Doorstop, Shangri-La Hotel

Transcript
03 Jun 2017
Singapore
Prime Minister
Shangri-La Dialogue; South China Sea; Philippines; ASEAN; US relations
E&OE
International and Trade

PRIME MINISTER:

Well last night I talked about the vital importance of maintaining the rule of law in our region and how important it was that the big fish and the little fish and the shrimps, lived together and under the law of rule without coercion, without being bullied or pressured by other parties.

This commitment to the rule of law has been echoed by so many speakers here at this conference. And we’ve heard from the Defense Secretary of the United States, James Mattis, with whom I met last night; make a real continuing commitment, emphasised the continuing commitment of US global leadership on these issues and in particular this region.

The commitment of the United States to our region has been one based on their hard power, yes. On fleets and armies, yes. But it’s been based on the values for which the United States has always stood, freedom, democracy and the rule of law. And that has been the foundation on which has been built this extraordinary history of economic advancement and progress in our region.

So that’s maintenance, that maintenance has been recommitted to, here by the Defense Secretary who’s presence alone is a big statement, as is the presence of the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats with whom I spoke just a moment ago. And of course we will have in Sydney on Monday the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis for the AUSMIN talks.

So a strong commitment from the United States to our region, a strong commitment to the maintenance of the rule of law, the foundation of the prosperity of the economic advancement we’ve enjoyed and will continue to enjoy, as long as that foundation is secure in the years ahead.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on One Belt, One Road are you concerned that all this is about a strategic - given a thought about Pakistan, Kazakhstan, maybe having 60 or 70 per cent of GDP in the loan, so China ends up getting equity and owning this trade route rather than just opening it up?

PRIME MINISTER:

We welcome investment flows - you know open markets - a part of that is investment. But it’s vitally important that it is done in a way that respects the sovereignty of all nations large and small, and that is a critical element.

 Now speaking for Australia, as you know we asses foreign investment in Australia in our national interest. So that’s our commitment and its important that all investment in the region is done in a manner that respects the sovereignty and the ability of each nation to be free as Lee Kuan Yew said all those years ago and as I cited him in  my speech last night.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, one question - if you’ll forgive me about this conference itself - given the access and meeting opportunities it does offer you, how valuable is it for you and for other leaders?

 PRIME MINISTER:

Well look it is a remarkable conference, it’s not often you see Generals of the People’s Liberation Army of China asking questions of the US Defense Secretary and many other nations as well. I think it is a remarkable conference and it is vitally important that all of us in the region get to know each other better, share our insights and build trust. At the heart of our security is trust and confidence and consistency. And so, the more these encounters occur, the franker people are with each other the stronger that trust will become.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you have specifically rejected the belief that Australia will have to choose between China and the US, in quite strong language, talk about coercion, how do you see the danger of Australia being seen by China as the deputy sheriff or cat’s paw of the US?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I absolutely reject that characterisation. Australia’s foreign policy, as I said last night, is conducted in Australia’s national interest and in Australia’s national interest alone, we determine our own destiny. And as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday for example with the TPP, we were one of the first countries to say that we should look at continuing with the TPP with the 11 countries, given the United States decision not to proceed. Those discussions continue and that is received some momentum, so that is a good example of us always addressing these issues with our focus on our own national interests.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister the Defense Secretary Mattis made a comment - words to the effect that we all need to help the Philippines in any way we reasonably can. What consideration has there been by your government of additional ways in which we might lend support to the Philippines and what views do you have on whether it’s even possible for us to do?

PRIME MINISTER:

We cooperate with the Philippines on counterterrorism matters. We share intelligence, as you know, that is vitally important matter. Particularly with respect to returning foreign fighters, they are a real threat to our region. People who have gone from the region to the conflict zone in the middle east and of course when they return they are battle hardened, they’re trained, they are highly, highly dangerous. So intelligence on them, how to prevent them returning and how to manage them if they do is vitally important.

So there is strong cooperation between us and indeed a number of countries, all of the countries in the region but it is very pertinent, very relevant with the Philippines. But in terms of any further activities with the Philippines obviously that’s something that we would discuss with the government of the Philippines but it is President Duterte has a very clear view about resolving these issues in the Philippines by the defence and security agencies of the Philippines.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you’ve reiterated the need for respect for the rule of law and freedom of navigation, what you haven’t done though is said there will be Australian military hardware operating that freedom of navigation. If we’re not willing to change our approach to the South China Sea what makes you think that China will?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I say to you we exercise of right of freedom of navigation and overflight all the time. So that is a given, as to what particular operations will be undertaken at a particular time that’s obviously not something we’re going to speculate or foreshadow. But we assert and exercise our rights to freedom of navigation and overflight.

JOURNALIST:

Did General Mattis though talk about doing that in a Naval capacity and joining with the US on that front?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I won’t go into the discussions that we had about military matters with General Mattis but I can assure you that we stay in the closest of contact with our ally on all of these issues.

JOURNALIST:

But do you accept there is a difference between the overflights we’ve done and naval approaches that have steered close to these islands.

PRIME MINISTER:

Our naval vessels and our aircraft exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the region and indeed in the world.

JOURNALIST:

In the US, America, yourself, Singapore, obviously the issue of sovereignty has come up again and again. Last year this issue of sovereignty and a rules-based order was also brought up at the same summit. In ASEAN we’ve seen talk of a code of conduct, that’s gone nowhere-

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wouldn’t say – its hasn’t been concluded but it’s a work in progress.

JOURNALIST:

Now they’re talking about coming up for a framework in order to create a code of conduct, so it’s certainly not going to be resolved anytime soon. And the US referred today to last year’s ruling, so the speech has always been on please respect the rule of law but China continues to militarise the area, so what’s going to shift and what can Australia actually do and the US actually do in the situation to change?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is vitally important that we assert our interest and our mutual interest, our collective interest in the maintenance of the rule of law and stand up for the rules based order in our region and resist efforts by any party to take unilateral actions which would undermine it. That’s the commitment and that is what I’ve done. I hope clearly enough last night and that is certainly been echoed by Secretary Mattis this morning.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, would you like to see a more assertive ASEAN given that we are hosting the meeting next year and Singapore is the Chair?

PRIME MINISTER:

We want to see ASEAN stronger and to get stronger all the time.  Continue to strengthen the trust and the engagement and the confidence in the region both within the members of ASEAN and of course with other partners, other nations including of course Australia, their first partner. The security in the region has been assured for many years by very strong relationships with the United States above all.

What we need to do as I said last night is to build greater trust, greater engagement, greater assistance and collaboration between the nations of the region. Getting back to Lee Kuan Yew’s metaphor of the big fish, little fish and the shrimps. He talked about how the shrimps, very modest describing Singapore as a shrimp of course, anything but – but nonetheless his point was that yes, you have to be self-reliant, but also you have to build friendships and associations and connections, and alliances and partnerships and that is very important.

So building that mesh of security between the nations in the region, of trust of cooperation, of intelligence matters, counterterrorism matters, people smuggling, you know transnational crime, all of this cooperation builds trust. That is the foundation and that is why this conference is a very important part of that, there is no one single answer, it is a process.

But I think you’re seeing here strong engagement, mutual respect, a commitment, a strong commitment to that shared objective of the maintenance of the rules based order. No coercion, freedom, respect for fish of all sizes, nations of all sizes. That has been the key, that has been the foundation - we shouldn’t kid ourselves - that has been the foundation for the most remarkable economic transformation, the most rapid in human history. We cannot afford to put that at risk.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve spoken a lot about rules based order. 18 months ago or so, President Xi said on US soil that he wouldn’t go that step of militarising the islands. That has happened, so that hope that China wouldn’t do that is gone. Would you not agree that they have already have crossed that line so now they might test the next one?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s vitally important to maintain that dialogue and send that strong message. Our contention is a very straightforward one. We know not only is respect for all nations and the rule of law morally right but we also know that it works. It has been the foundation of this extraordinary economic advancement in our region.

There has never been in human history so many people lifted out of poverty, so much economic advancement and progress than in this region, in this lifetimes of all us, even the youngest ones among you right here in our region. So we must not lose that, that’s the foundation, that’s what we’re committed to strengthen and preserve and look I-

JOURNALIST:

But just on militarisation because it has happened hasn’t it? You’d hoped it wouldn’t but it has, surely that’s set in stone.

PRIME MINISTER:

We are committed to ensuring that our voice, Australia’s voice is heard in company with others together with that of the United States. Which the Defense Secretary spoke so powerfully this morning to say that unilateral actions which threaten the stability of the region should not occur and when they do, should be called out for what they are.

It is the undermining of the rule of law in our region threatens everything that we’ve gained. We have won a lot and we have a lot more to win but commitment to mutual respect, the rule of law, disputes being negotiated in good faith between the parties in accordance with law, that is the key and you can hear in that room of this great conference, a strong commitment to that from right across the floor.

So thank you all very much. I look forward to seeing you later today.

[ENDS]