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.
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