THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
RADIO INTERVIEW FROM BEIJING, CHINA
WITH CHRIS UHLMANN FOR ABC AM
THURSDAY, 12 JUNE 2014
CHRIS UHLMANN: Tanya Plibersek, many of China’s neighbours have expressed concern that it’s becoming more assertive. What’s the sense you’re getting from your meetings there?
TANYA PLIBERSEK: I’ve been very clear in saying to our Chinese counterparts that we see the growth of China as a very good thing, a good thing for Australia, a good thing for our region. I’ve also said very clearly to them that while Australia doesn’t take any position on the territorial disputes that have sprung up, that we are very keen to see a peaceful resolution to any dispute - that our interest in the region is for a peaceful and secure region with free trade routes and so on. And certainly, I think, the Chinese have understood that that’s the bipartisan position in Australia.
UHLMANN: Do they understand that planting an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam and surrounding it with warships hardly is conducive to having a good neighbourhood?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we have had discussions about some of the territorial disputes and like I say, I haven’t taken a position on the different merits of the different cases, nor has the Australian Government, nor will the Opposition. These are things for the parties to negotiate in accordance with international laws and norms and it’s very important that they keep talking so that they can resolve these disputes peacefully.
UHLMANN: But of course the Australian Government did take a strong stand over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands when it criticised the unilateral declaration of an air defence identification zone.
PLIBERSEK: Well I think what you see is in subsequent comments from the Government they have reiterated that Australia doesn’t take a position on the territorial dispute. Certainly I think the initial response from the Government wasn’t well received by the Chinese because there was a misunderstanding that Australia was taking a position at the time. I’ve been clear on this trip and I think the Department of Foreign Affairs has been very clear with their Chinese counterparts that Australia doesn’t have a view on the islands themselves but we do have a very strong view that peace and security are important in our region and that any dispute has to be solved peacefully and through dialogue.
UHLMANN: Do you think, though, that it’s important when China does overstep the mark, and there are many who believe it has done so on quite a few occasions recently, that nations do have to speak up?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah I think it’s very important that if we’ve got a view on something, if we’ve got a message that we deliver it in a way that’s open and frank but also respectful.
UHLMANN: How do you balance the relationship that we have with China with the alliance we have with the United States?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think the key word there is balance. We have a terrifically important economic and strategic partnership with the United States. We’ve got a long shared history, shared values, shared democratic institutions, they are a very close and important friend for us. But there is no reason for us not to have a very strong and close relationship also with China. In the conversations I’ve had today a number of the senior people from the Chinese government remarked on the fact that the Australian Labor Party, under Gough Whitlam’s leadership even when he was Opposition Leader, was one of the countries very early on to provide diplomatic recognition to China and that they value the fact that we’ve had, for many decades now, an open dialogue with China. It doesn’t mean that we agree on everything, and sometimes there are times when we need to raise issues that we don’t agree on. But that the fundamentals of our relationship are close and open and that the dialogue remains even when there are things that occasionally we don’t see eye to eye on.
UHLMANN: Now you’ve described the Prime Minister as Neville No Friends on some of his trips around the world but in fact his trip through Japan, China and Korea was very successful.
PLIBERSEK: Look I’m always delighted when Australia does well overseas. I think what we’ve seen in recent times is Australia sort of out on its own when it comes to climate change, the world moving one direction and Australia moving in completely the other direction -
UHLMANN: With Canada
PLIBERSEK: And I don’t want to see Australia isolated in that way.
UHLMANN: Well it’s certainly moving with Canada and there may be other countries in the world that it’s moving with as well.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah it’s interesting to see that the two very significant nations economically for Australia, very significant economic partners the United States and China are both talking about taking stronger measures. And indeed a great number of our conversations with Chinese Government representatives talking about their emissions trading trials in a number of cities, the fact that they’ll be moving to a national emissions trading system in years to come and the other measures that they’re taking to reduce the carbon reliance of their economy.