Press Conference - Jakarta, Indonesia

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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5 June 2023

SUBJECT/S: Visit to Indonesia; AUKUS; Ukraine; Upcoming visit to Vanuatu; Meeting with General Li; Defence ties with Indonesia; UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; Shangri-La Dialogue; AUKUS;

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, it's really wonderful to be here in Jakarta today in my first visit to Indonesia as the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Minister for Defence. Earlier this afternoon, I met with Vice President, Ma’ruf Amin. We had a really productive conversation, where both of us observed that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia has never been in a better place than it is today. And that's really important for Australia, given the strategic significance of Indonesia, being one of our closest neighbours and obviously our largest neighbour. We talked about our economic relationship and how that is growing, how our security relationship is advancing, how we are seeing more educational institutions established here in Indonesia, including Deakin University from my hometown in Geelong, which is looking to establish a presence in Indonesia. And we talked about the growth of people to people links, particularly through interfaith dialogue.

This morning, and at lunchtime, I met with my good friend, Minister Prabowo Subianto. Prabowo and I've met now on numerous occasions, actually, over the course of the last 12 months, two-plus-two meeting in February in Australia. We've actually spent the weekend together at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. But it was really great to be able to be hosted by Prabowo today at the Ministry of Defence. Fundamental to our dialogue and our conversation was elevating our security relationship to putting in place a defence cooperation agreement which is comprehensive and which will be ambitious. These are agreements which can take up to a decade, but we are working at this apace and we hope to sign this agreement soon. This will be a big advancement in our security relationship. This was work that we announced and have been pursuing since the two-plus-two meeting in Australia in February. And the results of this, in a sense, can already be seen with an increased tempo of defence exercises that we are seeing between our two militaries. It has been a really good day and the conversations with both the Vice President and the Minister for Defence reflect the fact that our relationship- Australia and Indonesia, is going from strength to strength.

JOURNALIST: Minister, in your discussions with Defence Minister Prabowo, did AUKUS come up? And how would you characterise the discussions with Indonesian counterparts about Jakarta's approach to AUKUS?

MARLES: Look, AUKUS has not been a focus of this visit. Obviously, I've spoken with Prabowo about AUKUS on numerous occasions in the past. Before we made the announcement that we did in March of this year, I spoke to Minister Prabowo about fundamentally Australia's strategic intent and he was one of a number of leaders that we spoke to around the region and the world about what Australia was seeking to do in acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability. Ultimately, that is about Australia making our contribution to the collective security of the Indo-Pacific and the maintenance of the global rules based order in our region. And we've been completely comfortable with the reaction that we've had from Indonesia in respect of the announcements we've made.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what did you make of Prabowo's peace plan for Ukraine that was unveiled in Singapore at the weekend?

MARLES: Well, we obviously spoke about Ukraine and clearly all the Defence Ministers were speaking about Ukraine over the course of the weekend at the Shangri-La Dialogue. I'll let the Minister speak for himself. But what I would simply say is this: Russia's invasion of Ukraine was illegal and immoral. It was not by reference to any piece of international law, this was simply a large country seeking to impose itself on a smaller neighbour by reference to force, and it is in complete breach of the UN Charter. Now, Australia made its position in respect of that very clear at the outset, as did Indonesia, a point that Minister Prabowo has also made. In terms of the future, Australia will stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine for as long as it takes for this conflict to be resolved on Ukraine's terms.

JOURNALIST: You are off to Vanuatu next, can you- this is obviously a security focused visit, I mean you are the Defence Minister, can you tell us what you’re doing there?

MARLES: There is a security dimension to our relationship with Vanuatu, but it's broader than that. Obviously, I go there as Deputy Prime Minister as well. Vanuatu is a very important country within the Pacific. I actually met the Prime Minister of Vanuatu this time last week in Korea. But this will be my first visit to Vanuatu as the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Minister. It's obviously a country I've been to on numerous times, prior to this. And we will be talking about the relationship and how we can help support Vanuatu, particularly in a security sense, but how we can also advance Vanuatu’s interests. One of the key things that I hope we've demonstrated as a government since coming to power a year ago, is that we have a very keen focus on the Pacific. Penny Wong, our Foreign Minister, has visited every member of the Pacific Island Forum and we seek to do everything we can to be the best partner we can for Vanuatu, and so that we are Vanuatu’s natural partner of choice.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you met with General Li, in Singapore, and I understand that you raised the issue of Australians detained in China, was there any advancement on that? Is there any suggestion that either those might be about imminently released?

MARLES: Look, I'm not going to go into, for obvious reasons, the details of the conversation I had with General Li. I think it's important that I don't do that. But you're right that those issues were raised.

JOURNALIST: Do we have any reason to be optimistic?

MARLES: Again, I will leave my conversations with General Li on that matter to the privacy of that meeting.

JOURNALIST: What is your opinion on the confrontation in the Taiwan Strait recently about the Chinese warship on the weekend that sort of tucked away on the front of a US ship? Is this sort of action will affect the situation or the condition in the Asia Pacific? What does Australia want to do about it?

MARLES: Look, I'm aware of those reports. And I've seen the footage which has been made public. But I don't have any other further information on that incident of than what's in the public domain. The only point I would I would make is this; freedom of navigation is completely central to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and as a trading nation, which Australia is, we are deeply invested in that global rules based order and in the idea of freedom of navigation. We engage in activities which assert the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and we support other countries doing the same. But irrespective of the views that countries might have on the application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, when militaries come into contact with each other, it is absolutely essential that this happen in a safe and a professional way. And this is a matter, in a general sense that we did raise in the meeting with my Chinese counterpart, General Li. When militaries interact with each other it must be done in a safe and a professional way. And part of making sure that that occurs, and making sure that there are no miscalculations, mistakes or accidents is that there is dialogue which underpins that, which is obviously why we value the opportunity to meet with China. But why it's also important to make the point that substantive dialogue always matters. And, and that's a really important point to understand in the context of this incident.

JOURNALIST: Just on the issue of freedom of navigation, here the Philippines a little while ago, and the issue and the idea of joint maritime patrols was raised, how far down the road are we on that?

MARLES: Well, we had a meeting with- well I had a meeting with my Filipino counterpart in Singapore over the course of the weekend, as we did a meeting between my counterpart, the United States and Japan. And we have, as you rightly said, previously talked about doing joint maritime activities with the Philippines, we are continuing to work that idea up. It's something that we see as being very important as part of the suite of engagements that we have with the Philippines in terms of doing more joint exercises and more joint action together.

JOURNALIST: When you say you have conversations also with your counterparts in the US and Japan, was that a four way meetings?


JOURNALIST: Minister, I'd like to ask you some follow up questions on, you said you had plans to strengthen the defence cooperation between Indonesia and Australia. How does this work in follow up to the two-plus-two meeting that you had in February? And how would that fit into Indonesia’s strategy of being neutral and putting dialogue ahead amid the geopolitical rivalry?

MARLES: Sure, good question. Firstly, dialogue should be the first step. From Australia's point of view, we see the front line of our international engagement with the world as being diplomacy. And we seek through our diplomacy to, at all times create pathways for peace. But it also matters that our militaries have a good understanding of each other. And we seek through the development of our defence force to contribute to the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region, and that means through much greater cooperation and activity with our neighbours in this region, and clearly Indonesia is very central to that. I think this can be seen in the context of nothing other than the bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia, which stands on its own terms, and which is obviously, as neighbours an absolutely crucial relationship for both of our countries. We are working at a pace in terms of having this agreement negotiated and signed since this first came up in our two-plus-two meeting back in February. Our officials have met to start working through drafts of the agreement. What was clear in the direction that was given to our officials from both Minister Prabowo and myself was that we wanted this to be an ambitious agreement, which saw a high level of cooperation, befitting what should be the security relationship between two friendly countries who are neighbours with each other. And we're very hopeful that we will see progress on that and ultimately an agreement that we can sign in the not too distant future.

JOURNALIST: Could you elaborate more on what ambitious means?

MARLES: Well, we want to see greater opportunities for our defence forces to work together, to exercise together, to use each other's facilities. There are a range of areas, specific areas beyond that that we're working on, for example, military medicine. And even specifically within that, looking at ways in which we can deal with the question of malaria, which is an issue that both of our defence forces deal with. So there's a whole lot of activities across the broad and to the very specific that we want to see captured by the Defence Cooperation Agreement that we're working on.

JOURNALIST: Have you got a rough timeline? We're talking years away or the next couple of years, is that realistic

MARLES: Well, obviously note Bill, that I've artfully not given a timeline. Because as soon as I do-

JOURNALIST: To set expectations.

MARLES: I'm trying to set expectations by using the word soon. We do want to achieve this soon. But I would point out that agreements of this kind with this ambition can take a decade- we're not talking about that. We're talking about getting this done and getting it done soon. I'm obviously not going to give a specific date but we are really encouraged by the progress that's already taken place since we started this in February, both Minister Prabowo and I observed that this is moving forward well. And we're confident that we can get this done soon.

JOURNALIST: There's a criticism from ASEAN regarding AUKUS that Australia is still using the centuries old of Anglo oriented perspective in the international relations whilst isolating your biggest neighbour, the Southeast Asia and the South Pacific Island. What would you say about that?

MARLES: Well, I'd say that just miss apprehends the nature of AUKUS. I mean, AUKUS is a technology transferring arrangement that we've engaged in with the United States and the United Kingdom, in a context where we already had deep technology transfer engagements with both of those countries. It has a very specific proposition in the immediate term which is to see Australia acquire a nuclear-powered submarine capability, which will of course take some time before that happens but establishing that optimal pathway has been the immediate priority of AUKUS. But this is about technology, and the transfer and the cooperation around technology. In terms of the relationships that Australia has with the world, obviously, we have good relations with both the United Kingdom and the United States, but we are of this region. I mean, our focus is the Pacific and ASEAN, and that's reflected in the meetings that we've had, at the level of the Prime Minister, myself, the Foreign Minister since coming to office a year ago- the places that we visited. Our Foreign Minister has been to every ASEAN member country with the exception of Myanmar and every member of the Pacific Island Forum. Both myself and the Prime Minister have travelled over the last 12 months extensively through the region. And when I say that, meaning both the Pacific and ASEAN- this trip right now reflects that. And that is a reflection of our focus and our priority in terms of our international relations. And I go one step further, we announced Australia's Defence Strategic Review in April and the government's response to it, this is the biggest reassessment of Australia's strategic posture in 35 years, the most- well, the first re-tasking of our defence force in 35 years- we've defined five tasks for the Australian Defence Force, but two of them and what are really the heart of the tasks is making our contribution to the collective security of the region in which we live, the Indo-Pacific, and the maintenance of the global rules based order within our region. And that really reflects an idea which is in the Defence Strategic Review, which is that the defence of Australia doesn't actually mean that much unless we have the collective security of the region in which we live. So that is very much the focus of our engagement with the world, and how we see our place in the region. We could not be more focused on Australia's place being in this part of the world, and the need for us to have our relationships with this part of the world in the best order.

JOURNALIST: One of the ambitions, I understand, for the defence strategic partnership is for Indonesia and Australia's forces to train in each other's territory. I mean, how important is that do you think, in building the military relationships between the two countries? Is that one of the more ambitious aims within the partnership? And are we hoping to get this done before the end of the Jokowi Administration – inaudible - ?

MARLES: I hope so. The answer to the first part of the question is really important. There is a significant and very historic training relationship which exists between our two militaries. Minister Prabowo himself was an officer cadet at the Royal Military College at Duntroon. And one of the really wonderful experiences I've had over the last 12 months was to accompany Minister Prabowo to Duntroon for a lunch with this year's officer cadets, including a number of officer cadets from Indonesia, who were there to welcome their Minister for Defence. But it was actually, I think, a really poignant moment to have Minister Prabowo there in that setting, and for all of our officers, all the Australian officer cadets to see him, and see what happens to officer cadets who do their training at Duntroon. The tempo of exercises that we are doing with Indonesia demonstrates the extent to which we want to see training between our two countries happen more and happen within each other's countries. And so that is absolutely central to the Defence Cooperation Agreement that we seek to pursue. And yes, we would be hopeful of being able to conclude this over that timeline.


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