Radio Interview with David Penberthy & Will Goodings - FIVEaa Breakfast - 17/06/2024

17 June 2024



Subjects: Australia-China relationship; Chinese Premier visit to Adelaide.

WILL GOODINGS: Cold as ice may well have been a descriptor for the Australia China relationship for the last couple of years. In fact, since the Australian Government suggested there should be a formal investigation to the origins of COVID that seems to have all but thawed over the weekend. The Chinese Premier making the first visit to Australia in some seven years. The pandas get the headline, but it's the policy that is primarily of interest to us and our next guest, Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Minister, good morning to you.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning to you both. Well, I can report it was below zero last night here in Canberra.

WILL GOODINGS: Oh no, that's no good. If you got to spend a night here in Adelaide in your bed, Minister, or if you had to head over there and freeze, you freeze yourself half to death.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Chilly, chilly time of the year here, but frost on the ground as you drive up to parliament, so that's quite pretty.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Well, as Will said though, the relationship with China has warmed. I thought it was important and welcome, though, hearing your comments yesterday about China and Taiwan, talking about that as being one of the world's riskiest flashpoints, you seem to be saying, I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, Penny Wong, but we are still very much focused on the security challenges that face the relationship.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well look first, it is a good thing that the Premier is visiting, as you said, first time in seven years. China is a very large economy. It's a great power in the world and in the region. Engagement is important and necessary to manage some of the serious challenges that we have, as well as looking to cooperation. I mean, on the point you make, our assumption is China is going to keep being China and it's going to keep asserting its interests. And what Australia has to do is to make sure we work to express and advocate for our interests and our values. We cooperate where we can and where we have areas in which we disagree, we express those clearly.

We also have to work with others to try and ensure we have a safer and more stable region. And, you know the work that we're doing with the US and others through the Quad Partnership, through AUKUS, the work we're doing in Southeast Asia, the work we're doing with Japan and India, all of this is about working with others to make sure we have a peaceful and prosperous region. And you're right, Dave. I mean, Taiwan is obviously an area that we are always concerned about and want to see the maintenance of the status quo.

WILL GOODINGS: So, do you think it's possible, Penny, that we can sort of have like an economic relationship with China and a political relationship and that they can sort of coexist even though they're very different?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, I think it's necessary for us to continue to engage with China because of who they are and their weight in the region and because we do live in the same region. That doesn't, but we're always going to be realistic about what that means. What that means is there will be challenges, differences that we have to manage. It does also mean there are areas where we can cooperate. But engagement is one of the ways in which you navigate some of the challenges that you refer to.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Minister, what do you expect the Prime Minister's message to the Chinese Premier today to be around the fate of Dr Yang, the Australian academic who is in prison and sentenced to death in China at the moment?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, look, you've heard me and I think I've been on your program speaking about Dr Yang. We're very seriously concerned about the sentence he was given. We continue to be very concerned about his wellbeing and we'll continue to advocate for him. You would anticipate that, just as I've raised it, at my level, consular issues, including Dr Yang's, would be something that will feature in the discussions today. It's important that we continue to advocate for him and to make sure he gets appropriate treatment, and we will continue to see that he be reunited with his family.

DAVID PENBERTHY: And just on the trade relationship, Penny Wong, good to see yesterday's shindig at Magill Estate, which is probably more than anything, more than any winery Penfolds is synonymous with the wonderful and hugely successful industry here in SA. But there are some industry sectors that are still sort of scratching the heads, going, well, when are we going to be back on China's dance card? We spoke to the Andrew Ferguson, one of the local lobster farmers last week, and they're still sort of waiting for the call. So, do you think we're at a point where within weeks, hopefully days, given the emphasis on this visit, are we going to tidy up all those loose ends pretty soon do you think?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, look, you know, we've been working on this for two years. Before the May 2022 election, Australia had seen just over $20 billion reduction in exports to China. Now we've got less than a billion worth of exports which remain impeded. You would have heard me over the last two years talk very clearly and publicly that the removal of trade impediments was in both countries’ interests, China's and Australia's. We're pleased that I patiently and deliberately working on this and flagging, what we wanted what we wanted. We've seen over time impediments being removed and last year we saw goods and services trade between Australia and China reached $327 billion in 2023.

Obviously, wine is a big thing for our state. I was looking at the figures since the removal of duties on Australian wine at the end of March. Since that, in April, we exported $86 million of wine to China, but $80 million of that was from SA. So, you can see why it's such a big thing for our state and for jobs in our state. You're right, there's still more to go. Rock lobster is one of the items, one of the goods that we want to have trade impediments removed on what we'll keep advocating for that. I continue to maintain, as I have all along, as we progress through barley and then wine and so forth, that this is in the interests of China as well as Australia.

DAVID PENBERTHY: Absolutely. Penny Wong, the Foreign Minister, joining us today in light of the visit of Chinese Premier Li. Always great to catch up with you, Penny. We'll chat you again soon. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Great to speak with you, Penbo, see you later. Cheers.


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

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