E&OE - PROOF ONLY
SABRA LANE: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor’s Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Penny Wong have spent the past couple of days in South Korea and this morning Penny Wong joins us from Tokyo. Senator Wong, good morning and welcome.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning, good to be with you.
LANE: You visited the Demilitarised Zone yesterday, what new insights have you got into the crisis?
WONG: We did visit the DMZ yesterday and I have to say it was a sobering experience. It was a reminder, of course, that on the Korean peninsula the conflict ceased but the war was not resolved. The peace was never made and it’s a very highly fortified part of the globe. It was a reminder of the immediate risk that is faced by South Korea and also by Japan, but it was certainly very good, if sobering, to see it first-hand.
LANE: How hard is it to get a handle on the US view on North Korea? The President says the country won’t be around much longer if it keeps up its threats. Contrast that with the Defence Secretary Jim Mattis saying he wants a diplomatic solution and today the President saying a first strike is not his first option.
WONG: I think it is important to recognise what the fundamentals are about how the international community, including the United States, is seeking to address this crisis on the Korean peninsula.
The first principle, and the most important one, is that maximum pressure has to be exercised, and the second is that the international community has to work together. And we have seen that. We’ve seen the UN Security Council resolutions supported by all of the permanent members, including China, increasing the economic pressure and also the political pressure on the rogue regime.
LANE: But also, and I think the audience is interested to hear your views too – you are the alternative Foreign Minister – was it wise or unwise for the President to be using this kind of language?
WONG: We have said very clearly that we think very clearly the way to deal with this, consistent with the way in which Julie Bishop has articulated this, is to put maximum pressure on the regime. To ensure the international community work as one to do so and to approach the situation soberly, in a disciplined way.
I do welcome Secretary Mattis’ comments overnight that the US’s first priority is to resolve this matter diplomatically.
LANE: How worried are you that conflict will be sparked by the intemperate language and posturing on both sides?
WONG: There is no doubt that tensions have escalated, but tensions have primarily escalated because we have a North Korean leader who, contrary to international law, and contrary to successive resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, is seeking to develop a nuclear capability, who has been escalating tensions in the region.
This is a state that is operating outside of the international rules based order and that is challenging for the world to deal with and it has certainly elevated tensions in the region. That matters to the world and that certainly matters to Australia.
LANE: But rhetoric like “fire and fury”, “rocket man”, “totally crazy”, that sort of rhetoric, that doesn’t take the temperature down?
WONG: I’m not going to engage in commentary about that. I think what is important is to look at the way in which countries have worked together. I think it was particularly pleasing China’s actions are consistent with the latest round of sanctions, and their pressure on the regime.
This is not an easy situation. There aren’t any easy options available, particularly given the proximity of North and South Korea and the proximity of Seoul to the border.
LANE: Is the best hope for Australia and its allies to accept that North Korea is a nuclear power and manage that with diplomacy and deterrence like the US achieved with the Soviets during the Cold War?
WONG: I think to suggest that we can simply concede that what North Korea has done and bring them into the international order is not the option. We have to continue to pressure them to step aside from this path, the path that they are on. We need to continue to work to de-nuclearise the Korean peninsula and that does require diplomatic action. It certainly requires continued economic and political pressure and I think that is what you are seeing.
LANE: You are now in Tokyo. Prime Minister Abe recently said the time for talk was over and all countries needed to apply maximum pressure, meaning China and Russia. Do you think those countries now are applying maximum pressure?
WONG: I think China, which has a particular relationship with North Korea, certainly has done a substantial amount in its engagement in the Security Council. I think it is important to recognise that all of the sanctions that have been imposed by the Security Council over a period of time have been supported by China. We have also seen in this last week China taking action consequent on this latest round of sanctions. That is good.
What we would continue to do, from the Opposition’s perspective, is to join with the Government in urging China to do as much as it can to do more, and also to continue to assert that all of us, including China, have an interest in resolving this peacefully.
LANE: It’s reported that Labor is about to unveil a new Asia strategy. Is that right, and you’re seeking response and outlining this to the people you are meeting?
WONG: Chris Bowen will be talking in more detail about this in coming days. It isn’t surprising that Labor, given our history over past periods of government and also in particular the Asian Century White Paper, it isn’t surprising that a Labor Opposition, looking to ensure that we have a sound and a deep agenda for government, is looking at deepening engagement with Asia. I think that is economically necessary, it is certainly necessary in terms of regional stability and our strategic security, so we are very focused on doing what we can to develop that agenda for government: how do we best deepen our relationship with our region?
That’s part of why we’re here. We’re here in this region to show solidarity, to show the bipartisan support, to demonstrate both continuity and consistency from the Opposition in Australia to these important friends of Australia, but also, for the longer term, to demonstrate our commitment to deeper economic engagement.
LANE: Senator Wong, thanks for joining AM this morning.
WONG: Good to speak with you Sabra.