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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12528

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP BRIEFING FOR CHINESE MEDIA PARLIAMENT HOUSE

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/05/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12528

Subjects: visit to China

E&OE...........

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m looking forward very much to my visit to China next week. It will be my third visit to China since I became Prime Minister. In fact I think I';ll be the only Australian Prime Minister to have visited China on three occasions during his prime ministership.

The visit will importantly honour the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and China thirty years ago and it';s a further mark of not only the importance that Australia places on her relationship with China, but also of China';s own importance and influence not only in our region but in the world generally. China is Australia';s fastest growing export market, our third largest trading partner and trade between Australia and China has doubled since I first visited China as Prime Minister in 1997.

It';s an opportunity for me to renew my associations with the Chinese leadership. I was there of course in Shanghai last year at the APEC meeting. I know President Jiang Zemin and the Prime Minister Zhu Rongji well. Both have visited Australia and it will be a very good opportunity to talk about all aspects of the bilateral relationship as well as talking about different aspects of regional and world affairs which are of importance to China as a major influence in world affairs and regional activities.

I will also naturally be pushing the interests of the Australian Northwest Shelf venture concerning the upcoming natural gas contract, which is very important. We believe the Australian bid is the best and I';ll be pointing out amongst other things the value of the long term security of supply that the Australian group can offer. Price is not the only thing that matters. It';s also security of supply which is so very important and the experience and the skill that has been accumulated over the years.

So they';re the main elements and the main reasons for my visit and I';m looking forward to it very much and I';d be very happy to answer your questions.

JOURNALIST:

It is said that the most important aspect of the visit is natural gas.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that';s not the main purpose. It';s a major purpose but it';s a visit against the background of the whole bilateral relationship. But obviously the natural gas is a very important part of it and I don';t want there to be any doubt that the Australian Government is backing the Northwest Shelf bid very strongly. If the Australian bid is successful that will be a further milestone along the pathway, if I can put it that way, of the association between our two countries and it can inaugurate a very strong new element of our economic relationship.

JOURNALIST:

China has very strong growth in recent years, more than 7%. Also China entered the WTO last year. Furthermore China will host the Olympic Games in 2008. This means new opportunities, how is Australia going to sell itself given these new opportunities.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I take those two issues in reverse order. The 2008 Olympic Games, Australia is very keen to help Beijing. With our experience of the highly successful Sydney Olympic Games we are in a unique position to assist China. No country is better able to assist China. No country is more willing to assist China in relation to those Games than is Australia. So we have already offered to do so and as recently as last Friday I was talking to the leadership of the Australian Olympic Committee and they all indicated to me how ready and willing they were to assist Beijing in relation to the preparation for the Games in 2008.

So far as the growth of the Chinese economy is concerned we have already begun…we have been, for a long time, expanding our trade opportunities. I mentioned that it's our fastest growing export market and I see the gas contract being a very important next step in further strengthening the relationship. But my pitch to China is that it is in her interests to sign the contract with Australia because we not only offer a very high quality product but we also offer experience and security of supply which is so very important. And we've recently had examples where that consideration has turned out to be more important than mere considerations of price.

JOURNALIST:

The Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has just visited Australia. It was reported that you are pushing for a trilateral security arrangement involving the United States. Could you explain what made you seek such an arrangement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me answer that question in two ways. Firstly, one of the things that I will raise when I'm in China is a resumption of the security dialogue that used to exist between Australia and China and I think it fell into disuse after some matters relating to Taiwan. But we are keen to resume that dialogue and that is one of the things that I will raise with the Chinese leadership when I am in Beijing. As far as the trilateral dialogue is concerned, it's not…a forum is too formal a word, it's not that it's just a dialogue at an officials level, a senior officials level, in the way that I would envisage the resumed dialogue with China. So it should not be seen in any way as being against China. We are very happy to have a similar and keen to have a similar dialogue to China. It's the sort of thing that naturally countries such as Australia and the United States and Japan, I mean, we have an association with the United States which is well known and understood by China and it goes back a long way, and we have a good relationship with Japan and we find it a fairly natural thing that we should have something of a dialogue on security issues. But we also think it a natural thing to have a dialogue with China. So it should not be seen in any way as being negative towards China.

JOURNALIST:

Australia is expected to release a white paper on foreign relations later this year. Will there be a major shift in Australia's engagement with Asia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there won't be a major shift, no. Australia pursues a policy of what I describe as 'Asia first', not 'Asia only'. What that means is that the Asian region is the most important region of engagement for us but it's not the only region and we naturally also have significant links with other countries outside the Asian region, the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland and the other countries of Europe, the Middle East. We have close linkages with many countries and we will continue to have them and we will develop those linkages. But our first area of operation is the Asian Pacific region but not to the exclusion of every other region. That's really the point that we've sought to make. But the White Paper will mark the natural evolution of Australia';s foreign policy over the last five years because no country';s foreign policy can remain static. It has to change as circumstances change. We have a closer relationship with China now than we had five years ago. I count it one of the foreign policy achievements of our time in Government so far and that is the development of a strong mutually respectful relationship with China. We have differences but we also have a relationship that allows us to focus on the things we have in common and that is important. Better to focus on the positives and the things you have in common rather than worrying too much about the differences. But where we have differences we express those differences strongly to each other and that is how it should be. And we have different ways of governing our own countries and as long as it';s based on mutual self-respect then the relationship can grow.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we are a country that… we are a democratic country where people can say what they wish. At a Government level we have a clear policy in relation to Taiwan. We have a commercial relationship and we';ve always maintained that and that is understood. But we have also had for a long time now a one China policy and that remains our policy. And we encourage the peaceful resolution of differences between China and Taiwan and any differences between China and the United States over Taiwan. That is what we would encourage in discussions with both China and the United States. But our position is clear. We have a commercial relationship. We maintain that. China understands that. But we also have… that';s against the backdrop of a one China policy and we';ve never departed from that.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I';m not aware… well those reports are not soundly based. Not accurate.

JOURNALIST:

The Dalai Lama is about to visit Australia. To my knowledge you met him twice when he came here previously.

PRIME MINISTER:

I met him when he came here in 1996. I don';t believe I have met him on any other occasion in Australia. I may have met him elsewhere. I am not able to see him. I won';t be seeing him when he is here on this occasion.

JOURNALIST:

There have been reports you are trying to avoid him.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you don';t meet everybody…

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he';s a spiritual leader. I don';t see every spiritual leader who comes to Australia on every occasion that he or she comes to Australia. I saw him in 1996. There is no particular reason why I should see him on this occasion.

JOURNALIST:

The human rights dialogue with China, can you comment on that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we established a human rights dialogue with China some years ago, it was an initiative I think of Mr Downer';s, certainly an initiative of this Government and we believe that dialogue has worked successfully. We think it is preferable to joining in certain types of resolutions which don';t have any particular practical value. We always advance causes relating to human rights issues that affect Australian citizens and that dialogue has proved to be valuable. We always like to see human rights enhanced and supported and take appropriate opportunities to argue that in international forums and in bilateral exchanges.

JOURNALIST:

What are your comments on the Chinese community in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Chinese community in Australia which is some hundreds of thousands, I think in fact Mandarin is now the most widely spoken foreign language in Sydney, it';s more widely spoken than any other foreign language. I am very familiar with the Chinese people of Sydney, many of them live in my constituency. And they have made a wonderful contribution to our country. They are respected in the broader Australian community, they are a part of the broader Australian community, they are successful in business and the professions and they';re very good people.

JOURNALIST:

Can you explain why the Government is cutting the Asian languages programme?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because the programme period is ending, we';re not cutting it out. When we renewed it in 1999 we said it would run for a certain period of time and that time is ending. And it';s achieved its goal, we never said it would go on indefinitely. It is just ending. We';re not cutting, we';re not axing it, we';re just indicating that when it runs out it';s not going to be renewed.

JOURNALIST:

Simon Crean, the Opposition Leader, has just come back from China. He promised to upgrade the relationship if the ALP wins the election. Can you comment on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we';ve just had an election and they didn';t, but that';s beside the point, there';ll be another election in two and a half years. And I think it';s important with a lot of these issues to try and have our foreign relations as bipartisan as possible. The extent to which the Opposition says it';s in favour of close relations with China, well that';s good. I think the relationship has already been upgraded, improved, strengthened over the last five years and we';ll continue to do that. And I welcome the support that the Leader of the Opposition is offering to the Government';s policy.

JOURNALIST:

On the gas contract, there is going to be very strong competition from Indonesia.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it';s going to be very difficult, it';s going to be a tough call for us but I';m going there to give it my best shot as Prime Minister and to argue at the highest level why it should be Australia in preference to the other bidders and the main thing I will be putting is the security and expertise, the guarantee of security of supply over a long period of time that only, in my opinion, only Australia can offer.

JOURNALIST:

… price…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well price is important, but the price is not the only thing. If the supply is interrupted having it at a lower price is of no comfort.

JOURNALIST:

There are reports that Australia might get a piece of the deal rather than the whole contract.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we';re seeking to win the contract.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 12528