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IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2017 Keynote Address
Question and Answer Session
Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia

Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS
Prime Minister, thank you so much for those remarks. As is our custom, you have agreed to take two or three questions from the floor before you have a chance to earn your well-deserved dinner. Two or three people have caught my eye and I will not let this extend too long. The first, I think on Table 12, is Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo from People’s Republic of China.

Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo, Director, Centre on China-American Defense Relations, Academy of Military Science, People’s Liberation Army

I am Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo from China. Thank you very much, sir Prime Minister, for your excellent and balanced keynote speech. You highlighted the regional stability and you highlighted the security challenges in this region.

I would like to ask a question which is closely related to your topic, which is the regional security framework in Asia-Pacific. This topic has been discussed so much in this region for many years between officials, between scholars and the people. Little progress has been made. My question is, what is the ideal regional security framework in your mind, where the bigger fish, the small fish and the shrimps, as you call it, can swim freely to make this region peaceful and prosperous? Thank you.

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, Australia

Thank you very much, Senior Colonel, for your question. The waters in which the big fish, the little fish and the shrimps can swim freely and safely are ones in which the rule of law is respected and in which individual states do not use their coercive power to intimidate or bully others. The environment where we have prospered for so long has been one in which that freedom has been maintained, and to continue to prosper it must continue to be maintained.

I mentioned the anxieties that President Xi referred to and when he talked about avoiding the Thucydides trap. It is vitally important that all powers refrain from unilateral actions which are calculated to create tensions, refrain from unilateral actions of the kind I described, which involve, for example, the militarisation of disputed territories or addressing disputed matters other than through the peaceful negotiation in accordance with the rule of law. The critical thing is to maintain that harmony and to be committed to the proposition that might is not right. That is the vital key to maintain the stability, the harmony and the peace that has been maintained – perhaps not always as perfectly as would be desired. However, you have to say this has been an extraordinary period of stability in our region. It has been underpinned by the leadership of the United States. As China rises in power – and its growth has been one of the most extraordinary phenomena in human history – it is vital that China and all other powers respect the rights of others, the big fish respect the little fish and the shrimps. If they do that, then I believe we will have continued growth and continued opportunities for the economic and social advancement of all of our peoples.

Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS

Thank you very much. I thought I saw Marc Champion of Bloomberg. There he is. If you could stand up and the microphone will migrate towards you.

Marc Champion, Senior Correspondent, International Affairs, Bloomberg

Thank you very much. Prime Minister, I was interested in what you had to say about the need to maintain the rule of law, the order that the US has built up after all these years. You seemed very sanguine about recent steps that have been taken by the US that might seem not to be in line with that – most recent would be with the climate-change decision of President Trump. What I wanted to ask you was with regard to North Korea in particular: are you confident that the direction of travel for the US on the Korea issue is not just another transaction where there might be a deal made, but is rather going to underpin the kind of rule-of-law system that you are talking about? How would you hope to go about doing that?

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, Australia

Thank you. Firstly, as I said in my speech – and it is a penetrating glimpse of the obvious – China has overwhelmingly the greatest leverage over the DPRK. That is a fact. With the greatest leverage comes the greatest responsibility. That is also a fact. The North Korean regime, the Pyongyang government, is endangering the peace of the region, and indeed the world, by conduct that is persistently reckless, dangerous and indeed unlawful. The eyes of the world – truthfully, frankly, inevitably – are on Beijing.

Now, I recognise and I have always acknowledged that North Korea is not a client state of China like East Germany was of the old Soviet Union. We recognise the frustrations and difficulties China has in dealing with the DPRK. However, the reality is that North Korea is on a course of conduct that becomes more dangerous by the day. China has the capacity, the responsibility to rise to that opportunity for leadership and bring that government to its senses and bring that conduct to an end.

Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS

One final question. If you could stand up please, madam, and then that makes it easier for the microphone to find you. I see you right at the end with your hand high up but if you stand up it helps. There you go. Thank you very much. This will be our final question this evening. Thank you very much.


Thank you very much for giving me this final question. Thank you also, Prime Minister Turnbull, for that really strong speech.

I was wondering, in light of your comments that all parties in the region need to be seeking to promote and maintain the rule of law, what is Australia’s role, do you think, in seeking to promote this? Are we likely, for instance, to see any freedom-of-navigation patrols from Australia to support the rules-based order and open sea lanes of communication? Thank you.

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, Australia

Thank you. We maintain and exercise freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, so that is our commitment now and always will be. I think the important point that you have raised is simply this: we have all in this region gained so much. We should not take for granted the foundation upon which this economic advancement was built. That economic advancement has been built on a foundation of a rules-based order that has built confidence and trust between the nations, between the parties in this part of the world. Shaking that, disturbing that, puts a lot at risk – too much at risk, I would say. We must work harder. We cannot take our past success for granted or assume that it will continue. We must work harder to ensure that we – all of us, large and small – insist that the rule of law should prevail. Disputes should be resolved between the parties in dispute and in accordance with the law. If we maintain strong and true to that, then I have no doubt that our region’s and its peoples’ greatest years, most successful years, are yet to come. Thank you.

Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS

Prime Minister, let me offer you three votes of thanks. First, for a really splendid speech that sets such a constructive tone for the 16th Shangri-La Dialogue and for our defence diplomatic deliberations this weekend. Second, for Australia’s tremendous fidelity to the Shangri-La Dialogue process. As you said, at the very first Shangri-La Dialogue in 2002 Senator Robert Hill represented Australia and every person who has held the office of Defence Minister in Australia since then has attended the Shangri-La Dialogue. Third, in particular for the support that your country has given us this year for our Southeast Asian Young Leaders’ Programme that we have appended to this Dialogue, because in helping to build the successor generation of strategists in Southeast Asia, we also help to guarantee sound strategy and regional stability. For that commitment to the young people who have attended the Shangri-La Dialogue I also wanted, on behalf of all of us here, to offer you our thanks. Prime Minister, many thanks indeed.

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, Australia

Thank you.

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IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2018

The 17th Asia Security Summit will be held in Singapore on 1–3 June 2018.