5 July 2017




SAMANTHA MAIDEN: We’re going to talk now to the Opposition Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong about this emerging threat in North Korea. She joins us this morning from Adelaide. Good morning Senator Wong.


MAIDEN: Australians are waking up to more headlines today about the capability of North Korea to reach capital cities in our country, in Cairns and in Darwin. We’ve heard these suggestions before, but how real is the threat?

WONG: Certainly what we have seen is an escalation of the threat globally. It does appear that an intercontinental ballistic missile test was performed by North Korea. Certainly that was reflected in Secretary Tillerson’s statements, and also the statements from Julie Bishop earlier today.

Obviously there a range of further steps that they would need to take in order to make that threat real, including miniaturisation of nuclear weapons.

But what I would say is this; this is an escalation of the threat. It demands a sensible, co-ordinated global response because this is a risk not just to one nation. It’s obviously a particular risk to North Korea’s near neighbours – South Korea, Japan, but it’s a risk to global peace and security and therefore the global community must respond appropriately.

MAIDEN: In April the US President Donald Trump warned that major, major conflict, as he described it with North Korea, was possible, but he preferred diplomacy. Since then the situation seems to have deteriorated. Is that your view? That diplomacy doesn’t seem to be working?

WONG: I think there’s a discontinuity in that question. There is no doubt the situation has continued to escalate. Whether or not diplomacy is the right path or not is, I think, a different question.

Secretary of State Tillerson put out a statement just a short while ago where he talked about the need for a global response to this threat. He also talked about what the US seeks, which is the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and an end to threats.

So this is a situation where I think there needs to be concerted action by the global community to make clear to North Korea that its continued flagrant disregard for international law, for Security Council resolutions, is not acceptable to the global community.

MAIDEN: But isn’t that something that the global community has been trying to make clear for North Korea for decades? I mean nothing seems to be actually changing?

WONG: I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks there is an easy solution to this. We have a state which is denying the legitimacy of international law, which is flagrantly disregarding the wishes of the global community and which appears to be intent on escalation.

Now that is challenging for the community of nations to respond to. There isn’t an easy answer, but we do have to do everything we can to bolster global collective responses to North Korea, to engage China and other nations in considering what is it that can be done to increase pressure on North Korea.

MAIDEN: But for people watching at home, when Julie Bishop talks about all options needing to be on the table, what are those options exactly?

WONG: I don’t want to get into hypotheticals because I don’t think it’s helpful but I we need to be very clear that there are no easy options when it comes to resolving this issue and the best option always is to ensure that diplomacy, negotiation and pressure are brought to bear in order to achieve outcomes.

And, as I said, I agree with the Secretary of State Tillerson in his statement today when he talked about this being a global threat and requiring a global response, and I also agree with him that the US is seeking what he described as a peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. That is the objective; to end the threat and to encourage and obtain a reduction in this escalation by the North Koreans.

MAIDEN: There’s the diplomatic statements though and then there’s the President’s tweets as well. I mean he has made clear that he believes that China is either unwilling or unable to deploy the economic leverage that it requires to essentially force North Korea to take a different approach. What’s your view of China’s performance in these matters?

WONG: Two points about that, first I’m not going to respond to his tweets and I don’t think the global community is responding to tweeting. Obviously there are policy positions of the United States which are considered and those are the ones we will deal with.

Second, in relation to China, and I say this after my visit to China a short while ago, I think we ought to recognise that China has cooperated in the UN Security Council with other nations to increase sanctions on North Korea. China has urged North Korea to comply with those sanctions, and China has demonstrably exercised diplomatic pressure.

Now of course we want China to do more, we recognise they have a particular relationship with North Korea and of course we would urge them to do more. I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that one country alone can resolve this. China is a critical part of applying greater pressure to the regime but they are not the only part. The whole has to be the whole community of nations, all nations of the world applying pressure to the regime to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and to discontinue this continued escalation which is a risk to the whole global community. Ultimately it’s a risk to the North Korean regime, something they probably do not accept at the moment, but escalation I’d suggest is not in the interests of the regime.

MAIDEN: The other suggestion though is that there’s an emergence of a potential trade war that essentially you could have an escalating approach of tit for tat trade sanctions. That’s an issue that Kevin Rudd has also raised in this context of the broader outlook. What’s your view on that prediction?

WONG: So this is between the US and China in terms of trade arrangements?

MAIDEN: Not just in relation to the US, I mean he’s raised it potentially in relation to European nations as well.

WONG: We live in a time of disruption. We live in a world where a lot of nations who have traditionally been in support of more open borders and more open trade arrangements are dealing with political instability, political movements who are seeking greater levels of nationalism. We live in a time where trading arrangements have been much more questioned than previously.

I think we need to continue to remember that open trading arrangements have enabled the continued economic growth, increased prosperity for many millions of people – China, 700 million lifted out of poverty, an unprecedented achievement. But also here in Australia we’ve had many years of uninterrupted economic growth. We’ve had a rise in living standards over a number of decades. I have to say this government is doing its best to make that less so. But much of that increased economic prosperity has been because we have been willing to trade with each other.

Now, not everyone has won from trade and we have to ensure our domestic policies deal with inequalities, deal with those who have been left out. But ultimately we all lose if we turn inwards, and I think that message needs to be something we continue to assert globally as well as domestically.

TOM CONNELL: If I could ask you just on a couple of other matters Penny Wong. Should Labor consider just recognising Palestine with no qualifications?

WONG: The last National Conference set out a position where we would consider recognition and laid out very sensibly that we would look to timeline engagement with our partners and allies and other likeminded nations and consider what conditions we would put in place, and I think that was a sensible approach.

On this issue, it’s no secret this is an issue for the Labor Party, just like in the broader community where there are many people who are deeply concerned about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Labor’s position is very clear – we seek a two-state solution. And our diplomacy and our policy should always be directed to that end. There’s obviously been a lot of discussion about this, I keep making this point; ultimately this will be resolved by the Israeli and Palestinian people not by external parties. And the second point I’d make is we need to handle this debate sensibly and with dignity.

CONNELL: If I could get a one or two-word answer if it’s possible, Network Ten is apparently getting a bid but it will rely on media reform changes to be going through, will you reconsider it if it’s the difference between Ten dying or staying?

WONG: I’ve got to say Mitch Fifield keeps telling everybody how urgent everything is and then he doesn’t bring his bill forward for a very long period of time. Then he doesn’t seek that it be debated in the last term of Parliament.

I’ll wait and see what the government is actually presenting, Michelle Rowland our Shadow Minister on this has made clear our views and I think the policy position that she’s articulated is one that is supported strongly by the Labor Party.

CONNELL: We’re out of time, but Senator Penny Wong, thank you for your time today in Sky News.

WONG: Good to be with you both.