Press conference, Adelaide | Australian Foreign Minister

Penny Wong, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Thank you very much for coming. Before moving on to international news, may I first acknowledge the truly appalling situation in New South Wales; express my condolences to the family of the Australian woman who is confirmed to have lost her life, and again thank the emergency personnel for their work. I also know that South Australian communities along the Murray are preparing for what is here and what is to come. We say to you all, please stay safe, please listen to the advice of the authorities, and of course the thoughts of all South Australians are with you.

But I am here today to talk about what is happening in Europe and in particular in Ukraine, and also what we heard last night about Poland.

Can I start by saying that Australia stands with Ukraine. We condemn Russia’s deadly missile attacks, and reports indicate that Russia has fired up to 100 missiles into Ukraine, which would be the largest such attack against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion. We all know that Russia’s reckless use of force across Ukraine is illegal and immoral. We also know that this reckless use of force is dangerous for the region.

The missile strike on Polish territory is deeply worrying. It is a stark reminder that any conflict carries a great risk of miscalculation. I can report that I spoke today with both the Chargé and the Polish Ambassador, our Ambassador, the Australian Ambassador to Poland, about these events.

With regard to the Polish Chargé d’Affaires, I expressed my condolences for the loss of life. We know there have been two confirmed casualties. The Chargé informed me that the Polish government would undertake an investigation into the origin of the missiles and I note President Biden’s statement that the United States stands ready to support this investigation.

I also spoke to the Australian Ambassador to Poland, Ambassador Brodrick, who confirmed to me that we were not aware of any Australian casualties and that to our knowledge all Australian personnel were healthy and except. I understand that this is disturbing and deeply worrying news for Australians, and what I would like to say to you is this: firstly, I would echo the words of the Prime Minister of Poland who said that he called on all Poles to remain calm and cautious. We echo this call.

I would also say to Australians that we will stay in close contact with our friends and partners. I spoke to the Prime Minister this morning, who is obviously still at the G20 in Bali, and he will engage with others, including European counterparts and other friends and partners, as always, to ensure that we continue to work with others to keep Australians safe and secure. I am happy to answer questions.

Journalist: To the best of Australian intelligence, where were these missiles launched from in Poland?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I think that’s why it’s important for us to be careful and cautious. As the Polish government has said, they will undertake a proper investigation into the origin of these missiles and I urge people, as the Polish government has done, to await the results of that investigation.

Journalist: You said that you had communications, Mr. Minister, with the Polish government as well as with our ambassador. Has the Australian government communicated with Russian officials?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Look, not by me. Obviously, you know, the G20 is going on right now, and you would assume that there are discussions between the NATO partners with the aim of securing peace in the region.

Journalist: Have there been – I probably thank you, your discussions with the Prime Minister – has the Australian government had any contingencies or concerns about a possible escalation of the conflict in Ukraine?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Look, we’ve always been worried. The whole world is concerned about what is happening in Ukraine as such, and about the consequences of escalation and miscalculations. And if you look at what we said, what the NATO partners said, and what the United States said, what the Europeans said, we condemn the illegal and immoral invasion, but we say also that there is always a risk of escalation and miscalculation. This is why Russia should withdraw.

Journalist: So do you think that if this is proven –

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well you asked a question that asked me to be drawn into the survey and I would say again to people, especially at this time, it’s very important that we be careful and cautious about how we report this and how we talk about it. And I would heed what the Polish Prime Minister said there would be an investigation and asking people to be both calm and careful.

Journalist: Did Australia offer additional aid to Ukraine after the attacks?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Obviously, we are making a very big contribution to Ukraine, both in terms of military support and humanitarian aid. I know the Prime Minister has spoken with his counterparts not only during his visit but also at the G20, and we will continue to do what we can on Ukraine.

Journalist: Well, what kind of response does the world need to see from NATO today?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I think the NATO allies are showing the kind of response we would like. I think there’s calm, there’s consultation, there’s a lot of engagement, and if you look at both public statements and what we know in private, obviously there’s a very good engagement between NATO partners, and that is what we want. You know, peace is ensured by countries working together. And peace is ensured by leaders who maturely handle these kinds of situations, and I think you can see both the Polish leaders, President Biden, other NATO members, that kind of leadership.

Journalist: Regarding the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Xi, China – this is not the G20 – do you think China will be more inclined to re-evaluate heavy trade sanctions on Australian products after last night’s meeting?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, in the end, that’s China’s business. I made it clear in two face-to-face meetings with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, State Councilor Wang Yi and a telephone conversation with him before the G20 meeting that we believe it is in the interest of our two countries to stabilize relations and that we believe that unhindered trade is also in the interests of both countries.

Journalist: How do you interpret, or what President Xi’s words “meeting China halfway” actually sound like?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Listen, I expressed the view that we should move forward together. And, you know, we know we live in the same area. We know that we have strong economic complementarity. We also know, as the Australian government and the Australian people, that there are differences between Australia’s interests and China’s interests that we will have to manage. There are differences that are in our national interest, our national security, and we will manage them. But it’s best managed wisely and it’s best managed through dialogue, and that’s what we intend to do.

Journalist: Minister, what does he mean by these words, however, “meeting halfway”, are there any specifics?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: I can control what we say and I can give you an indication of what I say mean.

Journalist: And on that note, Minister, can you please explain to the general public the significance of the Prime Minister’s meeting with China and what it means for Australia?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: OK. Australia’s relations with China have been in a difficult place. We know that. And since the government came to power, we have said that we believe it is in the interest of both countries, Australia and China, that this relationship be stabilized. We know there are differences that we have to manage, differences that will need to be addressed, but those differences are best managed through engagement.

We will therefore cooperate where we can. We will disagree where we must, and we will engage in the national interest. And it is good that we are revisiting the dialogue at the leadership level as well as at the ministerial level this year.

Journalist: Do you hope that the relationship, or the improved relationship with China, do you hope that they could help to intervene with Russia and remind them of the conflict?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: I have already said it. I told the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the country, the national declaration that, firstly: we should all care, not only for human reasons about the conflict in Ukraine, but because we know that the history tells us that peace and security require that the rule that one country does not invade another be respected. So we should all care about countries, big and small.

Secondly, I said that the world is counting on China, which is a great power, and a P5 nation, a permanent member of the Security Council, to use its influence to end a war which is not only illegal and immoral, but war that threatens security. And we all want peace. You wanted to ask a question?

Journalist: Yes, I have a question. Don Farrell talked about finding an exit ramp – an exit ramp for China on trade sanctions, what would that look like and how would that work?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, ultimately it’s up to China how it seeks to respond. I would say that we are complementary economies. We believe there is a mutual benefit in having these trade blockages or barriers to trade removed, and we will continue to do so. This is my message to China since we were elected, and it was consistent with that, also the message of the Prime Minister during his meeting with President Xi.

Journalist: What would you be willing to consider?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I think that’s a question that maybe reflects or doesn’t acknowledge what the government has said. And we’ve been very consistent. Our national interests do not change. You know, national security considerations remain paramount. There will be differences between Australia and China, but they are best managed through dialogue, and that continues to be the message we send to China and to the Australian people.

Journalist: Senator, very quickly, a response to Donald Trump’s announcement that he will be re-elected?

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I won’t comment on US domestic politics, but I will tell you that our alliance and our relationship with the United States is based on shared values, our shared security imperatives, and a belief in democracy. Thanks a lot.

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