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Transcript of interview: Newsline Australia Network with Jim Middleton: 27 March 2012

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March 27, 2012



JIM MIDDLETON: Foreign Minister welcome to the program.

BOB CARR: Pleasure to be with you Jim.

JIM MIDDLETON: I know you’re in Cambodia, but are you able to update us at all on the condition of the Australian aid worker injured in what appeared to be a suicide attack in Afghanistan, and also is it true that three Australian soldiers were also wounded in that incident.

BOB CARR: I can’t comment on the latter part but I can say that the Australian aid worker whose wife I spoke to an hour ago is being treated, that there are plans to take him to Germany, and AusAID will fly his wife to see him in Germany.

All I can say about his medical condition is that we are pretty hopeful given the way the diagnosis has improved over night. But I cannot comment more on that. I have spoken to his wife. She doesn’t want the name revealed, but we are hoping for the best.

JIM MIDDLETON: The Taliban has released a statement claiming that the attack was in retaliation for the recent assault by the American soldier who killed 17 Afghan civilians. It does appear that it has the hallmark of that kind of attack, does it not?

BOB CARR: Well we have to wait for the formal Commander’s report. I think that’s probably the best thing, everything considered. Let’s get the formal Commander’s report before we step into questions of Taliban motivation.

JIM MIDDLETON: It is a reminder is it not that security, even after all these years of the Australian military effort still remains very fragile indeed?

BOB CARR: I think we all agree that this is aid being delivered in the most difficult circumstances we face, hence all the more to dwell on the sheer public spiritedness, the idealism, the keenness to service of those Australian aid workers and advisors. There are 19 staff, including six Australian Civilian

Corps advisors, deployed through Afghanistan on rotation. How much we can only admire these people. Doing something for the people of Afghanistan, building schools, lifting their governmental capacity so that according to plan by the end of 2014 they won’t need our forces in a front line role. That’s what the transition is all about, the transition that we and our security partners are committed to.

JIM MIDDLETON: Now you are in Cambodia, it’s the first country you visited as Foreign Minister. Australia of course has played a really significant role in bringing peace to that country. Is that one of the reasons you chose this for your first foray as Foreign Minister outside of Australia?

BOB CARR: Yes, we have got very good relations with Cambodia and you’re absolutely right, the contribution of Bill Hayden and Gareth Evans as Australian Foreign Ministers is remembered here and indeed were recalled to me by the Prime Minister Hun Sen at our meeting yesterday. A remarkable achievement by the people of Cambodia to end civil war, to move beyond the shocking, calamitous crimes against humanity that overtook this country between 1975 and 1979, to achieve economic growth at more or less six per cent per annum. And to deliver the demonstrably improved health outcomes, to lift each year one per cent of its population out of poverty. I mean I am very,

very impressed by what they’ve achieved and I’m enormously proud as an Australian by the way Australian aid has assisted the process.

I am here for all those reasons, the excellence of our relationship, but also because Cambodia is proud to be Chair of ASEAN and Chair of the East Asia Summit this year.

JIM MIDDLETON: Speaking of Cambodia’s role as Chair of ASEAN, Cambodia is still involved in serious border dispute with Thailand. I’d like to know whether you think that ASEAN can live up to its hopes to be the key organisation for strategic regional security when it struggles even to settle a border dispute between two of its members?

BOB CARR: The feedback that I’ve had about that border dispute is all positive, I’ve got to say. Indonesia as the former Chair of ASEAN played a constructive role. I think there’s been goodwill by both sides, by Cambodia

and Thailand in lowering the level of amputation concerned around the issue. The feedback I’ve had has been positive.

JIM MIDDLETON: After the year that Cambodia chairs ASEAN, it’ll be Burma’s turn. Burma has a very important by-election this weekend. How important for the credibility of those elections, is it that the Burmese leadership has finally agreed to invite observers from a wide range of nations, including Australia?

BOB CARR: After my talks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, I’ve been markedly more optimistic. He alerted me to the fact that the Burmese government is, from its own point of view, taking risks at it democratises its system. Certainly we as Australians, and I think other stakeholders, are going

to want reassurance stage by stage as those reforms come into place and like other things we will be consulting the opposition in Burma, to see that they are authentic.

I think we can approach these elections with a bit of optimism. We will have observers there and media will be allowed to be there, and that would suggest the government of Burma is taking a serious step. But certainly we will be listening carefully to what Aung San Suu Kyi has to say about the process, and by the way we wish her all the best as she encounters a blow to her health which has taken her, I hope temporarily, out of campaigning for a seat in the April 1 by-election.

JIM MIDDLETON: I did get the sense from the tone of what you’re saying that you do retain some fears about the durability of the reforms. We know there are differing views about the pace of reform within the Burma leadership. How important now is it that Burma releases its remaining political prisoners and end the continuing military campaign against some of the ethnic minorities?

BOB CARR: Well certainly Jim we’ll be looking for progress on both fronts before we peel back further of our sanctions. It’s a carrot and stick approach. We want each authentic move towards democratic norms to be rewarded to encourage the government to go that extra step. But we will test anything announced by the government against the views of NGOs, our neighbours, ASEAN, and of course the opposition in Burma.

I think it’s significant that hundreds of political prisoners have been released. That there’s been a reform of labour law and indeed that these by-elections are occurring. I think that’s encouraging.

JIM MIDDLETON: On another issue, are you able to confirm a report of the Washington Post quoting both Australian and US officials saying that Washington and Canberra are considering the possibility of authorising US drones out of the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean?

BOB CARR: Absolutely not, I can’t confirm that Jim, I’m sorry.

JIM MIDDLETON: That’s fair enough, you are a long way away. On US, China and Australia relations you have suggested that Australia does have a role to play in fostering a cooperative relationship between with the United States and China. Is it probity then to hear President Obama accusing Beijing of turning a blind eye to Pyongyang’s excesses when China, for example, has protested at least twice over North Korea’s latest plan for a long range missile launch for example.

BOB CARR: I’d like to be able to hear the very latest in the communication between the United States and China in the context of what’s being discussed in South Korea before I comment on that.

But, on the broader principle I would say, I would just caution people against using exaggerated cold war analogy when they talk about the relationship between the United States and China. The fact is from a Chinese perspective, the rise of China, the re-emergence of China in great power status will be accompanied inevitably by a modernization of its military. Indeed some observers have said it would have been remarkable if China had assumed such economic importance in the global economy and not had that accompanied by a modernization of its armed forces. Or as I think Gareth Evans said as Australian Foreign Minister, great powers do what great powers do.

I think that the other point to make is that there is an enormous amount of overlap in cooperation between the Chinese and the American positions. China has got a stake, indeed it is probably a beneficiary of the American contribution to regional security to the north of Australia, and both are economically interdependent. If one does well economically, the other is bound to benefit.

And that is certainly different from the tension you saw between the Soviet Union and the United States in the Cold War. You had no such economic interdependence. And don’t forget that President Obama himself, at the start

of 2011, said, and said eloquently, that America has an interest in China playing a greater role in the world.

I think if you have all of this, you should take a step away from the deterministic rigid view that the relationship between China and America in the Pacific can only be seen in terms of adversarial rivalry.

Something in my bones tells me that, this year in particular, that notion might go off the boil, that we’ll be struck more by the cooperative spirit in the relationship between these two nations. So important to Australia, one, that is the US, the cornerstone of our security, and the other an economic partner and one with whom we anticipate broadening and deepening our relationship beyond that of trade and investment.

JIM MIDDLETON: What would you say then to those who have suggested that there are echoes of the Cold War in the Gillard government’s decision to ban the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from bidding to be a supplier for Australia’s national broadband network when the equivalent circumstances of the British, for example, have not.

BOB CARR: I draw attention to the massive amount, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration, of Chinese investment entering Australia at the present time, and the fact that in the overwhelming number of cases it does not face any delay as it’s considered by the Foreign Investment Review Board. We welcome Chinese investment.

It’s not unusual for countries, and China would not be exempt from these considerations, to take national security concerns into account when it looks

at certain types of foreign investment. I would urge the company to continue to expand in Australia, not withstanding this decision. I really would.

I think the opportunity for more direct investment from China in Australia is very real and it includes this company in the area of telecommunications.

JIM MIDDLETON: I think I had better let you go on your way, but thank you very much for your time.

BOB CARR: Jim it’s my pleasure, any time.