Transcript, E&OE

13 June 2018

SABRA LANE: Joining us now is Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Welcome to AM.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning.

SABRA LANE: In the space of nine months, we have gone from Mr Trump describing Kim Jong-un as ‘Little Rocket Man’, to praising him and saying he has a special bond. Sometimes you must scratch your head and wonder?

JULIE BISHOP: It’s been an extraordinary couple of months I have to say, but we should also remember that during that period, the UN Security Council unanimously proposed the strongest economic sanctions ever on North Korea, and I believe that the application of those sanctions, backed by all five permanent members of the Security Council including Russia and China, has had a significant impact on the thinking of Kim Jong-un and is one of the major reasons he was prepared to come to the negotiating table. So not only was it an historic meeting because it is the first time a sitting US President has met with the North Korean leader, it was also the first positive development we’ve seen in over a decade involving North Korea, building on the first meeting between President Moon and Kim Jong-un in April.

SABRA LANE: Kim Jong-un is a dictator. He has had relatives executed. He has presided over famine, millions of North Koreans are impoverished. How much trust does Australia have that he will live up to this agreement?

JULIE BISHOP: If you reread Justice Michael Kirby’s Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea, it makes for a chilling picture of a brutal regime and I am not aware that any of the issues Michael Kirby spoke about have been addressed or even recognised by the North Korean regime. So we are talking about a brutal dictator, but what’s at stake – the threats to the stability of our region, the global threat of the use of nuclear weapons is too great. So this effort by President Trump has really changed the course of the discussion, has changed the course, hopefully, of history. Mind you, the historic day will come when we see the last nuclear weapon dismantled by North Korea.

SABRA LANE: On that point, the text of what was released yesterday doesn’t include the words complete, verifiable, irreversible. They have been key words up to yesterday’s meeting. How concerning is that for you?

JULIE BISHOP: The declaration is succinct. There are four points. Essentially there will be complete denuclearisation. Now we are yet to see what North Korea means by complete denuclearisation because the United States has made it clear that they meant complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of the nuclear weapons program. Of course, the United States have provided security guarantees in exchange for this complete denuclearisation, but clearly it must be verified. We just can’t take North Korea’s word for it, so there will have to be a strong independent investigation. Inspectors will need to go into North Korea to verify and I would suggest the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency is best placed to do that. Indeed, overnight the Director General Amano has stated that the IAEA stands ready to work with the United States and North Korea to ensure that there is this complete denuclearization. That is the bottom line. This agreement will only be as strong as the verification process that North Korea allows to take place.

SABRA LANE: You have said that Australia is going to assess what we can offer in this process of verification. What could Australia commit? We’ve got history in this area.

JULIE BISHOP: Indeed, Australia has considerable technical expertise in analysing and detecting nuclear material. We work closely with the IAEA in Vienna. We have done this kind of work before. We have experts in the field and we of course would offer our services. The United States will also want to be involved. The President spoke about this in his press conference, that there would need to be verifiable, concrete steps taken by North Korea. At this stage, the declaration is very scant on detail. So there is a lot of work still to be done. I imagine many more meetings, much more diplomatic work, but one meeting was never going to achieve all of the goals that we have set out.

SABRA LANE: Mr Trump also made reference to costs being involved in putting exercises with South Korea on hold and it prompted Lowy’s Michael Fullilove to note that the President knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. What are the dangers in just valuing traditional alliances and relationships in straight dollar terms?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it is obviously far more complex than that and relationships are built over history, personal connections, shared interests, values – there are a whole raft of factors that come into play. I think that what we must focus on now is the next steps between the United States and North Korea, but also South Korea, China and the UN Security Council. There are many players involved in eventually securing a lasting and enduring peace on the Korean Peninsula.

SABRA LANE: Today Australia is signing a deal with the Solomon Islands regarding a high speed internet cable. Relations are already pretty strained with China. How likely is it that this might stir things up given that Huawei originally was fated to deliver this cable?

JULIE BISHOP: Prime Minister Rick Hou is in Canberra. The Prime Minister and I met with him last night and we are meeting again with him today. Australia is a longstanding aid partner for Solomon Islands. You will of course recall that when Solomon Islands was in disarray back in the 2000s, Australia led the Regional Assistance Mission – RAMSI – to restore law and order and build capacity and work with the Solomon Islands Police Force. So we are a longstanding partner of Solomon Islands. We offered them an alternative to an undersea cable project. We believe that the alternative we have offered is cheaper, faster, more reliable than that offered by the competitor, and we want Solomon Islands and indeed other countries in the Pacific to have alternatives, to have options and Australia is well placed to offer that.

SABRA LANE: Might that upset Beijing further?

JULIE BISHOP: It’s a competitive world. We put forward an alternative and the Solomon Islands are accepting it.

SABRA LANE: Australians James Ricketson is facing trial in Cambodia on Friday on charges of espionage. How confident are you that he is going to get a fair trial?  

JULIE BISHOP: We have made representations to the Cambodian Government. I have written to my counterpart, the Foreign Minister. The Prime Minister and I raised it directly with the Cambodian Prime Minister when he was here for the ASEAN-Australia Leaders’ Summit in March. Mr Ricketson does have a legal team, he has lawyers acting for him who are advising him. We have provided consular assistance – our officials have visited him on over 20, I think about 22 occasions to check on his wellbeing and provide support. There is a limit to how far we can go in intervening on behalf of an Australian citizen in the legal proceedings of another country, but we have certainly made our interests known and our concerns known to the government.

SABRA LANE: Julie Bishop, thank you for joining AM this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.