STEVEN CIOBO: We’re here at the Belt Road Forum, an opportunity for Australia to find out more about the vision that China has for its Belt Road Initiative. Clearly Australia has a long track record when it comes to provision of infrastructure, the design, the construction, the financing of infrastructure. Being able to put more flesh on the bones, so to speak, about the BRI vision, it's an important part of the Australian Government's efforts to make sure that we can engage constructively and collaboratively with China on BRI. We think that there is a lot of opportunity for Australian businesses to be involved here in China and in third-party countries. That's an opportunity that we'll see unfold over time. Plus for me, being here at this conference and this forum is an opportunity as well to be engaging in a number of bilateral meetings with Chinese officials and others. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Was China right to invite a North Korean delegation here and was the US right in expressing concern about this?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well what's happened this morning with reports of North Korea's firing of another missile is highly provocative and very reckless. It's frankly something that Australia continues to urge North Korea not to do. This kind of recklessness is not appropriate and I think it's very important that North Korea understands the world has a very limited tolerance of the approach that that they've been adopting. In terms of China's involvement, clearly there's a role for China to play in terms of engaging North Korea and making sure that North Korea steps back from the current reckless approach that they've had on these matters.

JOURNALIST: Does it send the wrong message to Pyongyang, though, given that there had been another missile launched today?

STEVEN CIOBO: Does what sent the wrong message?

JOURNALIST: North Korea's invitation to stay at this forum.

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I'm not going to write a critique of the decision of the Chinese Government with respect to BRI. What's clear, though, Australia's position is clear, the position of the United States is clear, the role and involvement of China in terms of deescalating the situation is also clear.

JOURNALIST: Would you be comfortable standing on the same stage or attending the same panel session with the North Korean delegation?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well there's more than a thousand delegates that are here. This is an event that's been organised by the Chinese to focus on the Belt Road Initiative. The view, clearly, is that China can play a role with respect to reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula and I think it's very important that the United States, Australia and others work constructively with China to deescalate those tensions in North Korea.

JOURNALIST: Has there ever been talks that major Western countries could walk out of sessions if the North Koreans are playing too large a role?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think we're getting into a lot of crystal-ball gazing. What's very clear is the role that China, the United States, Australia all constructively play to deescalate tensions, but to also make it very clear that we will not continue to tolerate North Korea behaving provocatively.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned that you see opportunities for Australian businesses in BRI, but would that require the Australian Government either signing or resigning an MOU so they can access those [inaudible] and participate?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I think there's a lot of opportunity for Australian businesses to be involved in Belt Road Initiatives. There clearly are going to be a number of projects that are taking place. We know that China is looking for Australian collaboration and engagement. We know that Australian businesses would like to do that as well. We are, of course seeing a number of initiatives that China is taking that are complementary with initiatives that Australia has undertaken and although the Northern Australia Initiative is separate to the Belt Road Initiative, there are clearly complementarities there, so we can share knowledge, we can share experience for the benefit of both countries.

JOURNALIST: But wanting to exclude the Northern Australian Initiative from the BRI, does that mean that you won't sign on to the BRI or the Australian Government won’t sign a formal agreement with China on BRI?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well we’ve made our position clear. We’ve had, of course, a very successful visit from Premier Li earlier on this year. We've seen much merit in the BRI Initiative. We see opportunities for collaboration, but we take decisions about initiatives in Australia on the basis of what's in Australia's national interest and I think we don't need to view everything through one lens. The fact is that we will undertake involvement and engagement in the region as well as specific initiatives within Australia on the basis of what's good for Australia according to our national interest.

JOURNALIST: So there's clearly then some [inaudible] here for the BRI in terms of China increasing its influence and pull over its region.

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I was really heartened by Premier Xi's comments this morning. His speech this morning in many respects built upon remarks that he made at the World Economic Forum in January. Together, these two speeches make it clear that China continues to see the pathway forward as being one of engagement, opportunities in relation to trade, in relation to investments, stronger people-to-people links, and even mentioned in particular, tourism as well. So China is clearly playing a role where they see benefits that flow from constructive engagement. That's a similar viewpoint to Australia's and I think that that's positive for our region.

JOURNALIST: Minister, New Zealand is signed on to the Belt Road Initiative and Labor's characterised Australia's reluctance initially to sign on to the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank as self-defeating. Do you think that there's a risk that this same mistake could be repeated?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I don’t take any real measure or direction from the Australian Labor Party. I mean this is the Australian Labor Party who when they were in government I think frankly saw new relations with China at a much lower level than they are today. This is the Australian Labor Party who when they were in government in a massive, knee-jerk reaction, shut down our beef trade with Indonesia, so Labor's frankly not in a position to lecture anybody about good Asian relations. In terms of Australia's engagement, we are engaging in a really constructive way with China. We've got a free-trade agreement in place. We've now started the second tranche of engagement with China by focusing, in particular, on investment and services. We're continuing to reduce non-tariff measures wherever we can and we're engaging constructively around reductions in non-tariff measures, so frankly, Australia and China's economic and trade investment relationship is very, very strong. This year is the year of Australia-China Tourism. Our people-to-people links are building. They just became our largest source of international tourism in Australia, so frankly, the relationship is very strong. The engagement is very good and constructive. Our involvement here at BRI indicates that we see a role for Australia to play, we see a lot of complementarities. It's a good relationship.

JOURNALIST: Has the United States expressed any concern about Australia potentially signing up to the BRI Initiative?

STEVEN CIOBO: Not to me they haven't, no.

JOURNALIST: Is there – a mention was made in President Xi’s speech that free-trade agreements or negotiations between free trade agreements would start with many of the countries that are here today that have signed on to the One Belt One Road. Is there a risk that Australia's trade relationship with China falls behind as China refocuses on these economic corridors and the BRI Initiatives?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well if you look at Australia's relationship with China, we are, as I said, well and truly in front of the vast bulk of countries. We have a free-trade agreement in place, we've actually started now on the second round of discussions in relation to untapped measures in relation to the services and investment as well, so the relationship is really strong. What's more, we've got even more protections as well. We've got a most-favoured-nation status in terms of aspects of ChAFTA, which means that if other countries do negotiate good deals, they will flow through to Australia as well.

Media enquiries

  • Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555