2024 Shangri-La Dialogue

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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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3 June 2024

SUBJECTS: ASEAN centrality, South China Sea, AUKUS, Global rules based order, PLA Navy interactions

HOST: Thank you very much. And from China, Senior Colonel. 

QUESTION FROM CHINA: The fact is since the end of Cold War, China has never been at war against its neighbouring countries. On the contrary, China cooperate with local partners to get a nuclear energy and economic prosperity for [Indistinct]. Of course, as a sovereign country, China has the natural right to defend its national security including territory integration and the [Indistinct] self-privilege according to historical facts and international law. Today I think we talk too much about the possibility of personal death. One or two, maybe, who knows? In the South China Sea. But even more the genocide happened in Gaza. Thousands of the women and children are dying and China also put over global security initiatives years before. 

HOST: Thank you very much for that comment. We'll turn now to a question from Brunei. 

QUESTION FROM BRUNEI: How can Australia enhance its commitment to the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific? And bolster ASEAN's role as a regional facilitator [Indistinct]?

QUESTION: Thank you. That's very complex and filled with about security and a reference to the AUKUS relationship you and the US have. How much of a priority, how quickly do you see AUKUS developing in terms of becoming more open and inclusive throughout the international rules-based system? You just issued a statement of exploring possible increased cooperation with Japan. How quickly and how much further do you think that should go in terms of the AUKUS relationship?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES, ANSWER: So, thank you for the question. Firstly, in relation to the industrial bases around the world, I mean, it's a very good question, but I mean ultimately, we are experiencing, in terms of increasing our own capability, working with industrial partners around the world in more collaborative ways. There are more joint ventures, for example, which are coming together to see how they can help Australia in what we're seeking to do with our procurement and increase in our capability. And we really welcome the fact that industry is thinking about how they can best work together to do that. But at the same time, we do want a competitive industrial base where we're getting value for money and concepts of value to money still apply. So, as we go through the process of tendering for the general-purpose figure which we intend to do over the coming years, I mean, we want that to be a competitive process, obviously, so that we can get the best value for money for the Australian taxpayer in terms of how we do that procurement.

And so, I think what we are seeing is a healthy, dynamic interplay between collaboration on the one hand and competition on the other. I thank the colleagues from China for the contribution that was made. Look, at the end of the day, what, you know, if there's a statement in support of the global rules based order,that is really what matters. The only point that we're trying to make here is that the global rules-based order, which has been in existence really since the end of the Second World War and has evolved, has underpinned enduring peace and security in our region. But importantly has been the underpinning of economic prosperity and growth within our region. And China has benefited from that, Australia has benefited from that, and we have benefited from our relationship with China. And we're perfectly open about and happy to say that. I mean, we have, we have repeatedly said, and I have repeatedly said that we value the most productive relationship that we can have with China. And all – the only point we need to make is that the rules-based order has been fundamental to underpinning it, as it has underpinned the relationship we've had with countries around the world, and it underpinned economic growth within our region.

And we have very much expressed [inaudible] an increasing sense of horror and grief about what has played out in Israel and Gaza. And we have consistently called for humanitarian ceasefire, all our actions and all our diplomacy is directed towards seeing the end of that conflict and the maximising of humanitarian support.

The question from Brunei around extending ASEAN influence and beginning it – firstly, we see ASEAN centrality as the cornerstone of the architecture which has comprised of peace and stability in Southeast Asia. But go beyond that and say that from an Australian, from a narrow Australian perspective, ASEAN centrality is deeply in Australia. You only need to look at the map to understand that from our point of view, having a strong, stable coast here in Southeast Asia based on ASEAN centrality is profoundly important to our national security. And indeed, part of what's come through with the Defence Strategic Review that we did last year, and our National Defence Strategy that we announced a month or so ago is that we really identify that our national security lies beyond the borders, beyond that border on the coastline of our continent. In fact, Australia's national security really lies in the heart of the region that we see ourselves belonging to, and that very much includes Southeast Asia. And in that sense, has now fundamentally important to that. So, we want to do everything we can to amplify the significance of ASEAN centrality as what we see as being the cornerstone of peace and security within our region and all the other mini-laterals that we engage in, including, for example, the Five Power Defence Arrangement, which has been yesterday, we see as complementing the fundamentally important work of ASEAN government.

Finally, on the question from UK in relation to AUKUS and expansion of pillars, which is, I think, where the question was directed. Obviously Pillar One, which is Australia's acquisition of the nuclear power company capabilities confined to ourselves, US and the UK. Respectively, Pillar Two firstly, we're stating here what AUKUS is and what it is not. I mean, AUKUS is not an alliance. AUKUS is a technology-transferring arrangement between our three countries. AUKUS Pillar Two is about the US, the UK and Australia working more creative, working together on innovative military technology. We are open to the idea of that work being expanded to other countries. And we talked about that happening in Japan. Really the precondition to that, is that it's not so much about the other countries, it's actually about us getting runs on the board ourselves, ensuring, if you like, the work that we're doing between the three countries, the US, UK, Australia, such that there is something very significant to share. And its early days, if we're being honest about how the work we're doing in relation to the two. But we are really confident now about how that is going, and we see that development happening pretty quickly. And in time we do see the opportunity of getting that work.

QUESTION: Sir, have you had a chance to speak directly to Chinese – some of the examples of unsafe conduct for China's history?

QUESTION FROM CHINA: Thank you, chair. And I have a short comment to pick apart. The first is that you mentioned the drill of PLA last month and [inaudible] and not the Taiwanese and more and more Taiwan people are welcome. China is here is protect them. And Taiwan is one province of China, and we will not endanger Taiwanese - Taiwan people's security and life. Secondly, and you mentioned that China used a water gun and to Philippines, but you didn't mention that the Philippines, their ship intentionally to climb China coast guard ships. And one question and from last night to this morning and some leader mentioned that the rules of law. And I think the rules of law is a very important concept. China states two rules of law based in your title. But most people may wonder that the rules of law you expressed in your speech may express your own security concern within small groups, small cycles or especially military alliances. By violating or eroding other countries national security or national interest. How do you persuade the forward to believe that the growth globe, what you mentioned is the real growth? Thank you. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES, ANSWER: Well, firstly, if I could address the question from the US delegate. Australia has had direct contact with China in relation to the incident which we have described. In respect of the contribution that was made by our Chinese colleague. Perhaps the way to address that is to say, in every relationship that Australia engages and every relationship that Australia seeks, that includes a country in the region, it includes our alliance partnership with the United States, but it also includes the multilateral relationships that we engage in. All of them. A precondition is that they are directed to supporting rules-based order. But what we seek to do in the way in which we engage on a bilateral and a multilateral basis is to create relationships which support the rules-based order. And as I said, in doing that in any region, we very much see that the cornerstone of regional architecture is ASEAN centrality. And that the way in which ASEAN operates also supports the rules-based order. And we get that there are going well. In large measure, those rules are well understood.

But we get that there are going to be occasions where there are different views about what the rules are. Internationally. We have mechanisms for working those through. There are international arbitrary rulings which have clarified those in the past. They have meaning. But ultimately that needs to be worked through the dialogue task. Having said all of that, when we assert rules-based order, as we do in a lot of our naval activity, observing veteran convention on the law of the Sea, we need to be assuring, notwithstanding whatever our views of those rules are, that the way in which our navies and our defence forces interact is professional and [Indistinct]. I made clear in my open remarks that the vast bulk of the interactions that the Chinese navy and air force has with Australian air force is both professional and safe. I made that clear. 


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