Australia — Shangri La Dialogue 2011

Min­is­ter for Defence — Door Stop — Shangri La Dia­logue 2011
JOURNALIST: So Min­is­ter, in your speech you men­tioned that you want­ed Chi­na to be a respon­si­ble stake­hold­er. Giv­en some of the inci­dents we’ve seen over the past few weeks in the South Chi­na Sea, do you think they are respon­si­ble now?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two things. First­ly Chi­na is a ris­ing pow­er. The rise of Chi­na, togeth­er with the rise of India and the rise of the ASEAN economies, the rise of Japan and Korea, the ongo­ing influ­ence of the Unit­ed States, all of these things see eco­nom­ic and strate­gic and mil­i­tary influ­ence move to our part of the world. Now as Chi­na ris­es, Aus­tralia is very opti­mistic that Chi­na will emerge as what the Chi­nese describe as into a har­mo­nious envi­ron­ment; what we would describe as a respon­si­ble stakeholder. 

In the area of mar­itime ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims or dis­putes, Aus­tralia does not take sides where these dis­putes exist. This is not just mar­itime or ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes with Chi­na, oth­er coun­tries are involved as well. How Aus­tralia wants to see these dis­putes resolved is in accor­dance with inter­na­tion­al legal norms and the Law of the Sea. We are the chair of the ASEAN Defence Min­is­ters Meet­ing Plus Mar­itime Secu­ri­ty Group and that is the view that we express in the rel­e­vant region­al forum. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think though, that a coun­try like Viet­nam, there was an inci­dent where the cables they were lay­ing were cut in the South Chi­na Sea? Do you think that a coun­try like that has the right to feel a bit aggriev­ed at China’s behav­iour at the moment? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well again as I say, Aus­tralia doesn’t take sides or form a pub­lic view about a par­tic­u­lar mar­itime or ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­pute. We urge the par­ties con­cerned to resolve that peace­ful­ly ami­ca­bly, in accor­dance with inter­na­tion­al legal norms and Law of the Sea. 

So, it’s not for Aus­tralia to be tak­ing sides or to be back­ing one coun­try in against anoth­er. There are a range of long stand­ing mar­itime ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes in the South Chi­na Sea, the East Chi­na Sea and else­where through­out our region and the world. Aus­tralia respects Inter­na­tion­al Law and would like to see those dis­putes resolved ami­ca­bly by the par­ties con­cerned in accor­dance with Inter­na­tion­al Law. 

JOURNALIST: Robert Gates spoke about the con­straints on the US defence bud­get will that increase the respon­si­bil­i­ty of coun­ties like Aus­tralia to play a big­ger secu­ri­ty role in the Asia Pacific? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we all have finan­cial con­straints on us. This is a part of the mod­ern defence world. The Unit­ed States has defence spend­ing and bud­get con­straints, as the Unit­ed King­dom does as New Zealand do. This is part of the mod­ern era, which means that we need to be more effi­cient we need to make sure we get val­ue for mon­ey for the tax payer’s effort that goes into our nation­al secu­ri­ty budget. 

It also means that we each and all have to do our bit. That’s why, for exam­ple, Aus­tralia makes a con­tri­bu­tion not just in Afghanistan but a peace keep­ing con­tri­bu­tion in East Tim­or and the Solomon Islands. The Unit­ed States is cur­rent­ly engaged in a Glob­al Force Pos­ture Review to look at the effi­ca­cy and the effi­cien­cy of how its forces are posi­tioned around the world. 

We have a bilat­er­al joint work­ing group with the Unit­ed States to look at the impli­ca­tions of that so far as Aus­tralia is con­cerned, but there’s a long way down the track before we come to final con­clu­sions. As a gen­er­al propo­si­tion Aus­tralia wants the Unit­ed States to be engaged in our region, in the Asia Pacif­ic, and to enhance that engage­ment. That brings with it finan­cial and fis­cal chal­lenges for the Unit­ed States just as defence and nation­al secu­ri­ty issues bring finan­cial and fis­cal chal­lenges for all of us in the mod­ern world. 

JOURNALIST: On Afghanistan, do you share Mr Gates view that the Tal­iban could be brought to nego­ti­a­tions by win­ter and what do you think should be the cri­te­ria for that? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well there is no doubt that we have been mak­ing progress on the secu­ri­ty front, on the mil­i­tary, or com­bat front and Aus­tralia has been say­ing for some time that we can’t win Afghanistan by use of a mil­i­tary strat­e­gy alone. 

We need not just a mil­i­tary strat­e­gy but also a polit­i­cal strat­e­gy. That is why we have strong­ly sup­port­ed the notions of polit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, of rein­te­gra­tion, of rap­proche­ment. Very impor­tant­ly, I share Sec­re­tary Gates’ view that the Tal­iban will only come to the table when they come to the con­clu­sion that their capac­i­ty to influ­ence out­comes by use of the force of arms will not pre­vail or be suc­cess­ful. We are not at that stage at this point in time. 

But already we see and have seen for the last year or so at the local lev­el, efforts in rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and rein­te­gra­tion. The start­ing point has to be that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion or rein­te­gra­tion, any polit­i­cal approach must be affect­ed by the Afghanistan gov­ern­ment. If done with a peo­ple who lay down their arms and are hap­py to adhere to the pro­vi­sions and require­ments of the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion, that’s essen­tial­ly the view of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, and Sec­re­tary Gates has artic­u­lat­ed that ear­li­er today. 

JOURNALIST: Liam Fox spoke about the invis­i­ble ene­my and Robert Gates talked about being under cyber attack every day. Is Aus­tralia fac­ing these types of attacks and what is Aus­tralia doing about it? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well cyber and cyber secu­ri­ty is one of the mod­ern new nation­al secu­ri­ty chal­lenges. This is not just a chal­lenge for nations, states or a chal­lenge pre­sent­ed only to gov­ern­ments, this is a chal­lenge for indus­try, for com­merce. It’s also a chal­lenge thrown up to us not just by nations but by no state actors. 

So this is an area of great pri­or­i­ty reflect­ed by the fact that yes­ter­day on behalf of the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment, the Attor­ney-Gen­er­al indi­cat­ed that we would have a white paper on cyber and cyber secu­ri­ty issues. 

In the recent past, at our AUKMIN meet­ings, our Min­is­te­r­i­al meet­ings between Aus­tralia and the Unit­ed King­dom in Jan­u­ary of this year we agreed to work togeth­er on Cyber issues. We did the same thing with our US coun­ter­parts at the AUSMIN meet­ing in Novem­ber of last year. We are work­ing very close­ly with our friends and part­ners to do a cou­ple of things. First to draw the atten­tion of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to the need for all of us to be focussed on cyber and cyber secu­ri­ty issues. Sec­ond­ly, to start the work now for inter­na­tion­al legal norms, to apply to cyber and cyber space. 

JOURNALIST: Can you just indulge me in a ques­tion about domes­tic pol­i­tics? Have your state Labor col­leagues in WA raised their con­cerns about the asy­lum seek­er deal with Malaysia with you and as they say, has Labor lost their moral com­pass on this? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well a cou­ple of things. First­ly I haven’t had the oppor­tu­ni­ty of speak­ing to my state col­leagues about this mat­ter. I know that Min­is­ter Bowen has made exten­sive remarks about these mat­ters today, so I won’t be drawn on the details. 

But, my advice to my WA Labor col­leagues is that they should read, lis­ten and watch very care­ful­ly the out­come of this mat­ter and pay very care­ful atten­tion to the detail of which Min­is­ter Bowen has put on the table in the last cou­ple of days. 

The most impor­tant thing we have to do is to break the back of the peo­ple smug­glers busi­ness so that we put out of risk, peo­ple, women, chil­dren, on boats get­ting them­selves into dan­ger­ous posi­tions like the ter­ri­ble tragedy we saw at Christ­mas Island. That is the Gov­ern­ments objec­tive and that is Min­is­ter Bowen’s objective. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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