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Transcript of interview with David Lipson: Sky News, Kuala Lumpur: 6 August 2015: MH370; South China Sea; relationship with Indonesia

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Sky News, Kuala Lumpur - interview with David Lipson

Subjects: MH370, South China Sea, relationship with Indonesia.

Transcript, E&OE

6 August 2015


Foreign Minister, thanks for your time. What’s been the reaction today from your

counterparts as to this announcement re MH370?


During the course of the meeting I have just attended with members of the East Asia Summit,

that is the ten nations of South East Asia and eight other nations including Russia, China, the United States and

Australia, there was a great deal of comment about MH370 to the extent that nations recognise that it is a positive

step towards locating this airplane which disappeared 16 months ago.

We are thinking of the families of those who were on board that flight, indeed about two-thirds of the passengers

were Chinese, so it is a matter of great concern to the nations here but also internationally in terms of the safety

and security of civil aviation.

We hope this is the beginning of the opportunity to locate the rest of the plane and therefore solve the mystery of

the disappearance of MH370.


The difference of the certainty is somewhat unusual where the Malaysian Prime Minister

seems absolutely certain and the French authorities have said that there is a high probability that it’s from

MH370. Where is that different messaging coming from why is it different?


I think that that they have both now confirmed that it is part of MH370, the difference is with

timing. Overnight Prime Minister Najib made his statement very early in the morning confirming that it was from

MH370. Advice I had early this morning was that it was still in the realm of high probability, so don’t be too

conclusive about it. But as time goes on, we find that the likelihood that it is from MH370 increases, and given

that, there is only one plane unaccounted for according to the aviation experts then it’s likely to be MH370. Now,

we were working on the assumption that the French led investigation team still has a couple of investigations

(recording cut off). I’m sure that the investigations into this tragic accident will continue for some time to come, but

at present our focus is on ensuring that we can focus our search effort on the region where it’s likely to locate the

rest of MH370.


Turning to other matters, has any consensus emerged from talks today on the disputed

territories in the South China Sea?


The issue of the reclamation work in the South China Sea was raised by a number, if not all,

of the countries represented at the East Asia Summit today. There was consensus in the room that we all want a

peaceful, stable, secure environment in our region. There was consensus that there should not be any attempt to

interfere with freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight but concerns were raised by the level and scale of work

that has been undertaken in the South China Sea.

There are territorial disputes between various claimants - China, Philippines and others. Australia doesn’t take a

position on the territorial claim. We don’t take sides but we have urged restraint, we have urged that territorial

claims be settled peacefully and we have called for a halt to all reclamation work and I think that that was very

much the consensus of the meeting.


How concerned are you and is Australia that there could be militarisation of the South China

Sea as a result of this?


Of course we are concerned, 70 per cent of our trade is through the South China Sea. So

this region is vitally important for us, the sea lanes, the flight paths are vitally important for Australia so any attempt

by any country to militarise this region by building artificial reefs or structures is of concern to us and we will

continue to make our concerns known.

I understand that the reclamation work has essentially ceased. We have assurances from China that their work

will be used for the public good. For example, they have claimed that they will be placing lighthouses and search

and rescue equipment and opportunities for other countries to access some of the work that is being done on the

South China Sea for search and rescue efforts and the like.


That is really interesting. Will Australia have access to that as you understand it?


That is a very interesting question, that’s one I put to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

yesterday. If these artificial reefs and structures are being built for the public good then how can a country like

Australia access it? He said he’d get back to me.


Okay. Do you see it as an act of antagonisation as the Americans do or is this just mere

defence as China sees it?


Our concern is that it risks increasing tensions in the region. It actually raises the risk of

miscalculation, or misjudgement and so that’s why we want all countries to cease reclamation, to resolve their

territorial claims peacefully, pursuant to international law including the UN Law of the Sea. And we hope that all

nations, having had a pretty frank exchange today, see the good sense in calming things down, in de-escalating

the tensions and resolving things peacefully. We all have an interest in a peaceful, stable South China Sea.


Because China hasn’t ruled out has it, putting military assets on these reefs?


To paraphrase Foreign Minister Wang Yi - if they have structures and equipment and

buildings on land that they claim is theirs, they claim they have a right to defend it. Now of course this comes back

to the fundamental territorial issue - who owns this land, these islands, these structures and who has the rightful

territorial claim to them? Australia won’t enter into that issue. It can be resolved through negotiation pursuant to

international law but it does cause us concern and I’ve certainly raised my concerns both privately with Foreign

Minister Wang Yi but also in the broader forum today.


The relationship between Jakarta seems to be getting back on track. You rightly won’t say

what was discussed when all the advisers were asked to leave the room during the bilateral last night with Retno

Marsudi. That’s an unusual move though, to ask the advisers to leave. Clearly there must be some challenging

issues, shall we say.


It is not so unusual. From time-to-time foreign ministers ask the officials to leave the room if

there is something particularly sensitive they want to talk about, or they want to have a more open and frank

discussion than one that is reported word-by-word by a whole range of officials from both sides. So I have had

one-on-one meetings with a number of foreign ministers over time, they’ve always been very useful and very

insightful and that was the case with Retno Marsudi last evening. She asked if we could meet one-on-one, our

officials left the room and we had a very candid discussion but as you rightly observed, the relationship is on track.

We discussed a number of ways that we can quickly build even stronger connections in trade, investment,

education and of course our longstanding relationship on counterterrorism, countering violent extremism and the

work that our security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are doing to keep our respective countries safe.


Back in Australia today the Immigration Minister revealed that there has been 22 boats

turned back. How does Indonesia view this policy now and why has that that veil of secrecy been lifted?


Well I think it’s important that we recognise the policies that were put in place to prevent

deaths at sea, 1200 people have drowned at sea because they paid people smugglers to transport them in un-

seaworthy vessels across one of the most dangerous stretches of ocean. And of course the Abbott Government

was determined that this would not happen on our watch so we are determined to ensure that the policies we put

in place will deter people smugglers from plying their trade. Indonesia is also a beneficiary of this. If we stop the

people smugglers they won’t be plying their trade in Indonesia and we won’t have the boats leaving shores in such

dangerous and risky circumstances. So what we’ve done is confirm that our approach is working, I know that

Labor will be divided as Labor has acknowledged that our policies are working. Let’s not forget that 50,000

people made that dangerous journey under Labor’s watch, 1,200 died at sea. There were thousands and

thousands of children in detention and now there are about 100 or so children remaining waiting to have their

claims processed. So something like 2000 children were in detention under Labor. We have made dramatic

changes through the implementation of our policies.


Minister thank you for coming.

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