its retired FA-18 Hornet fleet? Aren't they just gathering dust in Guam?
MARLES: Well, it's not a simple matter to pass on an aircraft of that kind. Again, we are working with the United States, with the United Kingdom, but principally with Ukraine, about how we can best provide assistance. And you've seen that in all the assistance that we've provided from Bushmasters through to the provision of training, which we're doing right now in the UK.
COX: Okay, well, thanks so much for your time tonight. Richard Marles.
MARLES: Thank you.