Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of doorstop interview: 17 October, 2003: Bangkok, Thailand: [APEC Ministerial meeting].



Download PDFDownload PDF

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE DATE: October 17 2003

TITLE: Doorstop Interview, Bangkok, Thailand

Mr Downer: Let me just say a few words here, I am obviously delighted to participate yet again in the APEC Ministerial Meeting, the Joint Ministerial Meeting with Foreign Ministers and Trade Ministers. I think APEC is making good progress. I think there are perhaps some

sceptics about APEC, because it doesn’t have the big headlines that come out of every meeting but the progress that is just gradually, incrementally being made towards the Bogor goals and the broadening of the agenda of these meetings to include issues like counterterrorism and broader regional security issues, I think is extremely encouraging.

Mark Vaile will talk a little later from Australia’s point of view about the details for trade issues. I just want to make two or three points.

First of all I will be circulating to all of the APEC Ministers a document produced by the Economic Analytical Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, called the “Costs of Terrorism and the Benefits of Working Together.” This analysis is essentially on two things. First of all the practical costs to economies in the region of terrorism. The fact that the Bali bombing would have reduced, its estimated, Indonesia’s GDP by around one percent because of the tourism slump that went with it and the fact that since 9/11 2001 terrorism has cost the United States economy an estimated seventy five billion dollars US a year.

These of course are very substantial costs of terrorism that are borne by other countries in the region. But on the other hand it is important to understand what the costs would be of failing to combat terrorism. Failing to combat terrorism will lead to a collapse in investment, will lead to declines in trade and will lead to more severe declines in GDP. So that underlines the importance of us cooperating as APEC economies and also other forums in addressing the issue of terrorism.

The second thing I wanted to mention is that this evening I will be hosting a dinner of some of the APEC Foreign Ministers - the Indonesian, Japanese, Singaporean, New Zealand, Canadian Foreign Minister’s and the Undersecretary of State from the United States - Secretary Powell doesn’t get here to late tonight. This is a dinner where we will be exploring the issue of how to support moderate Islam and moderate Islamic leadership, particularly in the context of the war against terrorism. Obviously this is not a war against any faith, or any religion. This is a struggle against evil doers who are a infinitesimal minority of people, but are people who can do very great damage. And we obviously regard it as very important that the nine Islamic countries and the Islamic countries within the APEC area cooperate very closely. Not just in the mechanical sense of counterterrorism though, that is fundamentally important - but also in advancing political understanding between each other to ensure that the war against terrorism is not seen in any way as an inter-faith conflict of any kind which of course it isn’t - - or a civilisational conflict, to use Huntington’s words.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 1

Finally on another issue I just want to say, how pleased the Australian Government is with the passage of the Security Council resolution, which is Security Council Resolution 1511 on Iraq. We think this will not only reaffirm the sovereignty of Iraq which it does, but it does underline the importance of carrying forward the political transition in Iraq with the United Nations support. The fact that this resolution passed unanimously, I think is very encouraging as obviously been a difficult period of negotiation leading up to the passage of the resolution. But we are seeing an incremental process here - we are seeing incrementally the international community coming together and the determination to help Iraq and make sure that a new obviously sovereign, an independent and self governing and self managing Iraq is a country which can succeed into the future after all the travails of the past 30 years that Iraq has had to wrestle with. Other than that I am happy to answer any questions.

Journalist: Mr Downer (inaudible) surface to air missiles … your advice on what you see (inaudible)

Mr Downer: The Thais have gone to enormous trouble to take into account any manner of intelligence that they’ve received about possible terrorists attacks. Be they terrorist attacks from vehicles or assassins using rifles or even MANPADS which are surface to air, hand held surface to air missiles. I have been very impressed with the security that the Thais have put into place. I know that they have done this at the great inconvenience of the people of Bangkok. I extend my sympathy to the people of Bangkok who have to put up with the inconvenience that security has required. Nevertheless the Thais have gone to a great deal of trouble, people have obviously been talking to them and we have been impressed with what the Thai’s have been doing.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Mr Downer: I don’t have any new information on that, it is just as you know, that would happen here but there has been, over the months - - if you like - -

Journalist: (inaudible)

Mr Downer: We have, yes, we have had extensive consultations with the Thais on security arrangements and obviously with appropriate agencies, Thai agencies and the agencies of other countries such as the United States, on what possible risks there are here of terrorist attacks. But we are satisfied that everything that can be done has been done and you can never be a hundred percent sure, but an examination of all the materials seems to suggest that with the security precautions put in place that Bangkok should be secure.

Journalist: Australia (inaudible)

Mr Downer: Well that is right, because we are obviously conscious of the fact that this the most high profile international meeting in the region and it is not that it has come about without publicity, there is obviously enormous expectation and over some period of time that the meeting would take place. And if there were to be opportunistic terrorist attacks, or planned terrorist attacks then there may be some people who believe that attacking a high profile meeting or attacking Thailand during the time of a high profile meeting is going to be

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 2

beneficial to their cause. It would not be beneficial to their cause, it would just consolidate the outrage of the international community at the behaviour of these people. But we need to make sure that Australians understand that, that is a possibility…. but we do not have any information now which leads us to think that the security arrangements that have been put into place for the APEC meetings are inadequate.

Journalist: (inaudible) - - support the local - - (inaudible)

Mr Downer: Indonesia is not only one Muslim country, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. We are obviously very close to the Indonesians, in more ways than one, I mean not just geographically but politically and I have a very close personal relationship with Hassan Wirayuda and I think he would be able to contribute a great deal. I mean - - Malaysia is - - we didn’t invite everybody to it. Malaysia is going through a political transition in two weeks time. Dr Mahathir will retire and so - - Journalist: (inaudible)

Mr Downer: I am glad to hear that there is so much in favour of supporting moderate Islam.

Journalist: Minister is there any comment - - (inaudible) George Bush (inaudible)

Mr Downer: No of course not, nobody has said anything to me about it at all. I think, the President made his remarks in good humour, and it is inappropriate for people to try to extrapolate something deeply serious from this. What the President means is quite obvious. He means that Australia is not some sort of a supplicant nation to the United States. That Australia is a bold and substantial nation in its own right and Australians and honestly all Australians, not just most Australians, should be much more self confident in Australia. Australia is a country that makes an enormous contribution to the regional economic and security environment and everybody knows that. What we have done in East Timor, what we have done in the Solomon Islands, what we are doing in Papua New Guinea. What we are doing to help with the war against terrorism, we are real contributors. We are not people who stand by and just observers we are major contributors. Australia is a real force for good in the region and you know people are not the whole time thinking about, well you know the President says this, or the President says that. What the President means is that Australia is a real substantial and major contributor to the affairs of the region. Not that we do so on the instruction of any other country and that is his point.

Journalist: What is your reaction to (inaudible) are you concerned at all that (inaudible)

Mr Downer: Look I think that everybody knows that Dr Mahathir is retiring in a couple of week’s time and he is a man who in his recent years as Prime Minister has made an art form of outrageous statements. I think frankly everybody in the region feels, it is not just an Australian view as it is sometimes characterised within Australia… but I think that everybody in the region feels, well it is just better to let these kind of remarks pass through to the keeper. But I would make another point about this, not to say anymore about Dr Mahathir, but to say, you know everybody here at APEC wants to see different cultures and different faiths and different belief systems working together in common cause against terrorism and in support of the greater prosperity of the international community. There is no support here, at APEC for anti-Semitism or anti-Islam or anti-Christianity or trying to divide

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 3

the world into competing blocks with each other as the world has known during the twentieth century. There is no place for that at APEC. There is no place for that in the twenty-first century as we try to address the difficult security and economic issues that we address. We have to work together as peoples whether we’re Christians, or we’re Muslims, or whether we’re Jews, or whether we’re atheists. We have to work together in common cause against the evil of terrorism, and in support of economic prosperity, and in fighting poverty. And dividing the world up into different groups, into different ethnic groups in competition with each other, or religious groups in competition with each other - it’s not going to lead to a happy world. And, for Australia’s part, we have wonderful Jewish people in Australia who have made an enormous contribution to our country over the last two hundred years. I’m just enormously proud of the Australian Jewish community and what they have done for our country. They are simply wonderful people and Australia is not a country which would have any part ever in anti-Semitism.

Journalist: Inaudible

Mr Downer: Well I don’t see other Ministers in Malaysia making those sorts of remarks.

Journalist: Inaudible

Mr Downer: Sorry, Dr Mahathir, sorry, the Prime Ministership of Malaysia is absolutely not a question for Australia it is about the Malaysians.

Journalist: Inaudible

Mr Downer: I’m not sure actually. I mean, Abdullah Badawi is not the Prime Minister yet. I know Abdullah Badawi well because he was the Foreign Minister for some years when I was the Foreign Minister and he’s a good and moderate and sensible man and I’ve had a good relationship with him.

Journalist: inaudible

Mr Downer: Well I think the situation remains grim in Burma, I’ve been surprised and disappointed that there has been so little progress in Burma in recent months after the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and her detention in prison then she went to hospital. But ok, she’s back at her home, but she’s under house-arrest at her home and that’s not acceptable and I’m very surprised that the Burmese Junta didn’t release her before the recent round of ASEAN meetings, which had been our hope, not our expectations. And I know the United Nations holds the views. When I was in New York recently, I had breakfast at the Australian Ambassador’s residence with Mr Razali who is the United Nations Special Representative on Burma. And yeah, we will continue to push, I mean it’s not going to be part of the communiqué here, but we will push in private meetings for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and proper movement towards a constitutional reform and ultimately democracy in Burma. I mean the Burmese leadership talk about a roadmap but they have been talking, I mean seriously, they have been talking about this for - ever since I’ve been the Foreign Minister. That’s 7 1/2 years. I haven’t seen too much progress actually.

Journalist: inaudible

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 4

Mr Downer: Well, that’s a matter for the ASEAN, not for us up till a little while ago.

Journalist: inaudible [question on human rights workshops]

Mr Downer: Just maintain the suspension, just maintain the suspension for the time being and we’ll see what happens when Aung San Suu Kyi is ultimately released and allowed - to move freely, or relatively freely around Burma. And whether the Burmese leadership is committed to developing its roadmap which it says it is committed to. But I mean, I do make this point, there are no regrets about having run human rights workshops. We can either do something to help with human rights in Burma or we can do nothing, and some of my critics say that we should do nothing. Well I’m more committed to human rights than to think that I should just sit on my hands and do nothing, I’m committed enough to think I should go out there and do something. And the way I can do that, is at least help ensure, that middle ranking officials in Burma have some understanding of international norms on human rights. But just now, we think that it’s better to suspend, but not to cancel, the program.

Journalist: inaudible

Mr Downer: Well I think we will have to wait and see precisely what they are going to come up with. I think that what they will really want to do is reinforce the action plan they already have and the implementation of the action plan and there are a whole lot of activities that were agreed at the last APEC meeting. So I think we will really have to wait and see. I think really on counterterrorism it’s not a question of coming up with a new and dramatic angle, it’s a question of just reinforcing and strengthening the cooperation that’s been there up until now. For example, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda and I are organising a Ministerial Summit in February on counterterrorism. I think putting together those sorts of multi-lateral meetings in at least, at a regional level to help address terrorism is enormously important. I mean, I notice some people calling for a summit, a regional summit, an APEC summit on terrorism. Well we’ve had one already. We had one last year at the APEC leaders’ meeting and we’re having one this year at the APEC leaders’ meeting and in fact, some of you may remember at the APEC meeting in 2001 was after 9/11. It was just before our election - it was, I think it was two weeks before our election. I think it was a fortnight before the election, that obviously terrorism was a dominant issue then. So this will be the third APEC leaders’ meeting which will inter-alia focus very much on terrorism. I think that’s tremendously important. I don’t think we should be setting up yet another leaders’ meeting outside of the leaders’ meetings we already have. That would just be superfluous and duplications for people who are already busy.

Journalist: inaudible [question on booklet]

Mr Downer: The purpose is to convince officials and opinion forums that there are two costs of terrorism. There is a cost of terrorism. No question of that. Of course terrorism brings its own cost. But there is an even higher cost in the end if you do nothing about it. It’s very

important to understand that when you are dealing with terrorism of course, the core issue is the humanitarian issue. The issue of human life. There is no debate about that. It is also very important for people to understand that if you don’t deal with terrorism, the economic consequences, including for our region, I don’t think catastrophic. The decline in investment

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 5

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 6

that will flow from a failure to deal with terrorism. The decline in trade, the increase in unemployment. You have seen this on a small scale in the case of Bali. And, you know, the Bali bombing knocked one percent off the whole of Indonesia, a country of 220 million people, knocked… knocked one percent off its GDP. So you can see what the cost of terrorism is if you do nothing about it.

Journalist: ..don’t think you can use that argument?

Mr Downer: I’m about to use it………oh well, hopefully no-one needs convincing but it just reinforces the point and I think - look, I’ve been around for long enough to know that you can never stop mounting arguments even if you’re mounting the same arguments again and again. It’s not for the course, at a meeting like this that anyone is in favour of terrorism, or thinks we should do nothing about terrorism. Obviously they don’t. But, it’s a question of making sure people understand the gravity of the issue. That the issue has the appropriate weighting in terms of debate. Mark Vaile will talk to you about the discussions here on the WTO and post Cancun and all those sorts of things which have been taking place this morning. And that’s, you know an enormous global issue. And it is a very big issue. But this terrorism issue, this is a very, very basic issue as well, not just in terms of human life but in terms of human lives, but in terms of economy.

Journalist: inaudible

Mr Downer: Well, look, I think, forgetting Dr Mahathir, because remember, he’s about to retire in a couple of weeks. We will let him retire. There are different views in the Islamic world and I think, I personally think one of the great challenges is to make sure that within the Islamic world moderate Muslims and that is almost all of them. Moderate particularly in our part of the world. Moderate Muslims understand that this is a war against terrorism that we’re all in together. Them, us, non Muslims, well you know, the 300,000 Muslims in Australia. Most Australian’s are not Muslims and all of us are in this together. I mean it is basically, it

is a struggle of good and evil, it’s a struggle of moderate people, of balanced people against fanatics. And most people are not fanatics either in the non Muslim world or in the Muslim world. But it is enormously important again, it’s part of never stopping the work. It’s enormously important that we make sure that people in the Islamic world know that this is not a clash of civilisations and it is enormously important that we keep making that argument and if people start making the counter argument then we need to just reinforce our efforts to deal with that.

Journalist inaudible

Mr Downer: Actually, tragically most, without going through the list, but most countries in APEC have in one way or another been affected by terrorism. I think you would find in one way or another, most have actually. Well the Latin American’s perhaps, Mexico, Peru and Chile, I guess not really. They may have lost citizens in Bali I think … Peruvians, so they were probably killed in America on 9/11 as well. But yes, they’re not affected in the same way as we on this side of the Pacific are affected, or the Americans are affected.

Ends