E&OE - PROOF ONLY
KIM LANDERS: Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong is meeting US security and intelligence officials in Washington, where she will also attend the Australia US Leadership Dialogue and she joins me on the line now. Senator, good morning.
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning, good to be with you.
LANDERS: President Trump has been very critical, as we just heard, of NATO. Do you believe that he wants the US to pull out of that military alliance?
WONG: He’s had a consistent position for some time, including prior to being elected, that he believed alliance partners should spend more on defence.
But let’s look at this at the highest level. One of the consistent themes in the meetings in which I have been today is the centrality of alliances and the alliance network – and obviously NATO is a key aspect of that – to US power. One of the things that we can say is that a key component, a key element of American power is the system of alliances it has around the globe, which no other country has.
So I think the centrality of alliances and the importance of alliances is something that the Administration and the institutions of government here in the United States do understand.
LANDERS: Did you get the sense that the President might try to adjust American troop strength in Europe if nations don’t increase their own military spending?
WONG: That’s a matter that the President would need to consider, that’s a matter for them. But I think more broadly we know NATO has underpinned stability in Europe for 75 years now. It’s been critical to peace on both sides of the Atlantic and it is a very important alliance network, one of a number of alliances that the United States has which really does go to augmenting and increasing US power as the only global superpower.
LANDERS: The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been in North Korea, He’s failed to get any clearer picture of how the regime there might abandon and dismantle its nuclear program. You’ve been getting those security and intelligence briefings in Washington. What’s your sense?
WONG: I think what we can see from the comments which have been made is that the recent visit by the Secretary demonstrates the gulf that does exist between the demands the United States and other nations are making and what North Korea is willing to do.
Now, obviously, moving on from the high level agreement at the Singapore summit, now coming to a much more practical discussion about what constitutes denuclearisation, complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation for North Korea, we are seeing the gulf between what they are currently prepared to put on the table and what is rightly expected of them by the US and the rest of the world.
That is why it is so important that we agree that, as Julie Bishop has said, and as the US has continued to say, it is so important to continue the economic pressure through the sanctions regime.
LANDERS: If I could turn to the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific nations are expected to sign an updated security pact. Now, a Chinese Government controlled newspaper said that would be a strategic mistake if it targets China. Do you think more needs to be done to stand up to Chinese influence?
WONG: I don’t think we should, and nor should China, think about the increased security cooperation as being targeting anybody. The reality is Australia has been engaged in the Pacific for many decades. We are the natural partner for many nations of the region. We have a very strong interest in the region, an economic interest as well as a strategic interest and an interest in working with our partners including New Zealand.
So we are supportive of the government’s increased attention on the Pacific and of increased security engagement.Obviously we have had some criticisms about the lack of focus until now but I think the government is seeking to remedy that and to move in the right direction. We ought be the natural partner for the region
LANDERS: And just a final question Senator, even though you’re in the US I imagine you’ve been sneaking some looks at the television to watch that wonderful Thai cave rescue?
WONG: More on Twitter, frankly, than anything because I’ve been on the road. But it’s wonderful news and what a wonderful relief for parents, particularly for family and friends.
But can I say this Kim, in a world where we see a lot of bad news, a lot of tragedy isn’t it wonderful to see the power of cooperation and the lengths people will go to, the courage people will show, to help fellow human beings. I think it is a cause for inspiration and optimism.
LANDERS: Certainly great to have some good news. Senator Wong, thank you very much for speaking with AM this morning.
WONG: Good to speak with you, thank you.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.