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Mita House, Tokyo, Japan: transcript of doorstop interview: Indonesian travel advice, Australia-Japan Conference.

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7 November 2002, Mita House, Tokyo, Japan

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

Doorstop Interview, Indonesian Travel Advice, Australia-Japan Conference

Journalist: Why do you record an upgraded travel advisory for Indonesia?

Mr Downer: Well as we get in information through our intelligence agencies and through open sources, if we think that information constitutes serious risks to Australians we make adjustments to our travel advisories as we do for any country, obviously not just Indonesia, but any country and in the case of Indonesia we have made some adjustments because of new information we have available to us … but you know the sooner the situation calms down and the more efforts are made to deal with the problems of terrorism around South East Asia and beyond, the sooner all of us can get on top of the problem of terrorism, the more quickly we will be able to tell Australians that the threats are passing.

Journalist: How is this likely to be received in the region after concerns expressed in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian leaders…(inaudible)

Mr. Downer: Well look our first priority is the protection of our own people, we will just have to live with comments that people may make which are critical to our travel advisories, but at the end of the day our travel advisories aren't political documents, they're documents that are designed to protect the security of our own people and no government has a greater responsibility than the protection of its own citizens, that is a primary consideration…. there is just nothing we can do about some criticism here and there of our travel advisories, we just have to do what we believe is right, where we do see threats, where we do see dangers for Australians, we have to tell Australians about that, we can't keep that a secret from them, I think it would be irresponsible in the fulfillment of our duty to the Australian people if we were to do that.

Journalist: You listened to some professor, how concerned is the government about the likely negative reaction from the President Megawati, the Indonesian people and press?

Mr. Downer: Well I think you know that there has been a lot of inflammatory language expressed in the Indonesian media, by the Indonesian media and I think that this is a time that calls for cool heads, we have had excellent cooperation with the Indonesian government in the investigation into the Bali bombing and the cooperation is continuing very successfully and I know it will continue successfully well into the future until we finally worked out who did it, and how they did it, and we can all look at how we can make sure that it never happens again….. so you know there is a certain amount of controversy in Indonesia about the travel advisories and about the ASIO investigations recently of people who might have Jema'ah Islamiyah linkages, but you know we have to put the security of our own people first, the governments responsibility is to protect the Australian people first and foremost, but I am confident that the controversy in Indonesia will die down fairly quickly and I have had a good discussion with the Foreign Minister about it and he and I very much share a view and that is that we don't want some of

these controversies which are whipped up by the media get out of control and I don't think they will.

Journalist: Minister with Bali as the back drop, your meeting with Mr. Koizumi this afternoon, what would you be looking for in terms of joint projects, or joint arrangements, or what commitments are you looking to extract perhaps from Mr. Koizumi on that area of security?

Mr. Downer: Well I think from Mr. Koizumi, and from other Ministers as well a general agreement that Australia and Japan could cooperate in assisting the countries of South East Asia develop counter terrorism capabilities, they already of course have counter terrorism capabilities, we are looking at ways of assisting countries of South East Asia in enhancing those capabilities, the Japanese are doing the same thing, there could be quite a lot that we could do together given the common expertise that Australia and Japan have in these areas, so that will be the sort of thing that we will be talking about, also talking about whether our respective aid programs can be used to strengthen the capacity of countries in the region to deal with the problem of terrorism, particularly in areas like the education sector.

Journalist: Are you looking at suggesting to Japan that they tie some of their Indonesian aid to create more of an effort against terrorism?

Mr. Downer: Well not tie it, no, and we wouldn't do that either, but I think we need to look at whether our aid programs as they currently stand are as effective as they could be, for example in the education sector do we do enough for the Indonesian education system, could we and the Japanese be doing more? I mean we and the Americans talked about this last week and have agreed that the US aid agency and AUSAID will get together and talk about whether there is more that they can do for the education sector in South East Asia, not just Indonesia, but especially in Indonesia, and I will be talking to the Japanese in similar terms as well, it might be more that we can do together, but that's not to say we would be making a condition on anything, of course not, we wouldn't be doing that.

Journalist: You talked about in your speech about intelligence sharing, is that something else that you will be raising with the Ministers?

Mr. Downer: We do have some intelligence sharing arrangements with the Japanese and yes I think that one of my real tasks here in Japan, other than to participate in the conference here today, obviously happy to help launch the conference and support to conference, but is bring our message about counter terrorism to a country which is one of our closest friends in the region and obviously the worlds second largest economy, the largest economy by a very big measure in the region, I think Australia and Japan can do a lot more together in the area of counter terrorism, in the area of aid, in the area of intelligence sharing, in the area of capacity building in South East Asia, we are doing some of those things already but I think we can coordinate better and do more together and that will certainly be the focus of my talks with the Prime Minister and other Ministers, that's not to diminish the importance of taking forward our economic relationship, the trade and economic agreement that we are in the process of putting together, and hopefully one day that will lead to a free trade agreement, that could take a bit of time but in any case that will be also a component of my discussions…..just to say one other thing on that, to the Australians in particular, I will finally be talking to the Japanese about North Korea and obviously that's a very significant regional security issue, the more countries like the United States, Japan, South Korea in particular, but also Australia and others in the region can coordinate their positions on

North Korea the better, I don't think we should all be going off in individual directions, we should try to coordinate our positions.

Journalist: Will you be making efforts on both sides of the fence on that regard, I mean Australia does have diplomatic relations with North Korea and its been suggested that Japan could look to Australia as a conduit at least for information about what's going on in North Korea, do you see a role for Australia in the regard?

Mr. Downer: Well they haven't really asked us to do that, we would consider it if they asked us to do that, their circumstances of course with North Korea are entirely different from ours, I mean their relationship with North Korea still has residues of the 1930's and 40's in it, which isn't a consideration in our relations with North Korea, though the 50's is, there is a lot of history with all of our relationships with North Korea, but theirs is different, and of course they have the issues of the abductees that we don't have, so there are different components to it, but what we do need is a region-wide, and I include the United States in that, region-wide approach to how to address the question of uranium enrichment …. and missile proliferation in North Korea and it is going to an important component that I am going to talk to the Japanese about.

Journalist: Would you give greater priority to looking at control of nuclear weapons in North Korea than weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Mr. Downer: I wouldn't make comparisons like that, they're meaningless, they're both significant issues, though in the case of Iraq they haven't got, for one reason or another they haven't got nearly so far down the track in developing a nuclear weapons capability as North Korea, and so, of course the further advanced these countries are in the development of weapons of mass destruction, the more difficult they are to deal with, an important point to remember……

Journalist: Sir, the …

Mr Downer: The situations are not the same, and its not a question of either or, I mean proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is an enormous issue for the world to confront, its not an issue that we can turn our backs on, be it in Iraq, or be it in North Korea, its why we are talking about it right here.

Journalist: Sir, South Korea has been criticised in today's press, for proceeding with an industrial project in North Korea, I mean is that one instance of a lack of unity in the process?

Mr Downer: I don't think so, I mean there is a general sense that for the time being that what we need to do is impress on the North Korean that projects like that, whilst they may be proceeding at the moment, will not proceed indefinitely, if North Korea does not address this issue of its uranium enrichment plants and missile proliferation, in other words I think the message we sent, we send to North Korea is, ‘you have an opportunity to develop your economy to feed your people yourself much more effectively than you can do now, but you can only achieve those things through international interaction, and that international interaction isn't going to happen unless you do something about this,…. or happen significantly… unless you do something effective to get rid of this uranium enrichment capability', that they have admitted to, and so, I mean, that is a message that we're sending to them, there will be no rewards for them, for example, there will be no rewards as there has been in the past for, you know, bad behavior, there won't be any of that, and if nothing happens, if through a process of dialogue with North Korea no progress is made, then obviously contacts by the international community will gradually be wound back.

Journalist: Just one economic question. You mentioned the MFN principle in your speech and the application of the bilateral relationship or the importance of that bilateral relationship and the other deals that Australia and Japan are both doing, does that mean that a concession given by Australia say to the US in a FTA then may be granted to the Japanese?

Mr Downer: Well MFN is of course as you know a WTO term, it means under the terms of the World Trade Organisation Agreement it is possible of course to grant countries MFN status but to have free trade agreements as well with other countries, which add to that, I mean for example at the moment although we grant Japan MFN status it doesn't have quite the same status in the Australian market for all its exports as New Zealand has, or now once we sign the agreement formally with Singapore, that Singapore will have, so MFN in the context with the WTO terminology.

Journalist: So that wasn't a new angle on the ...?

Mr Downer: No, not at all …

Journalist: Earlier you mentioned about the Australian and Indonesian relationship, what is your reaction to claims by the Indonesian ranking diplomat in Australia that said that further Asian raids could threaten cooperation on Bali?

Mr Downer: I don't think that there is going to be any danger to cooperation over Bali, I think both of us know how important it is to maintain that cooperation and I think the Indonesians from my discussions with the Foreign Minister late last week understand only too well that we have to protect our own people, put in measures to up hold our own security, every country has to do that, the Indonesians from time to time detain people, arrest people, interview people, it happens everyday in Indonesia, it happens everyday in Australia, I don't think too much shouldbe made of that, it happens in Malaysia, they arrest people under the internal security act in Malaysia, you know, these things happen all the time and the big point here is that all of us Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, others, all have got to be vigilant in upholding our security and equally it is extremely important that we work together, we don't get….ineligible…bit of excitement in some sections of the Indonesian media, but we understand in Australia that dealing with Indonesia today is not like dealing with Indonesia pre 1998, I mean we are not dealing with an authoritarian society, we dealing with a pluralistic society, lots of different views can be expressed in Indonesia about everything and they are, believe me, there are very strong views expressed by all sorts of people in Indonesia, at all sorts of times, and ultimately the same things happen in Australia and we ask the Indonesians to be understanding of our free press and free speech and now that they have the same thing its important that we are understanding of that process in Indonesia as well.

Journalist: The reaction to comments in the Indonesian media from the President Megawati warning in excessive reaction in relation to the ASIO raids.

Mr Downer: Well I think that I have said it all, I don't know if I can say anything more.

Journalist: That's understandable.

Mr Downer: I can just repeat what I said, I had a good conversation with the Foreign Minister at the end of last week about it, I think the Indonesian government understands the situation, they have got a very excitable section of their media there, that have made some issue out of this, they

have to manage that, they have to manage it in their own way, its not for me to tell them how to do that, but at the end of the day I think if we all remain calm things should move along pretty smoothly.

Journalist: Just one additional question, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Heraldthe Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri is warning Australia not to over-react to the threat by the terrorists and not to arrest Indonesian nationals, what is your response?

Mr Downer: Well, I've already answered that question, I'm not sure I will repeat my answer to it, just to say that Indonesians, Malaysians, Australians, Japanese, we have all got to be vigilant in making sure we investigate possible terrorist links, we have got to be determined to make sure we effectively counter terrorism, and we can't put the security of our people, our own people down to a third or fourth order issue, it's a first order issue, there is nothing more important to the Australian government than the security of the Australian people, the same time we appreciate the cooperation there has been in Indonesia and the measure the Indonesians have taken against some people, not least Abu Bakar Ba'asyir who has been detained by the Indonesian police, we wouldn't complain about it, we would say that it is important that they take decisive measures against people who they think might have information which could lead them more effectively to crack down on terrorism.

ENDS………………………………………………………………7 NOVEMBER 2002