1 March 2019




PATRICIA KARVELAS: The summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam has been cut short without any new agreement. It’s not clear why the talks ended ahead of schedule and a statement from the White House described them as very good and productive.

Earlier in the day President Trump told the media he was looking for the right deal, not a quick deal. Journalists in Hanoi have been told the signing ceremony will not go ahead, but a press conference is due to begin shortly. We expect that, in fact there are live pictures on the television waiting for Donald Trump to arrive.

In the meantime I want to speak to the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong. She joins me now. Welcome back to RN Drive.


KARVELAS: Penny Wong, we are standing by for the press conference with President Trump, but firstly these talks have been described in positive terms, but they have ended without any fresh agreement. Can this summit be considered a success?

WONG: There is one thing worse than no deal and that is a bad deal. So obviously we will await what President Trump says as to what has occurred.

My view is it is better that people are talking than not talking. We do have to remain firm around what the world wants. The world wants North Korea to denuclearise. We want complete denuclearisation, we want irreversible denuclearisation and we want verifiable denuclearisation.

Now I hope this process, this summit, and any further meetings can demonstrate a credible pathway to that. Obviously we always have to remain cautious because North Korea has a history of intransigence and not delivering on commitments it has made.

KARVELAS: The US wants to reduce the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea but President Trump has noted that as long as there is no testing we are happy. What do you make of that? Is that setting the bar too low?

WONG: Well I think the bar needs to be set where I commenced and that is the bar, the objective, that the world together has articulated – and that is complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation from North Korea. And the question is always whether or not this process, this discussion, the two summits to date and anything further, can ensure that there is a credible pathway to that.

KARVELAS: Kim Jong-un said he wouldn’t have gone to the summit if he wasn’t prepared to consider denuclearisation. Yet many experts say Pyongyang continued to develop its nuclear program after the first summit. Can he be trusted?

WONG: Well I think this is the question isn’t it? And it is why, not just Australia, but other nations, have made it clear that the economic and diplomatic pressure which has been placed on North Korea, which you would have to say is in part the reason why this discussion is happening at all, can’t be lifted unless we can see genuine progress.

We are cautious about that. We know North Korea has a history of not delivering on its commitments. Of course we would prefer they did. But we would need to see that they are doing so.

KARVELAS: Many analysts concluded that all the first summit achieved was to buy North Korea more time to continue its nuclear program. What concrete commitments should the international community be looking for from Pyongyang? Do you think it was just a time buying exercise?

WONG: Certainly the world was in a position, and particularly the region was in a position, which was deeply concerning, with the scale and pace of testing and the scale and pace of their development of capability which was very, very risky for all of us. That is why the world came together and said we are going to place the sorts of economic and diplomatic pressures on you.

I hope, we all hope, that there is a pathway as I have outlined, but we can’t deviate from our focus which has to be the denuclearisation.

KARVELAS: Penny Wong you talk today about the importance of North Korea’s denuclearisation being verifiable, is any agreement essentially worthless without that?

WONG: Worthless is a strong word but for an agreement to be both credible and to base equivalent action from the rest of the world on that, you would have to be sure that it is verified and there are historical reasons for that as well. It is not just about what deal is done now.

We know the history of North Korea. They have made commitments before under this leader and under previous leaders and they haven’t been complied with. So the world does have to continue to exert that pressure, both through this process and more generally through the sanctions and diplomatic pressure that I have described, to ensure that we can get that confidence.

KARVELAS: Critics say the first summit achieved little in terms of denuclearisation, but did it help to take the heat out of a very tense situation? Should Donald Trump be given the credit for taking that heat out?

WONG: I do think it is better for people to engage than not engage and that standoffs and escalation are dangerous. So yes, I think the President has ensured that there is dialogue. My view and Labor’s view is that it is better to be talking than not talking and the world was in a very risky situation where there was a standoff and escalation driven by the North Koreans. It is a better thing to have dialogue.

Ultimately, as I’ve said to you though, that doesn’t mean a deal at any price and that is certainly consistent with what the US President has been saying. There is one thing, as I have said, that is worse than no deal and that is a bad deal.

KARVELAS: Let’s just move to another topic. While the world has been focused on North Korea we have been seeing the rapid escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed states. How concerned are you that this could actually develop into a war?

WONG: Well we are concerned, we are deeply concerned about the tensions between Pakistan and India.

We condemned the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on the 14th of February. We have joined with Marise Payne and the Government in calling on Pakistan to take action, to take action against the extremist groups which are operating within its territory. They need to ensure that these groups are not able to use their territory as a safe haven to launch attacks on India.

But we would, more broadly, urge both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint. We don’t want to see an escalation and we do want to see both sides operating in a way that demonstrates restraint and the recognition that escalation is ultimately not in their interests, or the interests of the world.

KARVELAS: In 2002 the United States was able to de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan. Is it realistic to think that the current US Administration could play that role again? Should it be playing that role again?

WONG: The world, together, speaking to both of these significant nations, recognising that India has a right to seek to have Pakistan take action against those extremist groups, and also urging restraint on both sides, is important. Whether it’s the US, or the international community more broadly, I think it is important that we continue to urge restraint.

KARVELAS: Is there a role that Australia could usefully play here?

WONG: Australia is a substantial power and we obviously have a relationship, a strong relationship with India. We have a relationship with Pakistan and we should continue to assert, as Marise Payne has, our views about these issues and our desire that this situation not be escalated.

We should also be very firm in our view that Pakistan does have work to do in terms of the use of its territory by extremists. I can understand the concerns that India has expressed about Pakistani territory being used as a base on which attacks can be launched.

KARVELAS: Penny Wong many thanks for your time.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.