Subjects: Opening of Australian Centre for Education campus, 70th anniversary of Australia-Cambodia relations, ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Taiwan, Myanmar, Sean Turnell, AUKUS.
PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It’s wonderful to be back here in Cambodia. I have visited previously in a personal capacity, but this is my first visit as Foreign Minister. And it is fantastic to be here at Chak Angre to open the Australian Centre for Education’s new campus, which was opened some 30 years ago by Prime Minister Paul Keating, who opened the first centre in Phnom Penh. Since that time, ACE has delivered English language training to more than half a million Cambodians. It's a wonderful demonstration of investment in people and investment in people-to-people links.
This year is also an auspicious year for Australia-Cambodia relations marking the 70th anniversary of diplomatic links. A reminder of Australia’s longstanding engagement in this region, the region we share, and a reminder of Australia’s longstanding and deep engagement with Cambodia. We share a region, we share a future, and we share today’s challenges.
Of course, the organisation which centrally deals with the shared interests of South East Asia is ASEAN. I said when I had the honour of being appointed Australia’s Foreign Minister that one of my top priorities would be engagement with South East Asia and with ASEAN as an entity. It is in our country’s interests to help shape the region, to help shape the strategic equilibrium in this region where countries are not forced to choose but can all make their own sovereign choices and ASEAN is central to achieving that.
We want a region where no one country dominates, where sovereignty and sovereign decisions are respected, and the agreed rules of the road are followed. I’m looking forward very much to the many meetings over the next couple of days and to deepening our partnership with ASEAN.
I’m happy to take questions. I know there are some journalists apparently on the phone to take questions. If they could just allow me to take some questions from those who are here and then I’ll turn to those who are on the phone. So happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: First of all, how many days are you in Cambodia and what are the reasons for coming to Cambodia? And second question, this year marks the 70th anniversary between Cambodia and Australia. So, what achievement has the two countries made together?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Sorry, your first question was how many days am I here?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I’m afraid I’m here for a very narrow period of time. I hope I can come back again soon. Parliament was sitting in Australia, so I had to attend parliament. So, we flew through the night to be here by this morning. It was a very beautiful sunrise, I have to say, coming in, and I will be here obviously today and tomorrow for the meetings.
But your question on the 70 years. When I spoke to your Foreign Minister, we talked about the 70 years and the achievements, shared achievements, and obviously, Australia is, as I said in my speech, both humbled and proud of our involvement in the peace accords, our involvement in supporting Cambodia to a new, modern vibrant nation and our role in working with others to end the conflict. I hope that is a part of our shared history that we can again underline this year. Anyone else?
JOURNALIST: In all these 70 years of Australia and Cambodian cooperation, what do you perceive to be the key focal points that have had the most impact? And what are the current efforts being pursued by both governments for further enhancements?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, that’s a good question. I think probably I’d refer to my answer to your colleague which is: obviously one of the great achievements was the peace accords and the work that both our nations did and former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and others to support the process of ending the conflict. I look forward to continued and greater engagement on education. I know that we have also worked together in addressing the shared challenge of Covid.
But ultimately, I make this point: we live in a region that is being reshaped. All countries will make their own decisions about how they navigate that reshaping. I hope that in our bilateral relationship but also in our relationship with Cambodia as an important ASEAN member, that we can together shape a region that is in all our countries’ interests. We want a region in which decisions are not made only by power and might but where the rules of the road enable sovereignty to be respected.
Anything more? Okay. Shall I take an Australian media question on the phone?
JOURNALIST: Hello, Senator Wong. Lisa Martin here from AFP. How worried is Australia about the prospect of open conflict in the Taiwan Strait, and what message do you have for the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at this forum?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, Australia’s position is very clear – we support the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. We say that all parties should consider how they contribute to de-escalating current tensions. I note that the recent statement from the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting reflects a similar view. Australia will continue to work with partners to promote peace and stability across the straits. And I again underline that Australia’s One China policy and support for the status quo remains unchanged.
JOURNALIST: There are the prospects of military drills around Taiwan today. What is your reaction to that?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well we would encourage all parties to consider how they can contribute to de-escalating the current situation. I would again publicly indicate that one of the risks that I think the region is concerned about is the risk of miscalculation. We would encourage all parties to consider how they can contribute to de-escalating. Australia’s view is de-escalating is in the interests of the region.
JOURNALIST: Just on Myanmar, the previous government said it was reviewing the prospects of sanctioning the military junta, and you have said that that is under active consideration. How is that any different? Will there be sanctions on the military junta?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I’d make a few points. The first in relation to Myanmar. Can I take this opportunity to again articulate how appalled and distressed Australia is at the execution of four pro-democracy activists and again call for the regime to cease violence.
You would anticipate that we will, as we have in the weeks since we came to government, continued to express our views about Myanmar and to discuss how we can progress the situation in Myanmar with ASEAN partners. We will continue to support ASEAN’s leadership in responding to this crisis. And I do say publicly again we are dismayed that the regime continues to disregard the five-point consensus.
I said that sanctions against members of the military regime are under active consideration. I don’t propose to go into any further detail about that at this point. But I would say I’ve also made clear that we are willing and open to engagement with the NUG as I did in opposition. We intend to continue down that path in government.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any update on the fate of Sean Turnell? Has your government or Australian diplomats spoken directly to representatives from the junta about his case since Labor came to power? Is there any glimmer of hope?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I’d say in relation to Professor Sean Turnell, Professor Turnell remains our first priority. Our first priority. And that has been reflected in our engagements. I would acknowledge publicly the interventions by and the advocacy for Professor Turnell that a number of ASEAN representatives have engaged in, including from Cambodia and to thank them for that.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Ministers from ASEAN countries yesterday lamented the lack of progress on the five-point plan of consensus. Is that plan dead in the water or are you hopeful that there could be some progress before the leaders' summit in November when leaders will decide what next?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we always hope for progress. I note that ultimately ASEAN will have to determine how it wishes to proceed given the junta’s failure to respect the five-point consensus. And I hope that there is progress ahead of or at the leaders' meeting.
JOURNALIST: Earlier this week Indonesia raised major concerns at the UN about Australia’s AUKUS submarine program. Malaysia is also quite anxious about it. You don’t obviously have a bilateral meeting scheduled with either country at ASEAN. Will you get a chance to address some of Indonesia’s concerns that were in that working paper?
FOREIGN MINISTER: We engage with Indonesia deeply and regularly, and I don’t propose to provide a running commentary. But I would say this. As I’ve said publicly, and that remains Australia’s position, Australia and this government is fully committed to our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. We will ensure the highest possible standards apply to AUKUS. We are working with the IAEA to reflect that. Australia has I think a very strong track record in its non-proliferation obligations, and we will, if anything, seek to strengthen them through this process.
Is there anything further? Thanks very much.
Foreign Minister Office: +61 2 6277 7500
Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.