Radio Interview with Andy Park - ABC RN Drive - 18/06/2024

18 June 2024



Subjects: Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum; Australia-China relationship; Dr Yang Jun; Unsafe and unprofessional interaction with PLA-Air Force; Cheng Lei.

ANDY PARK: Well, as the Chinese Premier wraps up his Australian tour, senior Australian Ministers are now flying out to Papua New Guinea to discuss strategic cooperation, security and development. The Ministerial forum comes at a critical time, with Australia hoping to maintain its position as a dominant trade and security partner in the Pacific. Foreign Minister Penny Wong is the co-chair of the forum. She joins me now on her way out of Australia. Minister, welcome to you.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good evening. Good to speak with you. I'm about to head off.

ANDY PARK: Okay, let me know if they put the seatbelt sign on. You're about to fly to the Pacific, where there are really competing interests escalating and the Chinese Premier is in Australia. This is not ideal timing, you might say?

MINISTER WONG: Well, I think this is a very good time to go to Papua New Guinea for the Ministerial forum. I'm very pleased to be doing that. And also it was a very important visit that we see and saw by the Chinese Premier, the first visit in seven years. But tonight I'll be flying to Papua New Guinea, be joined by six of my colleagues. It's a very senior Ministerial representation. We haven't seen this, certainly under the Coalition Government, and that's because we understand that Australia's stability and security requires our deep engagement in the Pacific with other pacific nations. And Papua New Guinea is just so important to Australia.

ANDY PARK: Just want to talk a bit more about the Chinese delegation's visit to Australia. I mean, how would you characterise this trip? Are you confident that Australia's interests have been at the forefront as relations get back on track?

MINISTER WONG: Well, Australia's interests are always at the forefront for us and obviously China's interests are what they seek to press. I mean, that is the nature of international relations, the nature of diplomacy. As I've said previously, we don't expect China to stop being China. China will continue to assert its interests. How we deal with that is to assert ours and we do so both in the bilateral relationship, but also in the way we engage in the region and the way we engage with other powers. So, I think it's been very good to see impediments on trade removed. Obviously, we took the opportunity to raise some of the difficult issues in the relationship and the Prime Minister today has done that as well.

ANDY PARK: Such as the case of the jailed Australian academic Yang Hengjun. What assurances was Australia given in this case? What assurances did the Chinese Premier give our Prime Minister?

MINISTER WONG: Well, as you know, we have raised both publicly and privately Dr Yang's sentence. I have said very clearly our response to his suspended death sentence. We have pressed for his appropriate treatment and appropriate medical treatment. And the Prime Minister raised Dr Yang with the Premier, as did I. I'm obviously not going to go into all the details. We will continue to press for him to get appropriate medical treatment. And we will continue to press for his return to his family, just as we did with Cheng Lei.

ANDY PARK: Minister, the Prime Minister has said that one of the practical measures addressed yesterday morning was improving military to military communication to avoid conflicts. I mean, there really have been some dangerous and unfortunate encounters, like in the airspace over the Yellow Sea. How is this issue ironed out? Is it the military speaking to each other? Is it having a red phone? I don't know. How is it simple enough for us to understand what's at stake and how to improve it?

MINISTER WONG: Well first, Australia's position is very clear. We will continue to fly and sail in international airspace and international waters. I've made that clear publicly and I've made that clear to my counterparts. Secondly, we expect all countries to observe the international rules and norms that govern behaviour in those airspaces and on international waters. Third, for the last two years, one of the things I've been speaking about is the importance of dialogue and engagement, particularly in the context of increasing military activities. And one of the things we have to try and avoid is escalation or miscalculation. We also want to ensure we don't see unsafe or unprofessional interactions. So, it is a useful thing, an important step, to have military to military engagement. That is one of the ways you can deescalate and avoid there being a miscalculation or a mistake, but also as a matter of principle, Australia's position is very clear. We observe international law. We expect all militaries to behave professionally. We will continue to fly and sail in international waters and airspace.

ANDY PARK: Speaking of potentially unprofessional interactions, the Chinese official looking to block Sky News journalist Cheng Lei and the view of her at the press conference yesterday, the Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, has criticised Anthony Albanese for, quote, “not standing up for our country,” in terms of his response to that event. The Government has complained to the Chinese Embassy. Should it have gone further?

MINISTER WONG: Well the fact is Prime Minister Albanese raised this matter with the Chinese Premier Li directly this morning. And that demonstrates why engagement is important. We are going to have things on which we disagree, on things in which we disagree very deeply because of who we are. And freedom of the press is very important to Australia. So, the Prime Minister has raised the matter with the Chinese Premier and I have to say the Prime Minister and I understand the importance of standing up for Cheng Lei, that’s why we worked for two years to secure her return home. So, you know, Australia has tried it Mr Dutton's way. You know, it got us nowhere. We know that Mr Dutton's focus is always on what is a domestic political fight, not actually on getting outcomes for Australians. That's what we're focused on.

ANDY PARK: Minister, this visit to Papua New Guinea, you'll be co-chairing the Ministerial forum, the Defence Minister, the AG will also be there, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil. What are you hoping to achieve in this visit?

MINISTER WONG: Well, the Ministerial forum is a really important opportunity to make sure we continue building the relationship, that we look at what we've previously agreed, how that's being implemented and where we can go further. And obviously, whether that's in terms of people to people links, the economic engagement, the security engagement, in terms of agriculture, trade, all of these things. What we will be doing is working through a whole range of the dimensions of our relationship and see what more we can do. So, I'm really pleased that so many of my colleagues are coming with me and with the Deputy Prime Minister. And just as we were very pleased to welcome many Papua New Guinean Ministers to the Ministerial forum in Canberra last year.

ANDY PARK: Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Appreciate your time this afternoon.

MINISTER WONG: Great to speak with you. Thank you.


Media Contact:
Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500

Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.