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Defense & Security
Australian flag and South Korean flag

Press Conference, Melbourne. Australia-Republic of Korea 2+2 Foreign And Defence Ministers’ Meeting

by Richard Marles , Cho Tae-Yul , Penny Wong

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Joint transcript with: The Hon Richard Marles MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Subjects: Australia-Republic of Korea 2+2 Foreign And Defence Ministers’ Meeting; AUKUS Pillar Two; Hanwha bid for Austal; foreign interference; Korean peninsula security. 01 May 2024 Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles: Well, welcome everyone. Today, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have had the pleasure of being able to welcome Minister Cho and Minister Shin, the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister of South Korea to a 2+2 with Australia. In December of 2022, the Republic of Korea released its Indo-Pacific Strategy. And it described an assessment of the region and a response to it, which represented Korea looking to take its place in the region and the world. That is remarkably similar to the assessment that we made a few months later in the Defence Strategic Review. And it speaks to the fact that both Korea and Australia have a close strategic alignment and a shared vision about our place in the region and the world. And what was immediately obvious from that moment was the opportunity to take the relationship between our two countries to the next level. And today's 2+2 is very much an expression of that. We are seeing increased engagement between our two countries across the board. We are certainly seeing that in the realm of defence. Last year, Korea had its largest participation in Exercise Talisman Sabre, which is our major bilateral defence exercise. This year, we will see more Korean engagement in Exercise Pitch Black, Exercise Kakadu, Exercise Southern Jackaroo and we are very appreciative of Korea’s participation in those exercises, as we are in the way in which Korea and Australia are working together to uphold the rules-based order within our region and in fact, within the world. Both countries, as we've discussed today, are playing our part in supporting Ukraine in its resistance of the appalling aggression that is being forced upon it by Russia. We are working very closely together within our region to uphold the global rules-based order here as well, and that's seen in a greater engagement that both of us are doing with the countries of the Pacific and the countries of southeast Asia. We are particularly aware of the efforts that have been put in place for Korea to build its relationship with Japan and we see this as a very, very positive step forward in the strategic landscape of the region, and represents a huge opportunity for Australia to engage with both Korea and Japan. Finally, in respect of defence industry, we are seeing a blossoming of the relationship between our two countries in respect of defence industry. Yesterday, Minister Shin and I visited Hanwha's facility in Geelong, which is building for the Australian Army both the Huntsman and the Redback, which will be very central to our capabilities for the Army. But we're also very hopeful that these platforms represent an opportunity for greater industrial activity there, where we can see export to the world. Across the board, this is a relationship which is going to a new place, a place which is much deeper and much closer and we are very, very grateful for the presence of Minister Cho and Minister Shin in Australia today and we've really enjoyed the meeting that we've had this morning. Republic of Korea Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cho Tae-Yul: [spoken in Korean] Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. I am Cho Tae-Yul, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea. I am grateful for the successful organisation of the sixth Republic of Korea-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Minister’s Meeting and I extend my deepest thanks to Mr Richard Marles and Ms Penny Wong for the warm welcome toward our delegations. It is with great pleasure that I make my first visit as Minister of Foreign Affairs to Australia to, our esteemed regional partner. Together with Mr Shin Won-sik, Minister of National Defense. During the first day of our visit on the 29th of April we paid tribute to the enduring legacy of 17,000 Australian veterans at the Australian National Museum Korean War Memorial in Canberra, commemorating their profound sacrifices for peace. The sacrifices of Australian veterans have laid a solid foundation for the prosperity of our relationship and on behalf of the Korean Government and people, I’d like to express heartfelt gratidude to the Australian veterans for their unwavering dedication. Today’s meeting holds significant importance as it is the first gathering of its kind following the installation of our current governments and Korea’s announcement of our Indo-Pacific Strategy. This occasion is further distinguished by its location in Melbourne, a symbol of our robust cooperation in defence industry. The Ministers of the two countries engaged in extensive discussions aimed at deepening strategic cooperation and communication, reinforcing our shared vision at both regional and global levels. Both parties recognise each other as pivotal partners in the realisation of our respective Indo-Pacific strategies, and as likeminded nations agreed to enhance our cooperation at bilateral, unilateral and multilateral levels. We acknowledge the remarkable progress in our bilateral cooperation with national defence and defence industries, highlighted by the signing of a contract for the delivery of Redback IFVs and the participation of Korean military personnel in Exercise Talisman Sabre and we said that we will be strengthening our cooperation into the future. In the realms of cyber and maritime security, we agreed to collaborate in blocking North Korea’s access to funding for illicit nuclear and missile developments, and to thwart illegal activities such as arms trading between Russia and North Korea. Our Australian counterparts have expressed their steadfast support for enhancing the human rights of North Koreans and for our policies aimed at reunification. Furthermore, we resolved to continue our close collaboration with ASEAN and the Pacific regions which hold great significance for both our countries. We will also expand our cooperative efforts for comprehensive security in cyber and maritime security, as well as economic security and climate change. I am confident today’s meeting will mark a significant milestone in strengthening our partnership built on the shared foundations of liberal democracy and mutual trust, and will further our commitment to a rules-based regional and global order. Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong: Thank you very much. Can I first express my deep appreciation to Minister Cho and Defense Minister Shin for their travel to Australia for this Foreign and Defence Ministers’ 2+2 meeting. We appreciate you coming to Australia and we have deeply enjoyed the dialogue this morning. This is the first 2+2 for us Ministers. We recognise that this dialogue is a cornerstone of our comprehensive strategic partnership with Korea. Can I start by appreciating the Minister's acknowledgement of the role that Australia and Australian veterans have played in this bilateral relationship. We thank you for honouring those Australians who have served. It is a testament to the historic strength of our relationship. But more importantly, today, what we focus on is the increasing strategic and economic convergence that exists between our two nations. And the focus of our meeting was how to translate that convergence that the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Cho have articulated, how we translate that convergence into tangible and practical actions in southeast Asia, in the Pacific and more broadly in terms of our cooperation in in the Indo-Pacific. We are very interested not only in increasing our cooperation and our engagement in defence industries, but also in increasing our collaboration diplomatically and economically. I make note, as Foreign Minister Cho did, of our collective condemnation of North Korea's continue provocative, destabilising activities and we will continue to work together to ensure that this risk and threat to our collective security continues to be met in solidarity between our countries and other countries of the world. As you will see from the joint statement when it is released, discussed a range of other matters, including the Middle East, where we shared our perspectives. I thank, again, my counterpart, the Foreign Minister for his engagement. We were an early call for him and we appreciate it. And we appreciate the efforts that the Ministers have made in coming to Australia for this very important 2+2. Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense, Shin Won-Sik: [spoken in Korean] Good afternoon, I am Shin Won-sik, Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Korea. First of all, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to Mr Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister and Ms Penny Wong, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the warm reception of our delegations. We are externally grateful for the noble sacrifices made by the 17,000 Australians during the Korean War who fought for freedom and peace in our country. On behalf of our people, thank you. During the ROK-Australia Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting we engaged in extensive discussions on a range of issues concerning the Korean peninsula, Indo-Pacific region and boarder global foreign affairs and defence matters and reaffirmed our commitment to further develop our bilateral future oriented relationships. Firstly, we agreed to continue enhancing our mutual and beneficial partnership in defence industry. It is with great pleasure that I know a Korean company was selected in Australia’s next generation Infantry Fighting Vehicle project, valued at $250 million USD. This follows the successful collaboration on the self-propelled artillery project in 2021. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Marles, and I visited the construction site of a Korean company in Geelong where we witnessed firsthand our flourishing bilateral cooperation in the defence industry. This collaboration is set to not only modernise Australia’s military capabilities, but also stimulate the local economy and strengthen the strategic solidarity between our nations. Secondly, we agreed to enhance our joint military training to improve interoperability and foster conditions for regional peace and stability. Last year, a significant contingent of Korean armed forces participated in Exercise Talisman Sabre, yielding fruitful outcomes. This year, the Australian military took part in Korea’s Freedom Shield exercises, as a member of United Nations command, enhancing its capabilities for joint operations. We are committed to continuing these joint exercises in various forms and further elevating the level of cooperation between our armed forces. Thirdly, recognising the importance of building trust in our national defence and defence industry partnership, we agreed to expand human exchanges among defence related organisations. Republic of Korea and Australia, as key strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific region, share profound strategic views and interests. We will build on the achievements of today’s meeting and collaborate earnestly for the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, Indo-Pacific region and the international community as a whole. Speaker: Questions? Journalist: South Korean Minister for National Defence, Shin Won-sik, there's been speculation about countries like South Korea joining the AUKUS Defence technology. Did you discuss this today? And does South Korea believe that it could engage in useful cooperation under Pillar Two of AUKUS? And Minister Marles, Hanwha has made a bid for Austal. Was this big discussion discussed in your meetings over recent days? And would such a bid likely be permitted under the new foreign investment framework being unveiled by the government today? Defence Minister Shin: [spoken in Korean] The Korean government, to enhance the regional peace, we support the AUKUS Pillar Two activities, and we do welcome that AUKUS members are considering Korea as the AUKUS Pillar Two partner. Korea's defence science and technology capabilities will contribute to the peace and stability of the development of AUKUS Pillar Two and the regional peace. And during today's meeting, we also discussed the possibility of partnering with AUKUS Pillar Two. Thank you. Deputy Prime Minister Marles: So, perhaps I might address both issues in relation to AUKUS Pillar Two. And we did discuss this both yesterday and today. AUKUS, as you know, is a technology-sharing agreement. It's not a security alliance. And Korea is obviously a country with deeply impressive technology, where we do have shared values, where we have strategic alignment, where we engage closely together. We already engage closely together in relation to technology. So, as AUKUS Pillar Two develops, I think there will be opportunities in the future, and we're seeing that play out in relation to Japan as well and we talked about that. In respect of Austal. Look, ultimately, this is a matter for Austal. They are a private company. From the government's perspective, we don't have any concern about Hanwha moving in this direction. We have identified Austal as a strategic shipbuilder for Australia in WA. Wherever Austal goes, whatever it does, there will obviously need to be security arrangements put in place in respect of sensitive technologies and intellectual property that would have to be managed no matter what the future of Austal. And were there anything that were to transpire in relation to Hanwa that would need to be managed in that context as well. But fundamentally, this is a matter for Austal as a private company. Journalist: And to Foreign Minister Wong. Australian officials have confirmed that India’s government was behind the nest of spies the Director General of Security described in 2021. Should Australians in the diaspora community be concerned about Indian government surveillance? And what message does the Australian government have to the Indian government about the acceptability of these activities and to Foreign Affairs Minister Cho Tae-Yul, the ABC has today reported South Korea is one of the friendly countries with a good relationship with Australia, which nonetheless engages in espionage here. Has there ever been a point of tension between the two countries, or are there clear shared understandings about the operation of intelligence agents in both countries? Foreign Minister Wong: Well, you would be unsurprised to hear me respond that we don't comment on intelligence matters. But at a level of principle about the democracy, I think you would have heard me and other Ministers on many occasions assert the importance of our democratic principles, assert the importance of ensuring that we maintain the resilience of our democracy, including in the face of any suggestion of foreign interference, and we have laws to deal with that. And to continue to say that we deeply value the multicultural fabric of the Australian community. It is a strength and we welcome people's continued engagement in our democracy. Foreign Minister Cho: [spoken in Korean] In regards to your question, I haven't heard anything and I am not sure against which context you are asking this question, so I have nothing to answer to that question. Journalist: Thank you. Minister Cho, you've both spoken today about the tensions across the Korean peninsula. These aren't always discussed when we're talking about issues like defence arrangements in the Pacific and the AUKUS deal as such. Why do you believe that close-knit ties with Australia in defence and these types of engagement is something that does have an impact on that relationship? Foreign Minister Cho: [spoken in Korean] Korea's security focuses on the North Korea's threat, but it's not the only focus. But as you can see, there's huge geopolitical changes taking place and the security in the Indo-Pacific region is closely linked to the security of other regions of the globe. So, we live in such a geopolitical era and Russia and North Korea are cooperating in the Ukraine war. And it shows that the Indo-Pacific region’s security is closely linked to the security of Europe as well. So, Korea's security is closely linked with Australia's security, and that's the world we live in. So, against the context of Indo-Pacific region and from the regional point of view, Australia and Korea share a lot of values and it's very good, not only in terms of economy, but also in security for our two countries to cooperate. So, in that context, we discussed the security partnerships between our two countries. Foreign Minister Wong: I might just add to that, if I may, Richard, that I think history shows us that what happens in the Korean peninsula matters to the security and stability of our region. We have no doubt that North Korea's destabilising, provocative, escalatory actions are contrary, are a threat to international peace and security, as well as to the peace and security of the ROK. We see it as very important that the international community exert and assert as much pressure as possible on the DPRK, including in relation to the regime of sanctions. And as Foreign Minister Cho has said, the actions of Russia in undermining that - those sanctions, in undermining the isolation of the DPRK, in participating in the provision of materiel, in contravention of UN resolutions and sanctions, is destabilising and undermines peace and security for the whole of the globe. And so I think it is important for us to continue not only to express solidarity with the Republic of Korea in the face of this aggression but also to call out Russia's behaviour as irresponsible and destabilising. Journalist: And Minister Wong, you touched on the reports of espionage before - Foreign Minister Wong: No, I was asked about them and I said we don't comment on intelligence matters. Journalist: Sure, I understand that that's the general principle on these matters, but given Australia's close-knit ties with India in the situation of the Quad, as a general principle, could I ask you, do you believe Australia would feel empowered enough to be forthright in raising concerns of these nations with the Indian government if they did it right? Foreign Minister Wong: Well, again, say we don't comment on intelligence matters, but as a matter of general principles, Australia remains consistent to our interests and to our values in all of our engagements. Speaker: Great. Thank you very much.

Diplomacy
Rock Islands on the Pacific Ocean

China is playing the long game in the Pacific. Here’s why its efforts are beginning to pay off

by Graeme Smith

A week-long trip to Beijing by the Pacific’s most flamboyant statesman Manasseh Sogavare, was always going to cause concern in Canberra. The substance of the visit was as expected. The relationship between China and the Solomon Islands was upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” (on par with Papua New Guinea, the first Pacific nation to sign up to the Belt and Road Initiative). Nine agreements were also signed covering everything from civil aviation and infrastructure to fisheries and tourism. The Chinese premier, Li Qiang, who inked the deals with Sogavare, made a point of not mentioning the controversial policing cooperation agreement, the draft of which was leaked more than a year ago to New Zealand academic Anna Powles. Despite repeated calls from Australia and New Zealand to release the text of the policing agreement, there is no indication the Chinese or the Solomon Islands leadership will do so. There were also moments of theatre in Sogavare’s trip. The prime minister declared “I’m back home” when he arrived in Beijing in a clip posted by China Global Television Network. He then said in a longer interview on the same network that his nation had been “on the wrong side of history” for the 36 years it recognised Taiwan instead of the People’s Republic of China, and lauded President Xi Jinping as a “great man”. Sogavare saved his biggest serve for his return to the Solomon Islands, though. He accused Australia and New Zealand of withdrawing crucial budget support and hinted he would look to China to fulfil his ambitions to establish an armed forces, should Australia be unwilling to help.China’s slow start in the PacificSome key questions have been overlooked this week in the pantomime about what Australia should or shouldn’t do to shore up its relationship with an important Pacific partner. (We could start by accepting that Sogavare will never love us, and avoid getting into an arms race in the Solomon Islands with China.) What’s been somewhat lost, though, is how China has made inroads so quickly in a region that it still officially classifies as “peripheral”. China has certainly had to work harder to gain a foothold in the region. Relative to other regions, it has a lack of historical state ties with the Pacific. In Africa and Southeast Asia, China can draw on memories of shared anti-colonial struggles and aid projects like the Tanzam railway. In the Pacific, the Chinese Communist Party is a latecomer. Also holding it back is the remoteness and small population of the region. This has not made the Pacific a good fit for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has flourished in countries with rapid transport and communication links, substantial Chinese diasporas and leaders who are easily reached. Most of China’s own Pacific experts were baffled when the region was belatedly included in the project. Yet despite these obstacles, it’s clear the Chinese state’s approach in the Pacific has shifted, most remarkably in its diplomacy and the role state-linked companies are expected to play. Diplomats with serious intent China’s wolf warrior diplomacy has received plenty of attention, but the picture in the Pacific is less straightforward. The recently appointed special envoy to the Pacific, Qian Bo, undoubtedly styles himself as a wolf warrior. Under his tenure as Fijian ambassador, a Taiwanese representative was assaulted by Chinese diplomats for the crime of displaying a Taiwanese flag cake. Yet, other appointments suggest China is appointing higher-calibre diplomats to the region. These include Li Ming, the current ambassador to the Solomon Islands, and Xue Bing, the former ambassador to Papua New Guinea who now holds the challenging post of special envoy to the Horn of Africa. With experience in the region and good language skills, these diplomats have been more able to engage with Pacific communities than their predecessors, who largely focused on sending good news back to Beijing. More serious representatives suggest more serious intent.Chinese companies exerting influence, tooChina’s state-linked companies remain the driving force behind China’s engagement with the Pacific. Unlike the embassies, they are well-resourced and have skin in the game. Many company men (in construction, where Chinese companies dominate, they’re mostly men) are based in the region for decades, developing a deep understanding of how to win projects and influence political elites. Failed projects generate plenty of headlines, but many companies – such as COVEC PNG and China Railway First Group – are effective operators. They are building infrastructure cheaply in the Pacific and winning the favour of multilateral donors, particularly the Asian Development Bank. For larger state-linked companies, like China Harbor Engineering Company and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), the geopolitical game has shifted. In the past, they could rely on their standing within the Chinese political system (their parent companies often outrank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to resist pressure to act on behalf of state. Now, they are expected to carry geopolitical water for Beijing. Often this can benefit the companies. For instance, when CCECC lobbied the Solomon Islands leadership to switch their allegiance from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China, it helped the company when it came to bidding for projects for the Pacific Games in Honiara. The leaders of these companies realise it can harm their image when they are seen as Beijing’s pawns. Yet, the companies, diplomats and Pacific leaders who choose Beijing’s embrace know times have changed. China is now a serious player in the region with a development philosophy to sell. It’s no longer enough to read Beijing’s talking points. You have to look like you mean it.

Defense & Security
Oceania political map. Region, centered on central Pacific Ocean islands with Australia

Australia should not overstate the threat of China in the Pacific, and mend relationships in the region

by Melissa Conley Tyler

The signing of a security agreement between Solomon Islands and China in April 2022 brought geopolitical competition and militarisation in the Pacific to the fore of public discussion. Australian policymakers and the public are concerned about the potential for a Chinese military base in the Pacific region. They harbour wider concerns that China’s influence is becoming sharper and more destructive. At a time of intensifying geostrategic competition, Australia may feel pressure to take a short-term and transactional approach towards the Pacific. Such crisis thinking would be unnecessary and counterproductive. Australia should frame its relationship with the Pacific in terms of long-term, generational partnership. It should be responsive to the Pacific’s priorities for development with a clear eye on a shared, long-term future. The Pacific will always be of great strategic significance for Australia. Peace and stability in Pacific island countries goes to the heart of Australia’s security, prosperity and national interest. This means Australia’s interest in the region, and the attention it pays to it, should remain clear, consistent and coherent, irrespective of whether there are crises or not. Genuine, consistent Australian engagement should address each Pacific island country’s unique needs through both bilateral and regional Pacific-led initiatives. There is a danger that a focus on China could overtake other priorities. This would undermine trust and lead to Australia’s diplomatic intentions not always being well-received. If Australia privileges its own institutional requirements and solutions above local agency and solutions, it can feed negative perceptions about Australia’s intent. Foreign Minister Penny Wong has spent much time in the Pacific since Labor won office. AAP/AP/Department of Foreign AffairsWhen Pacific leaders look at regional security they have an expanded view, which includes climate change, human security, gender equality, environmental and resource security, transnational crime and cybersecurity. This reflects insecurity in the Pacific at multiple levels: - globally, as a warming planet presents ecological and civilisational threats- regionally, as players and relationships change- nationally, as countries respond to the effects of COVID-19, natural disasters, illegal fishing, transnational crime and other threats, compounded by gender inequality- locally, where community leaders and security agencies struggle to control violence and conflicts in several countries. In some areas, law and order challenges and the proliferation of firearms mean the risks to individual safety and tribal and political violence are extremely real. These shared challenges and mutual threats require the long-term attention of Australia and Pacific island countries. We need to move beyond paying lip service to each others’ security concerns and develop a common security framework that responds to the full set of peace and security challenges in the Pacific. This requires deepening relationships and making sure shared concerns are not lost along the way. The good news is there are strong foundations to work on in Australia-Pacific co-operation. Australia has security co-operation arrangements with most Pacific Island states. These include police-to-police co-operation, defence capacity-building and joint military exercises. There are development programs designed to address drivers of fragility such as inequality and inclusive economic growth. There has been co-operation on climate science, sustainable fisheries and preserving maritime boundaries in the face of sea-level rise. Australia has goodwill in the region to draw on. There is a risk that Australia’s concerns about geopolitical change lead it to overstate differences with Pacific island countries. There will always be areas where views and interests align, and others where they do not. Australia needs to envisage Pacific island countries as a network of interaction, trade, exchange, communication and influence reaching across much of the Pacific Ocean. Strong relationships are not made up only of defence and security ties, and do not come into play only in situations of threat. They are the product of long-term, consistent and multifaceted engagement, genuine partnership with and respect for countries that are equally sovereign, and exchange that takes seriously all parties’ priorities, concerns and values. The opportunity exists for a rhetorical reset framing Australia as a generational partner for Pacific societies. Faced with a challenge to its profile and influence, Australia should pursue a long-term approach. The focus should be on economic integration, reciprocity and sustained commitment to generational progress. Australians should accept that Pacific island countries will engage with other countries, and work towards bridging the gaps in our defence, development and diplomatic relationships with the region.