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Transcript of press conference: 16 July 2003: Imperial Hotel, Japan: meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister; North Korea; beef; Solomon Islands; Cathy Freeman.



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PRIME MINISTER

16 July 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP PRESS CONFERENCE IMPERIAL HOTEL, JAPAN

Subjects: Meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister; North Korea; beef; Solomon Islands; Cathy Freeman.

E&OE…………………………………………………………………………………….

Well ladies and gentlemen, I met the Japanese Foreign Minister this morning, Mrs Kawaguchi. We discussed a number of issues, most importantly North Korea. She remains very committed, as I do, to the approach of five power discussions involving the two Koreas, Japan, the United States and China. We both welcome the continued involvement of China. The delegation that went from China delivering a personal note from the Chinese President to the North Koreans is very welcome. It remains my very strong view that we need a combination of steady diplomacy as well as all of the relevant countries, and most particularly the five I have mentioned - well the four, that five speaking with one voice.

It remains a difficult issue, but obviously one where if we can all speak with one voice, the prospect of achieving a peaceful and sensible and enduring outcome will be that much greater. You must remember that we’ve had a major false start once already in relation to North Korea. An agreement was reached back in 1994 and the regime systematically cheated on that over a period of time. It’s only understandable that the world is appropriately wary of any new arrangements that don’t have total verification.

We also discussed a number of bilateral issues. Later in the day I’ll see the Prime Minister and we’ll canvass some of those ourselves at a head of government level, and I’ll have something to say arising out of that. Can I say the bilateral relationship of course remains very strong. Japan is a hugely important trading partner of ours, buying more of our product than any other country in the world. That is not to say that we don’t from time to time have some differences.

I did raise Australian concerns about the beef snap back situation. What this highlights of course is how the World Trade Organisation rules remain loaded against agricultural exporters such as Australia. On beef, the Americans are in the same position as Australia. I understand that this issue was raised in Washington last week by the Americans. They have a

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similar concern. Our concern on this issue is that the spirit, I might say, of the World Trade Organisation rule was designed to cover unexpected surges in imports. There hasn’t been an unexpected surge, there has just been a return to normalcy following the downturn induced by BSE. But the rules are tight and the Japanese legislation is tight. I have raised the issue and the Minister indicated she would discuss the matter with the Agriculture Minister. It remains the case that we’re unhappy about this further manifestation of how the rules are loaded against agricultural exporters.

We also talked about the Solomon Islands and I explained to her in some detail what Australia would be doing in cooperation with other countries in the Pacific, and she expressed her warm admiration for the role that Australia was playing, and I would hope that Japan will take in the medium to longer-term an interest in that issue in a material way. That will be a matter for the Japanese Government to consider.

JOURNALIST:

Former Defence Secretary William Perry’s warning or fears that we’re drifting into war with North Korea - how real do you think those fears are?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look Paul I know these are the issues and this is the season for ‘formers’ of all descriptions to have views about everything. I’m not going to respond to every expression of view by ‘formers’. I knew Mr Perry. I have entertained him. He’s a fine fellow but I’m not going to talk about his latest [inaudible].

JOURNALIST:

Do you see this as the first sign that China really are stepping up to the plate as far as…

PRIME MINISTER:

Jim, it’s not the first sign. It’s another sign that the Chinese are playing a constructive role and I welcome that.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think there is any chance that the Chinese proposal of having multilateral talks and at the same time a parallel set of bilateral talks working?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m very strongly of the view that you should have multilateral talks, but in the nature of things, sometimes bilateral discussions occur in a multilateral environment. But I’m not advocating that. It is very important that all of the major players have ownership, not only of the problem, but also of the solution because it’s when you give everybody ownership of a solution and ownership of the process that you get the best outcome. And the reality is that the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and some might even argue Russia, are the major players. Now, we’re important. Other countries in the region are. But not quite as so directly involved.

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JOURNALIST:

Can we be optimistic Prime Minister or more optimistic seeing the Chinese in Pyongyang talking to Kim Jong-il himself?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m very reluctant Mark to sort of, you know, give a day to day scorecard on it. I think that’s silly for somebody in my position. I welcome it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, did you discuss interdiction this morning and will you be raising that with the Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

We talked about it in the context of the exercises coming out of the Brisbane meeting, or agreed to at the Brisbane meeting, but not as a central element. Will I talk about it with Mr Koizumi? Probably, yes.

JOURNALIST:

Have you any sense of the Japanese position on interdiction?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

You [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no. But it didn’t bulk large. I wasn’t seeking a statement of the Japanese position. It was just, you know, it was a glancing, it was the finest of leg glances you might say, yes.

JOURNALIST:

So the Minister didn’t raise any concerns about the interceptions?

PRIME MINISTER:

No she did not raise any concerns, no.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister the US, as you said last week, spoke with the Japanese about the beef issue and Mrs Veneman the Agriculture Secretary was asked about a protest to the WTO and said that the US was looking at all options. Is Australia in a similar…

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’re not talking at this stage. Let’s take one thing at a time. I’ve expressed concerns. I’ve explained the context and we’ll just work our way through it.

JOURNALIST:

You said before that the WTO rules were very tight and the Japanese…

PRIME MINISTER:

They’re loaded against agricultural exporters like Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Yes, but you also said they were very tight and that the Japanese legislation was…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Japanese... the situation has been made tighter by the Japanese legislation.

JOURNALIST:

Yes. So does that mean that the advice your Government is…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can only repeat what the Minister said to me. She listened to my concerns. She explained that there was legislation. She talked about the WTO. But she said she would raise the matter with the Agriculture Minister. And I’ll raise the matter again with Mr Koizumi.

JOURNALIST:

But does this make any approach to the WTO very difficult. I mean is that…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let us take one thing at a time.

JOURNALIST:

So you didn’t hear anything this morning in reports that would lead you to conclude that the Japanese Government may consider changing its position?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I heard was what I told you.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, on the Solomons - any financial assistance from Japan for the…

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PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is something I’m sure the Japanese Government will consider, and that was the indication that I received.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Cathy Freeman has announced that she’s retiring. How do you greet that announcement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think all Australians will hail her as one of the great athletes of our time and her victory in the 400 at the Sydney Olympics is one of the great sporting events of our generation. I wish her well. I thank her for all the joy and all the thrills that she has brought to her sport and to Australia, and particularly the credit that her dignified performances have brought to the indigenous community of our country.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, Anthony Mundine has criticised Cathy fairly recently for not doing enough…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, I’m not going to buy into that.

JOURNALIST:

But do you think she’s made a contribution to reconciliation…

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I think she’s been a wonderful Australian - is a wonderful Australian. I don’t think there could be any greater accolade for anybody and I’ll content myself with that. Thank you.

[ends]