Press Conference, Thailand

19 Nov 2022
Prime Minister
International Summit visits; Bilateral Meetings; Sean Turnell; North Korea; Relationship with China; AUKUS; Action on climate change; Relationship with the US; Relationship with India; Myanmar

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well thanks very much for joining us, and can I thank the Australian media for their attendance over the last eight days. It's been a very busy period, and I'm sure that you're feeling it a bit too, but we're on the homestretch now. And this morning, I had a very successful bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Thailand, that was so important. These three meetings, the ASEAN East Asia Summit, the G20, and APEC are all important forums to advance Australia's national interest. We live in an increasingly globalised world. One where events in one part of the world, on security, like we've seen with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, impact the whole world. We've seen that have an impact on the global economy. But before that, of course, we saw the pandemic, a health issue, spread around the world. We've also seen, of course, climate change, and at this time as the COP Conference of the Parties is occurring at Sharm el-Sheikh, we're reminded that you can't have one nation solutions to issues which are global. They require international cooperation. They require goodwill, and they require countries to work together for our common interest. And that is what I have sought to do over the past eight days, is to send a message that Australia wants to engage constructively, to work with our partners in the region, and indeed, throughout the world. And I believe that Australia has achieved some significant steps forward over the past eight days. We have re-engaged, firstly, with ASEAN through the ASEAN Australia Summit, re-affirmed Australia's position of the centrality of ASEAN in our region. We reinforced that with the increased support that we have for aid in Southeast Asia, for the increased number of economic agreements we have with this region, including with ASEAN itself but also with the appointment of Nicholas Moore as the envoy to Southeast Asia, a practical step that will make a difference. Someone who brings with him enormous capacity but also great standing, not just in Australia, but in the region as well. We advanced our economic standing as well with the business community, with giving a keynote address to the B20, one of only three leaders to address the B20 meeting, attended by thousands of leading business people, the largest delegation of which was from Australia. And I thank Jennifer Westacott and the other key business leaders for their attendance, Andrew McKellar from ACCI and Innes Willox from AIG were also in attendance as well as Andrew Forrest and other leading business people. We also had important bilaterals with our AUKUS partners. It was great to catch up again with the US President Joe Biden to talk about AUKUS, to talk about the challenges that are there in the global economy, but also to talk about how Australia can benefit from his ground-breaking Inflation Reduction Act that was passed in the United States this year, that will present opportunities for partners with the United States as we transition and transform our economy in a carbon constrained world. And I get on very well with President Biden. There was also an opportunity to congratulate him on what was an outstanding result in the midterm elections in the United States. And of course, with our friends from the UK, it was my third UK Prime Minister I sat down with. Rishi Sunak and I sat next to each other at a number of events, we were able to develop a strong relationship that's so important for us, given our historical and our economic ties as well. As part of that, we advanced timetables for trade deals with the United Kingdom will be settled in the first quarter of next year. It's been some delay on the UK side for obvious reasons, because of their bringing down another budget statement, but they will get that done. We got that commitment in the first quarter of next year. In addition to that, the Indian advancement in our trade engagements will be secured this year. And I will lead a delegation, including a business delegation, to India in the first quarter of 2023, before the leaders of the United States, India, and Japan visit Australia for the Quad meeting, which we'll host in 2023. We also advanced progress on the deal with the European Union that is so important for us. We did that with direct discussions with the European Union leaders themselves, with Ursula and Charles. But also with individual countries who I met with; Pedro Sanchez of Spain; Giorgia Meloni, the newly elected Prime Minister of Italy; President Macron; Chancellor Scholz; talking about the importance of the EU deal. And I'm very confident that this can be a very good one for Australia. Also, a theme over the last week has been a recognition of Australia's changed climate change position. That has transformed the way that we're perceived in the world. Taking climate change seriously is the entry fee to get a seat at the table of international diplomacy and to be taken seriously by those who care about the global economy as well. We all know the pressures that are on, and this was well received with a number of leaders, including this morning, the Prime Minister of Thailand acknowledged that. At the same time, I've been talking to leaders securing support for Australia to host a Conference of the Parties for the UNFCCC in 2026 in Australia, which we would co-host with our Pacific friends. We had, of course, the first bilateral meeting with China since 2016. It was a constructive meeting. It's always good to have dialogue, and we engaged formally, of course, at that bilateral meeting. But of course, there was other interaction with Chinese leaders informally as well over the past week, and I regard it as a step forward and that we need to step forward together. We had bilaterals with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines is coming up, Indonesia, France, India, UK, Chile, Japan, Korea, Canada, New Zealand and PNG. We had sit down meetings as well. So it's been a busy time. We also had a meeting with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister where I re-enforced Australia's support for the struggle of the people of Ukraine to defend their national sovereignty and the outrageous aggression by Russia. We were able to call it out, with Russia in the room, at the forums where they were present, at both the G20, and at the East Asia Summit. We also of course made strong statements about the actions that Russia has taken in the past week while these summits were occurring, escalating the targeting of infrastructure and energy, and of course with consequences for people in Ukraine with their escalation. We participated in a multilateral forum yesterday convened by the US Vice President on the North Korean use of intercontinental ballistic missiles. And these launches we called out. We have supported the calling of a UN Security Council emergency meeting to deal with this. We secured a very positive leaders' declaration at the G20 meeting. Something that was always going to be a difficult outcome to achieve, but it was achieved, and I pay tribute to President Widodo and his very strong leadership at the G20. He was a gracious host, Indonesia put such effort into hosting the G20. It's the biggest event internationally that's been held in Indonesia. The relationship with Indonesia is one that I place great stake in. They will be, along with India, in the top four economies in the world in the coming period. And we need to increasingly engage with them. And I'm hopeful that President Widodo will come down to Australia for our bilateral meeting next year. In today's globalised world, as I said, the challenges can't be dealt with just by nation states acting alone. We need to have cooperation. And that is what I think we've seen the shoots of over the last week. It has been very constructive and I leave these meetings with my optimism that the world and the region can guide the economic recovery and seize the opportunities that come from the transition to Net Zero, to create a better future that you've heard me speak about before. That better future can only be achieved if we're engaged, if we have standing in the world, if we're treated with respect, but also if we treat others with respect as well. That's what I've sought to do in having the great honour of being Prime Minister at these forums. And I'll just conclude, before taking questions, by saying that it was a highlight for me, the release of Sean Turnell as well. And I thank, I spoke to the ASEAN leaders before that decision was made. And since that decision has been made, and Sean is now at home with his wife, I have reiterated my very sincere thanks on behalf of the people of Australia for that very good outcome.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un today has said he's essentially responding to US threats with nuclear weapons according to state media. What's your response to this escalating rhetoric?

PRIME MINISTER: There is no place for either the rhetoric of the North Korean leader or for the actions of the North Korean state. This is a rogue state that is endangering regional security. And that is just another reason why the UN Security Council should be convened in an emergency meeting.

JOURNALIST: The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has been invited to look at dates to travel with a trade delegation to China. Would you like to have that invitation as well? What could be achieved by actually going there yourself to try and ensure that this trade rhetoric actually is delivered?

PRIME MINISTER: What we've had this week is first steps. And I'm not getting ahead of myself. I think that engagement with China, like engagement with other nations, is constructive. It has been this week. And I believe that I travelled to China on four occasions as a Minister. One of the discussions that I've had with President Xi of course was that he's travelled to Australia, he's been to all States and Territories of Australia. A lot of Australians haven't done that. He has. Look, we'll continue to, arising out of this week's progress, take steps forward together.

JOURNALIST: You said yesterday that French President Emmanuel Macron was welcome to put his views forward about the issue of AUKUS and submarines, but he's followed up again by saying that specifically it won't deliver. I wonder if you can respond substantively to this idea rather than the fact that it's come from him? Are you confident that Australia will be able to develop the sovereign capability to deliver and maintain a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm very confident that the AUKUS arrangements that we're dealing with through the National Security Committee, with our allies in the United States and the UK, will serve the interests of our three nations but also serve the interests of global security and peace as well. We enter into the AUKUS agreement positively. We are positive about the outcomes. We've had further discussions over the last week about some of those details. And we'll continue to work on those issues with our officials as well as with our partners.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned in summarising your conversation with Joe Biden that he raised with you opportunities for Australia under the Inflation Reduction Act. Can you be more specific about what those opportunities might be? Like the specific examples? You mentioned lobbying about hosting the COP, who is in Australia's corner for that endeavour?

PRIME MINISTER: I have had very positive, I'll allow countries to make their own announcements, which you would expect, but I've had a very positive response from all of the nations that I have raised it with. Particularly those in this region are very keen to see a COP hosted here in 2026. Next year's is in the Middle East region, the year after will be in Europe, the year after will be in Central America. And it is a good opportunity, I believe, for Australia, to show and to host what is a major global event. And the first question was the Inflation Reduction Act, and with that comes opportunity. The inflation Reduction Act envisages an enormous investment in clean technology. Australia has an opportunity through green hydrogen, through other innovation as well, to gain jobs and economic activity. Because the US is looking at not just doing it by themselves as a closed nation state, but part of that will inevitably involve partnerships with companies, Australia historically has punched above our weight. There would be not a PV solar cell in the world that doesn't have something that was developed at the ANU or University of New South Wales. What we haven't been good at in the past, is commercialising those opportunities and giving Australia the advantages of it. I see the Inflation Reduction Act as being a part of that.

JOURNALIST: On the relationship with Australia, do you get a sense that Xi Jinping and China are trying to recalibrate and soften their position with other democratic nations, from what you've seen over the past week? And secondly, can we read any significance against into the fact that there won't be a leaders’ photo today because they're always much anticipated to see what everyone's wearing?

PRIME MINISTER: I have given zero thought to the second issue, and thank you for that information. There have been a lot of photos taken during the events of this week, so I don't think that the photographers will be short of a photograph. Unlike the other forums you had, no we didn't get a shirt at this APEC, it is what it is. I'm sorry you're disappointed, Matthew, in that. And the first in your cheeky double hit was China? 

JOURNALIST: Is China recalibrating its relationship particularly with democratic nations?

PRIME MINISTER: Look people will, I'm not the commentator, it's up to the commentators to make their own assessments. All I can say is on behalf of Australia, I think it was a very constructive dialogue. I welcomed it, I think that it is not a good thing that there had been no discussions at leader level with our major trading partner. Now, you know, it's good that that dialogue has occurred. And I've would have thought that it is clearly in Australia's national interest.

JOURNALIST: Taipei's issued a statement today saying Australia has clarified its position on Taiwan and the CPTPP. Did you misspeak yesterday in likening the CPTPP membership to statehood and the One China policy? And what is Australia's policy on this?

PRIME MINISTER: So you've started the double-bunger Katherine, and now we're getting all of them. Look, our position has not changed. We will deal with applications as they are dealt with by consensus for economies applying to join the CPTPP. At the moment, they're dealt with one at a time. At the moment, as I said yesterday, the issue that is being dealt with at the moment that was agreed to be dealt with by all the countries by consensus is the UK. Those negotiations have been going on for a year and they're continuing to go on. And we will deal with the applications on their merits.

JOURNALIST: You said that you have had a number of informal interactions with the Chinese delegation alongside these meetings. Are you referring to your discussion with Premier Li earlier or have you had further interactions here with President Xi? And have you also had any informal interactions with the Taiwanese delegation?

PRIME MINISTER: We have informal interactions because we're all in the same building. I'm a polite bloke, I say hello to people. I noticed one of the rather strange criticisms was that I smiled when I met one of the leaders. I would hope that you do, I would hope you be courteous to each other, it costs you nothing to be courteous. People need to not over-read these things completely. If someone says hello to me, I've never ever not said hello back. That's my style. I hope you've noticed that. I do it even with people in the media, although of course you also know that I love each and every one of you.

JOURNALIST: You said you'll meet with Prime Minister Modi three or four times next year, do you think about the opportunities for Australian consumers and businesses in India, particularly as a counterweight to China?

PRIME MINISTER: The opportunities in India are enormous. And I think if you go back to the Varghese Report, I think it's been undercooked in terms of delivering it. It points out India is a diverse economy, it's a multicultural society as well. It is a society that's dynamic, it is growing at rates that of course we could wish for. It is a stable democracy. And it's one that we should have more engagement with. We have a large Indian diaspora in Australia. And that can be a big plus for our business relationships. One of the things that strikes me about attending forums like this is that everyone has a connection to Australia. It is a big plus, our multiculturalism. It is a national economic asset, as well as providing, in my view, a microcosm for the world. That people can live next door to each other in harmony, of different religions, of different backgrounds, of different political views, and we have a harmonious society. If you think about the conflict in the world that exists, you know, it is a great thing that in Australia, you can have Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists living next door to each other, in my neighbourhood, and they all get on. They all get on, you know. And you go to a local school and you see kids just getting on with each other, you know. People are taught division. I think people's natural instinct is to relate to each other just as human beings. And that puts Australia in a really strong position, I believe. When I met His Majesty the King of Thailand last night, here's a guy who studied in Australia for school, he went to Duntroon and graduated from college. And those connections that you see in people you meet with. I give Julie Bishop credit for bringing back the Colombo Plan as well, of picking out leaders. I spoke with the Thai PM this morning about part of our program of our partnership with Thailand is taking future leaders to Australia. With India, we spoke with Prime Minister Modi, about increasing the educational interaction. He wants universities to have a presence in India, Australian universities, and for Indian students to be able to study. Say you do a four-year degree, two years in India, two years in Australia, wouldn't that be a great thing? I think there's a lot more we can do in India. 

JOURNALIST: You mentioned one of the highlights of your trip was securing the freedom of Sean Turnell. Now that he's out of the country, does that change how Australia deals with Myanmar? Does it allow Australia to take a harder stance on its human rights abuses and all the other things that are going on there because of the sensitivities now?

PRIME MINISTER: We have made a hard stance against the human rights abuses in Myanmar. Penny Wong has been very strong, as has the former government as well, been very strong about human rights abuses in Myanmar. Australia will always stand up for our values. Thanks very much.