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Transcript of press conference: APEC Ministerial Meeting, Hanoi, Vietnam: 16 November 2006.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 16 November 2006

TITLE: Press Conference at APEC Ministerial Meeting, Hanoi

MC: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming along to this press conference this afternoon. Without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Alexander Downer. Mr Downer will make a few remarks to introduce the press conference, after which he will answer your questions.

MINISTER DOWNER: Thank you. Let me just run through a few things that I have been doing during the course of the day. I participated in the Foreign Ministers’ breakfast this morning where the focus of the discussion was on North Korea and I think what was

impressive about that is that the foreign ministers participating here at APEC are Ministers very committed to keeping pressure on North Korea to not just participate in the Six Party Talks but to ensure that those Six Party Talks achieve practical outcomes. It is not sufficient achievement to say talks will take place, a sufficient achievement will be for there to be progress towards eventually ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons related programs.

The APEC meeting itself has been a good and constructive way of not only promoting the region’s approach to regional economic liberalization and cooperation in a number of other areas such as counter-terrorism, regional pandemics and social cooperation but I think in a broader sense it is clear that the APEC Ministerial meetings have started to concentrate on a

couple of other things. One of them is the issue of clean energy and the impact of polluting sources of energy on our climate as well as on the general living standards of our communities. That is an issue that has now become part of the agenda here.

Secondly, I think there is very much a view that we need no just to talk about the importance of getting the Doha Round going again but that we do have the prospect over a long period of time admittedly, of perhaps negotiating a free trade area for the Asia Pacific under the

auspices of APEC. Whilst I have no illusions that it will be difficult to achieve, that is something that stands as an issue for us to consider in more detail next year when the APEC Ministerial and Leaders’ Meetings will be held in Sydney, Australia.

Finally, I have come from a meeting with the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue with Foreign Minister Aso and Secretary Rice. We’ve discussed North Korea, we’ve discussed Iran and we have discussed APEC. In the discussion on APEC many of the things that I have

mentioned here were discussed but in much more detail in that meeting, but it was also a very good opportunity for us to talk about where we are at in terms of North Korea and also Iran. This Trilateral Strategic Dialogue is becoming an important component in the relations

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between Japan, the US and Australia. We are three democracies, we have liberal market economies and the US has alliance relationships with both Japan and Australia, so we have a lot of common views and a significantly common outlook on some of the big issues facing the region, and this was an opportunity yet again for us to compare notes and help to chart the way ahead. We had our first meeting in Sydney in March of this year and we’ve now had our

second meeting at the Ministerial level. There are officials-level meetings and working groups which take place, and we will be having our third meeting in the first quarter of next year in the United States.

Tonight I will be hosting a dinner here in Hanoi which will be of a number of foreign minister including the Secretary of State of the United States, Foreign Ministers of the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico and quite a variety of different countries and we will be talking about the issue of energy supplies and clean energy, the importance of energy security to a region that is fast growing, the question of where those energy resources are going to come from, what are the prospects for alternate energy resources and, of course, the very high profile question of CO2 emissions and pollution more generally, and what can we do to address the challenges that those issues throw up. What can we as a region do to try and meet those challenges? And I look forward to that.

I would now be happy to take your questions.

Question from Vietnam News: Mr Downer, concerning this APEC meeting hosted by Vietnam, could you please tell us if you are satisfied or disappointed with the outcomes today?

MINISTER DOWNER: No, I don’t think we are disappointed, I think on the contrary we are very pleased with the way the meetings have gone. I think they have been very well hosted by our Vietnamese hosts, I think they have done an excellent job. We appreciate their hospitality and the competence they have shown as Ministers but also the Vietnamese staff

who have looked after us. We appreciate their help enormously. I think as far as the meetings are concerned, there haven’t been issues of great contention it has to be said, and that’s a good thing. We hope that this meeting will be a stepping stone towards an even stronger APEC. We are making progress towards building APEC. You know, a lot of the work of APEC is very technical and it isn’t always what you might call ‘media-friendly’, it doesn’t lend itself to great headlines. But APEC is inexorably working towards building a more liberal and open economy in the Asia-Pacific region. And, through all sorts of Ministerial groups and Working Groups and so on, APEC is contributing to building a stronger Asia-Pacific community.

You know the economic and increasingly the political gravity of the world is moving away from the trans-Atlantic region to the trans-Pacific region - I wouldn’t say that that is either a good or a bad thing; it is just a function of rapidly growing economies in East Asia and very big populations. And, inevitably, it is important with that in mind that the countries of the Asia-Pacific region work together and try to harmonise and integrate their economic activities and certainly build a more constructive relationship with each other in addressing the asymmetrical challenges we face, like terrorism for example, and pandemics, avian flu and so on. So, this has been a good meeting that helped take that agenda forward.

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Question from Agence France Presse: Was Iraq discussed at all in your meetings this afternoon, and could you expand on what you discussed on Iran?

MINISTER DOWNER: No, we did not discuss Iraq at the Trilateral meeting, but I had a meeting with Secretary Rice and we had a good discussion about the issue of Iraq and where we are at on all of that and I think suffice it to say that although I think it is important that although the US and others continue to look for ways of improving their tactics and operations in Iraq, the important overall strategic point is that nobody in positions of power wants to see a sudden withdrawal of the coalition forces in Iraq, because it is perfectly obvious what will happen if that is the case, the country will quickly disintegrate. Although the situation is particularly difficult, especially in and around Baghdad, where some 80 or 90 per cent of the terrorist attacks take place, but if the international forces just withdrew from Iraq, then of course the whole country would collapse. Worse than that, it would draw some of the neighbours into a sort of vortex in Iraq itself. There is pretty widespread agreement that is not an option. In terms of tactics, Secretary Rice and I had a good chat about a number of different issues there, and I am not going to go into those publicly, but I think there is obviously continuing work going into what can and can’t be done to make the situation better on the ground. Of course, a lot of the responsibility for making the situation better on the

ground rests with the Iraqis themselves, international forces can only help them so much. They themselves have to accept responsibility for their own country, you can’t expect the international forces to totally accept that. There has to be continuing work done there.

Question from The Age: Further to those remarks regarding Iraq, The Guardian newspaper is quoting President Bush as saying that there will be a final big push to achieve stability in Iraq and that 20,000 extra troops could be committed. Do you know about that? Second question, there are reports of rioting in Tonga and buildings being burned. What do you know about that?

MINISTER DOWNER: First of all I haven’t heard those comments of President Bush’s and that comment wasn’t made to me by Secretary Rice, and I think what the Americans are doing is that they are obviously using the Baker-Hamilton Commission and discussing these issues with their military and their coalition partners such as us, and the British and others - there are some 27 different countries involved in the international coalition in Iraq - to see if there are better ways that they can assist with the security of the Iraqi Government, and in assisting the

Iraqi Government to remain in place rather than be overthrown by terrorists and insurgents. Obviously, a good deal of though is being, and should be, given to those issues. But if you were asking did Secretary Rice shay that the Americans were thinking of putting 20,000 more troops, no she didn’t.

As far as Tonga is concerned, yes there has been rioting in Tonga during the course of today, there are a number of people in Tonga who think that the political reforms that the Government is proposing are insufficient and they would like to see political reform move

further and move faster. Certainly, a number of buildings have been burnt, I have had a conversation during the afternoon with the Prime Minister of Tonga and he would like us to keep a close eye on the situation there and we’ll speak again tomorrow, and we’ve been in touch with the New Zealanders as well - because Tonga is a good deal closer to New Zealand

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than it is to Australia I hasten to add - and they have a number of people on the ground there as well. So whether we will need to provide the Tongans with any additional security in this environment, we’re not sure at this stage, we are just having a look at that, and we will see that the situation is at the moment that there are people roaming around the streets, but it is pretty quiet in Nuku’alofa. We will have a look at what the situation is like tomorrow and we’ll talk to the New Zealanders and we’ll talk to the Tongans again.

Question from Reuters: A question about North Korea. (inaudible) the international community has been trying to get North Korea to terminate its nuclear weapons program for some time now…

MINISTER DOWNER: …it hasn’t worked yet…

Question: …right, it hasn’t worked, so what makes you actually expect that the next round of talks will actually come to something.

MINISTER DOWNER: Well, I think that is in the balance, if there are to be useful Six Party Talks they have to be Six Party Talks that actually take the process forward, there have to be real outcomes from those talks. It shouldn’t be believed, and I don’t think the international community would believe, that just having talks is a success. There have been Six Party Talks in the past, there was even a n agreement reached in 2005 n the Six Party Talks, which hasn’t been implemented by the North Koreans, so we would look to the Six Party Talks achieving tangible outcomes, there being things to announce which are a contribution to the de-nuclearization of North Korea. That’s what we would look for in the next round of Six Party Talks. And, I think it is important that the international community doesn’t send mixed messages on this , you shouldn’t send a message to the North Koreans that because they have agreed to participate in talks, maybe we should review the United Nations Security Council sanctions under resolution 1718. We should be sending the message to North Korea that those sanctions are part of international law, they are tough sanctions, they should be enforced, and those sanctions won’t b reviewed until the demands of the United Nations security Council and more broadly of the international community are accepted. So, I think it is important that the international community is united and strong in the way that it handles the diplomacy towards North Korea.

Question from Vietnam media: According to a CSIRO report, global warming could cause sea level rises that would submerge parts of Vietnam and countries like Bangladesh by 2050. What can you do for developing countries like Vietnam to help address this problem?

MINISTER DOWNER: I am not sure if it was the CSIRO who produced that report, I don’t think that they are quite that pessimistic that the whole of Vietnam would be under water, I mean part of Vietnam is mountainous so I don’t think that is going to happen. Look, let me

make this point, I think that in an overall sense the whole issue of climate change, and the consequences of climate change which may well include rising sea levels around the world, they need to be taken seriously in those situations and that issue needs to be addressed. Now, it is said by scientists, and rather convincingly argued by scientists, that the cause of climate change - and there is no doubt some natural climate change - that the excessive CO2 emissions are making a significant contribution to climate change, and are having a

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deleterious impact. And bearing that in mind, the international community needs to work to address the issue of CO2 emissions. In the end, this can’t be an issue of developed and developing countries. It is impossible, you can’t just say that developed countries have extensive CO2 abatement measures but developing countries don’t need to because the CO2 emissions will continue to rise. The challenge here is to stop the increase in CO2 emissions and eventually to reduce CO2 emissions. So this is something that developed and developing countries - humanity, humanity is going to have to work through. And we are going to have to find solutions that are acceptable to the world, because it is a global problem and developed problem or a developing problem or a north problem and not a south problem. It is a global problem. So we look to an international effort to take measures to address this and those measures will have to include reducing CO2 emissions from coal fired power stations and that is some 70-80 per cent of all the electricity that is generated on earth, it comes from coal fired power stations, some figure of that dimension. So something will have to be done to reduce the CO2 emissions from those power stations. Now how do you do that, well you can do it but it is very expensive. Can we find cheaper ways of doing it and more efficient ways of doing it, that is the challenge.

We may also be able to develop much better ways of alternative energy sources, but if you want base load power, you are not going to be able to get sufficient base load power from solar and wind, not with current known technology, but you might be able to from nuclear power for example and you have to deal with all the problems that come with that. So that is a very big issue and one that we are going to be talking about over dinner tonight but this is a

very big issue for the world and I know the Boston Globe, The Age, The Guardian - I’ve had all three of them quoted at me tonight - and they were all very focused on those issues.

Question from Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei): Could you comment on prospects for a Japan Australia FTA?

MINISTER DOWNER: As far as an FTA with Japan is concerned, we are getting to the end point of the joint feasibility study and I am optimistic that that joint feasibility study will recommend that the Australian and Japanese Governments should negotiate an FTA, there are obviously issues in Japan, much less so in Australia, but obviously issues in Japan about this and particularly opposition coming from the agricultural sector in Japan. I don’t think their perspective is right. I don’t think Australian agricultural exports are going to decimate Japanese agriculture. So we will have to wait and see. We have a bit more work to do on this, but I am feeling reasonably comfortable with where we are at.

As far as some sort of agreement on security cooperation is concerned, we’ve had some officials-level talks about this, the Foreign Minister and I have talked about it today and we talked about it when I was last in Tokyo, so on that front we are also making good progress and I am optimistic that we’ll reach an agreed text in the next few months. We haven’t yet

but we should be able to, so I am positive about that.

ENDS