Subjects: G20, Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Minister’s Meeting, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Australia-China relations, Taiwan.
PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thank you very much, everybody. And thank you for being here on what is a very beautiful morning for the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting, a very important meeting. As I said, this is also the day of the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting in Suva, and I was privileged to attend the opening and the first part of the discussion virtually, and I look forward to meeting with many of my colleagues, counterparts and others in Suva next week when I accompany the Prime Minister for the PIF – Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting. A very important meeting, in which we discussed the importance of regional unity in the current strategic environment as well as our collective international advocacy, including on the key issue of climate change, the central and most important national security and economic challenge facing the region. As you know, the Australian Government is bringing new energy and new resources to our engagement with the Pacific family, and that will be reflected in the meeting today and next week.
This morning I’m here at the G20 obviously, and it’s a very important meeting. Labor has long advocated for the importance of the G20. It is the premier global economic forum and a key forum for navigating the challenges the international community faces. And today Indonesia is particularly focusing on food and energy security as well as the importance of multilateralism.
We all know that those matters, those key principles, are threatened by Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. It is a gross violation of international law. It undermines the principles and values that the community of nations have come together to sign up to in the context of the United Nations and the post-war settlement.
I also want to make this point: Russia alone is responsible for its actions and for the consequences of those actions, including the human and economic suffering that it is causing. And I hope this meeting today is an opportunity for many nations to come together to continue to place pressure on Russia in relation to those matters, but also to address those critical issues, particularly of food and energy security.
I also want to indicate, as you know, I’ll be meeting the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the end of the day. I reiterate what I said yesterday: we believe it’s in the interests of both countries for the relationship to be stabilised. I look forward to an open discussion with my counterpart. It will be an important opportunity to engage on bilateral issues.
Now, we all know we have our differences. There are challenges in the relationship. But we believe engagement is necessary to stabilise the relationship. The approach of the Australian Government will always be centred on Australia’s national interests. That is how we will approach this meeting. That is how we approach all of our international engagement. And we will do so calmly and consistently. We will do so diplomatically and directly.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Did China first propose that meeting with you this evening, or did Australia?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: We’ve been obviously indicating very publicly we’re open to engagement. I think I said that again yesterday. And these matters are fluid. But we’re pleased that a meeting has been arranged.
JOURNALIST: We’ve got a laundry list of issues we need to deal with –
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: A laundry list?
JOURNALIST: A long list of issues we need to deal with with China. What’s top of your agenda today in this bilateral? Will be it Cheng Lei, the Russian war, trade coercion, the Solomons?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: You would anticipate that there will be a number of issues raised. In relation to Cheng Lei, we’ve made our position in relation to her detention clear. I’ve made the point she has two children. We’ve made our position in relation to Dr Yang clear. You would anticipate that there are a number of issues raised. As I said, we will do so diplomatically and directly rather than projecting everything we’re going to say.
JOURNALIST: Do you think China has a genuine desire to normalise relations with Australia without preconditions? Or do you think they’re looking to see what concession they can get from a new government?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I’ll let China speak for China. I can speak for us. We’re clear. We won’t be making any concessions when it comes to Australia’s national interests.
JOURNALIST: Beijing has warned overnight not to compare the Russian war to the Taiwan question. But Prime Minister Albanese seems to have done that. Is that our position or is that –
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Our position in relation to Russia and Ukraine is that Russia’s actions constitute an abrogation of the UN Charter. It constitutes an abrogation of international law and the key principle that has enabled international peace and security for decades, in all of our lifetime, which is another state will not by threat or force compromise or infringe upon the territorial integrity of another. That is the case.
In relation to Taiwan, two points: there’s a bipartisan position on a One China policy. Second point: I think there is a bipartisan position now that we support the status quo, and we would work with others to urge that there be no unilateral change to that status quo.
JOURNALIST: What’s the best-case scenario out of these talks today? I mean, are you hoping for a reset or just a turn a permafrost relationship?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I like the image there. Is that yours or someone else’s?
JOURNALIST: I’m taking credit for it.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The Australian Government uses the phrase, stabilise. And I think that gives you an indication of the approach we are taking. So, others use other words. We think stability in the relationship benefits both countries. And we are seeking to, calmly and in a considered way, work to stabilise the relationship.
JOURNALIST: This will be the second meeting between ministers in a few weeks on the sidelines of multilateral events. Is the next step to sort of have a pre-planned bilateral meeting in one of the two countries? And will you extend that invitation to --
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: We will walk the path towards stabilising the relationship carefully and in a considered way.
JOURNALIST: And do you think a first step towards stabilising that relationship is to find a resolution to the many trade disputes between Australia and China?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: We’ve been clear about our position on the trade measures. We don’t believe those blockages are in our interests. We would say to China they’re not in China’s interests. Our position hasn’t changed on that.
JOURNALIST: Did you get to speak to Lavrov last night at any point at the dinner or the drinks?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: No. No. And if I had, I would have reiterated that the Government I represent and the people I represent condemn without reservation the actions of his Government and stand with the people of Ukraine.
JOURNALIST: President Putin said overnight that they’re just getting started in Ukraine.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Not really the right pre-conditions, is it if we’re getting?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: No. Let’s remember what’s behind those tough words, shall we? What’s behind those tough words are the death of men, women and children; the attacks on civilians; the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war. So let everybody remember what Mr Putin is talking about when he uses those words.
JOURNALIST: Has there been discussion with any other of the ministers you’ve met about some of the measures that might be taken today to send a clear rebuke to the Foreign Minister from Russia here?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: There’s been a lot of discussion in the lead-up to this meeting. And I commend the G20 nations, including the many who have the same position in relation to Russia and Ukraine as Australia. We’re walking a path which recognises the importance of this forum. The world needs to engage at this difficult time but doing so in a manner that continues to condemn what Russia is doing and recognising the important role and leadership of Indonesia. I think there has been a lot of constructive dialogue behind the scenes to get to the point we are today. Thank you very much.
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Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.