EVENT TRANSCRIPT: “Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s 29th Prime Minister, on ‘Preserving the Freedom of the Asia Pacific’”
DATE: 6:00pm-7:00pm, 5 March 2019
VENUE: House of Commons
SPEAKER: Hon. Malcolm Turnbull
EVENT CHAIR: Tom Tugendhat MP
Thank you Tom for your generous introduction
And thank you for your service in the British Army, fighting in freedom’s cause in Iraq and Afghanistan, as our Australian servicemen and women have done, and are doing today.
Our security depends on the courage and the professionalism of men and women like you – with your deep understanding of the Arab and wider Islamic world, your business and journalism experience, it is easy to see why you are one of the rising stars of the conservative party.
And thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for the invitation to speak here in the House of Commons this evening.
This place has always felt very familiar. Not because I first came here as a young journalist more than forty years ago to interview Enoch Powell and Quintin Hogg, nor because of the many visits I have made since.
But because our political institutions were all established by British people who settled in Australia and brought their culture, their values, their law and political system with them.
Watching the Brexit drama roll on is almost as painful for us, as it is for you to live through.
But I admire the Prime Minister’s tenacity and determination to deliver a workable outcome. It is a time, I believe, when it is important to remember that politics is the art of the possible and that nothing is more destructive than allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
And whatever the outcome, I have no doubt that for all the imperfections, to which its members regularly draw attention, the Conservative Party is best able to lead the United Kingdom to a resolution.
Tonight, I look forward to updating you on the geopolitics of the Indo Pacific region, Australia’s role and why what happens in my part of the world is so important to your part of the world.
I want to begin with trade because I firmly believe free trade, and open markets are the key to stronger economic growth and greater opportunities for our people.
Just yesterday, Australia signed the Indonesia-Australia free trade deal (IA-CEPA).
The Indonesian agreement, and the associated comprehensive security partnership, is one which is very close to my heart, as it was secured in large part because of the close friendship and trust that Lucy and I established with President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi and his wife Ibu Iriana.
Jokowi is one of the most important leaders in the world today, and not simply because he leads the fourth most populous nation and the largest muslim majority nation. Jokowi is a modern, charismatic leader. Democratically elected, who stands for the proposition that Islam is compatible with democracy and moderation.
He came into politics from business and local government. He is a practical man especially focused on building the economic infrastructure Indonesians need. But with a quiet confidence he represents Indonesia and its values on the world stage at a time when they are more important than ever.
There’s no doubt though that the biggest, best and brightest example of the region opening for business is the Trans Pacific Partnership or the TPP-11.
A Trade deal between Australia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam. It’s a partnership that will cut 98 percent of tariffs between these nations and provides each economy with access to a pool which has a total GDP worth $13.8 trillion dollars.
The TPP-11 gives every nation in the partnership access to more markets than ever before. Australian farmers and manufacturers for example can now export to nations like Vietnam, Canada and Mexico with whom we have had restricted access in the past.
This deal didn’t come easily though and is an example why in a modern world we should swim against any tide of protectionism.
As you all know, the United States was to be part of what was a TPP-12 but President Trump withdrew from the agreement, as he pledged during the Presidential campaign.
Many nations believed without the United States the deal couldn’t proceed.
Together with then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key we believed the deal should still proceed without the US because of the immense economic opportunity it provided.
After all, Australia’s commitment to free trade and open markets is a core reason why we have entered into our 28th year of uninterrupted economic growth.
As President Trump was preparing for his inauguration in 2017, I met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sydney to persuade him to join John and myself in fighting for a TPP-11.
In the course of a long walk along the cliffs of South Head, I was able to persuade Shinzo that the deal was not dead, and the TPP could continue without the US.
Working together, we lobbied all the other TPP nations and one by one we persuaded them that the deal should continue. And so it has, the TPP-11 is now a reality.
And most importantly by keeping it going, we have given other nations, including the US, to join it in the future. Far from snubbing the Americans by persevering, we did them a favour.
As Prime Minister I encouraged Prime Minister May to consider joining the TPP and I’m pleased to see her government is actively considering it.
I did my best to persuade Trump not to pull out of the TPP, and stressed to him its strategic significance, an argument I might add he said he had not heard before and one that I believe eventually will persuade his, or a subsequent, administration to join it.
As Obama’s Defence Secretary Ash Carter once said, the TPP is more valuable to the US and the security of the region than another Carrier Task Group.
Never in all of human history have so many people been lifted out of poverty than in our region in the last forty years. That is a great credit to all those nations, and their people who have worked so hard. But it would not have been possible without the foundation of peace and security delivered by the strong presence of the United States.
Maintaining that presence, with consistency and integrity, is as important today as it has ever been.
It may seem miraculous that in just 40 years ago China has gone from barely participating in the global economy to becoming either the largest or second largest economy in the world.
But from a Chinese point of view it is simply a return to the natural order of things – China for all of recorded human history has been the largest economy, except for the last two centuries when it became weak, fell technologically behind and was exploited and plundered by foreign nations.
Every Chinese citizen is determined that will never happen again.
There is a lazy tendency to view the rise of China through a cold war lens, to see China as the new existential threat, as the Soviet Union was, which must be contained.
From our point of view we embrace and welcome China’s rise and we are especially close to China; it’s a matter of family as well. More than one million Australians are of Chinese heritage, two of whom are Lucy and my grandchildren. You could not imagine Australia, the world’s most successful multicultural society, without the brilliance of our Australians of Chinese descent.
China is Australia’s largest two way trading partner. In 2014 we entered into a comprehensive strategic partnership, in 2015 the China- Australia Free Trade agreement began and in 2017 we created a Cyber Security Partnership.
But at all times, I pursued a China policy which was clear eyed and as staunchly defending our national interest as China’s leaders defend theirs. When dealing with super powers, remember they regard deference as their due and gushy sycophancy as weakness.
And so our goal in the region has been to ensure that all nations, and especially our own, maintains its sovereignty. After all, the most pertinent part of Thucydides to contemplate is not so much his speculation as to the real cause of the war, but rather the chill words of the Athenian Ambassadors to the Melians in Book 5 – “Justice is to be found only among equals in power, as to the rest the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must.”
And that is why maintaining and defending the rule of law abroad, as we do at home, is so important.
So my Government secured new and tougher laws to deal with foreign interference as it occurs in the 21st century together with a strict transparency regime so that there is full disclosure on a public register of those who seek to influence our politics or government on behalf of foreign governments or political parties or entities controlled by either.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Now many of you will have a keen interest in developments in the South China Sea, the growing tensions over disputed territories and evidence of Chinese militarization.
Australia has no claims in the South China Sea and does not express an opinion on the merit of competing claims. But we do insist on the maintenance of freedom of navigation and over flight. And we do call for an end to the creation of artificial islands in these disputed areas and above all, to the militarisation of these islands.
China’s advance to establish and militarise these islands on the various reefs they claim in the South China Sea is essentially creating forward operating bases, which they would see as essential to their defence.
They would note that their “islands” in the South China Sea are far closer to continental China than the US bases at Guam or indeed in Japan or South Korea are to Hawaii let alone the US mainland
But the fact remains that the contest over these features is a source of continuing tension in the region, the intensity varies and currently is at a lower ebb than it has been. It is unrealistic to believe China will withdraw from any of these features.
So that is why we have always maintained and supported freedom of navigation through the South China Sea, including by the United Kingdom whose recent exercises with the US Navy we warmly welcomed.
And at the same time we welcome and encourage the work towards an enduring Code of Conduct between China and ASEAN that has the potential of establishing rules of the road which, while it may not settle the disputes, will at least ensure they do not erupt into conflict.
The tremendous growth we have seen in our region is also affecting long-standing strategic balances.
Investment in military, technological and strategic capability is increasing.
In the next two decades, half of the world’s submarines and at least half of the world’s advanced combat aircraft will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region.
And this complicates the outlook for our security and strategic planning.
One of the key challenges for Australia’s long-term national security is to equip ourselves to cope with the diverse range of contingencies that might arise.
And so we have embarked on our nation’s largest peace time defence investment – around $200 billion through to 2026 – ensuring that we will have both the ships, capabilities, including ships, planes investing around $200 billion
While the investment is across all three services and covers every capability, including cyber, it includes an historic modernisation of the navy in contracts committed to by my Government – 12 Attack Class regionally superior submarines built with France (97 m, 4500 tonnes) , 9 Hunter Class future frigates based on the UK’s Type 26 design (150 metres, 7000 tonne) and 12 Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (80 m 1600 tonnes) built with Lurssen of Germany.
Our defence spending as a share of GDP will reach 2% next year and stay there.
I want to touch briefly on Cyber Security because it is a growing issue in our region and one on which I took a particular interest in and leadership of as Prime Minister.
As you well know here in the United Kingdom, terrorism remains a real threat just as it does in the Indo Pacific region.
Our terror alert remains “Probable” in Australia.
Thankfully, there have been no mass casualty events in Australia, but numerous planned attacks have been thwarted. The greatest risk to Australians to date has been overseas as we saw in Bali in 2002 or indeed most recently here in the attack at London Bridge.
But a key priority for us has been to ensure that ISIL does not establish a foothold in our region as they nearly did in Marawi in the Southern Philippines. So we work very closely with our neighbours providing what has been described as “game changing” capabilities to defeat the terrorists.
Cyber security is less well understood. But the challenges to protect our information security and personal security will only increase as states and criminals use cyberspace to groom and radicalise, interfere and sew division, steal IP and defraud, and potentially disable and thus defeat an adversary before even firing a missile or a gun.
At the 2017 G20 in Hamburg Australia ensured we agreed to a stronger wording in the communique regarding cyber security and encryption, reiterating that, in an unprecedented show of unity, that the law which applies offline must apply online. Freedom in cyberspace should not mean anarchy.
More broadly, as Prime Minister, I released Australia’s cyber security strategy in 2016, appointed the first minister for cyber security, our first cyber security coordinator and our first cyber affairs ambassador. And for the first time acknowledged our cyber offensive capabilities. I had made sure Cyber was a cabinet concern and I wanted to make sure the issue of cyber security, crime and attacks was elevated to a boardroom issue as hackers became more sophisticated.
I described the strategy as “a roadmap as to how we will keep Australia safe and competitive in an increasingly digital world.”
I acknowledged that both government and industry were not just targets but had been compromised. It was time to ensure government and the private sector worked more closely together to strengthen our cyber defences. Governments can’t do this alone. So we must share information and be transparent where it is appropriate.
We saw in Australia only last month a cyber attack by a “state actor” on our parliamentary computer systems, reaffirming the need to be innovative and agile in dealing with the growing threat.
It is why in one of the final decisions of my Government was to ban telecommunications companies which could not meet our security requirements (such as Huawei and ZTE) from providing equipment to our new 5G phone networks, on national security grounds.
We were the first nation to do so. And we so decided not because another country told us to let alone for protectionist reasons, but to defend our own sovereignty and to hedge against changing times. It is important to remember that a threat is the combination of capability and intent. Capability can take years, decades to develop. And in many cases won’t be attainable at all. But intent can change in a heartbeat.
I discussed this issue with President Trump on many occasions. 5G is different. Not only will it deliver much greater bandwidth (mbps) but also much lower latency. It will also be the platform on which billions of devices, large and small, will run from sensors to automated vehicles.
Network function virtualisation and mobile edge computing means processing, or intelligence, will be distributed throughout the network, and the old distinction between the core and the Radio Access Network ( or edge) will no longer be applicable.
In many discussions with my western counterparts, I raised the concern that we, and in particular the 5 eyes, had got to the point where there were now essentially four leading vendors of 5G systems – two Chinese, Huawei and ZTE, and two European, Ericsson and Nokia.
With the benefit of hindsight it beggars belief that the countries which pioneered wireless technology – the United States, the UK, Germany, Japan and with wifi, Australia have got to the point where none of them are able to present to one of their own telcos a national, or a 5 eyes, champion in 5G.
Was radio leadership lost, as the British Empire was supposedly won, in an absence of mind?
I note the United Kingdom is still considering its position, but the strong views of GCHQ recently expressed, consonant with our own, did not come as a surprise..
Like it was for Australia, this is a sovereign decision for the UK. Regardless of the final decision, it is incumbent on our two nations to treat cyber as a matter of bilateral importance and ensure our citizens can have the confidence that their governments and intelligence communities are working to keep them and their families safe not only offline but online.
As our ASD recently observed:
“ If a state-sponsored adversary has enduring access to staff, software or hardware deployed into a target telecommunication network, then they only require the intent to act in order to conduct operations within the network. This greatly reduces the cost of operating within the network, and by extension this increases the effective likelihood of their doing so. Traditionally, cyber security is premised on raising the cost for an adversary to such an extent that the adversary will not find it worthwhile to compromise a network. When an adversary can persistently and effortlessly pre-position, the effective cost of activity is greatly reduced.”
In summary, Australia should continue to play a vital role in ensuring the Indo Pacific region remains the most dynamic economic corridor in the modern world.
We see it as plainly in our national interest to maintain, especially in our region, free trade and open markets, and compliance with the rule of law so that the strong cannot do as they will.
As the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper – which I had the pleasure of crafting with my great friend and former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – said so well: Australia is a regional power with global interests.
So while we are most active in our region, our forces are with yours defeating terrorism in the middle east, just as we leant our support to your response to the Russian backed novichok attack in Salisbury.
As the United Kingdom looks to finalise its Brexit negotiations, your political and business leaders would be well advised to expand their engagement in our region and they know that in Australia they have trusted and familiar, indeed family, friends.
However Britain emerges from the current Brexit imbroglio, which ultimately is for you and you alone to decide, you can always count on our solidarity and friendship – timeless but never more timely than today.