TOPICS: US Force Posture; China; Defence White
MELISSA CLARKE: I'm joined by the Defence Minister
Stephen Smith here in the Canberra studios. Thanks for
being with us.
STEPHEN SMITH: A pleasure.
MELISSA CLARKE: So, you've ruled out the idea of the
US having a naval base at HMAS Stirling or anywhere else in
Australia, but is it an idea worth considering?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we have a
joint facility or joint facilities with the United States
in Australia. We've had those for a long time and Pine Gap
is the obvious illustration. Other than that, United States
Defence personnel have access to our facilities.
And when the President was here in November last year, he
and the Prime Minister announced a range of enhanced
practical cooperation which would see greater access to our
facilities; And the first stage - first priority of that
was the marine rotation - six month rotation through
MELISSA CLARKE: But is there any benefit in having,
say, a stand-alone US base that would be worth Australia
considering given the strategic importance and what that
might be able to offer across the north and north-west for
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, just to finish
the priority of what we're dealing with. At that time we
also agreed that the second matter we'd look at would be
enhanced aerial access to our Northern Territory or
northern RAAF bases. We haven't yet gone through the detail
of that but we are looking, in the near future, to starting
a detailed discussion about that greater access.
I made it clear at the time that down the track, because of
the growth of India, the importance of the Indian Ocean rim
that in due course we'd also look at greater naval access
to HMAS Stirling, our Indian Ocean port. So, the only thing
we will consider will be greater access.
The study which has come out overnight is a study by an
independent think tank. It was commissioned by the US
Department of Defence at the request of Congress. It has a
covering letter from the Secretary of State for Defence in
the United States and some comments from him and he makes
it clear that he doesn't endorse the proposal in it. A lot
of it is consistent with the US rebalance.
So, it's a suggestion by an independent think tank. It's
not one we're proposing to take up.
MELISSA CLARKE: Some read that as Washington flying a
kite, so to speak, getting the idea raised so that they can
test the waters, see what the public reaction in Australia
and elsewhere is to this kind of idea under the cover of a
think tank study. Is there any credibility in that
perspective of this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, people should
do a couple of things. Firstly, they should look at the
facts and not think angles and secondly, they should be
very careful about seeking to ascribe the view of an
independent think tank, which has been presented publicly
as a requirement by the US Congress, as in any way
reflecting the view of the United States Government.
We have made it crystal clear from the first moment. We
don't have United States military bases in Australia; we
don't see the need for that. We have an alliance that's
been going for greater than - for longer than 60 years and
as part of that, in recent times, we have sought to
substantially enhance the practical cooperation starting
with a rotation of marines in Darwin.
So far as the north of Australia, the north-west - some
time ago I commissioned our own Force Posture Review which
the Prime Minister and I released in March of this year.
That will be considered as part of the white paper
processes, but it is clear that we have to look very
carefully at the way in which we are positioned to our
northern and western approaches, and that will be one of
the focuses of the white paper.
MELISSA CLARKE: On that troop rotation, one of the
analysts from the Lowy Institute today is saying that
there's still arguments going on between the Australian
Government and the US Government about how that's paid for,
about how some elements of that troop rotation is funded.
Has that been settled between the two nations?
STEPHEN SMITH: In terms of the fine
details [indistinct] there are a range of conversations
going on amongst officials. Cost sharing now and into the
future is one of those things; that's pretty much standard
fare. So, some of those discussions about the detail are
MELISSA CLARKE: So, that's not sorted even though the
rotations have already begun?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there was an
agreement about cost for the 250 Marines who came in the
first rotation. We're scaling that up over a period of five
years to 2500 and there are a whole range of detailed
discussions that are going on about the future. We've made
it clear that at each stage in the process we will review
arrangements and move forward. So, there's no difficulty or
surprise in that.
MELISSA CLARKE: Can I ask you on another topic, Japan
has recently released its Defence white paper and it's
certainly raised some eyebrows with South Korea over some
of the issues with territorial claims and China as well
with the posturing there. Do you have any concerns that
tensions between Japan and its major neighbours and our
major neighbours like South Korea and China might make it
more difficult for military and strategic cooperation in
the future? Because South Korea is suggesting it could well
be hampered in cooperation.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, so far as
South Korea is concerned, the major provocation to South
Korea is of course North Korea and its conduct. And South
Korea has been very, very restrained in that respect. So
far as its relations with its neighbours are concerned,
it's not unique in North Asia for there to be maritime or
territorial disputes or claims.
And as a general proposition, whether it involves the
Republic of Korea, Japan, China or other countries,
Australia's position is quite straight forward. We want
these maritime or territorial disputes to be settled
amicably in accordance with international law, in
accordance with the Law of the Sea. We don't want these
issues to become causes for concern or for misjudgement or
miscalculations. So, the same applies to any maritime or
territorial issues generally.
MELISSA CLARKE: But has that happened in this case
with Japan's Defence white paper? Has that unnecessarily
[indistinct] the issue?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don't believe
so. It's a good thing that countries publish white papers
on a regular basis. Japan does that as do we, as does the
United States and as does China. It's a good thing that
MELISSA CLARKE: Now yesterday, you gave an update on
the 2013 Defence White Paper which you're pulling together
and I just want to ask about one aspect in particular. On
China, you spoke about the challenge being to raise the
level of political and strategic engagement to the same
level as economic engagement, and you also talk about the
global financial crisis shaping our Defence and strategic
realm. How much importance and how much has that perhaps
changed in recent years, of having economic issues play an
important part in focusing our Defence priorities?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I wouldn't
analyse it in that way that the financial constraints
determine our national security strategic outlook. It's a
relevant material consideration because the 2009 White
Paper said the single biggest economic challenge was the
global financial crisis and the adverse consequences of
In this way, as Leon Panetta, my US counterpart, said at
the Shangri-La Dialogue, we face a new fiscal reality. We
have to balance the fiscal reality with the national
security reality. But so far as China is concerned, the
point I made last night is that both in the case of
Australia and the United States there is an intense
economic engagement. Particularly so far as the United
States is concerned because the single most important
bilateral relationship now and into the future will be
between the United States and China.
China and the United States have to lift their relationship
so that the intense economic engagement is matched by a
similar political strategic military and defence
engagement. We want to see an enhancement of that level of
engagement so that we don't have what I describe as
strategic competition between the United States and China.
The future, in very many respects, will be determined by a
positive and constructive relationship between the United
States and China and subsequently between those two and
MELISSA CLARKE: And we'll keep seeing that
developing. Stephen Smith, thanks very much for joining us.