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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21711

Press Conference Sofitel Hotel, Boao Forum

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: 22/04/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21711

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm looking forward to participating in the Boao Economic Forum. It's only been going for four years but it's already established a reputation as the "Asian Davos" and the support from the business community as well as a number of political leaders indicates that as the years go by it will become an extremely important forum and I'll be addressing some remarks to the gathering tomorrow regarding the economic opportunities for the Asian Pacific region, Australia's participation in that and I'll obviously be drawing on the experience that I've had in the past few days in both China and Japan, as well as the success Australia has had over a long period of time in integrating her economy with the economies of the Asia-Pacific region.

Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in terms of the past few days, what's your take out on how relations over the China-Japan, particularly the prospect of closer economic ties?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm very pleased with what's happened over the last couple of days in both countries. Our starting point is that we are already very close. We can scarcely have better customers than the ones we have in North Asia - Japan, Korea, China. And Japan has been our best customer for many years. China has really burgeoned as a buyer, as an export destination. And let's not forget Korea, our largest single customer as a company is in fact a Korean company and we should never forget the role that Korea has played as a destination for our resource exports. So we start from a very strong position. But the next stage, if you want to build on that, is to see if we can take the relationship further, in the case of both China and Japan, of, in China's case, negotiating a Free Trade Agreement, if we can, it'll be difficult and we'll try very hard and it will take a while. In the case of Japan a feasibility study, an examination, different people will use different language but it all amounts to the same thing, we're looking at whether we can on the basis of what is involved in it commence negotiations at some time in the future. Now nothing ventured, nothing gained. As I said in Aichi yesterday that will be our approach. But it's not as if we are looking at a blank sheet of paper, we're looking at the piece of paper in the case of both countries which is full of text and it's a story of a very good trade relationship.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask you then given the prospect of further deals, particularly in the resources sector, do you think the fact that we are, we've moved to this next stage looking to move even further with China. Does that have any, will that have any influence do you think on the prospect of securing deals in areas like LNG? Or do you think the two will be seen quite separately?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think they'll be seen quite separately. China likes doing business with Australia, Australia likes doing business with China and we are reliable and steady and dependable and in the resource sector those things are very important and partly because we have a successful track record and the relationship has been very good, it's partly because of that that China is ready to try and negotiate a Free Trade Agreement.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the economic relationship between Australia and China is booming and as you mentioned in Beijing our political systems are very different. There's still a hope though that by increasing our economic engagement that our values of respecting people's freedoms of religion, associations, speech, will rub off on the Chinese?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I always like to see an expansion of freedom wherever it can be expanded, wherever that may be. And I don't confine those remarks to a particular country, it's a generic view I have, that's the reason why I'm rather more optimistic about what is happening in the Middle East and many of the Government's critics, it's one of the reasons why now is not the time to be deserting the Iraqis but rather is a time to be helping them and reinforcing them because in the most appalling conditions they struck out for freedom and voted for a democracy. So I don't confine that desire to see freedom extended to countries that have this or that economic relationship with Australia. If you believe in freedom then it's a universal belief.

JOURNALIST:

Did you raise this (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have a human rights dialogue which has in fact achieved a great deal more than the approach that was adopted in the past where we tended to join in a majority in passing a resolution and that happened every year. We have in fact had success in a number of consular cases as a result of that dialogue, we have had a lot of exchanges and we're actually making some steady progress, that's a much better way of dealing with it in our opinion and we're actually getting somewhere, pragmatically, and more than we had been doing in the past and I'm pleased about that and I'd like to see that continue.

JOURNALIST:

You touched on Iraq, the death of the private security guard, a former soldier, there have been some other killings in the last few days and some suggestions that violence is actually getting worse, that the targeting of Westerns is actually getting worse in Baghdad, that doesn't seem to accord with your sort of positive assessment of the situation in Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I said about Iraq, and could I first of all say that I extend my deep sympathy to the family of this man, I am very sorry, they will be devastated by it. It's a reminder that Iraq, particularly the area in and around Baghdad is still quite dangerous, although it varies a lot around the country. The point I made a moment ago was that this was not the time to be walking out on the Iraqis. The insurgency is still very virulent, there's no doubt about that, but the important message is that the Iraqis have said that they are not going to be intimidated by these people. And if eight and a half million of them vote in the most appalling circumstances of intimidation they are obviously determined to try and embrace freedom and I think that's something that in a sensible way Australia should support.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, in Indonesia there have been nine Australians arrested in the heroin...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

One of their lawyers has made a claim that there are political undertones in their arrest, namely that they were destined for Australia, should they have been arrested in Australia they would have received, well they'd potentially face a far less a penalty then if they were detained in Indonesia. Do you believe that the AFP should examine why it was that the Australians were arrested in Indonesia when they could face the death penalty, which is something Australian people don't support in our own country?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is no political undertone in any of this. The Australian Federal Police took an operational decision and I totally support the Australian Federal Police in that decision. As to the detail of it and the circumstances of it, well that is a matter, because it's an operational matter it's something that the police themselves should talk about. But any suggestion that there is some kind of policy or political overtone in this is one of that I reject, there is not.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in terms of in this forum...

PRIME MINISTER:

You're keeping the batting average up very well for the team, you'll have Farr and Grattan, will owe you an additional beer after this.

JOURNALIST:

Last time we went into cricket analogies the press conference went on for about half a day. You talked about this forum becoming increasingly important, but it would seem, from looking at the delegates list and the speakers' list there's, the United States are not well represented here. Are your disappointed or would you like...

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I'm not going to, you can't judge the involvement of the United States in one particular forum by a speakers' list. But I think it will grow in importance and there's tremendous corporate support from a lot of companies that, the way I read it, have very strong American affiliations.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21711